Saturday, May 23, 2009

200 Not Out

To celebrate their own thirtieth anniversary - and the two hundredth Doctor Who story being broadcast on TV at Easter[*] - The Doctor Who Magazine have produced a handsome, lovingly put-together one hundred and forty eight page monster celebrating the two hundred greatest moments in the series from its humble beginnings in 1963 right up to Planet of the Dead. Ignoring, for just a second the five pieces which yer man Keith Telly Topping wrote for the issue, I suggest you start by reading Andrew Pixleys' quite gorgeous final entry in the magazine - a celebration not just of the show but also of its fandom. Then, once you've dried your eyes, go back to the start and spend the next few hours wallowing in two hundred or so reasons why you're a fan of this daft little series. I particularly draw your attention, dear blog reader, to the lovely Joe Lidster's piece on Journey's End which is one of those bits of journalism that remind one of the power of the written word. Cornell on Kinda is (as you'd expect) pleasingly bonkers as well. Six of your finest English pounds and ninety nine of your jolly old English pee from all good newsagents (and WH Smiths as well). Even The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat writes a bit about the final scene of Dragonfire. And, that's worth the entry fee alone. Buy one today. Tell 'em I sent you.

[*] That's, of course, if you count The Trail of a Time Lord as one (fourteen-part) story. And the Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords trilogy as a three-part story. And you ignore the existence of Shada. And Time Crash. Etc. Look, just shut up. It's two hundred, all right?!]

In other news after a sometimes heated debate, MPs voted down a Conservative motion which would have frozen the television licence fee for a year on Thursday of this week. In April the annual fee for a colour TV licence went up by three pounds to £142.50 - a two per cent rise, linked to inflation - under the terms of a six-year settlement. The Tories had said that a freeze was needed next year if the BBC was to maintain public support in tough economic times. When such money was clearly needed for 'duck islands' and 'cleaning out the moat', no doubt. But hey, just ingore me, I'm merely 'jealous' according to one of them because they live in nice houses.

Opening the debate the shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that 'the economic situation has changed beyond all recognition' since the licence fee settlement was reached in 2007, when inflation was 4.3%, as opposed to -1.2% today. The effect of a one-year freeze in the licence fee would, Hunt said, amount to a cut of sixty eight million pounds to the BBC's £3.6bn budget. In response, the culture secretary Andy Burnham said that the corporation should be 'adequately, but not over-funded' and pointed out that, in recent years, the annual settlement had been below the rate of inflation. He added that the Conservative party was challenging the premise which had underpinned the BBC over the years. To instigate annual funding reviews, he said, would be 'disastrous for the corporation,' leading to continuous uncertainty about its budgets.

Intervening, Hunt strongly denied that the Conservatives were calling for annual reviews of the licence fee. But, nobody believed him. Burnham continued that it was crucial that the BBC should 'put a helping hand' under other parts of the media industry during a time of economic uncertainty. And he accused the Conservatives of 'posturing and easy headline seeking.'

For the nasty, fence-squatting Liberal Democrats, culture spokesman Don Foster said that, despite his concerns over problems including the Ross/Brand affair and the perceived heavy-handedness of TV Licencing, he 'valued the BBC and the standards it stands for.' Describing the motion as 'a gimmick', Foster referred to the 'phenomenally good value' of the licence fee, at just thirty nine pence a day, and denied the corporation was 'awash with cash,' especially after it was already making substantial efficiency savings.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture committee, spoke of the 'fundamental structural change' taking place in the media, with falling advertising revenue leading to deep cuts in the commercial sector. With the BBC's income now outstripping the whole of the UK's media advertising revenue, he said, 'we need to support commercial providers' through sharing the licence fee. Labour's Austin Mitchell, a former TV presenter himself of course, said that the debate 'tells us more about the state of the Conservative party' than of the BBC. He said that the argument put forward by the Conservatives - that ITV has made cuts, so similar cuts should be imposed on the BBC - was, Mitchell noted, 'illogical' and 'opportunistic vandalism.' After a short debate, MPs rejected the motion by 334 votes to 156.

Sell all yer tickets. You couldn't sell all yer tickets...

On a related note Mark Thompson has said that the BBC 'does not want to be the last public service broadcaster standing' and has outlined more practical ways in which the corporation could work in partnership with commercial PSBs. The Director General said that the BBC was in advanced talks with a number of newspaper groups about ways to allow them to feature the corporation's audio-visual assets (AV) on their websites. And he added that talks were also taking place with the Press Association and others about whether the BBC could participate in a consortium to make AV content available across the whole UK journalism sector, 'while helping rather than hindering the business models of other agencies and providers'.

Delivering the inaugural Charles Wheeler Memorial Lecture at the University of Westminster, Thompson also praised the diversity of the BBC's journalism, 'from Newsbeat to The World Tonight to Panorama and 5Live'. And he added that 'the challenge for the BBC remains that of creating and sustaining the space in this large machine for those individual human voices and talents to think and listen and above all to communicate with the public.'

Paying tribute to Wheeler, who died last July, Thompson said: 'Charles knew that strong editors and a strong newsgathering infrastructure were essential if he and other correspondents were to do their best work.' And he argued that the values which Wheeler embodied: fierce individuality, tenacity and authority, were probably more important than ever. 'News is a high tech business today, we all know that,' he said. 'The public can get their headlines from scores of different sources on myriad devices. All the more reason to value and nurture the moment when another human being – someone with the talent and the training and the courage to do it – punches through all that technology to tell you what’s happened and what it might mean.'

The event also saw Thompson present Jeremy Paxman with the inaugural Charles Wheeler award. Paxman said that Wheeler 'stayed true to the moral duties of our trade. He found things out. He told it straight. And he caused trouble.'

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