Skip

Michael Buerk Attacks BBC, the media, the privately educated, and inequality
December 31, 2012 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Michael Buerk: ""The arts, low and high, are dominated by them. The BBC is a private-school old boys' and girls' association. They edit most newspapers, even the Leftish Daily Mirror and the Guardian", he wrote."

Buerk also criticised the BBC's coverage of the Jubilee : "saying it was "cringingly inept" and had left him ashamed."

Michael Buerk rants about the BBC, the media and the UK.
posted by marienbad (54 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The property is being bought up by Russian crooks, Greek tax-dodgers and Arabs escaping their summer or, more likely their spring.

Oh, that IS a zinger.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


"I was so ashamed of the BBC I would have wept if I hadn't been so angry,"

Yeesh. Ask your doctor if Lithium is right for you.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:37 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't help wondering, in my ignorant wrong-side-of-fhe-Atlantic way, if the BBC's current problems don't in some way subtend from the very 'reforms' imposed on it, ultimately, by those most interested in seeing it fail, like Murdoch and the Barclay Bros and that sort. It's a bit like here in the US where the 1%'s tame legislatures disembowel the public sector, then fill the air with soundbites about how bad the public sector is and how that proves we should privatize it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:41 PM on December 31, 2012 [23 favorites]


That is pretty much how it works, yes.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure, but I think there may be some kids on his lawn and their presence seems to leave him rather vexed.
posted by dazed_one at 1:45 PM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


I really love a lot of this rant. The dominance of the public (Americans, read "private") school elite in Britain is a big problem, and the kind of patronizing programming that's dumbed down to oblivion in a misguided attempt to be "inclusive" is both outright offensive and helping to create an increasingly-divided culture. I'm not sure why he's attracting so much ridicule: from where I'm standing, he's right.
posted by bwerdmuller at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


So six hours of the Queen standing on a jetty watching boats float past didn't make for an exciting TV spectacle? I am shocked.
posted by afx237vi at 1:47 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not really sure what the point of this article is, to be perfectly honest. The whole thing is just, "Local man writes column in Daily Mail." So what?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:54 PM on December 31, 2012


I'm not really sure what the point of this article is, to be perfectly honest. The whole thing is just, "Local man writes column in Daily Mail." So what?

I'm 90% sure the point is that a once cherished institution of the world has gone from having a knowledgeable expert explaining the significance of things to the latest tarted up pseudocelebrity going "wots all this about here then?" under the guise of being "inclusive".
posted by Talez at 1:58 PM on December 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


*shudders*

This is pretty much "Daily Mail criticises BBC". Like they always criticise the BBC. Like it's what they do when they're not rounding up immagrants to shout at. You can redirect from the original article to something in The Guardian, but really?

There are always problems to be had when deciding how "low" or "high" to position a programme. BBC missed it for some with the jubilee, but this isn't the end of the world, and it shouldn't be taken as proof of dropped standards.

Side note: Oh how I hate the phrase "low culture". Who gets to decide which popular entertainers are vacuous? We love Tess here. She's fun and she's light and she's not going to be reading Camu any day soon, but so what. Fuck you Daily Mail, and all who read you. I guess that articles about how 16 year olds are all grown up is proper entertainment for your imagined fucking cultural elite.
posted by zoo at 2:04 PM on December 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


BBC is a private-school old boys' and girls' association

Are there many major British institutions for which this statement could not be made?

It seems like this is emblematic of a much larger problem in British society, and that this guy's focus on the BBC is missing the much larger picture.
posted by schmod at 2:06 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


under the guise of being "inclusive".

Sometimes inclusivity isn't a guise. Sometimes, it's inclusivity. You want an old fashioned BBC with Eton intoned patriachal voices telling you what to think? Buy it yourself. For now, me and a significant majority of licence payers like Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who and Eastenders and The Great British Bakeoff. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than some imagined intellectual shangri-la.
posted by zoo at 2:09 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michael Buerk went to an indepent school (not exactly Eton, but the school is a member of the HMC and so most people would call it a Public School). Tess Daly did not. Is the best way to argue for a more inclusive elite class really for a privately educated older man to lambast a young(er) woman for being an "airhead"?

He's right about the Jubilee coverage though.

