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Speeches

Jenny Abramsky

Director of Radio & Music


Public Service Radio: Phoenix or Albatross - the James Cameron Memorial Lecture


London, Monday 25 November 2002
Printable version

In January 1985 my parents were visiting a friend at the Royal Free hospital when my mother found out that James Cameron was in the same ward and had no visitors. They went to talk to him.


He seemed genuinely delighted to meet these strangers and they talked about politics. James was scathing about a number of politicians…I promised I won’t name them. He regretted the lack of intellectual backbone behind much of politics of the time and apparently spoke well of only two politicians.


My Dad was thrilled to meet a man he so admired and recounted to us all how interesting the conversation had been, so much so that he sent cousin Monty to visit James the next day to continue the conversation.


I have no idea if James enjoyed the conversations as much as my parents, but even today, at the age of 86, my father remembers it.


Even when James Cameron was so sick he was still full of curiosity, humanity and, above all, he cared.


I hate making speeches so, when Hugh Stephenson asked me to do this lecture, I said no.


But Hugh, ever persistent, somehow convinced me that I had no choice…and I think one reason I fell for his argument was that all my life James Cameron has represented the journalism that I believe radio should / must aspire to.


James was one of the first journalists I knew by name. My parents read him. I heard him on the radio, saw him on the television, on programmes like The Way We Live Now.


He represented values my parents believed in – integrity, honesty, and a hunger for truth.


But James was also the first journalist I was conscious of working as well on television as on radio…as Charles Wheeler, Allan Little and Fergal Keane do today.


For those of us who grew up in the '60s we learnt much about the world through James Cameron's eyes. India, Berlin, Korea, his TV series - One Pair of Eyes - took us there.


We heard his contributions to programmes on the Aldermaston March, on the debates in Britain for and against the retention of the nuclear bomb. Here was a man who had seen it and we listened.


We heard him meet Ho Chi Minh, interview Albert Schwietzer. Be amazed by Schweitzer's attitude to Africans and his intellectual arrogance, describing him as "a synthesis of Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler."


James Cameron went all over the world, wrote about and broadcast on the human side of stories and in doing so educated us all.


This month one of the means by which he did that - the BBC - is 80. We celebrated with a concert in Birmingham two weeks ago. That celebration was really a birthday party for radio in the UK.


It is radio that has reached a grand old age.


Is it still healthy, or is radio now in its dotage, sliding gracefully, but inexorably into oblivion?


Can radio be used to the same powerful effect today as James Cameron used it for 40 years?


This is, after all, the age of digits not valves and crystals - the digital revolution.


I am using the word 'revolution' loosely, but to many we are going through a revolution in communications unlike any other change.


In this plethora of choice, new services and platforms, what role is there for those of us in radio?


I have been at the BBC for years and for many of those years I have heard people argue that some of radio's resources should be diverted into making BBC Television better, now arguing into interactive, into online.


For some who work in radio that is what they fear digital means - a monster sucking up all the resources that go into programme making as we know it.


I joined the BBC when James Cameron was at the height of his powers.


I met him many times coming in to record an interview for The World At One or for the PM programme.


Those programmes in the 1970s had come to represent radio's commitment to serious journalism.


Today was only just beginning to change from the comfortable magazine format presented by Jack De Manio.


It was The World at One, with its maverick editor, Andrew Boyle, and its brilliant presenter, William Hardcastle, that forged the way for a new kind of robust broadcast journalism on radio and placed journalism at the heart of Radio 4.


Of course there had been other good programmes before, like Radio Newsreal with a global stance, and there had been great broadcasters, but with The World at One there came a daily current affairs programme that challenged politicians, pulled no punches, set out to enable the listener to have the tools to make up his or her mind.


It was irreverent, and those of us who worked on it felt it was fearless in its approach to both the political establishment and the BBC establishment.


In some ways the arrival of The World at One in 1965 was a mini revolution in itself.


The Radio Newsroom provided a Rolls Royce service of straight news coverage, but it was never proactive, never chased a story and suddenly there was this upstart, taking pleasure in making them seem out of touch.


I remember one occasion, during the eight week long postal strike in 1975, when the programme team let the newsroom say on the One O'Clock News that the strike was continuing, then William Hardcastle introduced a pre-recorded interview with the Post Office workers leader Tom Jackson, declaring the strike had been called off. The World at One had not told the newsroom.


