There's been quite a fuss this week about two soap operas, one being Eastenders, the other the radio soap The Archers, both produced by the BBC.
If you don't know the Eastenders' storyline was about two women who gave birth on the same day. One baby died of cot death, the grieving mother sneaked into the home of the other and swapped babies. A particularly unpleasant and nasty storyline that was as far fetched as it was in bad taste. The uproar has led to thousands of complaints to the BBC, whose response has been pretty much: 'tough, it was well researched and we think it was good'. My beloved blogged about it on Rosie's Forum yesterday.
Much of the defence that people have put up for Eastenders is the old chestnut that things like that happen in real life. My response to that is that going to the toilet happens in real life but thankfully no deviant has yet decided to show it on TV. There's a strong argument, and a place in drama for gritty realism but it must always be done tastefully and sympathetically. Eastenders is neither tasteful nor sympathetic. I saw the episode and it was badly done and pretty sickening.
The Archers, which lost any credibility it had years ago, trumpeted that their Christmas storyline was going to rock the show for the next ten years. The build up was so intense that people who don't normally listen to The Archers were discussing the possibilities. Bear in mind Ambridge is the sleepy Borsetshire town that has far worse social problems, from racism to rape than all the sink estates in the rest of the country put together. In a nutshell it is so politically correct that most people who hear it can only laugh at the absurdity of it. If you want an idea what people mean when they say, usually in relation to the hunting ban, that the metroplitan elite don't understand the countryside, then listen to an episode of The Archers.
So what happened in The Achers? Helen, a single woman pregnant by a sperm donor, gave birth six weeks early and Nigel Pargetter fell off the roof of his country pile and died. I'm only surprised that Helen's baby isn't black. As for Nigel, I suppose they had to kill off the only toff in the village. The producer, Vanessa Whitburn, has finally completed her Stalinist purge of the show, landed wealthy spongers have now been expunged.
There are people who argue that there should be tighter control over broadcasters so that storylines such as these, more so Eastenders than The Archers, should not be allowed. Although appalled by Eastenders, I can't agree that censorship is a healthy solution. Part of the problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that people actually like these senstationalist stories, the ratings prove that to be the case. My worry is about how far our values and standards have dropped that so much tripe is produced and greedily consumed by the public. The problem is deep rooted within society, tripe on TV and radio is merely a symptom of that deeper malaise.
The logical thing to do is to switch off the TV or switch to another channel. Certainly we won't be watching Eastenders again. But the problem with the BBC is that I still have to pay for it, through the TV Licence Fee, whether I watch it or not. Commercial pressure should be the natural form of censorship. Whether I like to watch it or not, if enough other people do want to watch it then it will be made as it will be economically feasible. That is the best form of censorship for TV and radio.
Of course the problem then is that the nature of BBC funding means that it doesn't have the responsibilities and accountabilities that other broadcasters have, indeed it prides itself on producing output that most people don't want to watch or listen to, mostly narrow politically correct pap. So the answer, logically, is to scrap or privatise the BBC. Then it will have to work within the constraints that its rivals do.