No hedgehogs please...

THE BBC is going to have to take much more material from independent television production companies, under the terms of its new Charter. Putting aside the obvious issues, such as job security and freelances' terms, what could this mean to the content of television programmes?

The hedgehog, the nonviolent pirate and the free-standing wardrobe (with fossils) © Matt Salusbury

Well, let's look at what happens in other parts of the media. I work in book publishing, specifically non-fiction for children and young people.

Over the years, production costs have risen, and publishers have had to look for larger "international" markets. Specifically, that means the US, and that means tailoring the contents of books to suit. (This - the demand for nonviolent pirates and the absence of hedgehogs, sex, nude statues and free-standing wardrobes - has been covered before in the Freelance, mainly for readers' amusement.)

The situation is compounded by the publishers' fear of producing anything that challenges the diktat of the British National Curriculum: World War II is covered ad nauseam, but World War I gets barely a mention. Security and predictability is all.

Publishers are businesses, and they can't be blamed for not wanting to take risks: but that's just the point. This is all a perfect example of how relying on the marketplace can stifle innovation. The inevitable result is an unadventurous cultural homogenisation, where nothing new or challenging gets produced.

Now let's come back to television programmes. They are expensive to make. There must be a risk that, for independent television companies, the same forces will inevitably apply. The demands of the bottom line will dictate that material will have to sell throughout the world, putting an end to anything remotely out-of the ordinary, untried or demanding, anything too British or even too European, while the unseen censor in the American Deep South closes down whole areas of discourse.

But then, again, if the BBC's Natural History Unit remains intact, things may never get that bad. Does anyone else remember watching David Attenborough observing two rutting hedgehogs on a British lawn?

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