It gave Andrew Boyle untold pleasure to make his news colleagues seem stupid. Imagine if that had happened now over the firemen’s strike? I doubt Kevin Marsh. the present Editor, would have been appointed next Editor of Today.


But despite the internecine warfare in Broadcasting House what The World at One did establish was a form of current affairs programme that influenced the creation of Newsnight ten years later, and even Channel 4 News in 1982.


That's what radio has done throughout its 80 years. It has influenced television, even in all those years when television was perceived to be the senior partner.


Eighty years have seen extraordinary changes in the broadcasting landscape and radio has constantly had to adapt to remain relevant. But adapting is always painful and rarely greeted with applause at the outset.


Indeed when I look back over the 30 years I have spent in broadcasting we seem to have reeled from one battle to the next, most of them internal to the BBC.


Those battles forged, shaped the radio we know today. If they had not taken place radio, would I believe, have become a cosy, self-satisfied, irrelevant partner in public service broadcasting, and radio in the UK would have become more like radio in the States where serious challenging speech radio scarcely exists.


When I joined the BBC the place was in turmoil because of some report called Broadcasting in the Seventies.


On my first day in Broadcasting House someone asked me to sign a protest sheet condemning this piece of cultural vandalism.


Broadcasting in the Seventies, like so many policy documents that followed it, was prompted by problems of scarcity - scarcity of funds and scarcity of radio frequencies.


It recommended cutting the cost of music / the orchestras in the BBC, and opening more local radio stations – the first, Radio Leicester had opened in 1967.


Broadcasting in the Seventies also put forward a plan on how radio should be organised for the last quarter of the 20th century.


It led to the creation of four of the national radio networks we have to today. It led to radio networks that were coherent.


It led to the ending of the Third Programme, the Music Programme and the Study session and the creation of a Radio 3 concentrating wholly on music and the arts.


Radio 4 became a speech network and the present structure of BBC local radio was established.


With hindsight, I think Broadcasting in the Seventies was a visionary document, but in 1969 the report was seen as anything but visionary – both within the BBC and outside.


Believe it or not, the Sun supported an increase in the radio licence fee with the headline "BBC needs money, not an axe…….it deserves a roll of drums from every BBC orchestra while there is still time." Well, it was in the days before Murdoch!


The first Campaign for Better Broadcasting - the CBB - was set up with members including Sir Adrian Boult, Henry Moore, and Jonathan Miller who declared the document to be "a masterpiece of devious and subtle generalisation…a capitulation to accountants logic."


200 staff signed a memo to the DG, Charles Curran, criticising the changes claiming "there will not be enough adventurous broadcasting, risks will not be taken."


As a trainee I had no idea who was right, but what was clear was that people cared passionately about their radio, programme-makers and listeners alike.


Did radio lose its creative nerve in 1970? I think not.


The new specialised Radio 3 continued to commission new contemporary music, to do Shakespeare, continued to do programmes on ideas, use contributors like Sir Isaiah Berlin and produce series like Beowulf. It still does today.


Radio 4, before Broadcasting in the Seventies, had been a mixed speech and music station.


The change, into a wholly speech station, created a radio station able to allow journalism to flourish, current affairs to have a central role, drama, comedy, science, the Arts all had space.


The World Tonight, PM and Start The Week all started in 1970.


Some of the finest radio series were commissioned - The Long March of Everyman, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Lord of the Rings. This was a rich mix of programmes.


In 1969 Radios 1 and 2 shared programming for much of the day.


From 1970 Radio 1 and Radio 2 were able to develop as two totally separate entities for their different audiences.


The BBC had realised that the music of Bing Crosby was on a different planet from that of the Rolling Stones.


What Broadcasting in the Seventies achieved was an audience focused shape for public service radio. But did it keep radio at the heart of the BBC?


There was one thing else that pervaded the document - the belief that we were in the television age. I quote:


"There are still some fields in which it (radio) has a unique role" the report grudgingly admitted, but went on to say "for most people radio is now mainly for daytime."


This narrowing of radio's ambition explains perhaps why there grew among some executives in the BBC a belief that radio was somehow no longer central to the future of the BBC, and by the turn of the century would be a dead medium.


I remember being told in no uncertain terms by one senior TV Production Head in the early '80s that radio would no longer exist by 2000 and he told all the radio producers in his region that unless they moved to television they had no lasting career.


