Looking back on John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’


This year began with the sad passing of influential art critic and broadcaster, John Berger on the 2nd of January 2017. His seminal television work Ways of Seeing (1972) and its accompanying text was not only a critique of western visual culture, but also of the arts documentary tradition itself. As Randy Kennedy remarks in the New York Times:

Mr. Berger’s intention was to upend what he saw as centuries of elitist critical tradition that evaluated artworks mostly formally, ignoring their social and political context, and the series came to be seen as an assault on the historian Kenneth Clark’s lofty “Civilisation,” the landmark 1969 BBC series about the glories of Western art.

Indeed, broadcast only three years after Clark’s Civilisation, Ways of Seeing could not escape comparisons to BBC Two’s most popular arts and culture series. However, as alluded to by the writer above, there were a number of fundamental differences between Ways of Seeing and Civilisation in regards to both their style and ideologies.

In contrast to Clark’s celebratory traditionalist approach to Western culture, Berger provides a far more radical critique of art. This is an analysis situated within the social conditions in which the art was produced and in many ways reflected Berger’s own Marxist political leanings.


Berger’s underlying focus throughout the series centres on the ways in which the medium of television as a form of reproduction inherently alters the reception of art. In the first episode, clips taken from Dziga Vertov’s influential Man With a Movie Camera are used to illustrate this idea of a constructed reality presented through the medium of film. As Berger states in his companion book to the series:

When a painting is reproduced by a film camera it inevitably becomes material for the film-makers argument. A film which reproduces images of a painting leads the spectator, through the painting, to the film-makers own conclusions. The painting lends authority to the film-maker. (1972: 26)

To illustrate this, the  series takes an overtly self-reflexive approach, consistently making the audience aware that they are watching something constructed rather than viewing reality through the window of the television screen. During the first episode the camera cuts to a long shot of the studio to include the other cameras, lights and crew, reminding the viewer that the means of production are always inherently intertwined with the images and ideas produced.


Marking the 40th anniversary of Ways of Seeing in 2012, Sukhdev Sandhu asserted that the series is ‘now regarded not only as a landmark work of British arts broadcasting, but as a key moment in the democratisation of art education’.

Whereas it has often been argued that Civilisation brought art to the ‘masses’, Ways of Seeing opened up these works for critique and debate. Perhaps the clearest articulation of this is presented by Berger in the introduction to the before mentioned book:

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. (1972: 7)

By promoting this relativist approach Ways of Seeing not only prompted us to challenge prescribed interpretations of the arts, it also served as a more pertinent lesson in the nature of media and visual culture more broadly.


Today the media landscape is undeniably more complex than it was in 1972. As we enter 2017 reports of ‘fake news’ and modern day political propaganda have dominated the conversation on a global scale. This is a time in which the need to question the way we see the world through our television, computer screens and mobile phones has arguably never been greater.



BBC Arts Broadcasting in 2016: Temple of the Arts or just a façade?


This is a blog post about dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction I have felt from programme-makers, commentators and experienced myself as both a researcher and consumer of arts content. Dissatisfaction with the current arts proposition and indeed the BBC and PSB more broadly that I believe can be summed up by the statement ‘it’s not enough’. Now, often this is a phrase used in a quantitative sense in reference to funding and output hours. However, I propose that such rhetoric can often overlook some of the deeper issues and weaknesses at the heart of the BBC’s current arts proposition and indeed PSB more broadly. In this blog post I’m going to briefly outline two primary areas of contention.

Firstly, it’s not enough just to say that arts programming is in itself evidence of the BBC’s distinctiveness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly most of the debate surrounding the future of the BBC during the current charter review period seems to centre on the notion of market failure – that is, does the BBC provide something that the market otherwise wouldn’t. Within this rhetoric the term ‘distinctiveness’ appears quite regularly on both sides. Should the BBC have programmes like Strictly Come Dancing when surely this type of light entertainment is already a staple of commercial broadcasting schedules? Is the BBC broadcasting enough ‘distinctive’ programming to justify its continued public funding?

