It is rumoured that Richard Desmond, he the big chief at the Daily Express and Daily Star, in addition to a collection of top-shelf magazines of the one-handed entertainment variety, is at the front of the queue outside the RTL offices with a big bid for British television channel Five. If this sale goes ahead, and the Guardian is suggesting OFCOM and the Competition Commission may be having words, British television may undergo one of its biggest character shifts in generations....and all at a time when the future of the BBC looks a bit cloudier than usual.
Desmond is no fly-by-night suit. His media empire is certainly impressive, albeit one built on both extreme prejudice and porn. Both the Express and Star have spent the last 6 months becoming increasingly less subtle with their language and tone, reaching a peak (or the depths) with the former's use of the word "Ethnics" on the front page last week. It really does grate on the teeth, doesn't it? The Star has used the sensationalist (and untrue) headline "They've taken all our jobs" this year, right out of the text book of the most knuckle-dragging of extreme types.
It is worth noting, too, that the Express is home to such a regular collection of pet hates and conspirliloon articles that, if read too quickly or flicked through at speed, would give a casual reader the impression that Diana died of House Price Cancer. Whatever voice the Express and Star claim to use these days, it's neither one of the sound majority or reasoned few. And the threat now comes from a home-grown media tycoon making his way into national television in what could be a "pincer movement" with the increasingly hyperbolic SKY News.
Channel Five, as was, launched as the final jigsaw piece in the grand plan of what was the very analogue-obsessed Broadcasting Act. Launched on a promise of "football, films and fucking", the rebranded Five sounds like the perfect place for Desmond...but we now better than that, don't we? With broadcasting regulations tighter than before, and the likelihood of an overtly prejudice programme not high in the first few months, Five may improve from its import heavy output at first....
...I just dread for its future in the long-run. Now I appreciate that Five has never been the place to expect The World At War or subtitled films (well, of a certain kind, mayhaps, it's just a man like Desmond with his back-catalogue comes to the table with a certain....well, prejudice. Neither the Express nor Star hide their colours - offensive and prejudiced beyond the reasonable tone of national, mainstream newspapers.
While I'm here, I have been somewhat baffled by the reaction - largely on-line - to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's hint that the BBC licence fee could be cut. Given that most complaints normally come from people who WANT it cut, I guess it is true that you really cannot please all people all of the time. In an age of austerity, why should the BBC not have a cut in its income stream? I love the BBC, have always stood up for it against the whingers and whiners, it's just so typical to hear the "save the BBC" calls come up on the basis of "teh evil Tories" suggesting a cut in paying for Auntie.
Look at commercial television - mayhaps Sky Arts as a potentially exciting exception - and look at the output of the BBC. Wonder what Five could turn into under the watchful eye of the proprietor of the Express ("ETHNIC BABY BOOM CRISIS"). Don't dismiss the maxim "be careful what you wish for".