Posts Tagged ‘BBC’
Andrew Neil’s polemic about the influence of the public school system on english politics and the evaporation of the meritocracy ushered in by the likes of Harold Wilson on the left and Margaret Thatcher on the right offered up some truly staggering statistics. Try this one for size – 75% of the coalition cabinet are millionaires. 66% went to public school. Men of the people they are certainly not.
The point the program made was not that private education and privilege should disqualify people from rule, tempting though that conclusion undoubtedly is, but that people whose access to an education of similar quality is denied, have little or no chance of becoming successful in politics these days. In this context, the draconian cuts that the coalition have imposed on education are even more alarming.
Andrew Neil is a brilliant journalist and a shining example of someone who has benefitted from living through times when the UK was a meritocracy. His interviews were drawn from a genuine cross section, including Sarah Teather, minister for education, Douglas Hurd, David Davis – the man who lost out to David Cameron in the Tory leadership contest, the ludicrous Jacob Rees-Mogg (“I’m a man of the people,Vox populi, vox dei.”) and Lord Mandelson. What emerged is the surprising fact that for the first time, we are seeing career politicians who have never actually had a proper job.
The route to power goes roughly like this – public school, preferably Eton or Westminster, University, preferably Oxford though Cambridge has a part to play, a stint as a researcher or ‘Spad’ – Westminster speak for ‘special advisor’ then ushered into a safe seat. It is worth noting that the roles of researcher and special advisor are extremely badly paid, requiring some private means in order to make ends meet. Of the Trade Unions, traditionally a route to power for the working man in the sixties, we heard nothing. Ironically, Margaret Thatcher, the last beneficiary of the meritocratic seventies, smashed this route to power with some deliberation.
We are left with the uneasy feeling that the rise of the new Tories was inevitable and that the meritocracy we thought we had achieved under New Labour was an illusion. The system has the last word and if you strangle the supply of talent, you are left with the government we have. How this is to be fixed is unclear. Equality begins with education and what is suggested by the evidence presented here is that until the comprehensive system provides an education that can match that provided by the public schools, the bias will continue.
As a parting thought, I believe that some exceptional people will flourish in the comprehensive system. I know that some teachers continue to do an excellent job of imparting the fundamental skills in the traditional manner. Of child centred learning I believe there are questions to be asked. I’d be interested to know which public schools employ these methods. The flaw in the concept of grammar schools was the eleven plus exam. It produced a two tiered system at an impossibly early age, both unforgiving and unfair. The tragedy is that the grammar schools worked.
Actually, I disagree. It is a blessing for a number of reasons, not least that it spares us the ordeal of listening to David Cameron’s ghastly triumphalist spin for a minute longer than we have to.
FIFA is an organisation that England has absolutely no influence in. The notion that sending a couple of old Etonians and a washed up pro would somehow change this is absolutely laughable – we wouldn’t do it in business, so why on earth did we think it would work with FIFA?
It’s a good thing we failed, for the simple reason that the humiliation of being knocked out in the early rounds as hosts would unleash another round of self serving rubbish, culminating in a statement from the FA insisting that no review of the way we run football in this country is necessary.
So, how do we run football? Well, Michael Gove, the Tory minister for education is so enthusiastic about sport that he is to replace the current offer of up to five weekly hours of PE and physical activity with “an Olympic-style school sport competition”. Marvellous news! so what exactly does this competition consist of? Well, an opportunity for a tiny minority of exceptionally gifted children to compete once every four years. So, basically more Tory cuts masquerading as a good thing.
Let’s have a look at the FA – clearly after all the criticism of FIFA, and the flouncing resignation of Peter Burden, the ‘acting’ chief executive, they must be whiter than white? Er. no actually, the FA, like FIFA is run as a fiefdom, unaccountable to anyone. You don’t even have to be a football fan to work out that the FA is doing a pretty poor job.
The Premier League – the self styled ‘Worlds Biggest Football Competition’. Well, if it were measured in terms of salaries and egos, it probably is. The sad thing about the premier league is that it encourages the english to imagine we are actually good at football. This is emphatically not the case. we have a few stout yeomen who bring an element of physical prowess to the game, but compared to the continental and south american teams, we fail time and again to measure up.
The arrogance of our players, in thinking that they were guaranteed at least a place in the semi finals of the world cup, mirrors the arrogance of David Cameron in thinking that we were guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of the FIFA committee just because he could be bothered to turn up. Leaving aside for another day the worrying fact that miscalculation on this scale is hardly the trait we look for in a prime minister, this was hubris of epic proportion.
