[The second edition of Cross’s London Guide, originally published in 1837.
Copyright © British Library Board. Via Europeana.]
The past two days I published two editorial pieces on the London/UK riots and a related instalment of my monthly column on London. It goes without saying they’re written from the perspective of a Mexican who lives in London.
They’re an attempt at making sense of the events, their possible causes and consequences, and at trying to offer an outsider-insider’s personal view for my readers in Mexico and Spanish-speaking countries, in their own language.
Exploiting Real Fears With ‘Virtual Kidnappings’,
Mexico Hits Drug Gangs With Full Fury of War:
Drug Trade, Once Passing By, Takes Root in Mexico.
With Bombings, Mexican Rebels Escalate Their Fight,
Mexico’s War Against Drugs Kills Its Police,
Congress Trims Bush’s Mexico Drug Plan,
Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence:
6 Charged in Shooting of Officer in Mexico.
Caught in a Swirl of Drug Violence, Mexico Vows to Fight Back.
Gunmen Kill Chief of Mexico’s Police,
16 Are Killed as Gunmen Seek Rancher in Mexico;
Mexico Cites Reprisals in Killings of 9 Officers.
Ethics Panel Admonishes Domenici,
Oil Bill Protest Shuts Mexican Congress,
Mexico Drug War Causes Wild West Blood Bath,
Mexico Proposes Limited Overhaul of State Oil Monopoly.
Travelers in Search of Mexico’s Magic Find Town of Witches and Warlocks:
Telemundo Is Said to Have Struck Deal in Mexico,
Improvements at Land Border Push Smugglers West, to the Pacific,
Political Ally of Mexican President Embroiled in Scandal.
Warrantless Searches Removed From Legislation in Mexico,
Mexicans Barely Increased Remittances in ’07.
Deadly Bomb in Mexico Was Meant for the Police:
Bomb Kills Man on Street in Mexico.
[Variations from a poem originally published May 29, 2008 in my Never Neutral blog. All the lines are verbatim headlines.]
In the BBC Trust’s Review and Assessment for 2009/2010 made public online, [PDF here], Sir Michael Lyons is clear:
“All of our efforts are intended to shape the BBC in the interests of the public it serves. Licence fee payers tell us they want high quality, distinctive programmes, value for money and something for everyone. That is exactly what we have worked to deliver.”
The document reveals that 97% of the UK adult population uses BBC services each week, proving the corporation’s undeniable influence on the British public. Sir Michael Lyons makes a case for “re-shaping the BBC for Modern Britain”, and explains that
"along with the whole communications industry, the BBC faces a very demanding future with ever increasing choice in when and how we enjoy content. This raises big questions about how the BBC makes use of its money. To help us set clear priorities we launched a review of the BBC’s current strategy, which I announced through an open letter to licence fee payers in September. We have consulted the public on the Director-General’s recommendations to us and will publish results this Autumn. But I can say now that the trust is clear: the result must be a BBC that focuses on its public service role, puts quality and distinctiveness first, is tireless in ensuring value for money and is clear about the behaviours appropriate for its publicly-funded status.”
I happen to be one of those license fee payers. I live in London. I hold postgraduate degrees from British Universities, and I have enjoyed many BBC services throughout most of my adult life, both here in Britain and abroad.
Even in the pre-Internet era, living in my native Mexico City, I would make special trips to a friend’s house to listen to the BBC on short wave radio. The John Peel Sessions from my favourite artists have graced my music collection since I was a teenager. Today I listen to BBC Radio 4 and 6; I am a Dr Who fan and I used to listen to the World Service every day, until the programming suffered such a dramatic change.
I was angered to read of the cuts to the BBC World Service, which has been such an essential source of intelligent information and debate, and for many out of Britain, their main contact with the UK. The World Service was an international diplomatic and journalistic resource without comparison. Peter Horrocks, director of global news at the BBC, explained that 650 (out of 2,400) posts at the World Service will be cut and 70 language services are to be closed.
It is known that Top Gear is an incredibly expensive programme to produce. The last time I read about cuts to its budget on a British newspaper was in 2008: Clarkson was believed to have signed a new £2million-a-year contract with the show, while Richard Hammond was paid £25,000 a show and May £20,000.
I am not Top Gear's target audience. I have watched two episodes in their entirety. One involved Clarkson, Hammond and May traversing the Route 66; the other one was a “Christmas special” in which “they attempt[ed] to follow the path of the Three Wise Men across the Middle East” [in sports cars]. This programme was archived in the BBC Two web site as the "Middle East Special".
I’m a fan of British humour. I won’t go into all my favourites, but my love for Monty Python’s Flying Circus is unbreakable (I probably know every line), and I am very fond of Fawlty Towers, in spite of its historical trademark absence of political correctness.
It is in this context that I’d like to address the reply the BBC gave to the Mexican ambassador in London, in relation to his complaint about the xenophobic “jokes” made in the Top Gear episode from Sunday 30th January 2011:
“Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show’s intention.”
I find the “apology” more offensive than Top Gear's unimaginative sense of humour: one does not need to have watched the programme before to realise the comments were out of order, particularly from a show which enjoys such rating and budget allocation in Britain's public media.
The BBC’s apology misses the point and further enrages the intelligent reader and license fee payer because it fails to bring Top Gear to account. Instead of humbly accepting a serious editorial blunder, it blames the victims, accusing them of not getting the joke.
The BBC is the image of Britain abroad, and the image it portrays of its culture is perhaps more influential than the joint efforts of the British Council and the Foreign Office. Realising that Nick Clegg is appointed to visit Mexico soon, the irresponsibility of the racist jokes appears even greater.
It is a shame that a show that remained largely unknown to most Mexicans in Mexico and abroad (and ignored by many Britons) has achieved such incredible popularity and media attention after this. Logically, the right-wing tabloids have had a field day poking fun at the Mexican Embassy’s complaint. Britain’s Worst, exported worldwide with the speed of the tapping of a key.
If Sir Michael Lyons is to prove that the BBC is truly “re-shaping the BBC for Modern Britain”, maybe it would be a good idea to practice what is preached and reconsider what the BBC and Britain’s priorities are. The BBC has a diverse, intelligent, multicultural, international audience that demands good quality content.
Top Gear is offensive to the British public not simply due to its mediocre, outdated sense of humour. Top Gear offends the British license fee payer because in the current economic climate the budget allocated to the programme is not reflective of the values that a large proportion of Modern Britain believes in.