Within the broader categories of ‘public service genres’, arts output hours and spend is often used as something of a litmus test by policymakers and evidence by the BBC for how well PSB is performing in terms of distinctiveness. But with commercial broadcasters such as Sky Arts now providing ‘public service like content’ (some would even argue to a better extent than the BBC) and the plethora of arts content available online through sites like YouTube, this argument no longer seems to hold sufficient weight.

With pressure from the government and the centre-right conservative press to demonstrate value for money and efficiency, it is also unsurprising that the BBC has increasingly succumbed to the logic of the market in both its rhetoric and output. However, within this context the very public service values that have been the driving force behind some of the BBC’s most distinctive arts programmes have seemingly been eroded.

Short documentaries by the likes of Ken Russell in the early 1960’s were spaces for experimentation, resulting in arguably some of the most ground-breaking pieces of arts television ever produced, most notably Elgar (1962) and The Debussy Film (1965). In the 1970’s and 1980’s Arena films such as My Way (1972) and The Private Life of the Ford Cortina (1982) were radical and innovative, artistic works of cultural significance in their own right.


In comparison, the arts offering today is strikingly formulaic. Although some may argue that the value of such programming lies in introducing new audiences to the arts, the preoccupation with garnering popular appeal through heavily formatted arts series leaves BBC One (and increasing BBC Two) schedules dominated by bland, uninspiring programming. How can it be argued that such programming is proof of distinctiveness?

If there’s any genre that invites risks and creative innovation it’s the arts. Free from requirements to appease advertisers and shareholders, PSB has historically been positioned as the most conducive environment in which to nurture these values. But where is the space for this bold and innovative filmmaking in BBC schedules today? Any claims of distinctiveness in reference to the arts proposition must surely be presupposed by a production and commissioning culture in which experimentation and creativity can thrive.

Secondly, it’s not enough to say that public service provision is merely about making the arts available to people.

 Another problem with judging public service commitments through quantitative measures such as output hours is that it often neglects to account for the social and cultural value of the programming being produced (or not, as the case may be). This is really about the public in ‘public service broadcasting’. Who is actually being served and what is the service being offered relative to this.

Although the BBC might claim its primarily responsibility and duty is to the audience there is arguably little evidence of this within the current arts proposition. Indeed many will state that the arts audience is inherently small, and whilst this may be true in comparison to other genres such as drama, it is all the smaller for a lack of provision that reflects and speaks to the real diversity of culture in the UK.

The first issue to highlight here is how narrow the majority of the BBC’s arts coverage is, with much of it centred on a prescribed artistic canon. Where are all the programmes that devote care and attention to the artistic merits of say street art and video games? Or provide an in depth look at the work of contemporary artists such as Theaster Gates and Teresa Margolles? The arts are so diverse, so why isn’t this reflected in the BBC’s output?


Alongside this, those who present these programmes are too often older, white, upper middle class and male. While this remains the case it seems hard to envision a future in which ‘the arts are for everyone’ on the BBC. To truly speak to the UK in all its diversity there needs to be a diverse range of voices doing the talking. Representation is important, and in the arts it seems strikingly absent.

Another major concern in relation to this is arts provision in the nations and regions. The concentration of arts funding in London and Glasgow has resulted in a production ecology in which Wales, Northern Ireland and also northern England are not only invisible on the network but also within their own regional output. In serving all licence fee payers from all parts of the UK, the provision of programming that represents and reflects the diverse art and culture of the nations and regions should be a requirement, not a rare luxury as it is now.

 Temple of the Arts or just a façade?

I don’t believe the issues I’ve highlighted in this blog can be solved by increased funding and output hours alone. While I don’t deny the significance of such measures, it’s certainly not the entire story. There are other, arguably more pertinent questions that need asking. Why did the BBC invest in The Big Painting Challenge rather than a weekly arts magazine programme for BBC Wales television? What kind of service does arts broadcasting actually provide for licence fee payers today?