We did not lose because the BBC upset the members of the committee, nor because the Guardian chose to engage in the very thing we want a free press to engage in – investigative journalism. We lost because as a nation, we just don’t get it. We don’t matter any more. We are not the home of football, we’re not even particularly good at it.
This post may be a long one, and it may well degenerate into an angry rant, but in the immortal words of Peter Finch in the classic movie, Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore…”
It’s this government, it’s the so called Big Society, it’s every time I hear David Cameron telling me what’s good for me, it’s every time I read that the Northern Rock have taken just 12 months to recover 50% of the deficit that had the tax payer bail them out, every time I read that the cuts in public services are for keeps and that HSBC have earmarked several million pounds to cover their bonus payments, but it’s especially when I hear Jeremy Hunt waxing lyrical about public service television whilst simultaneously axing the Film Council that provides funding for the film industry this country is so rightly proud of.
According to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, broadcasters need to go beyond issue-raising and embrace problem-solving. “Our investment in public service broadcasting in this country is substantial, so we want PSBs to have a real impact in informing, educating and shifting opinion.
“We have one of the best PSB systems in the world but it’s time to move it on. We need it to take responsibility for advancing people’s understanding of issues for themselves and to come up with concrete solutions.”
Like so much Tory rhetoric this appears to be almost reasonable, but taken in conjunction with the pronouncements made by the same Jeremy about the axing of the film council, I start to worry about the quality of thinking behind the changes the Tories have in mind.
“Many of these bodies were set up a considerable length of time ago, and times and demands have changed. In the light of the current financial situation, and as part of our drive to increase openness and efficiency across Whitehall, it is the right time to look again at the role, size and scope of these organisations.”
Role, size and scope? Of the Film Council? Or perhaps he was thinking of bigger fish, even the BBC? This is what Tory advisors, free market thinktank the Adam Smith Institute have to say on the subject:
” ….The BBC would, over a limited period of time, allow licence fee payers to either lapse or switch to voluntary subscription.
“Public Service” would be redefined to essentials and the monitoring of these would come from a specialist unit within the relevant Government department.
Core public service content would be “free” and include news, but not entertainment genres or most documentary and factual output. The over 75 free-access options would continue.
Content intended to promote the UK (like the present World Service) should be directly funded by Government as it is now.”
So looking forward to the formation of a government department monitoring the public service – why I’d almost describe it as a nanny state.
But I’m being bitter and sarcastic, instead, let’s consider the position of the Public Service Broadcaster we have, the BBC. The BBC has it’s hands tied by the BBC Charter which dictates that the BBC must remain editorially impartial. The BBC is also forbidden from (ab)using it’s position for commercial gain, a situation that poses real problems for an organisation attempting to plan ahead in the face of anticipated Tory cuts. Jeremy Hunt would like the BBC to have a real impact in informing, educating and changing opinion. He’s moved decisively to kill off the film Council, so what is his plan to change the role of the BBC? It’s a problem.
What if the nightmare scenario, that the Film Council cut is a first step designed to take the heat out of a much more decisive and vicious swipe at the heart of our broadcasting industry, turns out to be true? Let’s take a look at the alternative, the free market. Independent television is run along free market lines more or less, subsidised inadequately by advertising revenue, bodies like the Film Council, the BBC, and, as the more successful indies are talking to the likes of Time Warner, American money.
Commercial television, by definition, is unlikely to provide the kind of socially informative content that will make a real difference to British society, precisely because of the free market. There is very little money in making TV that appeals to UK only audiences. The indies need to sell their programs abroad to remain competitive. At the same time, commissioners are ruled by viewing figures pulling advertising revenue and while this is the case, we will continue to be fed a diet of reality tv and ‘celebrity’ led documentary. One person who arguably kicked the trend was Jamie Oliver, and he produced his ground breaking ‘School Dinners’ program for Channel 4, five years ago. This was crusading television at it’s best, informative, entertaining and it made a difference. The government of the day (Labour, not Tory) sat up and took notice, and acted. It was, as the resounding emptiness of our TV schedule ever since reveals, exceptional.
I’m sick of the Tory party and their patronising chatter. It’s like being surrounded by a gaggle of hectoring seagulls. If they are serious about the power of public service television, then let them free the BBC from the confines of it’s charter, because nobody is better positioned to deliver quality game changing television than the BBC. Let them also forget about trashing the film council – not because we don’t want to sponsor more Keira Knightleys, exceptional as she is, but because the next game changing idea will come from the independent sector and it will need funding. But I’m rambling, the cuts, as David Cameron took the trouble to explain today, are here to stay. Sadly, at least for the next five years, so is this coalition, this confederacy of dunces.