I said I reeled from battle to battle in the BBC.


Another that is seared on my memory was in 1977 when the then Controller of Radio 4, Ian McIntyre, decided to slash all Radio 4's news and current affairs programmes - Today, World at One, PM and The World Tonight - because he did not believe they could sustain quality. There was uproar.


In the late 1970s those programmes had become 'appointment to listen', a mecca for the day by day arguments of politicians.


Admittedly they were not Analysis, but they did not see that as their role.


Macintyre cut the Today programme into two half hours – 7.00 to 7.30am, 8.00 to 8.30am – and PM and The World Tonight, to half an hour each.


It was war - and most of the battle took place in the diary columns of the newspapers.


Perhaps some of you remember the programmes that took their place. Up To The Hour, Serendipity? No?


News and Current Affairs are central to Radio 4 in 2002. They proved central to Radio 4 in 1977/8.


Quality coverage, comprehensive coverage, an international perspective, without these things public service radio would be the poorer.


News and Current Affairs won that battle. If it had not, I do not believe Radio 4 would have survived as the force it is today.


With the programmes restored, Today was able to become the leading current affairs programme across all media. Radio was about more than daytime.


Throughout the last three decades quality daily current affairs has been key to keeping radio central to broadcasting in the UK.


When radio started The World This Weekend in 1967, it was the only current affairs broadcast on Sundays.


It started the trend of in depth, 'sunday supplement' coverage - taking the burning topic of the week and studying it, dissecting it from all angles, preferably with the main protagonists.


I remember editing The World This Weekend just before Christmas in 1985. December 22nd to be precise. It was during the Westland Saga.


The arguments in Cabinet between Leon Brittan, the Trade Secretary and Michael Heseltine, the Defence Secretary about Westland Helicopters and whether the UK should buy European or American had become an embarrassment for the Government.


Michael Heseltine wanted a European solution. The Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and Leon Brittan were reported to be favouring the American bid. Although they all publicly expressed the opinion that it was up to the shareholders / the company to decide. In fact there had been a Cabinet agreement not to express any preference, so all the arguments took place in the lobby.


At ten o’clock on Saturday night we got the first editions of the Sunday papers and the top story in the Observer, from Adam Raphael, was headlined 'Brittan's shock Westland memo', quoting a Cabinet minute, from 4 October, where it stated that Leon Brittan had said a European consortium would be 'preferable'. That seemed to indicate he had at some stage swapped sides.


We put in a bid for the Trade Secretary Leon Brittan.


But the papers were also full of stories from friends of the Trade Secretary claiming that Michael Heseltine was putting 'a pistol to the head of the Westland Board.'


We put in a bid to the Defence Department for Michael Heseltine.


Later that evening the Trade Press Office rang to say Leon Brittan was willing to do an interview down the line at nine o'clock next morning.


The Chairman of Westland also agreed to an interview. Although we had not heard from Michael Heseltine we had a good programme.


Next morning we recorded the interview with Leon Brittan, who categorically denied the Observer story. "It's not true" he said, describing it as "Christmas entertainment".


In those days the presenter of The World This Weekend did a live trail at ten o'clock on Sunday morning. So on this occasion the presenter, Gordon Clough, made Leon Brittan denying the newspaper story the sole topic of his trail.


The phone in our office rang almost immediately. It was Michael Heseltine himself. He would come on the programme. Indeed he would drive himself to Oxford, so he could do the interview live. He wanted to hear Leon Brittan before he did his interview.


All the clandestine briefings were about to be put on the record.


At noon Gordon Clough did another live trail saying we had both Leon Brittan and Michael Heseltine on the record.


Again the phone rang in our office. This time it was Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary.


We could not have both Leon Brittan and Michael Heseltine on the same programme, I was told.


We argued that both Ministers had agreed to be interviewed and Brittan had already been recorded.


He rang back, five minutes later, and said Brittan had withdrawn permission for us to use the interview.


We pointed out that since Mr Brittan had not complained when recording the interview, or in its immediate aftermath, we believed we had a right to run it and would do so.


Ingham then said he would go higher in the BBC and we would, he predicted, be instructed not to broadcast.


We held our breath. The phone rang again. This time it was Brittan himself. He demanded the interview be withdrawn. We stuck to our right to broadcast.


