For those not in the UK, Greg Dyke, is Director General of the BBC. It’s the top job and one which carries great responsibility. The BBC, you see, is an institution that the British public has a strange relationship with.
The BBC is funded by a license-fee. If you own a device capable of receiving television pictures you have to cough up the money. It funds, however, not only two terrestrial networks (with regional options), several other cable/satellite services and a whole host of radio stations (digital, local and national networks) but also the excellent online services.
Personally, I love the BBC and believe they are a fantastic resource providing tremendous value for money. In my younger days they used to pay me to empty coffee cups and answer telephones at local radio. Better than serving fries by my, shallow, standards.
Greg Dyke’s position is tricky. Being a publicly funded body he must strive to be seen to be politically impartial (although, of course, all major political parties believe they are not getting their fair share of air-time). He must be public-service driven because as we all pay for the BBC we all expect something of it. It has a unique position amongst broadcasters in that its funding mechanism provides opportunities to make programming that would not be made if the BBC had to commercially fund all its projects. Similarly, it has to be commercially focussed. It has to compete. If the audience share dips too much then we will start to hear cries to abolish the license fee because nobody is watching (or listening).
Now I think Greg Dyke does a good job. He was, if memory serves correctly, a big cheese in commercial television in the UK (in fact, I think he made rather a decent sum of money at it). He seems to have adapted to the less commercially focussed BBC well (at least, they can’t admit to being as overtly commercially focussed as their rivals).
There is one thing that however well he does, will follow Greg around forever. It makes easy copy for lazy journalists. Greg Dyke’s sin, you see, is that he was responsible for the introduction of Roland Rat to British TV screens. Roland Rat, a children’s TV puppet, is regularly cited as having saved commercial breakfast television – TV-am anyone? – in the UK. You see, that’s lazy. Of course it was a kids-ratings winner and certainly helped pull audiences to that channel, but then so did Anne and Nick and all those other sofa-bound people. But Greg Dyke and the rat are linked forever. He may be very proud of the rat, I don’t know, but I wish people – nay journalists – would stop pulling this fact out as though it was a revelation to the rest of us. Moreover, I wish they would stop using it in serious articles about the BBC.
This week’s Economist is a case in point. There’s an interesting article on a speech given by Greg Dyke about the BBC’s coverage of the conflict in Iraq and how BBC journalism was impartial and balanced compared to the flag-waving of some American networks. It makes some interesting points on the BBC’s positioning of its news services. But the unnamed writer has to mention the bloody rat: “Mr Dyke, whose background is in commercial TV and who brought Roland Rat, an irritating puppet rodent, to British breakfast TV …” And there I stopped caring about anything else in the article.
So, this is my call to all journalists about to write about the BBC. Forget the dratted rat. He was irritating but he probably wasn’t aimed at you. Please stop mentioning him. Greg Dyke was successful running commercial TV – that point is now proved and the rat isn’t, as far as I am aware, a criminal offence. Write about what’s happening with the BBC so that all of us license payers can pontificate about it for hours but please, please, please stop taking about the rat.
On this day…
2004: Fantastic London