BBC Sport is going North – and London doesn’t like it

In Monday’s Evening Standard, Stephen Robinson – apparently a veteran BBC man – complained at great length about the Beeb’s decision to move its sport coverage from London to Manchester (well, Salford Quays to be more precise). Robinson has got this one very wrong. The real oddity is why the Beeb didn’t make this move a long time ago.

His thesis consisted of two very shaky arguments. First, that London is the centre of the sporting universe. He actually gave this quite startling example:

Take the Pakistan cricket story. It has involved the police in London, a newspaper based in London, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London. We live in a highly centralised country. How can the BBC Sports department, or Five Live, cover that story from Manchester?

Am I missing something? This was a crime committed in London. This is why the investigation was led by the Metropolitan police. BBC Sport would cover the story from Manchester just like the current London-based organisation covers stories from around the country, and indeed the world. He says, ludicrously, that BBC Sport must be based in London because that’s where the News of the World (the newspaper at the centre of the story) is based. Aside from the fact that our national broadcaster should not take its cue from the News of the World, has Robinson wondered how on earth the News of the World itself managed to give so much coverage to recent stories, for instance, around Wayne Rooney’s private life? Did they insist that Wayne and Colleen relocate to London for the duration of their sex scandal?

Robinson also cites the London Olympics. Well, the BBC has managed to cover every other Olympic Games of modern times without being based in the host city, so I’m sure it will cope this time. As a matter of fact, the UK’s (and indeed the world’s) most popular and lucrative sporting enterprise, the Premier League, is largely Northern-led. London and the South-East have five Premier League clubs, whereas the North-West has eight – including England’s most successful (Liverpool), biggest (Man United), and richest (Man City) clubs.

Robinson’s second main argument is that BBC staff don’t really want to go, and will probably waste a lot of license-payers money scurrying between Manchester and London. He may be correct – but Robinson presents this as something that will plague BBC Sport in perpetuity. In fact, it is purely transitional. Ultimately the BBC is trying to open itself up to a wider talent pool. It will be both necessary and desirable for our national broadcaster to start hiring a few Mancunians. Maybe even a few Scousers.

And on this, for the first time in my life, I agree with Hazel Blears.

Channel 4 News let itself down over the Zac Goldsmith expenses story

Channel 4’s investigation into Zac Goldsmith’s general election expenses has not been a good advert for new politics, or indeed for old journalism.

Let’s deal with Goldsmith first.  Clearly there is a case to answer on his expenses.  Whether it’s posters paid for by council candidates that don’t mention the council campaign, or jackets with stickers on where only the stickers are counted as an expense, it doesn’t look good.  His defence – that all election candidates follow the rules in the same way he did – is a poor one.  It’s practically an admission of guilt. 

His appearance on Channel 4 News should also be used as an example to all politicians of how not to defend yourself against an allegation.  He must have seen enough of them giving this sort of interviews during the parliamentary expenses scandal – watch a few of those tapes, Zac.  Spending the first eight minutes arguing over the content of emails about whether or not he had agreed to be interviewed – supposedly, his honour had been traduced – made him look childish.  When you already have a hairstyle more suited to a student union bar than the House of Commons, appearing like an adult should be priority number one.

But for the most part, I am disappointed with Channel 4 News for its handling of this.  First of all, Jon Snow was every bit as guilty for spending those eight minutes arguing over emails.  It made bad tv and gave the viewers nothing.  Why didn’t he just give Goldsmith a minute or two to say whatever he wanted to say about the emails?  He could have responded with a line like, “I’m confident our viewers know we always strive to give those we are investigating every opportunity to defend themselves, so if you want to raise this with Ofcom go ahead,” and then moved on to the actual accusations.  Instead he engaged in the detail of the emails in a very unconvincing way.  I can only assume that Snow’s massive ego was bruised by the accusation over his journalistic ethics, and he just couldn’t let it go.  In future, Jon, just let the viewers make their own minds up.

About the investigation as a whole, Channel 4 News has done a poor job of explaining why they are focusing on Zac Goldsmith alone.  In the original piece and in the interview with Goldsmith, they mention that they looked at lots of MPs and Goldsmith’s stood out as the campaign that appeared to spend the most money while remaining below the spending limit.  Maybe that’s true, but where’s the evidence?  On both occasions this explanation was given to us as an aside – it should have been front and centre in any discussion of the issue, and we should have at least some evidence of how Goldsmith compares to other MPs being investigated.

However, even if it’s their belief that Goldsmith spent more than anyone else, does this justify the exclusive focus on him?  No.  They should have conducted and published an investigation into election expenses among all MPs.  There could have been a reasonable basis for choosing to focus on a subset of MPs, such as those who spent just under the limit, or those in close marginal seats.  Having done this, they could present Goldsmith as an example – perhaps a particularly bad one – of possible rule-breaking among a number of MPs.  It would have left Goldsmith in just as much trouble with the Electoral Commission, and would have denied him the chance to spin this as him being picked on by Jon Snow et al.  Instead, Channel 4 News has left itself looking opportunistic and sloppy.

Fake plastic ‘up and coming’ band

I pretty much gave up on Radiohead when I heard Thom Yorke utter the words, “we’re all born into a carbon lifestyle”.  When you start repeating things you’ve overheard baby Apple say at a Chris Martin-Gwyneth Paltrow dinner party, you know your time as a cutting edge indie rock star has come to an end.

But that hasn’t stopped Radiohead from continuing to try to recapture lost youth, and at this weekend’s Glastonbury festival we saw another example of self-denial.  First, to go back a few years, Radiohead released their 2007 album In Rainbows for free over the internet, allowing downloaders to pay whatever they wanted for it.  Now, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have turned up unexpectedly at Glastonbury to play a  set on the Park Stage.  The Park Stage is normally reserved for new, undiscovered bands (although clearly having got a gig at Glastonbury means you have been discovered already).

Both of these examples might be considered the actions of a radical, anti-establishment band, sticking up for the music fans against the corporate overlords.  Except it’s a crock.  When Radiohead released In Rainbows for free, for that week after the release they effectively screwed over every other struggling new band out there.  Music fans have a limit to the amount of new music they can listen to – probably one new album per week is the norm.  So if Radiohead – a band we all know and used to love – release an ablum for free one week, it took up the time and space that an album from a new band could have filled (whether paid for or not).  The fact that so many more people “bought” In Rainbows than preceding Radiohead albums proves the point. 

And now by playing the Park Stage they’ve done it again.  A slot on the Gastonbury that might have been filled by a small band desperate to have its music heard has gone to Radiohead.  And of course, Radiohead got plenty of publicity for doing it, just like they got huge coverage of the In Rainbows release.  Whatever counter-cultural ideals Thom Yorke has in his head when he does this stuff, sometime he has to consider than when there is no obvious distinction between “sticking it to the man” and “marketing gimmick”, you’re doing something wrong.