Media: A Moment with Marquis

I have a wildly schizophrenic attitude towards the BBC. Much of the time, I want somebody to hold it down while I kick it into next week, but then I get all cosy and defensive about it and tell it that I love it really.

Breakfast on BBC1 - which, as a form of self-mortification, I watch every day - is beginning to make me apoplectic. Its coverage is so utterly banal, so low-brow, so juvenile, that I simply cannot believe that smart presenters such as Dermot Thingy can bring themselves to do it. There's so much schoolgirl giggling and matey handing over to one another, it's a wonder there is any time for news.

The other day, while muttering threats at the "award-winning" (for what, in God's name?) weatherwoman Helen Willetts as, yet again, she ingeniously suggested an umbrella and perhaps even a mac to deal with the pitiless rain, my wife explained calmly that the weather a la Willetts is not meant to be information - it is entertainment. Ah well, that'll be it then.

Is it my imagination, or is the BBC becoming smugger by the year? I do wish it would stop, because I am starting to agree with Richard Huntingford, the chief executive of Chrysalis Radio, who has called for the BBC to be "put back in its public service box".

It is hard not to agree. If Radios 1 and 2 are chasing commercial audiences, then they should be commercial, he says. A report last week suggested the two stations should be sold for a cool £500 million.

I'm not quite sure how a privatised Radio 1 or 2 would benefit Chrysalis per se, unless Huntingford has them on his shopping list, but his logic is difficult to fault. There is no justification for the BBC to play on the same pitch by a different set of rules from the rest.

Except that I know, I just know, that Radios 1 and 2 would not be the same if they were commercial and - I'm bound to say - they would not be as good. It is hard to pinpoint why this should be the case, but does anyone doubt it? For example, how long would an organisation watching its P&L continue to pay Terry Wogan £800,000 a year? But the BBC, in spite of all the brickbats thrown at it (some of them by your grumpy columnist), does just that and knows it's a good thing.

Sorry, however much I want to punch its self-satisfied lights out, the BBC should keep its popular radio stations. The case, however logical, for a sell-off remains unproven.

- Simon Marquis is the chairman of the National Readership Survey and the former chairman of ZenithOptimedia.


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