Media Top Stories

BBC Trust could block 6music closure, in the short term at least

By | Published on Thursday 1 July 2010

The Times says it expects the BBC Trust to call for a stay of execution for digital music station 6music, which Corporation bosses want to shut down as part of a wide-ranging cull of BBC output. And given it was The Times who first leaked the BBC strategy review and revealed 6 was among the services being lined up for the chop, the optimist in me is going to assume the broadsheet have good sources on this kind of thing.

As much previously reported, Beeb bosses published their strategy review back at the start of March. It proposed axing and cutting back on numerous BBC services, including various websites and digital radio stations 6music and the Asian Network.

The aim of the review seemed to be to placate those in the commercial media who accuse the BBC of using their guaranteed licence fee funding to unfairly compete, excessively expand and rampantly overspend. It seemed BBC bosses feared that said commercial media would have more political influence under a Tory government, and the plan seemed to be if the Corporation voluntarily streamlined now, they might not be forced to make bigger cuts later once a new government was in place.

The only problem was, the review mainly proposed cutting the Beeb’s more niche and therefore less commercial services, making more money available for those BBC channels that directly compete with commercial rivals, like BBC 1, BBC News and Radios 1 and 2. Therefore the review didn’t even achieve its own aims.

There was outrage from different quarters to most of the proposed cutbacks, though the campaign to save 6 was the most vocal. Numerous petitions, opinion pieces, official submissions and supporter rallies pointed out that nothing in the commercial radio sector provided a service anything like 6music, and never would. As if to prove that point, NME Radio, the digital station that was closest to 6, closed down earlier this month because it couldn’t make the service pay. 6music is, therefore, exactly the kind of radio station the BBC was set up to operate.

Music industry bodies also pointed out the woeful lack of airtime provided by the wider BBC to Britain’s vibrant and wide-ranging music community. With Radio 1 and 1Xtra focused on urban and R&B, Radio 2 on pop and Radio 3 on classical, and with BBC TV now almost devoid of any music programming, there are huge parts of the British music catalogue – old and new – totally ignored by the State-funded broadcaster. 6music goes some way to addressing that discrepancy.

Despite the most senior of BBC executives, including the Corporation’s dullard of a Director General Mark Thompson and the Beeb’s top radio man, fizzy drink marketer Tim Davie, insisting 6 had to go, no end of journalists, musicians, entertainers, celebrities, politicians and every day listeners lined up to demand the station must be saved. Many of them presented their outrage at the 6 closure proposals to the BBC Trust, the regulatory body which must approve the strategy review’s proposals.

According to The Times yesterday, while the Trust is likely to green light the majority of the strategy review’s plans, they will block moves to shut 6, at least in the short term. It is likely they will ask for a specific consultation to be undertaken regarding the digital radio service, assessing Thompson’s claim that the channel doesn’t justify its £9 million a year budget.

The paper says the Trust has been “overwhelmed” by the public response to the closure of 6. They may have also been influenced by the fact the top two Tories with culture and media responsibilities, Jeremy Hunt and Ed Vaizey, have both spoken in support of 6. The Times quoted one of 6music’s DJs yesterday who admitted there is now some optimism at the station regarding its future. They told the paper: “The optimism is growing. There is a feeling that they will not just kill us straight off”.