Half an hour later my boss, John Wilson, rang me and asked what was going on. Why was Ingham demanding the interview be withdrawn? We explained and John, then Editor of News and Current Affairs Radio, backed our decision.


By now it was 12.30, and we were near transmission. Yet another phone call came from Bernard Ingham, this time telling us that Michael Heseltine would not be doing the live interview.


We rang the Defence Ministry and they said as far as they knew he still would be doing it, that he was on his way to Oxford but they had not been able to contact him.


We opened the line to the studio in Oxford and waited….would he or would he not?


At 12.55 Heseltine arrived at our Oxford Studio. We told him Bernard Ingham had said he would not be broadcasting.


"Are you broadcasting the Leon Brittan interview?" he asked. "Yes" we said. "Then I am going on air too", he boomed. And went into the studio.


The programme started. The usual headlines, then news bulletin. Again the phone rang, this time in our Oxford Studio.


"Mr Heseltine, it's Mr Ingham on the phone for you", said the Studio Manager.


"Tell him I am not coming out of this studio to talk to him, until I have done the interview", came the reply.


And he didn't.


The rest, well you know it, he resigned a month later.


I tell that story because, well it's fun, and I and my colleagues have never told all the ins and outs before, but really I tell it because stories like that are going on in our radio programme offices still today.


That's why Today has an audience of over 6 million listeners. That's why radio current affairs programmes are thriving, they are relevant.


But it has not been easy ensuring they have remained so and I think it is a challenge to ensure they continue to be so.


On a number of occasions in the last ten years radio has faced uncomfortable challenges – when bi-media was introduced in News, when James Boyle rescheduled Radio 4, and in the summer of 1996 when John Birt radically changed the structure of the BBC.


Overnight the Managing Directors of Television and Radio no longer sat at the top table of the BBC. Instead they reported to, and were represented by, the Chief Executive of Broadcast.


Producers in BBC Radio and BBC Television suddenly found that their world had been turned upside down as they had become part of a new bi-media division called Production.


What did this mean for radio?


Out of 18 new Heads of Department appointed only one was from radio.


Radio producers now found themselves in huge bi-media departments where the local management, expert in the cost of television programmes - between £50,000 and some £500,000 per programme - could not see the point of putting similar effort into gaining a commission for a radio programme only costing £5000.


The Broadcast/Production split, as it became known, led to departments declaring war on each other, as they battled for commissions to survive. Science would try to get Religion’s programmes and vice versa.


When I moved from News to become Director of Radio, in January 1999, the impact the new structures had made shocked me.


I went round every production department and the story was the same.


Producers felt they were drowning in huge departments, where the managers, however good, were overwhelmed with the problems of television and knew little of radio.


I think the uncertainty led to safe programming and abandonment of risk. Why risk a challenging idea which might not be commissioned, if a formulaic one guaranteed success? At least you kept your job.


I got someone to do a study of how commissioning programmes was working and he found that each producer in the Drama department spent an average of 14 weeks of the year working up proposals - 90% of which were never commissioned.


Even music radio was affected. The producers of Radio 1 programmes worked to a Head of Music Entertainment, who could use their funds to finance television programmes if he so wished.


The same was true of Radios 2 and 3. No other radio organisation in the world was organised in this way.


There were some winners and some of the new structures might have been right for television - although I doubt that - but I do know that radio was left fragmented and unintentionally marginalized.


These changes had followed similar ones in News.


Bi-media had been introduced there in 1992. The concept came to dominate thinking in BBC News as it faced increasing competition both globally and domestically from CNN and from Sky News.


Bi-media – the idea that radio and television can be combined, that News producers and reporters can be in the same team - was not new.


The word was new, but if you go back to when television started properly after the war, News reporters worked for both media until the demands of television called for dedicated teams and they were seperated.


In the years that followed, radio management invested considerable sums in Radio News and Current Affairs, in correspondents around the world.


There were two correspondents in Moscow, two in Washington, one in New York. There were correspondents in all the western capitals of Europe , in Eastern Europe, and throughout the Middle East.


There were correspondents in India, Mark Tully of course, correspondents in South Africa and East Africa. In the eighties they added Peking with Philip Short and Tokyo with William Horsley. This was a formidable newsgathering machine.


And over the years radio invested in a raft of domestic specialist correspondents. The list included education, health, social affairs, the arts, community relations, defence, legal, science, industrial, media, economic.


