The BBC’s Culture Show is making a film about the decline of arts criticism in print media. It starts from the premise that the Daily Telegraph sacked some critics nine months ago in a cost-cutting drive and now pays freelances a pittance for their reviews.
The story is neither new, nor confined to one newspaper, but it takes BBC television a very long time to wake up to what’s going on in the arts world and the Culture Show, its supposed monitor, is not only off the pace but absurdly ill-equipped to discuss the topic.
The Culture Show was created five or six years ago in response to criticisms, led by John Tusa and myself, that BBC TV had abandoned its chartered duties to ‘reflect the nation unto itself’, by failing to report the arts.
Instead of a hands-on arts current affairs show, like Front Row on radio 4, or a high-pressure think tank, like Night Waves on radio 3, what we got was a critic-free zone, dedicated to ‘celebrating’ all that is PR-driven and media-friendly in the creative industries.
The Culture Show is a travesty of the real world of creative decisions, a puff pastry fronted by occupational presenters that is deplored and ignored by arts professionals. For BBC TV to moan that newspapers are cutting critics when it has abandoned arts criticism for more than a decade is a matter of blatant hypocrisy. Is there an arts critic on BBC staff? Not one.
The BBC has just appointed yet another arts ‘supremo’ to its top-heavy executive layer, but at roots level it has no clue what goes on canvas or on stage, day in, day out. Nor is it in any position to comment on unsubsidised newspapers that are forced to reduce their arts spend.
The Culture Show is years behind the real story and the BBC undermines its own future by such feeble and belated half-stabs at arts journalism.