... the kind of patronizing programming that's dumbed down to oblivion in a misguided attempt to be "inclusive" is both outright offensive and helping to create an increasingly-divided culture.

I'm not sure of this, but my instinct is that is related. Working class people who came up the hard way through the grammar school system have usually been much better at defending culture from dumbing down because they already have the "you're a snob" flank solidly locked down and defended
posted by atrazine at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm 90% sure the point is that a once cherished institution of the world has gone from having a knowledgeable expert explaining the significance of things to the latest tarted up pseudocelebrity going "wots all this about here then?" under the guise of being "inclusive".

So then the ranks should be filled with toffs?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:17 PM on December 31, 2012


Uh, elite haters - it's such an exclusive club.
posted by elpapacito at 2:18 PM on December 31, 2012


Nice how the sexist, racist prick "critiques" classism once he's got his, eh? Spot on, Mickey.
posted by Catchfire at 2:19 PM on December 31, 2012


Sometimes inclusivity isn't a guise. Sometimes, it's inclusivity. You want an old fashioned BBC with Eton intoned patriachal voices telling you what to think? Buy it yourself. For now, me and a significant majority of licence payers like Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who and Eastenders and The Great British Bakeoff. It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than some imagined intellectual shangri-la.

You're right. God forbid people learn something about their country during a televised pageant. If they figured out that all the pomp is mostly a circlejerk for the rich they might write into The Sun and complain about taxpayer's money being wasted.

It'd be total anarchy.
posted by Talez at 2:25 PM on December 31, 2012


urgh, don't really want to ask, but is there a link to the actual article he wrote for the Mail on Sunday?
posted by Bwithh at 2:27 PM on December 31, 2012


Setting aside the messenger, it is true that the coverage of the Jubilee was utter dross. The decision to skip the Little Ships in favour of vox pops was unbelievably crass, but was only the most striking of a day of terrible news coverage.

I think that Reith was right to identify the job of a national broadcaster as exploring major national events and issues in a way that inform, educate and entertain; pointless celebrity filler doesn't engage in the issues of the Jubilee in either a positive or critical way. Regardless of one's views, it's reasonable to expect some level of coverage quality.

Huge ad hom: Buerk can f right off with all the 'you never see an English face in London' Daily Mail/BNP crap though, though I probably should have expected it given that he invites Melanie Phillips or David Starkey on the Moral Maze. It is striking that the program prefers ideologues rather than someone on the right with the ability to engage with issues in a way that produces fact-based arguments. It's almost like he has become the thing that he professes to hate.
posted by jaduncan at 2:44 PM on December 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


As an ignorant American, I don't have a deep knowledge of the problems and legitimate criticisms related to the BBC. All I know is that I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for the limited section of programming I've been able to see here in the states, especially and including the BBC original stuff. It's an amazing body of work that any country would do well to emulate. I wish our PBS stacked up (though it ain't shabby either).
posted by lazaruslong at 2:47 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lazaruslong, you are obviously yet to see 'Snog, Marry, Avoid' then?
posted by Megami at 2:53 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's a regulation imperial shedload of false dichotomy in this thread. Or does anyone here sincerely believe that there is no possible presenter representing a middle ground between an Oxford Don and a party animal lager ladette?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:03 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I last talked to people in the BBC a few years ago, their take on Murdoch was that he was gunning for them via the media AND his proxies in politics because the BBC was a threat to him.
posted by zippy at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2012


As if anybody but the long term unemployed actually watched that flotilla or cared about it.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2012


Megami: "Lazaruslong, you are obviously yet to see 'Snog, Marry, Avoid' then?"

Hah, I'm sure there are a lot of stinkers too. I'll trade you, though.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:12 PM on December 31, 2012


From this FPP, compare and contrast:

"The series was so successful in airing the horrors of unemployment that the government tried to ban it.

And in 1934, Sir John Reith, the BBC's formidable director-general, was summoned to Downing Street to be told by the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, that the series could not continue.

Reith had no choice but to recognise that the government did indeed have the power to pull the programmes.

But he told MacDonald that if this were done, there would be a 20-minute silence at the time they would have been broadcast, and it would be announced that this was because the government had 'refused to allow the unemployed to express their view'."
posted by marienbad at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


Of course, they now air their views on the Jeremy Kyle Show.
posted by marienbad at 3:18 PM on December 31, 2012


I recall seeing a show about lawns. At least I think it was about lawns, I fell asleep. I awoke hours later and it was still on. It might still be on, for all I know.
posted by tommasz at 3:29 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who gets to decide which popular entertainers are vacuous?