Witless, vapid and contributing nothing save a supersized ego to the sum of human knowledge. Ok, that may be a subjective opinion, but am I the only one who has grown to detest celebrity led Television documentaries to the point where I will actually refuse to watch them?
There is a trend these days towards hiring ‘celebrities’ to front documentaries on subjects which a discerning audience may safely deduce are of, let’s say limited interest to the vacuous twerp presenting them. The nadir of this miserable format is surely ‘Lindsay Lohan’s Indian Journey‘, a documentary with a fascinating subject; child trafficking, ruined by the most inappropriate presenter. The identity of the halfwit who came up with the idea that Lohan’s vast experience of scandal sheets, rehabilitation and straight-to-video films would qualify her to pontificate on this subject is unknown, but I wait in trepidation for them to commission a series featuring Amanda Holden on “Joan of Arc – the making of a martyr”.
Budgets are being cut, format television is in, the hapless viewer is in the grip of an industry that has promoted a generation of reality TV makers into editorial positions. Is it any surprise then that TV is in such a mess? Google has replaced imagination, researchers armed with Apple Macs scour the web, retrieving facts by the million …and completely miss the human stories that used to make documentary such a fascinating form. Commissioners pore over these tepid offerings, invent a suitably tabloid styled title and then, hedging their bets, invest half the budget in a celebrity presenter. Ratings are everything, quality is out, superficiality is in.
I would like, just for a change to see an old fashioned documentary that breathes life into it’s subject, one that makes me want to find out more. Genuine enthusiasts are endlessly fascinating given the chance and in some cases, possessed of a passion for their subject which is TV gold. That doesn’t mean that all celebrities are as banal and self interested as the dismal duo cited here, but please, before documentary as a medium is reduced to the depths so effortlessly plumbed by “My 100 Best Rock Songs”, can we stop patronising the viewers and return to the type of television we used to do so well?
Internet myth or urban tragedy? When one of America’s most iconic cities is portrayed as a post apocalyptic dystopia, returning foot by foot to the prairies from whence it came, the temptation to mythologise is almost overpowering. Motor City, home of the automobile, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Kevin Sanderson and Tamla Motown as a metaphor for the decline of western civilisation may be stretching a point, but is it a point worth considering?
Built on the fabulous wealth generated by the motor industry, ripped apart, literally by the freeways designed to cope with the ever increasing number of vehicles and ultimately crushed by recession as the automobile industry failed and the money went elsewhere, Detroit is not the city it once was. Now, 40 per cent of the land in the centre is returning to prairie. Greenery grows up through abandoned office blocks, houses and collapsing car plants. Unemployment has reached 30%; 33.8% of Detroit’s population and 48.5% of its children live below the poverty line. Forty-seven per cent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate; 29 Detroit schools closed in 2009 alone.
One in five houses now stands empty. Property prices have fallen 80% or more in Detroit over the last three years. A three-bedroom house on Albany Street is still on the market for $1.
These are terrifying figures, yet locals feel that Julien Temple’s film misrepresents the city, it has been referred to as ‘Ruin Porn‘ and people point to a still vibrant music scene (White Stripes, Eminem, Kid Rock) and evidence of major investment in the city in the shape of Ford Field, Comerica Park, the Fox Theater, People Mover, Renaissance Center, Book Cadillac, Rosa Parks Transit Center and a proposed new hockey arena. The citing of an influx of art punks into the freely available housing and a DIY ethic recalling both the halcyon days of San Francisco in the sixties and London in the seventies, as evidence of a new, alternative vitality re-energising the city is perhaps too conveniently poetic.
America has been here before – New York was functionally bankrupt in the 1970′s, Central Park overrun by muggers and graffiti artists. London too was a pretty grim place around the same time – I recall the area now housing Chelsea Harbour as row upon row of semi derelict houses, many of them home to drug addled squatters and Thatcher’s other children – heavily politicised self styled anarchists.
The root cause of Detroit’s collapse is not simple to isolate. The car industry certainly has a lot to answer for, but then so does the federal housing policy post World War II. What seems certain is that Urban Farming and Art are unlikely to reverse the trend in the forseeable future. We are left with uncertainty, there is no doubting the scale of the disaster and the power of the imagery, but is Detroit the beginning of the end of capitalism or just another blip in the gradual decline of Western Civilisation? Or are we, as ever, overthinking?
“What’s going on here?”
