Save 6 Music, if you must, but sell Radio 1 and Radio 2

So the BBC’s digital radio station 6 Music has been saved from closure by the BBC Trust, the gaggle of professional board members and luvvies who represent the public within the Beeb. Whether you agree with this (non-)decision or not, there are serious issues about public service broadcasting that are strangely missing from the debate.

I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of 6 Music. I think it celebrates indie mediocrity and provides a haven for presenters who aren’t quite funny enough for Radio 1 or nice enough for Radio 2 or pretty enough for television. But that’s not the point.

In fact, on balance I think 6 Music probably should be retained. But my concern is that the debate about 6 Music – perhaps the most significant engagement of the public in an issue concerning public service broadcasting since the Andrew Gilligan affair – has been conducted exclusively in terms of whether or not 6 Music is any good.

As I said, it’s not good. Tiny listening figures suggest (albeit not definitively) that most people agree with me about that. But the whole point of public service broadcasting is that it sustains things that might not be as entertaining as the other channels and stations, precisely because they are in the public interest. 6 Music’s ostensible aim to nurture new artists is, arguably, a very positive thing.

Very few people have bothered to make this argument. A small band of people seem hell-bent on rescuing 6 Music but have not utilised the strongest argument in support of their campaign. Thirty years of neoliberalism has destroyed the value of public service broadcasting in UK political discourse and values.

Here’s an idea for you. Save 6 Music, but sell Radio 1 and Radio 2. The BBC’s flagship radio stations provide virtually no public interest. I am not saying that public-owned broadcasters should not attempt to entertain. But it should entertain for artistic reasons, not just to chase ratings. The little bits of public service provided by Radio 1 and Radio 2 could easily be provided by the BBC’s other stations, or by public funding of private sector providers. It is certainly the case that Chris Moyles, Chris Evans et al would be able to find gainful employment elsewhere, as much as it pains me to admit that. There is simply no case grounded in the value of public service broadcasting to expect taxpayers to fund two huge institutions which operate as a near-duopoly in UK radio.

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