In the UK? Stewart Lee. He does.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Christ, what a b^uerk.
posted by zippy at 4:04 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was excited after moving from the UK to America to see that BBC America was in my free cable package. Then I saw what shows they imported. I can picture the BBC executives laughing.
posted by srboisvert at 4:06 PM on December 31, 2012


No matter how good the reason for a rant, having it delivered by a sexist asshole who isn't afraid to throw in some xenophobic insults and thinks 'interviewing transvestites' is an good go-to zinger insult for all that is lowbrow... yeah, the argument and the opinion are more than a little diluted.

(Also, for what it's worth and fyi, BBC America the company has as much to do with what's on the BBC in the UK as Lionheart (the TV distribution network that sold British properties in North America in the 70s and 80s) did -- which is to say, even though the name is now similar, really nothing at all; the cable channel even less so.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:28 PM on December 31, 2012


So the government is being run by the Bullingdon Club, but it's the BBC's coverage of a powerless figurehead looking bored on a boat failing to be suitably differential and solemn that makes this man rail and rage against insular elites?

This is more of the same false populist bullshit Murdoch has been peddling since he was a young man drowning puppies for fun in Australia.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:33 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Snog Marry Avoid is a show on BBC3 that's loved by teenagers. It's a makeover show, and it's probably less than 0.1% of the BBC's output. Kids I know love it.

No doubt the Jubilee could have been handled with more gravitas, but it's pretty weak to assume that just because the BBC had trouble in that one situation handling the balance between dry historical factoids and populist presenters they're an utter failure across the board.

I'm sure that they talked this over, and made the decision to go the way they did after consideration. Not the right decision for that segment of the programme, but hindsight's a bitch.

I'm not against dry Oxford dons or more intelligent programming. I'm not making the inverse-snob argument here. There's light entertainment on the BBC and there's more solid programs. I like both. I refuse to be pulled into this narrative where a careful selection of lowbrow programmes is categorised as indicative of the entire output of what is still an awesome broadcaster.
posted by zoo at 4:41 PM on December 31, 2012


I muck about with satellite feeds in the course of my work: it's the only time I ever see cable television. So as far as I know, BBC America consists entirely of Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns overlaid by a very large promotional graphic occupying almost a full quarter of the screen, which never goes away. It's the same way I know that the Discovery channel consists entirely of shows about feral hogs being tackled by people not readily distinguishable from their prey.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2012


she's fun and she's light and she's not going to be reading Camu any day soon

LOL Camu snobby absurdism wat.
posted by lalochezia at 4:49 PM on December 31, 2012


Side note: Oh how I hate the phrase "low culture". Who gets to decide which popular entertainers are vacuous?

Does good ol' Blighty have anything like Honey Boo-Boo?
posted by JHarris at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2012


I believe it's Shamus
posted by the noob at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Camu was a singular author.
posted by zippy at 5:24 PM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an American who has been watching BBC in England since September or so, I've seen some amazing things -

Parade's End, a dramatization of the Ford Madox Ford novel with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard and starring Benedict Cumberbatch

The True Story of Servants (I think that's what it was called) - a documentary about domestic service in England from the 18thc to post WW2 - narrated by a historian whose great grandmothers were in domestic service

The Stiff Upperlip - a documentary about the history of the stiff upper lip in English culture (it only started in the 19th c)

A documentary about 4 women who were beauty queens in the 60s, 70s, what their life is like now (fascinating)

A documentary in which the film-maker went up to people in Hampstead Heath and began asking them questions about their dogs, ending up with some wonderful character portraits of people in all sorts of situations.

This is only what I can think of off the top of my head, but I'm deeply impressed.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:27 PM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Honey Boo Boo equivalent? Hmm. What about those horrid "my big fat gypsy wedding" shows?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:27 PM on December 31, 2012


Oh I wanted to also mention Getting On, a very dark mockumentary centered around 3 women who work in a "geriatric gynecology" ward - a doctor and two nurses. It was like nothing I've EVER seen on American TV. Incredibly true to life and surreally funny at the same time, powerfully political if you want to see it that way.