“I’ve no idea, I just woke up…”
A Single Man is based on a Christopher Isherwood story that addresses the universal themes of death, alienation and fear. It is the story of a single day in the life of a middle aged college professor played by Colin Firth who has struggled since his lover was killed in a car accident. The family’s callous refusal to allow him to attend the funeral denies him the opportunity to pay his last respects.
Colin Firth’s character, George plans to kill himself and as his day progresses his dealings with other human beings turn into a series of small goodbyes culminating in an encounter with a male student who has identified him as a kindred spirit. They go swimming and return to George’s house. George wakes up in the night to find the student asleep on the couch, having discovered and confiscated the gun with which George planned to dispatch himself. In this moment George realises there is hope and having gained peace with his grief, suffers a heart attack and dies.
This is a significant film, not least because in spite of it’s big themes and art house direction it is playing to packed houses across the UK. It would seem that contrary to prevailing trends in both cinema and television, audiences are choosing to watch this intelligent and touching film rather than the latest stupefying episode of ‘Celebrity Come Dancing’ or whatever other dreary format the commissioning editors choose to insult our intelligence with.
It would be nice to imagine that the recognition granted to this and other recent films such as Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker’ will inspire a new wave of intelligent film making. Is it also too much to hope for that the audiences flocking to see these films might inspire television’s commissioning editors to take a few risks? Whisper it quietly, but could it be that Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, has finally got it right in his avowed intention to sacrifice quantity for quality?
Spearheaded by the BBC’s iPlayer and supported by a proliferation of mobile devices, the concept of video on demand is starting to look like something that might just break through this year.
Those that remember the Betamax wars will hardly be surprised to find that there is a bewildering array of technology and solutions aimed at exploiting this market, from desktop players (iPlayer), internet streaming (4oD) to dedicated hardware solutions supporting HD (Netgear EVA 9150) and hybrid offerings such as the Sony VGXTP Media Centre PC. So given that one wrong move is likely to lead to yet another worthless chunk of hardware taking up space in the garage, where does a person go to get multichannel on demand Television?
The answer, as ever in the consultancy business is…”it depends”!
At this point in time, a decent laptop, with widescreen and equipped with iPlayer, 4oD and a bookmark to Seesaw will allow access to current and some legacy TV. However if you want to view this on the Television, life gets a little more complicated.
The Sony Media Centre PC is a solution that was designed to leverage the media capabilities of Windows Vista in order to make the Television the centre of the home media experience. Unfortunately it is only available with Windows Vista and at around £700 is very expensive for what is in effect, a moderately specified PC without a monitor! On the plus side, and this really is a plus, it offers twin freeview receivers which means you can record one program while watching another.
More interesting are the appliances offered by Netgear at the top end of the market and Popcorn at the middle market. The Netgear EVA9150 Digital Entertainer Elite is an appliance that supports wired and wireless connectivity to a home network and supports probably the widest range of formats i have seen anywhere, namely:
- MP3 up to 320 Kbps or variable bit rate (VBR)
- WMA8 and WMA9 files up to 192 Kbps or variable bit rate (VBR)
- WMV9 up to 1080p (to 40 Mbps)
- Internet radio (streaming MP3)
- Video codecs: MPEG 1/2/4 SD; MPEG-2 HD HP@HL to 40 Mbps; MPEG-4 Part 2 HP@HL to 10 Mbps (Xvid); H.264 HP@HL 4.1, VC1/WMV9HD to 1080p 40 Mbps
- Video file formats: AVI, DivX, Xvid, WMV9, MOV, M4V, VOB, MPG, MP1, MP2, MP4, ISO, IFO, MKV (with AC3 only), TS, M2TS, PS
- Audio formats: MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC, WMA-Pro, M4A, M4P, AC3, DTS Passthrough, PCM, LPCM, AIFF
- Photo formats: JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF
- Playlist formats: WPL, ASX, WAX, WVX, PLS, M3U, RMP
iPlayer can be configured to forward to this device from a Windows Vista Media Centre supporting PC, but it’s not hard to see a future where this device can be used to power a home cinema set up. In fact, movies are where this beast really comes into its own and with this range of format support, this looks like a winner if downloaded movies are the main reason for wanting to play. At £300 it is less than half the price of the Sony, but while you gain in viewing movies, you lose the freeview access and access to the full range of download TV.
Technologically, somewhere between the two, the Popcorn Hour C-200 supports a similarly vast array of formats, supports a range of internet enabled download TV (mostly American) and can be equipped with a 1Tb hard drive. for approximately £300. It can also be equipped with a Blu-ray drive, if you need it to double up as a player.
