Bring literature to the public
by Philip Pullman
In general, the BBC should continue to remind people of the enormous range of programmes that it puts out, and the sheer value of the 40p a day that the licence fee represents. That is the truly astonishing accomplishment of the corporation. Attacks on it should be shown up vigorously and at once for what they are: either commercial envy or naked ideology.
But there are particular things it must do too. For instance, it must plug a hole that it’s allowed to appear. There should be a regular, by which I mean weekly, programme about books, and it should be on BBC2. Melvyn Bragg’s ‘Read All About It’ was excellent in its day, but the world of books and reading has changed and is still changing rapidly, and a new programme should look at some aspects of the book world beyond the latest bestsellers or critically acclaimed literary fiction. What is the effect of Amazon on bookselling and publishing? Should we bring back a form of Net Book Agreement? What new publishers are coming up, and what sort of books are they producing? What is the truth about vanishing libraries? How do authors earn a living? A small (5 minute) spot in a 45-minute programme could look at a different background issue every week.
But mainly it would look at books: new books, classic books, children’s books, bestsellers, prize winners, graphic novels, the whole gamut. Lively critical attention is what we want. Reading is one of the most popular occupations in the country, literature is this nation’s greatest cultural achievement, and the best broadcasting organisation in the world has no TV programme dedicated to books. It’s time it did.
Philip Pullman(@PhilipPullman) is a novelist and advocate of the literary imagination
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