Tilda Swinton had a cameo in the final episode.

I've heard that John Hamm wants to bring it to the US, but I just don't see how it could possibly translate.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:37 PM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


Honey Boo Boo equivalent? Hmm. What about those horrid "my big fat gypsy wedding" shows?
You mean the scary underclass?
posted by fullerine at 5:39 PM on December 31, 2012


Lazaruslong, you are obviously yet to see 'Snog, Marry, Avoid' then?
posted by Megami at 2:53 PM on December 31 [+] [!]


BBC reality TV shows do have to have some kind of at least faintly credible positive-contribution-to-pro-social-or-educational-or-civic-or-community-spirit-or-somethingsomething argument for their production/broadcast to be approved. It's a a mere shadow of the BBC's original glorious/patronizing/visionary/patrician/inspirational/elitist Reithian mission but it still carries some weight. Sometimes it ends up OK'ing Snog, Marry, Avoid? (which has an argument that natural physical beauty is better than cosmetics-enhanced physical beauty at its core. So there is a whisper of feminist argument going on there, even if its drowned by the tawdry reality TV silliness ) , sometimes you get the amazing The Choir , which is as much about civic community-building through group singing as it is about reality show dramatic tensions.
posted by Bwithh at 6:40 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for Foyle's War, watched it through twice now.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:20 PM on December 31, 2012


If anyone is interested in the history of the BBC, John Reith (the iconic architect of modern broadcasting in the UK) and the problems facing public service media in the digital age, there's a fantastic PDF available here. Fascinating stuff.

The BBC is a private-school old boys' and girls' association. They edit most newspapers, even the Leftish Daily Mirror and the Guardian", he wrote."

If the Guardian were totally in the pocket of the BBC, they never would have published this piece by the head of the Friends of Radio 3, the ultimate "get off my lawn" lobby group.

Who gets to decide which popular entertainers are vacuous?

Rather than waggle fingers at individual artists, some would say the real problem is that "culture" has been commodified and corrupted by capitalism, and that mass entertainment is run by morally bankrupt bullshit artists pushing product. From wikipedia:

THE CULTURE INDUSTRY

The term culture industry was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods — films, radio programmes, magazines, etc. — that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity.

Culture Industry Reconsidered, by Theodor Adorno
The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, Adorno and Horkheimer
The Commodification Of Culture And Its Implications For The Television Industry: An Examination Of The Culture Industry Thesis
posted by doreur at 7:20 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love Radio 3. It's generally thought to be a classical station, but at its best it's the home of music that not many people listen to, and it happens that most of that's classical, but there's also Jazz Record Requests and Late Junction and the early music show and other, similar niche slots. If the BBC stands for anything it's Radio 3. When it tries to appeal to a wider audience (which usually seems to mean more and more time given over to patronising, witless banter) it necessarily eats into the time available to other peripheral musics.
posted by Grangousier at 7:37 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved the BBC unconditionally until I worked there for some years and discovered that it also has a dark side. That dark side is very very dark. It has always been there. It always will.

The dark side exists for the same reason that it is, always has been, and (hopefully) always will be capable of producing some of the best output across television, radio and online anywhere in the world.

The reason is this: the BBC is not-for-profit.

We'll ignore BBC Worldwide here - the bit which is for-profit - like everyone else does. The commercial tail (not arm) known as BBC Worldwide does not get to wag the dog. The main bulk of what is called the BBC is funded by the licence fee and has no requirement to generate profit for shareholders. So it doesn't.

That means that stuff can get commissioned and made just because it will be good, or even because it might be good. No other broadcaster in the UK (and precious few others elsewhere) can do that. We all forget the misses - there are many - but over time the hits keep coming. Not having to make a profit all the time is why. For the lucky few in the right place at the right time, it's a space where you can try stuff. And while Buerk has something of a point about the old boys and girls club thing, that really wasn't my experience particularly. Lots and lots of people at the BBC are from highly privileged backgrounds, for sure, but lots and lots of people aren't. It's not a meritocracy exactly but it's not the closed shop Buerk suggests it is either.