So, confronted with such fluidity, where does one turn for stability? This is where it gets really interesting. In the UK, the BBC have initiated Project Canvas, an attempt to define a platform specification for broadband delivered television. They have some heavyweight partners in this venture – ITV, C4, Five, BT and Talk Talk to name but five. Imagine if you will a device that is as well equipped as the Netgear offering, giving access to iPlayer, 4oD and legacy Television in addition to downloaded movies from a multitude of sources. Imagine if that device were also to support Freeview (in the UK) and was able to match the choice offered by Popcorn Hour in terms of American TV – now that would be a worthwhile piece of kit.
That would also represent a threat to the Sky hegemony – Sky TV are nowhere to be seen in this story – Sky have already offered us Sky+ and Sky HD – at a price. These solutions represent a one off payment and for those that don’t care about Sport particularly, the first really viable alternative to a Murdoch dominated future. Now there’s a thought.
Who killed the recorded music industry? In the light of Apple’s veiled threat to shut down iTunes in the face of demands from the music publishing industry for a larger slice of the pie, this question is suddenly a lot more relevant. The central issue is not about Apple, it is about the way that society rewards artists and the failure of the free market to keep up with technology.
Before the gramaphone (ignoring the wax cylinder) there was no recorded music industry. Musicians made a precarious living by playing real instruments, live, in front of real people. Songwriters had a share of the sheet music sales from popular songs. as I said, the living was precarious.
The music industry as we know it, evolved during the sixties – by this I mean the infrastructure of the industry, the distribution channels, the manufacturing, recording and marketing instruments, the fundamental structure of a recording contract that tied an artist into promoting records on tours underwritten by the record companies, ultimately paid for by the royalties on successful records. and by records, I mean the physical vinyl artifact.
This arrangement suited the record companies very well, so well that when CD’s and digital file formats arrived, they completely failed to see the writing on the wall. It was abundantly obvious to anyone with the wit to look, that recorded music would be passed from person to person via computer networks. In one fell swoop, the record companies lost control of the medium and some would say, the industry.
Napster, the peer to peer file sharing service was the first to really get under the record companies skin – hugely successful, the companies invention, a peer to peer music sharing system created a model for a decentralised distribution channel that has proved impossible for the traditional industry to control. It took a federal government to close down Napster, but there are a host of similar enterprises still in semi legal business.
This is why it has been so difficult for the industry to deal with. For each track there is an owner of the sound recording, the record company. There is also a separate work, the musical composition – the song the artist sings. By law, each track of the CD is also considered a reproduction of the musical composition. On a typical CD, there may be 12 sound recordings and 8 separate music publishers. Multiply that times 3,000 record companies in the US, and 25,000 music publishers, times 27,000 new CDs per year. Separate individual negotiations for all these rights are simply not a viable option.
With CD sales falling last year by 20% to ($7.4bn (£4bn)), the record companies now have a major problem. The artists do too, but the good ones are now making up the shortfall by playing live – this has to be good for the long term health of the art. By which i mean that new technology has been seen by the record companies as primarily a means of reducing recording costs – to the detriment of the quality of the product, as the art of songwriting took a back seat to the art of sampling. In the current climate, forcing acts to play live may encourage the use of technology to entertain the audiences again. But it’s not that simple.
Traditionally, the audience / society, pays the piper – prices are hiked and artists, record companies and publishers all live happily ever after. Now however there is a problem. Apple don’t own the medium, they are just the de facto owners of the largest share of the market. Rivals include Sony, who as a record and hardware company themselves, would be very well placed to mount a strong competitive alternative. So Apple will not want the price of recorded music to rise. The record companies, watching their profits dwindle daily are unlikely to want to take the hit, which leaves the publishers and the artists themselves.
Interesting times ahead. Should songwriters be paid for writing songs? Is it reasonable for the record industry to seek to sustain its profit levels when they no longer own the medium? What does the record industry do in these days of digital recording technology, to justify its profit? Should Apple simply raise the price of digital music?
What if the artist retains control of the recording? Is there any point in recording 12 song albums any longer? What are the implications of selling less songs? Would a tour the size of Madonna’s for example be sustainable on the back of the profit gained from a couple of singles? Actually the answer to that one is yes, ditto The Rolling Stones, but what of the middle ranking acts that depend on touring to shift albums?
But back to the central issue – we have an audience, millions of music hungry people with money to burn, who are quite happy to spend it. We have a computer company, Apple, capitalising on the digital format to charge the audience for the music at 99 cents per track. We have a music industry desperate to play ball with Apple because they no longer own the medium. We have a music publishing industry asserting its right to gain a higher percentage of the digital rights – so who loses?
Answers on a postcard please!