It’s not enough for arts programming to just be there in numbers. It has to be valued and resonate with the public for whom it serves. If not then this self-proclaimed ‘temple of the arts’ risks abandoning its congregation altogether.

Public Service Television Inquiry and the Future of Arts Broadcasting


Over the past year the state of public service broadcasting in Britain has been something of a hot topic. Following the publication of the government’s green paper on the future of the BBC there has been much debate around the relevance of public service broadcasting in an age of fragmented audiences and digital media abundance. However, although often the centre of such discussion, the BBC is of course not the only UK broadcaster with public service commitments. In September of last year Channel 4 hit the headlines over rumours that it could be facing privatisation to much public outcry. The past decade has also seen a significant reduction in ITV’s public service obligations, particularly in terms of specialist factual provision. These developments and the discourses that surround them signal the need for a broader examination into the place and sustainability of public service broadcasting within the contemporary media landscape.

It is these concerns and others that are currently the focus of an independent inquiry launched by Lord Puttnam entitled A Future for Public Service Television: Content and Platforms in a Digital World. Based at Goldsmiths, University of London, the inquiry aims to ‘address how public service content can be most effectively nurtured taking into consideration a range of services, platforms and funding models’. The inquiry has also run a series of events across the country, including one at Cardiff University which featured on its panel Angharad Mair of BAFTA Wales, the chair of S4c, Huw Jones, Head of Nations and Regions at Channel 4, Ian MacKenzie, Head of Strategy and Digital at BBC Wales, Rhys Evans and Angela Graham of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

The inquiry has also invited submissions addressing the key issues affecting contemporary television. A number of these key issues are identified by Lord Puttnam in a statement on their website which argues:

Public service broadcasters remain at the heart of our broadcast landscape in the UK but we are seeing a worrying fall in investment in key areas such as arts, news and drama as well as the tendency for younger audiences to migrate to new digital platforms.

Indeed, the increasingly competitive media landscape that public service broadcasting finds itself in has proven to be a chilly climate for specialist factual provision, and the arts in particular. Once seen as synonymous with public service values, the narrative of arts provision in Britain over recent years has been one of relative decline. This trend is also evidenced by the media regulator Ofcom, who found that despite hours of factual programming increasing by 20% between 2009 and 2014, spending on arts and classical music content across all UK public service broadcasters fell by 24%.

In our submission to the inquiry Dr Caitriona Noonan and I outline a number of recommendations. These include:

  1. Given the likely changes to both funding and content provision (e.g. the introduction of the BBC studio system) after charter review we would recommend that greater consideration of new and existing models of funding be considered for genres ‘at risk’ such as arts.
  2. While Ofcom and its associated research have signaled issues with the provision of arts content the regulator has yet to offer any viable strategies for the future. We would like more detailed monitoring of arts by the regulator and greater consultation about future provision.
  3. Whether the BBC Trust remains or is replaced by another system, we recommend that arts remain a visible part of their agenda and that there is sufficient accountability regarding the provision both in terms of the quantity and nature of the programming.
  4. While we lament the decline of arts on Channel 4 in peak-time we also acknowledge the creative risks it has taken and its partnership with both artists and arts organisations (e.g. the short-form series Random Acts). We believe that this activity is dependent on Channel 4 being publicly owned and we see this as yet another reason to keep the ownership of channel as it is for the time being.
  5. Further investment should be made into developing innovative content 
creation and distribution strategies for engaging young people with arts and encouraging them to see the arts as a viable career aspiration thereby strengthen the sectors.
  6. We believe there is a need for greater diversity in arts broadcasting in terms of subject matter and form, and in the diversity of those working in this genre behind and in front of the camera. 
We advocate an ongoing commitment within all PSBs to diversity through paid training opportunities extending access to this professional space beyond those from more privileged backgrounds.
  7. We believe there is a strong argument for maintaining BBC Four in terms of protecting specialist factual provision (not only in the arts) and as tangible support for the wider arts ecology in Britain.
  8. Our research highlights that many arts organisations, venues and artists outside of London feel excluded from the mechanisms of broadcasting and its coverage of the arts despite their critically acclaimed and successful work. We would like to see further investment in developing on-going relationships between 
national broadcasters and arts organisations to bring audiences coverage of events from across the UK.
  9.  Our research indicates there is a dearth of specialist factual content that represents the arts and culture in Wales both on network and opt-out services. If one of the duties of PSB is to represent the UK, its nations, regions and communities, then it is crucial that there is a strong voice for Wales that reflects the contemporary cultural life of the nation. In order to address this significant weakness in the overall public service provision, we would advocate the need for a more coherent strategy for arts programming that both serves licence fee payers in Wales and promotes Welsh creativity and culture across the network.

