Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Storms, Tea and Tempests


Off then to Broadcasting House to record “A Good Read” for BBC Radio 4. It was my first time entering the hallowed portal since its rather wonderful facelift and I must confess to being impressed by the changes. On the rare occasions that I walk northwards from Oxford Circus, bound for the home of Auntie Beeb, it always gives me a frisson of excitement to look up and see the building’s ocean liner shape and Eric Gill’s wonderful rendering of Ariel and Prospero from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ above the entrance. This time I found myself involuntarily stiffening the sinews and straightening my back, as if on parade. Had I been wearing a tie, I would no doubt have fiddled with it while shooting my shirt-cuffs as I entered. I was, I realised, quite nervous.

As I waited in the imposingly marbled reception area to be collected and ushered into broadcasting's bosom, I sat reading Ariel, the in-house newspaper, unsurprisingly full of opinions and perspectives on the decision not to broadcast the DEC’s Gaza appeal. Whilst believing Mark Thompson to be wrong on this occasion – surely a humanitarian crisis of such proportions deserves a humanitarian response irrespective of the political causes and ramifications; a duty to aid the relief of human suffering trumps the responsibility of broadcasting impartiality in the poker game of realpolitik – I am not without sympathy and admiration for the decision he has taken and his belief in it.

I think John Humphries put it perfectly on the Today programme on Monday when in response to Thompson’s point that “because of the BBC’s coverage (people) will be aware of the suffering and if they choose to make a contribution to the appeal of course they will be able to” he said, “ Isn’t that a bit hypocritical. We’re perfectly happy for people to support this appeal but we want to keep our own hands clean.”

Of course the argument that not to broadcast the appeal will hinder the DEC’s ability to get its message across is to my mind no longer valid, as the news coverage of the debate has given them more air –time than they might otherwise have been granted. Perhaps Mark Thompson has played a far smarter hand than he’s thus far been credited for, getting the humanitarian message across as a news story and thereby meeting the aims of the DEC’s appeal whilst not opening the BBC up to charges of partiality. Clever fellow.

Whilst this storm was raging, as evidenced by the ranks of police vans outside, there was an air of calm in the studio where the ever-wonderful Kate Mosse was hosting the first programme of a new series of “A Good Read”. My co-guest was Victoria Derbyshire who’s voice will be familiar to listeners to Radio 5 Live. I shan’t ruin the show before it’s broadcast on the 10th of February at 4:30 p.m. (GMT), but I will say that it was a great deal of fun, the three books sparked some lively discussion and the half an hour flew by. In fact we recorded to 28 minutes so what you will hear will be as close to an unedited version of what we did as it’s possible to get. Oddly enough, BBC studio tea seems also to have undergone some improvement in tandem with the architectural updates.

I’m now fully focused  on the interview for the Literary Festival Artistic Director post, which is taking place next Tuesday. I have so many ideas, but which are the good ones? It's the perennial 'separating wheat from chaff' problem.

Let us hope that the good ship BBC soon finds that the tempestuous seas it is currently navigating give way to calmer waters and that a tenable ceasefire in Gaza will allow the aid agencies to carry out the much needed work they are so very good at.





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