The BBC have announced plans to cut a number of services with the main focus being on the closure of 6 Music and the Asian Network, two DAB stations run by the corporation.
The official reasoning is to refocus funding on the BBC’s core functions and create better quality news and programming, while the unofficial belief is that this is a bow to commercial and political pressure.
In justifying the closure of the two digital radio stations the BBC has pointed out that their listenership is small and not of the “mainstream”, an argument that has been recycled in reports on the cut backs.
This makes no sense. If the BBC were looking to pull out of areas where they are stifling commercial activity it would be where they are getting big listenership, not small. Clearly 6 Music and the Asian Network could not be replicated in the commercial world as no independent funding structure could maintain such niche audiences.
It is an equally bizarre argument for the BBC to use as a public service broadcaster, the job of which is to cater for all audiences – especially those that would not be catered for commercially.
If the BBC, politicians and pundits alike really wanted to take away the impairment to the commercial market they would be calling on the BBC to close Radio 1 and 2 and keep its digital services only. After all these are the stations that are actually competing with the commercial players.
Of course if they did that it would draw a light on the fact that they are not. It would point out the unmistakable truth that what BBC radio does would never be done by commercial rivals, whether they shut up shop or not.
It is hard to give an Irish angle on this story as the growth of the BBC in recent years is significantly greater than that of RTE; even in relative terms. Even when the DTT and DAB services are fully operational there will not be the same kind of channel expansion as was seen in the UK, with most of RTE’s new digital output expected to be based around repeat and archive material.
However it would be possible for 2FM to come under the spotlight, as a station that sits so closely to commercial rivals in terms of its output. 2FM is not actually funded by the licence fee but it does enjoy the benefits of being part of the RTE “family”, something which Adrian Weckler points out is also enjoyed by another commercial RTE operation, RTE.ie.
But assuming calls were made for RTE to cut back its services, it closing Lyric FM would be akin to what the BBC are planning on doing in the UK. It is a service that a small few get great joy out of and one that none other than the national PSB could maintain.