The BBC is struggling for its survival. It sees a hostile government, new agile competition from streamers and social media, and may soon find out what life is like without the guaranteed income of a licence fee. Faced with this dilemma, the BBC announced a new show yesterday sure to change the institution’s fortunes: a podcast in which black queer individuals are matched by their star signs, overseen by the rather brilliantly named astrologist Celestial Tree.
Now, public interest journalism would be served well by proper insight into what life is like in modern-day Britain for people who identify as black and queer. As we saw from a homophobic attack over the weekend in Clapham, there is still plenty of hate to go around. Being black in the capital, too, comes with a financial penalty in work and the seemingly ever-present threat of wrongful arrest. There are no doubt powerful stories to tell, stories that might not be commercially viable.
They would be, in fact, what public interest journalism is about and far more in the Reithian spirit that the BBC should be striving for than the absurd claptrap of a horoscopes podcast. Nobody, it appears, has asked ‘why’ at any point in the process. The BBC is chasing a younger audience, so somebody has decided to do a show that will – in their minds at least – appeal to a younger audience. It’s patronising but clearly somebody felt the need to sign this concoction off.
But why is this happening? How does it further anyone’s interests?
Nobody, presumably, asked ‘why’ when the BBC went ahead with lashings of cuts to the World Service, either, at the same time as it “experiments in decentralised social media” on Mastodon, a little known web platform. Nobody has asked why a public service broadcaster needs to expand into ever more hyper-local coverage, booting out existing commercial players, either. It won’t be long before people start asking why the BBC itself exists.