I like all kinds of music, both country and western.

The BBC’s recently opened public consultation on Purpose remits has garnered some attention on the Radio 3 messageboards (and their rapidly developing indie cousin). This is not least to do with the fact that the thread that first drew attention to the consultation docs and encouraged response was rapidly ‘censored’ by BBC moderators (it’s not clear if with accidental or sinister purpose). But, well, they’re public consultation documents and we, the public, should at least look at them once in a while. Particularly since massive changes are underway with Radio 3 that – if the recent axing of Mixing It, and the removal of Wednesday Choral Evensong are anything to go by – look set to continue the BBC’s marginalisation of anything remotely outside the mainstream.

Obviously the consultation documents don’t go into much detail about what sort of music Radio 3 should feature; the closest hint at this that I could find is under the section ‘Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence‘ [pdf]. It’s concerning, therefore, that the current remit has the following to say on how it should “cover a wide range of cultural activities”:

2. Ensure enrichment for all audiences by covering a wide range of cultural activities.

The BBC should offer its audiences the best examples of many kinds of creative activity from urban music to opera, from ballroom dancing to football, always striving to expand horizons and encourage audiences into unfamiliar territory.

I’m not going to disagree with the stated aims here, in particular with the final clause. If the BBC’s not going to open minds (it has opened mine many times in the past), then who? It’s the way that this argument is framed that concerns me. The first part of the sentence is clearly meant to be one of those rhetorical catch-alls. But “from urban music to opera” is a catch-all that foregrounds two areas of musical activity that, in their separate spheres, can only be described as the dominant mainstream. Within two, largely distinct, groups of society, urban music and opera are the centreground of musical experience, even if those two groups see the other as beyond the pale. And there’s the rub – not only are both these bookends that are supposed to inscribe the BBC’s musical territory profoundly mainstream, but they are also chosen to be far enough apart that they must (surely!) encompass all other musical activity in between. And, well, they don’t.

It may seem as though I’m picking at some empty rhetoric here, but I’m not. This remit document is a sparsely worded statement of intent. One would hope that each word was chosen with considerable care. And in fact it’s not the rhetorical junk that bothers me so much as the shorter words for which it serves as a disguise – “a wide range”, followed by “many kinds”. The stated aim that the BBC should “cover a wide range of cultural activities” is laudable, and we should expect no less from a public service broadcaster; it’s the way that this morphs, via the false picture of musical breadth – “urban music to opera” – to the weaselly “many kinds of creative activity”.

Of course, if this proposal has been written to demonstrate the BBC’s commitment to programming new, adventurous music and I’ve missed its nuance then I’ll eat my words. But don’t expect me to break out the blog-ketchup just yet.


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