BBC Audience Council England – Five Years…

…and as Bowie said, my brain hurts a lot.

Today was my last meeting as a member of the BBC Trust Audience Council England (ACE). It’s been a fascinating 5 years. I’m not sure if I’ve seen more change in my life or in the BBC in that time. From a personal perspective I’ve moved house, changed job and had two children. The BBC has been through DQF, reviews of most of its services, had three DGs and the Trust has had three chairs. To say it’s been hectic would be an understatement.

So, have all the meetings, documents to digest and travelling been worth it?

Yes. For a number of reasons and I’ll summarise some of them here:

  1. It’s been a great seeing what talented and committed people work at the BBC, in all its parts. This won’t be a big surprise to most people who have anything beyond a consumer relationship with the organisation, but to meet with so many people who, despite what some of the press would like us to believe, are dedicated to making the best content out there is reassuring. This goes right through the organisation from what I’ve seen, from the smallest local radio station to the people behind the biggest shows. From that point of view, all is well at the BBC.
  2. Seeing inside the Tardis*.

    This has to be the highlight in a sad, geeky way. Of course it’s nowhere as impressive as it looks on-screen (especially from the outside). There does exist a picture of me in there, but if I showed it to you I’d have to kill you I’m afraid, we were sworn to secrecy. There were other ‘behind the scenes’ places that we visited, and seeing the new Broadcasting House during construction was also a high point, but the Tardis takes the biscuit.
  3. Mitigating the impact of DQF on local and regional news and current affairs. This proper the proper work of ACE. I obviously only played a small part of the consultations and discussions about this, but being able to argue for some protection for local radio and TV, particularly current affairs in the form of Inside Out, was a battle worth fighting. Regional local affairs could have virtually disappeared off the map, so at least it’s still there, although it can be said that the cuts have still taken their toll in terms of the range of subjects and quality of investigation that they can now achieve. Let’s hope it continues and remains a vital part of the regional output.
  4. Visiting BBC sites across the country. Besides the obvious London and Salford, I’ve been lucky enough to see the BBC in action in a number of other cities from Bristol to Birmingham. The presence of the BBC in these places has had a hugely positive impact on the region. Even Birmingham is starting buzz again after a significant dip.
  5. Chairing the ACE input to the Asian Network and Syndication Policy reviews and contributing to reviews of the radio, TV and online services. The time, care and effort that goes into these is quite amazing, and although I’m sure sometime people dismiss these as paying lip service to accountability, nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course there have been some real lows too, and sometimes it seemed like both the Trust and the BBC were intent on self-destruction in a very public way, much to the delight of the rest of the media world. There are also major challenges ahead, both in terms of the governance facing questioning both internally and externally and the future of the license fee, who knows what the future holds for the BBC?

My opinion that it must survive in some way, shape or form is not born out of sentimentalism or a misplaced nostalgia. The BBC still makes an enormous difference to the world: by fostering new talent and giving it space to breath; by making programmes that nobody else would; by serving communities that no commercial organisation would serve; by innovating and changing the way we consume its products. Of course it’s not perfect, and to continue to be relevant it needs to change at an even faster pace than it has to date. But it’s ours and it’s the envy of the rest of the world.

Contributing a tiny bit to this has been a privalage, and balancing this work with the day job and all the other life changes has been a struggle at times. But all in all it’s been a great five years, even if I do agree with Bowie: my head does hurt a lot!

Are you interested in becoming a member of one of the Audience Council England’s Regional Panels? Apply

* Yes, I know you can do a set tour now, but you couldn’t then and it seemed more special because of that.

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