Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 for—if 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 arts—Artsworld 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 BLL—again 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

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 1 May 2002