BBC lets U2 fanboys do their programming

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In America, the only television channel that we have that’s remotely like the BBC is perhaps PBS. PBS runs on both private donations, grants from non-profits and foundations, and a certain percentage of it’s operating budget comes from government grants. Whereas (I think, I’m sure the British Celebitches will correct me), the BBC channels have operating budgets mostly from the government and some from advertisers.

In George W. Bush’s America, PBS was lambasted, and the government tried to influence PBS programming however they could. Several good journalists and producers were pushed out, some programs suddenly became a bit more pro-Bush. The controversies were all about politics and who could say what about the administration. This seems much more dire than the current controversy raging at the BBC right now.

The controversy is about U2. Apparently, U2 has been getting hours of free promotion on the BBC, for no reason other than U2 has an album coming out. The BBC website has been offering tickets to U2 concerts, and basically the programming on BBC stations and radio has been all-U2, all the time. The Daily Telegraph has more:

The BBC has been accused of giving the rock band U2 excessive levels of publicity ahead of the release of their new album. Critics claim that the corporation has handed the group unprecedented amounts of publicity worth millions of pounds using fee-payers money.

The Irish band is involved in a string of special shows and appearances with the broadcaster this month, relentlessly plugged through adverts using the slogan “U2=BBC”. The corporation has even set up a dedicated part of its website offering tickets and links to the group’s official site.

However, politicians have raised concerns that the BBC is letting itself be used to promote the band’s new album No Line On The Horizon, which comes out on March 2.

Tory MP Nigel Evans, who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee, said it was “the sort of publicity money can’t buy”. He told the Daily Mail: “Why should licence fee-payers shoulder the cost of U2’s publicity?”

U2 are to make appearances or be featured on several shows this week including programmes on BBC1, BBC2, Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 4. This includes a ‘Live Lounge’ session on Jo Whiley’s Radio 1 show and an interview on Chris Evans’s Radio 2 show, both on Friday.

The Dublin four-piece will also perform on Jonathan Ross’s BBC1 chat show, and there will be a special of BBC2’s The Culture Show tonight dedicated to their music. They have already appeared on Zane Lowe’s Radio 1 show this week and will also appear on Radio 4 arts programme Front Row tonight.

The deal does not involve any financial agreement beyond the group being paid a standard Musicians’ Union rate for their performances, but the BBC is funding the shows and publicity for them. One viewer complained on the corporation’s message-boards: “As a publicly funded broadcaster, why is the BBC plugging the new U2 album?”

Another added: “New albums come out all the time, but we are all supposed to be interested in this one for some reason.”

A BBC spokesman said all the shows had to conform to editorial guidelines on justification and undue prominence. He said: “We take extreme care in making fair decisions about how we make popular artists accessible to our audiences, especially when the timing is around the release of a new album/book/film. U2 are one of the world’s most popular bands who have a diverse fanbase and we are reflecting this in our content.”

From The Daily Telegraph

I can actually understand how this could get out of hand. U2 is a huge band, and it is newsworthy (or entertainment-newsworthy) when they release an album. Everyone working at the BBC probably wanted to do interviews, and everything just escalated from there.

However, I started thinking about how pissed I would be if PBS and my NPR radio stations started doing this sort of excessive promotion of one artist for weeks on end. I would be super-pissed. This kind of one-sided-ness is tedious at best, and showing a really disturbing lack of journalistic credibility at worst. If U2 can get the BBC in this much of a state, what does it say about how the BBC covers politics, war and the economy? First they came for U2, then they came for my neighbor, then they came for me!

Bono is shown performing at the BRIT Awards on 2/18/09. Credit: WENN

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13 Responses to “BBC lets U2 fanboys do their programming”

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  1. geronimo says:

    The BBC is funded by public licence fee and through sale of merchandise and programming. It is completely independent of the Government and receives no state funding. Far as I know, only the BBC World Service is part-funded through some type of government grant.

    This is wrong, agree with the Telegraph piece. BBC’s on very dodgy ground here. Not a U2 fan and have no idea why they should be singled out for special treatment. They sure as hell don’t even begin to compete with the quality of music that’s BBC Radio (2 in particular) already offers.

