Tory MP blasts Horne, Corden and BBC “smut”

June 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm Leave a comment

hornecorden
James Corden and Mat Horne host their own show on BBC3

by Tony Grew

A Conservative MP has brought forward a private member’s bill that would restrict the BBC in spending its income from the licence fee on “public service content.”

Christopher Chope told the House on Friday that he has recently been paying attention to the output of youth-oriented channel BBC3. He was not impressed.

“In the last few weeks, I have been confined to barracks by a health condition, and I was able to note how various programmes on BBC3 were described by the BBC itself,” he said.

“I did not waste time watching these programmes, but one programme caught my attention—Kirsten’s Topless Ambition”, which was produced by the BBC, funded by taxpayers’ money and, according to the chief executive of Ofcom, is “public service content”.

“The BBC describes the programme on its website as ‘a documentary in which kids TV presenter Kirsten O’Brien must decide whether to take her clothes off for a lads’ mag to try and clinch bigger presenting jobs.’

“It adds that the programme ‘contains adult themes.’

“In other words, it contains smut. Why should that programme be funded out of public money raised by a poll tax—that is effectively what the licence fee is?

“I understand that BBC3 has very low viewing figures, and it is obviously trawling desperately to try to attract new viewers.

“Another programme that caught my attention on BBC3 was Horne and Corden.

“It was described as: ‘Mat and James struggle at synchronised swimming, while gay reporter Tim Goodall investigates knife crime. Contains adult humour.'”

Mr Chope said his bill would define public service content for the purposes of public service broadcasting.

He then attacked the BBC for not giving enough coverage in its news bulletins to a speech at the European Parliament by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan – the speech, a stinging criticism of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, became an international hit when it was placed on YouTube.

Mr Chope said BBC content should be made in the UK and “we have a lot to do before we can be sure that the ‘public service content’ of some BBC news programmes satisfies the criteria of being impartial, factual and objective.”

Public service content should also “inform, educate or entertain children.”

“The third category is content whose primary purpose is ‘charitable or religious,'” he said.

“That speaks for itself. Again, there has been a lot of concern that religious or charitable objectives in broadcasting are being squeezed out in the BBC’s never-ceasing search for higher viewing figures.

“The fourth criterion would be that the content was not otherwise likely to be provided by the market responding to consumer demand.”

Lib Dem MP David Heath said that Mr Chope’s proposals would mean “all the major sporting occasions, which many people look forward to seeing on the BBC, would not meet the hon. Gentleman’s test and would not be able to be televised by the BBC under his proposals.”

Mr Chope responded:

“The hon. Gentleman misses the point big time.

“One of the reasons fewer sporting events are now on independent television is that the BBC, with the benefit of unlimited public subsidies through the licence fee, has been bidding up the price to such an extent that ITV cannot afford to show such events.

“I argue that if the content can be provided by the market responding to consumer demand, it is wrong that it should be funded by the licence fee payer, who is effectively paying a mandatory poll tax for the privilege of being able to have broadcasting receiving equipment.”

Ed Vaizey, a shadow Culture spokesman, drew attention to the publication of the Digital Britain report on June 16th.

“We meet in the House today having lost the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has been in charge of this consultation and has now gone to the Department of Health,” he said.

“We learned from our newspapers yesterday and this morning that the Minister responsible for Digital Britain, Lord Carter, is set to resign very shortly after the report has been published; rumour has it that he may be on his way to Australia.

“Having put forward the framework, he is to abandon the sinking ship that is this Government’s broadcasting policy.”

Mr Vaizey said it is not Conservative party policy to abolish the licence fee.

“It is also important to state that I am a strong supporter of the BBC, as are my frontbench colleagues and, indeed, the leader of our party,” he said.

“The BBC is a bit like family, in the sense that we do not question its existence, and we admire and respect it, but that does not mean that we are not prepared to criticise it when appropriate.

“My hon. Friend cited some good examples of the programming that the BBC is putting out on BBC3 that it might be relatively difficult for it to justify.

“I, too, have not spent my leisure hours viewing these programmes, but they seem highly questionable programmes for the BBC to fund.

“Nevertheless, it is important to restate the fact that all of us, in all parts of the House, should be jealous of the BBC’s editorial independence.

“Although the Bill sets out worthwhile criteria for the definition of public service broadcasting, it is important to remember that when people switch on the BBC, as much as when they switch on ITV and Sky, they want to be entertained.”

Mr Vaizey said many “great and well-loved programmes on the BBC” would not fall within the criteria set out in the bill.

“One need only think of Strictly Come Dancing or Top Gear.”

He said that public service broadcasters contribute 90% of UK-originated content.

“I add my concern that the (bill’s) criteria do not include drama—which covers the well loved Dr. Who, Spooks, one-offs such as the plays about the early life of Margaret Thatcher, and comedy such as Gavin and Stacey.

“When the current charter settlement was agreed, the BBC was reminded that, above all, licence fee payers want entertainment.

“One of the clearest messages from the public consultation on the Green Paper was the importance of the BBC’s role in providing entertainment.

“Audiences do not want an overdose of worthiness. The BBC was told to continue to take fun seriously, with entertainment ingrained in all its services and made central to its mission.”

For the Liberal Democrats Mr Heath said Mr Chope had weakened his own argument.

“The most damning thing I heard from the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) was his condemnation of programmes, only to add, “Of course, I didn’t watch them. I just know they were rubbish.”

“Interestingly, one of the programmes that he damned had an intimate connection with a programme that the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) commended as a valuable asset, because Horne and Corden stars one of the major players in Gavin and Stacey, which the hon. Member for Wantage recommended.

“I have seen Horne and Corden and it was absolutely dire, but that is a matter of personal taste, and has nothing to do with whether the BBC should be attempting to build on and repeat the success of a programme using another concept.”

Mr Heath said the BBC was duplicating some services in news and current affairs.

“Different people appear to be doing the same job for different parts of the BBC, and we wonder whether that is really necessary.

“I would like the BBC to become better attuned to such issues. Some of the contracts awarded to what is called the top talent are difficult to justify in the context of broadcasting as a whole, certainly in the present economic climate, and I would like to see that question addressed as well.

“It is important, however, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must not allow proper criticism of the BBC to be used as part of a campaign of attrition against the concept of the BBC itself.”

Mr Heath said the bill had not been properly thought through.

“He is so intent on providing the extremely narrow spectrum of things he considers to be the best of public service broadcasting that he will not allow anything else,” he said.

“He will not allow any of us to enjoy ourselves: we must only be educated; we must go only to church services; we must see things that nobody else wants to see. That is going to be the function of the BBC.

“What a miserable future for the BBC, as prescribed by the hon. Member for Christchurch and his Puritan friends. I am afraid that I do not and will not accept that. I will not support the Bill today.”

For the government Gerry Sutcliffe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said Mr Chope knows the bill he has proposed would not achieve what he wants.

“It is important to establish where we are heading in regard to broadcasting,” he said.

“Having listened carefully to what was said by the hon. Member for Christchurch, I want to ensure that the whole House knows that it would be very dangerous to allow his Bill to proceed.”

Mr Sutcliffe began to outline the description of public service television broadcasting that appears in section 264 of the Communications Act 2003, but the debate ran out of time.

It will resume on Friday 16 October.

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