(click here to read the full report)

In many ways the mixed fortunes of arts programming and those of public service broadcasting have run in parallel to one another over the years. It could be argued that any weakness in the arts proposition is only symptomatic of the wider challenges facing public service broadcasters as they fight for survival in a competitive, multi-channel environment. The future of public service broadcasting is also the future of arts broadcasting.



Is the Future of Arts Broadcasting Online?


Despite the high profile campaigns, petitions and hashtags, this month BBC Three is set to go off air and become online-only. Although the decision to move BBC Three branded content to the iPlayer will reportedly make savings of around £30 million a year, the BBC Trust acknowledged that ‘almost 1 million younger viewers could desert the corporation as a consequence’.

With young people spending more time online than watching television for the first time ever, changing consumption habits seem to provide a strong rationale behind BBC Three’s departure from the linear broadcasting landscape. However, when asked back in 2014 to comment on what the axing of BBC Three as an on-air channels means for the future of other niche services such as BBC Four, former controller, Danny Cohen stated that “if future funding for the BBC comes under more threat then the likelihood is we would have to take more services along the same [online only] route [as BBC3].”

More recently, concerns around the future of BBC Four and other key platforms for specialist arts and cultural content were raised after a speech by Tony Hall in September of last year in which he stated:

“In summary the BBC faces a very tough financial challenge. So we will have to manage our resources ever more carefully and prioritise what we believe the BBC should offer. We will inevitably have to either close or reduce some services.”

In my own research interviews with media professionals and those who work within arts organisations in the UK, the possibility of more arts content being distributed online as opposed to traditional broadcasting has been met by both enthusiasm and concern in equal measure.

In theory you might expect that having more arts content online would encourage what many would argue is a much needed increase in diversity in terms of both form and content.

Online platforms allow for a wider variety of ways to create and consume content, such as articles, vlogs, images, along with more traditional long-form video including documentaries and live relays. Further to this, commissioning online content tends to involve less risk as the costs involved both in production and distribution is generally less than that of traditional broadcasting. Of course even further reduced budgets is not good news for those creating the content and in turn may lead to fewer producers specialising in the arts, particularly within the independent sector.

Another advantage to online platforms is that they are not constrained to the comparatively limited space of radio and television schedules, enabling a potential increase in the amount of arts coverage available. Along with this, the internet allows for a more immediate reaction to events than traditional media. You can be watching an interview with a curator at the opening of their new exhibition just hours after it opens before switching to a livestream of an opera direct from Covent Garden.

In line with the BBC Three model, being able to access more content online and on demand is also about responding to changing media consumption habits, particularly those of young people. The audience for linear broadcast television is ageing and this trend is even more concentrated in the arts.

So could online arts provision be the solution? In 2014 the BBC launched Private View, a series of iPlayer exclusives with a younger demographic in mind. The films consist of prominent figures from pop culture such as musician Tinie Tempah and fashion icon Lianne La Havas taking the viewer on a ‘series of personal tours of blockbuster exhibitions’. The series has proved something of an online success with Goldie’s Private View of Matisse being the most watched arts programme on iPlayer.


