Stand your ground
by Ian McEwan
Last month, as the earth passed close to the meteor shower known as the Perseid cloud, as it does every year, the following sentence appeared on the BBC news site. “Experts advise finding a dark location, away from artificial light, and an unobstructed view of the sky.”
These words are probably untrue (a serious matter for a news service), for no expert would stoop to such fatuous and condescending advice. Unintended comedy apart, this counsel encapsulates reasonable jitters pervading the BBC. It remains the brilliant, indispensable part of our national culture. But the vultures in the form of commercial media interests and their friends in government are circling. They aim to dispose of the indispensable. In response, the Corporation sometimes twists itself into apologetic postures of bland populism. You hear it in the dead of night, in the chirpy upbeat electronic jingles separating half-bite-sized news tidbits, and in the three note call signs and drumbeat messages dramatising the one fact you do not need to know: that you’re listening to the BBC World Service.
You hear it in the alteration of the simple, intimate format of the Reith lectures. Nothing wrong with the speakers (Atul Gawande last year, Stephen Hawking this) but the cheery stage management of a presenter, the jolly atmosphere of Roadshow, the pre-arranged interventions from the audience, or the earnest applause of Any Questions have downgraded a noble institution. The fear, I would guess, is that moron’s call, the charge of elitism. Stand your ground, BBC. Don’t duck – or the vultures will get you.
Ian McEwan is a bestselling novelist and Booker Prize-winning author
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