Saturday, 23 February 2013

The BBC's problems are digital

I must have written before about Edward, a stalwart for many years of a Sunday lunchtime pint gathering at the old local, familiar in eternal heavy green cord trousers and with no firm views on anything but football. He wasn't really a friend of any of us, but was always there, as much a part of Sunday lunchtime as the bar fitments. We'd always known Edward worked for the BBC but after an initial enquiry that revealed his job didn't bring him into contact with anyone famous, everyone lost interest in what he did. Right up to the time he was made redundant. 

It was one of the wives, doing the toy recycling thing that wives do, that let us know. Edward hadn't mentioned it. Once we knew, the full male support thing swung into action. Right. What was his actual job? And that was the problem. I can't recall the precise title, but it was something unknown to the rest of the world outside the BBC - say 'Deputy Head of Strategic Iteration'. It was a function unknown to other broadcasters, the media, electronics, broadcast engineering, or any industry known to man. Chiefly, it involved attending meetings at which he was not expected to contribute anything, but just ensure that his department was represented. It must have been a bit like his attendance at our Sunday lunchtime sessions; perhaps he passed a few comments as he gathered his papers on the state of the Premier League. Well, we utterly failed to assist him in his job search and rumour has it they left for the country where he intended to train as a blacksmith.

Certainly the evidence released yesterday supports the view that the BBC is stuffed full of Edwards. ‘I don’t know what they do. I mean, they talk to each other, I suppose, as all these bloody people do.’ said Paxman, referring to the 'Editorial Policy Department'. He continued 'There is a raft of appointments now that have been made of people who are clearly not the most creative. They seemed to spend an awful lot of time having meetings with one another...They do a lot of talking to each other.’

And this, it seems, is how much of the £3.6bn a year TV tax is spent - on an organisation 'more bloated with managers than China' in Fatty Pang's words. And this is the heart of the BBC's problem - it is utterly inwardly focused, a bureaucratic behemoth existing entirely for its own benefit, big enough to be able to ignore popular opinion. In other words, its problems are digital - and the digit in question is the middle finger raised to the British public.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Reassuring stereotypes

For those of us whose views of the South African Police were formed in the 1970s by Tom Sharpe's Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, there is a certain reassurance in a piece by Justice Malala in today's Grauniad alleging that little has changed. Kommandant van Heerden lives on as the chief investigating officer in the Pistorius case, Konstabel Els put down the Marikana mine strike and Liutnant Verkramp and Sgt. De Kock are randomly shooting any black men in vehicles that look too expensive. And as Jim was abusing minors in Television Centre, a white Anglican bishop in South Africa was notoriously administering an unusual degree of pastoral care to young African boys in his charge; he makes a thinly-disguised appearance in Sharpe's first book as brother to the nymphomaniac rubber fetishist whose shooting of her black lover / cook with an elephant gun sparked the mayhem.  

In that era we were not at all astonished that Jean, Cardinal Danielou should die of a heart attack in a French brothel, or that Scott of the arse-antics was exposed as a senior politician's 'bunny'. In an era in which rock stars were expected to be sexually androgynous drug fiends there was popular delight in finding that many of the deeply conservative members of the 'establishment' were also all at it. The seventies were perhaps the high water mark of satire and target after target tumbled to the sound of common laughter. We couldn't look at a picture of a judge in full robes without imagining the lacy knickers, garter-belt and corsets beneath and Brian Rix in Whitehall bowler and sock-suspenders fled from adulterous wardrobe to window. Lindsay Anderson lampooned the lot in O! Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital and by 1973 even Hair was lampooning itself when the roof falling in at the Shaftesbury ended a run of 1,997 performances.

And it's those of us who came of age in the seventies who now remain least tolerant of official malfeasance, skullduggery and hypocrisy in the upper echelons, fraud and political corruption, public virtue and private vice. We've not only seen it all before, our satirical stereotypes still 'come good' in the F2 generation. Long may they last.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Meanwhile, in Japan ...

Japan has become remote from the world's news in the past few years. There was a time when it featured along with the US in every global analysis or comment piece, but China has largely overshadowed Japan during a period of long economic stagnation for the latter. It's still big and still there, but just below the horizon, or until now, it seems. 

At the heart of the current territorial dispute between Japan and China are a bunch of islands far away from the Japanese home islands. After WWII all Japan's outlying claims and territories were nullified, her territory limited to the cluster of home islands only. China assumed ownership of Senkaku but unlike Russia with the Kurils didn't stake it, or at least not until 1971. Unlike Germany, Japan quietly repudiated the post-war penalty laid on her in terms of territory and has been actively reclaiming her pre-war territory.

Heightened nationalism in both nations at a time of political and economic uncertainty has led to some loud sabre rattling, not unlike that which we're experiencing over both Gibraltar and the Falklands. And there most folk think things will stay. However, don't forget the Japanese character. Economically, Mr Abe is about to take a massive gamble to re-start the Japanese economy - "He is expected to announce a new governor next week who is willing to tear up the rule book and try the sort of radical policies that pulled Japan out of its slump in the early 1930s" comments Ambrose in the Telegraph. Let's just hope that fiddling with the Yen is all that Japan reprises from the 1930s.

Monday, 18 February 2013

And still the criminals walk free

In terms of the government and police response to the horse meat scandal it seems that all acted with the requisite alacrity. Within days of the story breaking, plod were breaking down doors and questioning arrested suspects. The minister, Owen Paterson, displayed clear-sighted leadership that drew approval even from Christopher Booker. Supermarket shelves were cleared of products containing horse meat within days. The evidence has been made public and the responsibility established to a high degree of probability that awaits only criminal trials to test. And not one single person has ever died from eating horse meat. 

Contrast, if you will, with the far more significant Mid Staffs NHS failure that cost the lives of over a thousand people and not one of those on whose watch the deaths happened have even been arrested. Not Dr Helen Moss, the Director of Nursing, deaf to pleas of junior nurses, acquitted by her peers. Not Martin Yeates, the Chief Executive, who left with a £400k goodbye. Not Sir David Nicholson, who ran West Midlands SHA, who has been promoted and now runs the entire NHS. And not Cynthia Bower, also head of the SHA, who beyond belief until last year ran the Care Quality Commission.

The Telegraph suggests this morning that the local police and senior CPS lawyers are looking again at the evidence. It also emerges that successive Labour Health Secretaries were complicit in ignoring the issue, no criticism of the sacrosanct NHS being permitted in that Party. Maybe something will happen. But not, I fear, with the speed at which the authorities have demonstrated they can act when prodded.