However, the not-for-profit thing means that the career BBC management types aren't in it for money (not that they're short of a few bob, but they could earn far more elsewhere). Rather, they're in it for power within the organisation. That's the dark side. That's the bit where people go around deliberately stuffing up other people's projects - something I saw far too much of in my time there. The bit where the chief of this intra-BBC fiefdom gets in a spat with the chief of another intra-BBC fiefdom and a few great projects get canned, and a lot of great people get shat on from a height. That's the bit where people are allowed to work themselves into serious illness or early death on a regular basis - regular readers of the internal BBC magazine Ariel's obituary column will know what I mean. I very nearly made that column myself. Twice.

This is where Terry Wogan got his BBC motto from - 'if it ain't broke, break it'.

The BBC employs some of the best people in the world, and also some of the worst. That's how it works. It's how it's always worked, and it isn't going to change any time soon.

Stuff like Radio 3 gets to exist as an epiphenomenon of the whole organisation, and programmes like Late Junction get to exist as an epiphenomenon of Radio 3, and that's great. At the same time, and especially as a result of the constant cutbacks going back to the Thatcher years, cracks are beginning to emerge in places - by which I mean News - such as the Jubilee coverage, or the recent Newsnight disasters. The News arm may have been overfunded before but is clearly underfunded now. There was a reason it was overfunded. That reason was 'BBC News must never fuck up.'

Now it does. Quite a lot, as regular viewers of BBC News 24 will know. Basic stuff like sound levels aren't necessarily right all the time.

I still love the BBC. And so does Michael Buerk. But powerful forces are working to undermine and destroy it, and are making some headway. That's what Buerk's column - wrongheaded in part though it is - is really about.
posted by motty at 8:43 PM on December 31, 2012 [34 favorites]


I'll just add: MetaFilter would LOVE "Song, Marry, Avoid?". Love in the sense of huge thread about it, I mean. Although it would quickly become about an American reality TV show, and probably the fiscal cliff...
posted by alasdair at 4:20 AM on January 1, 2013


The BBC is a private-school old boys' and girls' association

I'm as far from this background as could be but and never encountered any of these types until I moved to London but they generally tended to be smart, articulate, driven, outgoing and quite pleasant. Not really a bad thing. He seems to be griping about successful people rather than the unfairness of the systems that create successful people.

And sure ol' Rupe doesn't have long left.
posted by Damienmce at 5:13 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm also going to stick up for Snog, Marry, Avoid as one of the only fashion programs/outlets that

a) states repeatedly that you don't need cosmetics to look hot;
b) has subtle equality messaging in that it features gays, lesbians, transsexuals, various ethnicities and occasionally the disabled (an episode with a Deaf girl signing for the friend reaction shots, for example) without making a thing of it;
c) takes people with counterculture looks/styles and says that it's OK and that it suits them;
d) that value lies in people's 'natural beauty' and that they should appreciate that in themselves;
e) isn't trying to sell anything, and has no dependency on advertising to pervert that.

That (very popular) program is made for the cost of a presenter, camera crew, greenscreen, free vox pops and a makeover team. Actually, it seems like a positive counter to much of the messaging of the cosmetics industry and I will defend it enthusiastically. It isn't designed for cultural critics, it's designed for teenage girls trying to work out their own image and makeup choices and it has excellent reach in that demographic. SMA is public service messaging on the sly.
posted by jaduncan at 5:51 AM on January 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Okay, I will admit 'Snog, Marry, Avoid' was probably not the best example that the BBC makes crap as well as making amazing stuff (though I could go on a rant about some recent docos...) & promise to re-watch it with new and opened eyes.
posted by Megami at 9:02 AM on January 1, 2013


When I lived in England in the 80s, I thought we imported all the good stuff (Upstairs Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited) and they imported all our dreck (Dallas). Complaints about BBC America here and elsewhere convince me the dreck-importation may have evened out some. I would gladly watch most of what maggiemaggie described, though.

And yeah, the OP article's complaints sound like part "justified complaints about BBC culture" mixed with racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of elitist BS, blend on chunky, with the automatic debit (instead of credit) that comes from publishing in the Mail.
posted by immlass at 9:08 AM on January 1, 2013


starting watching Snog Marry Avoid clips on YouTube... dangerously addictive and I note that the show tries to set up a debate rather than be pushy on just one side over what beauty is
posted by Bwithh at 10:37 AM on January 1, 2013


« Older Fiscal Cliff Notes   |   Samsāra or The Ever Turning Wheel of Life Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post