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Case for 6 Music closure ‘not made’

The BBC Trust - the organisation that "sets the course" for the UK public broadcaster - has heeded the campaigning of those who said that 6 Music represented a distinctive service that could not be offered by the private sector.

The BBC Trust has rejected the BBC’s plan to close alternative digital music station 6 Music, writes David Davies. The BBC had originally intended to close the station – whose presenters include Lauren Laverne (pictured), Jarvis Cocker, Guy Garvey and Stuart Maconie – by the end of 2011, along with fellow digital station the Asian Network.

There is unlikely to be a reprieve for the latter station – the BBC Trust, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, said it would accept a formal management proposal for the closure of Asian Network provided that it took steps to meet the needs of its ethnic minority audience “in different ways”. But, the Trust added, “as things stand, the case has not been made for the closure of 6 Music. The Executive should draw up an overarching strategy for digital radio. If the director-general [Mark Thompson] wanted to propose a different shape for the BBC’s music radio stations as part of a new strategy, the Trust would consider it.”

This caveat appears to suggest that the organisation could still submit another proposal to close the station at a future date, albeit as part of a wider digital review. However, the outcry about the station during the last six months makes this unlikely – the BPI, the MPG, the four major record labels, 6 Music presenters and thousands of individuals all lobbied the BBC to retain the station. And the boom in support for 6 Music hasn’t been a flash in the pan, with the latest set of Rajar figures, issued in May, revealing a near 50% rise in the station’s audience to a record one million listeners.

Steve Levine, chairman of the MPG, was among those to welcome the judgement of the BBC Trust. “The reprieve of 6 Music is fantastic news,” he said. “By championing talent and originality, 6 Music provides the perfect antidote to the bland outpourings of so much of today’s media. We need stations like this and are delighted that the BBC Trust has rejected plans to close it.”

The embarrassing volte face required by the BBC Trust’s decision is only one component of a highly problematic month for BBC senior management. The debate surrounding the possible publication of more detailed information about star salaries continues to rumble on, while Thompson and team have also had to withstand criticism of their televisual output. BBC One, said the Trust, requires “more creative risk taking and ambition”, while BBC Two is in need of “more depth and ambition in factual, drama and comedy.” Even BBC Four – which has carved out a well-deserved niche for the excellence of its music documentaries, including recent examples Synth Britannia and a two-part celebration of producer/arranger Quincy Jones – is said to require “a sharper remit”.

In summing up his latest report, Michael Lyons said that the end-result of current deliberations would be a BBC that “focuses on its two main obligations to the public – to provide distinctive public service content and to use their money wisely.” Evidently, in the case of 6 Music, the Trust has concurred with campaigners’ arguments that 6 Music offers a quality, cost-efficient service whose content would be difficult to emulate in the private sector.

Image Credit: BBC