Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Making a fuss

The latest BBC Radio 4 press release spells out the meaning of the story-cuts I've been tweeting and blogging about since July. There's a big bold picture of a very happy Martha Kearney, (happy at the extension to The World At One by 15 minutes) but scan down the page to the Friday offerings and you see this: "3.45pm Short story (the other short story slot is now Sunday at 7.45pm)"

Now picture my face... not so happy.  (Author pic not supplied. Ed.)

Two whole stories a week. TWO. For this bounty we must thank Radio 4's Controller. It could, after all, have been ONE, as in their original press release. 

It's possible to imagine a scenario in the not too distant future when, stories having become so random as to be unfindable in the schedule, the next logical action will be to see them as unwanted, unremarkable items, and to axe them completely, except as archive material on 4Extra or for 'special ocassions', such as the headline grabbing National Short Story Awards, sponsored - naturally, with great pride - by BBC Radio 4. 

You can offer your own comment on that new schedule, if you want to, on the website. You can write to R4's Feedback programme. About a hundred did that already, though their names were never read out during the (rather tame) interview with the Controller. (Well, she IS the Controller, I can see how that happened). You might sign the petition against the story cuts, as nearly 9,000 have already done. You might even write directly to Controller Gwyneth Williams - gwyneth.williams(at)bbc.co.uk -  if you feel strongly enough about it. Write to the Director General Mark Thompson, too, though he's a little busy right now, hasn't yet even replied to the joint letter sent to him in August on this topic; or you could write to Lord Patten, Chair of the BBC Trust - who replied saying he'd forwarded that same joint letter to Mark Thompson, and awaited with interest the response he would give.
Response? What response? Will you - or we - get one, other than 'thank you for writing/caring, but we're running this and we think you're wrong'? 
Will any of this letter and email writing and petition signing make any difference? Hm. 

It seems to me that the BBC, like many large organisations, particularly in the media industries, is adept at simply ignoring complaints or uncomfortable questions, no matter how articulate or informed the complainant, and no matter how many of them stir themselves from the spectacle of light (or indeed highbrow) entertainment to make their voices heard. And in this instance, to make not only their voices heard, but those of the people whose stories they value, the actors and writers who create the entertainment, and the host of characters they bring to life, bring into the living rooms or cars of listeners.

I've been writing and blogging and campaigning about this since July. Before that I wrote three commissioned stories for Radio 4, which were broadcast in August this year. That collision of events explains in part my passion for this cause, but the other aspect, the one that I think many of us share, is the feeling of 'THIS IS NOT RIGHT.'  I'm very heartened and grateful for the evidence, via email, twitter, petitioners, private conversations with writer friends and public comments by famous names, and with the support of three major unions/guilds, that I am not alone in this feeling, or in this protest.

I'm not a great fan of Winston Churchill, (though I share his difficulty with black dogs) but here's a quote which feels apposite: "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Despite the huge commitment of time and mental energy it's taken, I'm glad I made a fuss. A fuss had to be made. I'm still making it. You can join in, if you like.

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