On a previous blog post I lamented the lack of opera performances on TV and in particular on BBC Four, the Beeb’s flagship cultural destination. At the end of that post I urged any readers that felt compelled to write to Richard Klein, the Controller of the channel. I did too and he was gracious enough to respond to my criticisms of the all too rare appearance of opera performances on his channel.
His main point is the lack of funding: ‘Unfortunately given the nature of both the funding for BBC Four and the remit that the channel has it is inevitable that there are opera events and performances that the channel simply cannot take. Under my current funding I have space for two or three new opera recordings and performances a year,and I can acquire at slightly lower prices a couple more.’
And we get (possibly what is the identity problem of BBC Four) a rundown of the channel’s spectrum: ‘But there is a bigger issue at heart here and that is that BBC Four’s remit is to cover all the arts and all culture, as much as it can, from the contemporary and pop music world, jazz, folk and classical symphony etc, to dance, the visual arts, sculpture and applied arts, through to interesting new comedy, drama, history, science and documentaries, the best of world televison like The Killing, and Storyville’ sinternational documentary, and feature films from the world.’
And finally we get a distict impression that BBC’s Radio 3 is the answer to the complaints for more opera on TV: ‘I am genuinely sorry you feel under-served but would point you to Radio Three as a place where there seems to be an abundance of specialist attention to opera amongst other classical music forms, as befits a specialist radio station.’
I do not want to be one of the usual moaners that must deluge the electronic or physical mailbag of any TV executive, and will not pursue him with follow up emails etc. But his very pragmatic response opens up a totally new chapter. The overall responsibility of the BBC to make “high culture” accessible to all corners of the UK and as far away from the capital as possible.
It seems that BBC Four’s remit is as wide as the Atlantic and clearly not focused enough on the performing and visual arts. A large number of programmes aired on it (most of them just cheap imports e.g. Nordic dramas and documentaries) have no connection to artistic production in the UK, but clearly are there to plump up viewing figures. Is the BBC a public service broadcaster or just another branch of commercial media, with the distinct advantage of a huge cushion of public funding? The fact that (as stated by the Controller in his email) Anna Nicole and Faust only attracted ‘modest’ audiences makes them less valuable as a broadcasting commodity? I am expecting the BBC to step up to its responsibility to entertain, to enlighten and to educate not to just chase after viewing figures.
There is a whole generation of amazing breakthrough opera talent in this country that goes unnoticed by mainstream media. And the BBC to relegate that coverage to the niche radio station for the “classical ghetto” is indicative of how marginal is opera and classical music in the wider cultural life as depicted by the media as a whole.
If Sky can have two HD channels that have a large proportion of opera and classical music in its line-up, why can’t the BBC offer a bit more than the promise of three opera productions a year? We pay our TV License tax for them to cover a broad spectrum and also to reflect the wealth of production in all the different sectors of the blossoming creative industries around Britain. And currently they are offering us underwhelming quantity and quality.