They added depth to current affairs programmes and some presented specialist programmes on Radio 4, helping build programmes like File on Four, Law In Action, Analysis, as well as Today.


The same was not true of television when John Birt joined the BBC in 1987.


He found a television service with only one correspondent on the mainland of Europe, in Moscow, and three correspondents in the States.


John Birt was rightly determined to improve television's newsgathering capability and authority.


Combining radio's extensive network of foreign correspondents and its specialists at home with television's would surely be a better way for BBC News to face the world.


Some correspondents like Charles Wheeler warned of a treadmill, where reporters would never have time to go out a find stories, but become slaves to agency copy.


But such siren voices were not heeded when reporters and correspondents were merged into one department and, at a stroke, television gained a formidable foreign newsgathering capability.


There were benefits for both media. Reporters and correspondents long lost to radio began broadcasting on the wireless again and re-discovering its joys and impact.


I remember one correspondent, after his first feature had been broadcast on Today, discovering that a lot of people listen to radio intently. He received more feedback from his audience for that one piece, than he had received for years appearing on the Nine O’clock News.


Geoff Randall, the BBC's Business Editor, told the present Controller of Radio 4, Helen Boaden, that had been what surprised about radio. Instant feedback.


How far could the concept go?


There were people arguing that it could go a very long way indeed. One senior manager suggested that one team could edit simultaneously the Six O'Clock News on both television and radio! A view not shared by any in radio production and fortunately by few in television.


News production followed newsgathering and also become bi-media, and a few years later Radio News was moved to Television Centre, so Newsnight and The World Tonight shared in the same open plan office, Breakfast News and Today another.


Synergies would emerge, some believed, and would ensure that the BBC spoke with one voice.


The programmes teams did not agree and neither did I. In my opinion Today has little in common with Breakfast News.


What did all this mean for the listeners, our licence payers?


Radio paints pictures, conveys images, gets inside your head, stimulating your imagination. And it takes time to acquire those skills. And great radio reporting uses sound to convey the sense of place.


The great war reporters - the Richard Dimblebys, Frank Gillards, Wynford Vaughan Thomases - set standards that reporters on radio and television have tried to live up to ever since.


They were great writers, chroniclers, surveying the events that engulfed them, telling their audiences what they saw in front of them.


James Cameron did that regularly on radio. It is a skill still vital for today.


I could give numerous examples over the years, of that blend of sound and word. Brian Hanrahan, counting them out and counting them in, in the Falklands War. Mike Wooldridge reporting from the famine in East Africa, or Allan Little from Yugoslavia and Fergal Keane from South Africa.


Writing, words, sound - radio. For radio to soar, it must have the skill to exploit all three.


The impact of the rigid bi-media years left radio, for a time, lacking some of those skills and confidence too.


And some of the fears of correspondents and journalists like Charles Wheeler were realised, as evidence grew of the staggering burden on some correspondents.


One correspondent worked out, that taking all the television and radio programmes, he was expected to service over one hundred different outlets.


A group of reporters in the regions started the TUFTY Club. Too Ugly For Television.


For radio the BBC's Media Correspondent, Torin Douglas, summed it up in The Times in December 2000 saying: "Those who predicted that radio would take second place have sometimes been proved right. Despite the undoubted influence and size of the BBC's radio audience, particularly at breakfast time, television had first pick of correspondents."


Put simply radio is about painting pictures, television is about shooting them.


So in 2000, News – the first to embrace bi-media – became the first to dismantle much of it.


The production departments were once again split into radio and television. News recognised that radio and television had different needs and needed different solutions.


And later that year, when Greg Dyke restructured the rest of the BBC, all the radio music departments were re-integrated with their radio stations.


Over the past two years much of the old Radio Division has been restored – with its technical staff and factual production departments back with the rest of radio.


During the bi-media years much of the passion and controversy surrounding the BBC was inspired by radio.


Nowhere does that passion emerge more strongly than if someone tries to tamper with Radio 4.


I can still remember the bruising the Controller of Radio 4, Michael Green, got when he moved Woman's Hour from 2.00pm to 10.30am. Poor man.


He went on a walking holiday with his wife in the mountains of Andulicia a few years later, and in a nice log cabin, having drinks with a couple they had befriended, he admitted he ran Radio 4.


The woman immmediately pushed back her chair and pointed at him. "You're the man who moved Woman's Hour" she declared. He ran for cover.


