Memorandum submitted by Mr Peter Popper
There are a number of concerns which I should
like to share with you as Chair of the relevant House Committee
on Culture, Media and Sport.
The first of these concerns, the apparent discrimination
shown by public service broadcasters towards the arts in general.
Most of us contribute in some form to bodies such as the Arts
Council, local authorities etc who subsidise or sponsor events
in the arts. Yet the majority of us are deprived of enjoying these,
although we have contributed towards them. The reasons are diverse:
location, age, costs and perhaps most importantly, the limited
access imposed by the venues. Given today's technologies it should
be a simple matter to make access or enjoyment available to all
who may wish for this. The arts indeed appear to be singled out
for such treatment: most if not all other services and goods we
contribute to are available to all: there is no need to list or
specify these. We also contribute to the major public service
broadcaster the BBC, who allegedly ensure that all tastes are
catered forif only it were true.
The BBC is unique in the business of broadcasting
who has not to rely on advertising income which is related to
the infamous concept of ratings. I cannot but help noticing that
the current DG is basking in the glory of having beaten commercial
channels through an unprecedented lowering of standards, dumbing
down. We hear much of the forthcoming BBC4, currently BBC Knowledge.
Examination of the programming for this reveals 90 per cent or
more of repeats (some programmes and documentaries on BBC1 and
BBC2 has been greatly reduced in number as well as quality. The
future does not look good for those of us who enjoy the arts.
We surely are a more substantial minority than many now specially
catered for in the course of the current licence review.
The next problem is the manner in which satellite
and cable suppliers operate: thus Sky offer two channels which
cater for the artsArtsworld and Artsdigital. However, these
are only available if one subscribes to the main Sky packages.
It is as if M&S would insist that you cannot purchase a tie
without buying a shirt. I have taken up this with the Office of
Fair Trading, who have promised some action. Media response to
attempts to highlight this practice though letter columns has
so far been negative. Your help here would be most appropriate.
Finally, there is the future of the public library
service. It is the intention to adjust local stocks to the pattern
of local demand, which will mean even more emphasis on light fiction
at the expense of literature or more serious books and monographs.
As it is currently almost all my requests for books have to be
met through interlibrary loans, many from BLLagain the
bulk is titles from standards sources such as the Times Literary
Review or London Review of Books, ie items one would normally
expect a public library serving a population of nearly 35,000
to hold. (It is sad to see that many books, even on second or
third loan are defaced, and that the fine system does not allow
charging for this). If the long-term aim is to raise standards,
surely lowering this in libraries is the worst way of doing this.
Funding of libraries in real terms has decreased continuously
over 30 years, whilst the inflation in book prices has been a
high multiple of overall inflation. Again, a subject of concern.
I cannot but help reflecting that many of the
concepts of the theory of justice by Rawls and the work of Joseph
Raz on value and equality have failed to gain the attention they
deserve. The main thread of the arguments is the value for the
general good must rank highly in any assessment of resource allocation.
We are surely doing a disservice if not worse to future generations
by depriving them of the opportunities to enjoy easy access to
better things than beer, football and the lowest levels of culture.
8 January 2002