  2. Kaiser says:

    Geronimo ?? I’m still confused. What is a public license fee? Does the BBC pay the goverment? And then a program’s producers pay the BBC to air a show? Or is “paid programming” just another way of saying “advertising”?

  3. Kaiser says:

    *goverNment. God, I’m so Southern, I should just spell it out gob’mint.

  4. geronimo says:

    K – Every tv owner in the country pays an annual licence fee. (You can go to jail if you’re found in possession of a tv without one, fines of £1000+. Fee currently £139.50p/a.) From the BBC site:

    “The BBC is paid for directly through each household TV licence. This allows it to run a wide range of popular public services for everyone, free of adverts and independent of advertisers, shareholders or political interests.

    No gob’mint money, no accountability to the gob’mint, supposed accountability to the us, the viewers/licence fee payers but as, the Telegraph article points out, this is accountability in name only. The licence fee funds the programming. The BBC makes money from the sale of its progs internationally and from other commercial arrangements. The BBC is advertising ‘free’ (hear my hollow laugh) which is why this U2 business is in breach of its ‘no advertising’ remit.

  5. geronimo says:

    too many incorrect commas etc to correct, sorry.

  6. Kaiser says:

    Oh, I get it now. So Brits call it a “license fee” where we Yanks call it “the cable bill”. And yet we pay our cable bills, and have to sit through advertising. The Brits might have a better system!

    Back on topic, yeah, it would piss me off. How many interviews with Bono can anyone really sit through?

  7. Mairead says:

    No Kaiser, a licence fee is quite different to a cable bill. It is a licence to own broadcast receiving equipment, which technically includes radios, but is more generally used in relation to TV licences only and is for the primary purpose of funding the national broadcaser – in the case of the UK this is the BBC tv and radio services- and is meant to allow them to produce public service broadcasting and programming which would not be otherwise viable on a commerical network. The BBC is not co-funded by advertising (well, there are no commercial breaks anyway)

    There are other networks in the UK, ITV group and Channel 4, but these are wholly commercial operations which do have commercial breaks.

    Your idea of how it works Kaiser, is actually more similar to the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ which illicits tv licence monies and has advertisement breaks and sponsorship of programmes. However, some of RTÉ’s money goes towards supporting other broadcasters, espeically radio stations.

    Unlike that heretic geronimo I am a U2 fan (25 years and counting – looking forward to getting the album on Saturday or Sunday. The advertisement doesn’t bother me as I don’t watch much telly anymore and only listen to the radio in the car)

    However, it looks like there’s over and above the usual promotion of high-profile releases here which would seriously compromise the no-advertisement rule.

  8. caribassett says:

    I wish I had BBC. I love U2.

    Perhaps they are trying to expand their audience?

  9. geronimo says:

    *heretic* 😆 Sorry, M!

  10. Baholicious says:

    Geronimo seriously?? An end-user license fee on top of the license fee the broadcaster already pays to broadcast? This on top of a system access fee that the cable companies charge? Holy hats, that’s ‘tax n’ gouge.’

    We get PBS here in Ontario. I love their programming – lots of Britcoms!

    CBC gets government funding and private sponsorship via commercials. Considering it’s the national broadcaster here, I wonder why I can barely pull the channel in, yet with my antennae I receive American programming with better picture quality.

    I am no longer a slave to the great Rogers Cable Monopoly Satan, but his hold is a tenacious one. I’ve not had cable for over a year and still miss it now and again but I’m glad with the decision I made. It’s a racket.

  11. Mairead says:

    Baho – in the UK BBC is free to air as is RTÉ in Ireland, and I think the BBC also have a number of “Freeview” digital channels which can be received through a once-off purchase of a receiver. The radio signals are also free-to-air also of course.

    So you don’t necessarily have to pay separately to receive the BBC channels or the terrestrial commerical channels in the UK, unless you avail of cable or more commonly satellite tv.

  12. Persistent Cat says:

    It’s U2. Let them be.

  13. Bina says:

    Their new album is FANTASTIC. Wrote a review of it on my blog which is listed above.