So, in 1998, when the new Controller of Radio 4, James Boyle, imposed wholesale change to the network it was not surprising he encountered hostility on a scale rarely seen in the BBC.


Radio is your friend. It is the soundtrack to your life. When it changes, it affects your life.


Everything was changed at once. It was too much for the producers and too much for the audience. Many switched off.


The comedy was poor, some of the new magazine programmes were just not good enough. Some of the producers failed to understand their audiences. There were too many substandard quizzes and even Today did not seem to know how to fill its extra hour effectively.


Broadcasting House in its first few months sounded shallow. Moving the Archers 17 minutes meant fans were missing the latest dastardly behaviour by Brian Aldridge.


This was only four years ago, but now, as many of the problems have been addressed, some of those programmes have already become classics - John Peel's Home Truths, Front Row, Broadcasting House.


Radio 4 is in tune with its listeners again.


Radio Comedy is once again thriving and influencing television. Only last week Dead Ringers followed Alan Partridge, Goodness Gracious Me and The League of Gentlemen to BBC2.


So the 80 year old radio is not a bruised and damaged beast.


Ninety per cent of the UK population listen to radio every week - that's 44 million people.


BBC Radio's share is 51.6%. That's up from 46% five years ago.


The UK has one of the fastest uptakes of digital television in the world, but radio is thriving, with more listening than ever before, almost 25 hours a week per person.


Radio has overtaken television as the most used medium in the UK. So much for the doom mongers of the '80s – radio is in rude health.


In 1998 radio contributed 46% of all viewing and listening to the BBC – now it contributes 54%.


But do we still need a publicly funded radio broadcaster?


At the beginning of this year, a nationwide survey of just over a thousand people asked their views on radio. Ninety-one percent said it was important for the UK to continue to have public service radio in the future.


Over 80%, thought that public service radio should be informative, educational and entertaining, catering for all age groups and tastes.


Just 4% thought public service radio should only broadcast material that cannot be found elsewhere. Not much support for BBC Radio to be confined to market failure.


But only 52% were aware the TV licence funded BBC Radio. And that fell to 31% amongst 16 to 24 year olds!


So in 2002, there is overwhelming support for a broad range of services from BBC Radio, even if there is little understanding as to how it is financed.


But surveys are no justification for existence. Radio must earn its right to exist daily, by the programming it offers to its listeners.


I have never subscribed to a definition that public service radio should be about market failure. I think Radio must have range, it must have ambition, but it also has a duty to contribute to culture – both popular and high.


Music reflects the society which creates it, celebrates it, comments on it, even satirises it.


When I took charge of Radio, I said that I believed, "enabling listeners to gain access to the music of their choice, setting that music in context, opening their minds to other forms of music, is as important to a vibrant society as an understanding of the minutiae of politics." I still believe it.


And Radio must take risks. Perhaps sometimes we are too safe. But I think public service radio can lead the way.


Radio 1 often does, by championing of new bands. With its commitment to regular coverage of politics on a music station. Last week a group of teenagers were able to question Tony Blair on the network for 25 minutes.


It's what Local Radio did last year with its coverage of Foot and Mouth giving its audience a voice at a time of much personal tragedy.


It's what Radio 4 must always do.


If public service radio is to rise ever upwards and not become the albatross many once feared, it must continue to produce programming not heard anywhere else.


One such is Farming Today, whose team has broken more stories about our approach to food and mass farming than any other journalists – its coverage of BSE and Foot and Mouth has been essential for an informed piublic.


Another was File on Four's examination of how fair the British judicial system is to mothers accused of killing or harming their bablies. A programme so disturbing that television are doing a follow up.


Melvyn Bragg produces it week in week out on In Our Time discussing topics like the nature of good and evil.


And the season Radio 4 has just run on the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was comprehensive, surprising and enabled new generations to know how close we came to a third world war.


Are we adventurous and creative enough?


If I look at some of the things we did this year on the anniversary of 11 September we did not lack ambition.


On Five Live a 24 hour broadcast came not only from New York and Washington, but also from Kabul in Afghanistan, from Peshawar in Pakistan, from Ramallah in Palestine, from Ben Yahuda Street in Jerusalem.


The network carried debates throughout the day on the role of women, with Fatama Ghulani from the Afghan Woman's Council in Kabul looking at how much had changed over ten months and arguing with women in Ramallah who were more concerned with their freedom from occupation than with women's rights.


