Swearing

ITV chairman Michael Grade 

Swearing is a subject close to my pysche and, since I read something by Stephen Fry in which he swore blind to stick to swearing because he enjoys it, I’ve become even more addicted to it.

But like all behaviour, some people like it and some people don’t. Sometimes it’s inappropriate. Sometimes you can’t help yourself. Since the Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs row last week, swearing on TV and radio has been under the spotlight although, let’s face it, it’s a perennial topic for the ‘country has gone to the dogs’ brigade who read the Mail and Telegraph.

The ‘debate’ about swearing was further stoked on Monday when ITV chairman Michael Grade was asked a question at a BPG lunch with journalists. Grade complied by saying “the prevalence of the F-word is a little bit unrestrained”.

Before we go on, can we just stop being lazy and say something true for a moment? Standards of behaviour and language aren’t slipping. That’s a subjective, pejorative judgement. Standards are CHANGING – they are always changing. Language can be offensive, always will be, but it’s a moveable feast. That’s why we have editors and people to make judgements about what is or isn’t appropriate in a certain context. (Except on a blog, of course, where’s it’s just me fucking things up.)

For Christ’s sake (sorry, Christians), if we eradicate all comment or entertainment that is potentially offensive to some people from our airwaves we will merely be left with Richard Allinson, Ken Bruce and Fiona Bruce (no relation). Then I will have to kill myself. Barack Obama winning the US election is wonderful; but who and what is broadcast on the BBC that I pay for has far more immediate impact on my life. I look at the Mirror’s ‘Stop Swearing on the Telly’ campaign and shudder.

While I’m ranting, Radio 2 has made a mistake with Michael Ball on Sunday lunchtimes. I wasn’t a fan of Parky who was super-annuated and had started slurring his words as old people somtimes do. But Ball is just a chubby singer who is presumably popular with ladies of a certain age. His interview with Philip Glenister last Sunday exposed Ball as woefully unwitty and poorly educated. Get him off. Glenister would be better, though I doubt he’d do it.

Can’t comment on other TV/radio stuff as I am truly disenchanted with the whole blinking lot and not watching/listening to much. Won’t get to see Mock the Week tonight as I’m socialising. Missed Little Dorritt as I was in a TV-free house last week. Will try to find them on the iPlayer if I can be arsed.

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Brinkmanship

To save you all rushing to consult your tattered dictionaries (what do you mean, you don’t even own one?), I’ll give you the definition from my Concise Oxford English dictionary which says: “brinkmanship, art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it”.

I used this word this week in an article for Thursday’s edition of Broadcast magazine about a speech by ITV chairman Michael Grade in which he said the media regulator Ofcom must either give ITV what it wants or face the possibility that ITV will no longer be a public service broadcaster in future. Instead it would operate purely commercially like Sky, for instance.

Specifically, ITV is discussing changes on advertising, arrangements for network programming and regional news and something technical called the CRR – a mechanism by which it gets paid less for advertising if its ratings go down.

To me, the suggestion that ITV might just throw in the public service broadcasting towel if it doesn’t get what it wants looks very like brinkmanship. Advancing to the point of all out war with Ofcom, without actually declaring war. A declaration of war in this context would presumably be to simply hand back the public service broadcasting licence, without faffing about on the brink first.

Anyway, the word was ruled too inflammatory or something or other and we chose another form of words to question how serious Grade is about ITV becoming fully commercial in future, with no obligation to air particular amounts of UK-originated programming or news from the various nations and English regions. You’ll have to read Broadcast later this week to see just how scintillating this is all panning out to be.

Suffice to say here, that various broadcasters – ITV as described above and Channel 4, which last week ditched plans to launch new digital radio stations – are turning up the pressure on Ofcom to act quickly and spell out what it expects of so-called public service broadcasters in future. The whole subject (PSB, to policy wonks) is under review by Ofcom and two government departments. Pronouncements are expected early in the new year. But with advertising dropping like a stone as the economy apparently ploughs head-forth into recession, broadcasters who earn their living from advertising (principally ITV and C4) are panicking somewhat.

As C4 Andy Duncan told a special edition of the MediaGuardian podcast last week: “This is not a time for dithering. This is a time for action.” Sounds like he’s on the brink, too.

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