31st Aug 2012

Olympic / Paralympic Reflections

About a month ago now – I’m not making any excuses for neglecting this blog during my hard-earned holiday time! – I (avec family) did the Olympic thing. Here’s a picture of a one-legged (i.e. bored) steward pointing journalists in the direction of ITN hospitality. I asked him if free refreshments were on offer – he didn’t look too impressed. Actually, the hotel we stayed in, near Kings Cross, turned out to be the ideal location for many journalists visiting from overseas. Chinese reporters working for the Xinhua state news agency were particularly in evidence – though what they were allowed to report I dread to think (don’t mention the badminton sabotage episode, for sure).

We saw the cycling and paid through the teeth for the pleasure. The football at Old Trafford was only slightly better value. But all in all, ignoring the cynic inside me, London 2012 has been a mighty success.

The TV coverage is quite spectacular too. The BBC provided 24 additional channels for its coverage – assuming you could receive them via cable services. And Wednesday night’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony on Channel 4 attracted nearly 12 million peak viewers – which must be close to a record for the broadcaster. The politically charged views of Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy contrasted starkly with the bland impartiality imposed on the BBC’s commentary of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

At times, no less, the BBC appeared to sideline important (but negative) news, especially regarding the ticketing fiasco that left empty seats at almost every event, in favour of propaganda-esque tales of British/London Pride. Channel 4 won’t be so sympathetic. Snow’s praise of the French economic recovery – not to be seen here yet – would have raised a few eyebrows in political circles no doubt. Let’s not forget that Channel 4, although not directly funded by the license fee, is still a public service broadcaster in the sense that certain expectations must be met. Of course, it is absolutely appropriate that a broadcaster with such a strong record of representing minority and disadvantaged groups should receive the Paralympic broadcast rights.

A final reflection. Even though it took a few days before the medals got going, Team GB and NI’s success has given everyone in the UK a lift – and that’s the best outcome in these times of deep double dip. The worst consequence of all these displays of physical prowess, however, is the guilt we feel at not visiting the gym enough! Get on your bike, indeedy.

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29th Jun 2011

BBC Complaints

Anyone who’s tried to phone the BBC to complain about a programme or decision made in the public interest (without very much public consultation in most cases) will no doubt sympathise with the recent findings of the House of Lords communications committee:


Back in 1997 I phoned up to complain about the decision to ban T-Spoon’s song Sex on the Beach on Top of the Pops (I didn’t like the song, just for the record!!!). Yes, a few complaints had been made about the risque lyrics, but the actual single was free from censorship (anyone, of any age, could buy the CD – or cassette version, back in those days – from their local Woolworths, HMV, etc.). Moreover, BBC radio stations had played the track numerous times up until the ban taking effect, and it came across as a heavy-handed, ultra-conservative, protectionist move, almost certainly triggered by the moral-panic-like concerns of middle-aged, middle-class gatekeepers out of touch with the fun-loving irony of late 90s postmodern europop youth.

By the by, as well as reaching No 2 in the UK Singles Chart, the T-Spoon hit became an early favourite in the ring-tone marketplace following the growth of mass-produced mobile phones. But my counter-complaint to the BBC, wanting to find out the rationale for its blanket ban, fell on deaf ears. I was told by someone in the complaints department that documentary evidence of this kind could not be made public, even for the benefit of an unpublished postgraduate dissertation project.

Of course, for all she knew, I could have been an undercover investigative journalist looking for an anti-BBC angle, but I still felt somewhat aggrieved by her uninterested telephone manner and rather curt response – a bit like the COMPUTER SAYS NO character in Little Britain.

As it happens, I’ve not complained to the BBC since, mainly because my anti-censorship views (evidenced in this example I think) mean I do very little complaining because very little shocks me, but perhaps partly, unconsciously, due to unhelpful experiences of the kind detailed here.

It should be much quicker, easier and less expensive (in terms of phone charges) to complain about BBC output. After all, the best organisations tend to be those that deal with the most complaints. That may appear to be a contradictory statement, but those organisations remaining transparent about their weaknesses (as well as their strengths) and acting upon every customer’s complaint succeed, in the long term, in meeting expectations and manifesting consumer loyalty.

A step in the right direction then. It’s just a shame our hard-earned tax-paying had to fund a committee that would’ve been unnecessary had the BBC been doing its public-service job properly in the first place.

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