Over on the Asian Network you could hear an entirely different perspective. They ran a three hour programme from New York, but they did not concentrate on Bush, on the reading of names at Ground Zero. They talked to groups like 'Muslims against Terror', an organisation established after 9/11 to educate Americans in the peaceful nature of Islam.


They talked to the Director of the Sikh Coalition of New York, about the fact that a Sikh was the first to die as a result of a hate crime post 9/11, and they talked to an organisation representing the forgotten community of New York – Bangladeshis.


Twenty Eight Bangladeshis were killed in the World Trade Centre – far more than the Embassy admits because most were illegal immigrants, single males with no family to report them missing.

Over on Radio 3 you could listen to a discussion on the New America - 'Was the past year unlike no other in modern American history?' You could hear Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice, Paul Berman of the New Republic, Karen Rothmeyer of the Nation and Tony Judt of NYU argue with passion.


Whilst on Radio 4 you could hear comprehensive coverage of the various services and speeches going on in Europe and the States.


Radio has to respond to the way the world is changing. With programmes that challenge the conventional wisdoms. With programmes that do look at what war with Iraq might mean, not just for this country, but globally.


Now, more than ever, we broadcasters have a responbility to offer our listeners as much information as possible, for them to make up their own minds, about what is right and what is wrong. How they want to shape their world?


Radio is still a wonderful, unique medium for exploring ideas. It still is driven by that remarkable objective set by Reith at its start to "bring the best of everything into the greatest number of homes".


There are still homes where people feel disenfranchised by the BBC, by radio as a whole. We need to acknowledge that, particularly ethnic minorities.


We are responding, but maybe nor fast enough, or radically enough. We have just launched two new digital stations to try to fill some of the gaps.


But do we still offer a medium for our present James Camerons to explore ideas, take us further, learn from?


The Ed Stourton series on Radio 4, For Us or Against Us, attempted to piece together how the Alliance against Terror had been put together, where the cracks were, were the compromises?


All the main players took part and some we didn't ever expect to get including the Russians, the Iranians and the Chinese. That's the kind of series James Cameron would have attempted.


The controversy over whether Rod Liddle remained Editor of Today showed that we are still providing programmes that are essential for people's daily lives.


It reminded me of something the Press Counsellor of the United States Embassy said in 1989. He had been briefing the new Ambassdaor, Henry Catto:


"Let me explain the difference between America and Britain" he said. "In the States the most important programme you must appear on is on television, in Britain its on the radio."


Thirteen years later that is still true.


I have read all the articles on Rod's stewardship of the programme, on the appointment of Kevin Marsh, and it was another American that summed it up for me:


"I am a true devotee. It spares me watching television in the morning. As a news consumer, who is writing and reporting about Britain and Europe it is agenda setting."


That was Stryker McGuire, London Bureau Chief of Newsweek. Stryker, I agree.


So although its 80 years old, radio is still young, energetic and central to any future for public service broadcasting.


Over the next four years the BBC is going to be picked over, dissected, challenged as the debate over its future and a new Charter intensifies.


Within the BBC there is a growing realisation that radio is essential to deliver its public remit.


Where would its role as cultural patron be without Radio 3's support of five orchestras, its support of The Proms, its support of World Music?


Where would the BBC be without Radio 4's support of writers? Radio 4 commssions more new writing than any other institution in the world.


Where would the BBC be without Radio 1 which reaches over 50% of 15 to 24-year-olds ?


Where would it be without Radio 2's investment in music documentaries, in popular current affairs with programmes like Jimmy Young - soon to be Jeremy Vine?


Would the BBC have sustained its reputation for Sport without Radio Five Live?


Where would television comedy be without Radio?


Where would the BBC's journalism be without File on Four, Face the Facts,The World Tonight or From Our Own Correspondent?


The BBC must continue to nurture and invest in that range of programmes across radio if it is to deliver something of value to as many people as possible.


Since its inception, radio has offered both its audience and the BBC opportunity.


Far from being an albatross, I do think over the past few years it has risen, phoenix like, and is recognised as a national resource, because, as the first Controller of Radio 4 I knew – a man called Tony Whitby - summed up:


"In the realm of ideas, radio operates with uncluttered lucidity: in the realm of the imagination, it soars where others limp."




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