However, there are concerns around whether arts broadcasting could actually suffer more than other genres in this more fragmented, menu-based system. Back in the days when you had perhaps only three television channels to choose from you might watch an arts programme just because it happened to be the next thing on. Even now, decades after the Reithian diet of ‘lowbrow’ and ‘highbrow’ programming sitting alongside each other in the schedules has been rendered obsolete by digitalisation, you might still see a trailer for an arts documentary that catches your interest at the end of Eastenders.

There’s no escaping the fact that the core audience for arts programming is small, and while online platforms may be great for ‘binge watching’ the latest hit drama, there seems to be little opportunity in this user-led environment for broader audiences to be introduced to new content and ideas.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for public service broadcasters, if the resurgence of event television in recent years tells us anything it’s that there is still nothing like the impact of mainstream broadcasting. Social media and live-tweeting have in many ways strengthened traditional media by making programmes talking points for live online discussion. Advances in media technology may mean that people are consuming more content online and on demand than ever before, but linear broadcasting still has an important role to play in creating a sense of shared experience and engaging people in a national conversation of which the arts must surely be a part.

40 Years of Arena in 24 Hours

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Created in 1975 by the then head of BBC Music and Arts, Humphrey Burton, Arena has been a platform for some of the most groundbreaking arts documentaries on television. From My Way (1979) to The Chelsea Hotel (1981) and The Private Life of the Ford Cortina (1982), the multi award-winning arts strand has received critical acclaim for its high quality, avant-garde approach to the arts in terms of both form and content.

Introduced by the writer and broadcaster, John Lloyd, Night and Day celebrates the creativity and diversity of filmmaking that has come to define the strand over the past forty years:

“The film you’re about to see brings together the work of many producers, directors and their teams, but it demonstrates a commonality of purpose that characterises the six hundred or so films in the Arena canon. […] Rather than make a best of compilation to mark the anniversary, the decision was made to try and bring the past into the present and make a new film. It’s an evocation, drawn entirely from Arena films, of the one experience common to everything thing and everyone on the planet; the inextricable twenty-four hour cycle of night and day.”

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 The film takes the viewer through footage spanning a range of subjects, eras and locations, cut out and stuck together to form a video collage of a day. From Pete Doherty diving into a rooftop pool against a pre-dawn Barcelona skyline, to Sonny Rollins walking over the Williamsburg Bridge, we watch as the world rises to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Night and Day’. Breakfast is then served by Mary Jenkins Langston, Elvis Presley’s personal cook who featured in the 1996 film, The Burger and the King and charted some of The King’s more eclectic dietary tastes.

The morning commute is a montage of suits, trains and umbrellas from the streets of cities around the world. Amongst them is Mel Brooks arriving on set in Hollywood from Alan Yentob’s 1981 iconic portrait of the film director, screenwriter and sometime actor. We then join the Spectator columnist, Jeffrey Bernard in his home office as he taps out the latest entry for the weekly column that earned him his cult following.

While noon brings a liquid lunch down the pub for Bernard and actor Tom Baker, The Beatles are taking a break on their 1967 Magical Mystery Tour to visit Smedley’s chip shop on Roman Road, Taunton.

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In the afternoon Richard Rogers guides us through the financial marketplace housed in the Lloyds building, London. Scenes of bankers in suits become street vendors in coats as we are taken along with Linda McCartney as she photographs bustling marketplaces of a different kind. At the Partagas Cigar Factory in Havana the workday continues, while seemingly worlds apart George Martin takes afternoon tea with his oboe teacher, Margaret Eliot.

The sun sets over busy highways and tranquil beaches as day fades into night. At Elstree Studios, London, Jack Nicholson is brushing his teeth and preparing to go back on set for The Shining, while over at The Chelsea Hotel in New York, pop artist Andy Warhol and novelist William Burroughs are engaged in rather surreal conversation over dinner.

As both the 24 hours and the film draw to a close, the cycle of night and day is completed as a passage from Under Milk Wood read at the beginning of the programme is repeated once more.

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In some ways this 90 minute feature-length film is reminiscent of Life in a Day (2011), which used crowdsourced video clips to tell the story of a single day on earth ‘through a multitude of perspectives’. Although the two films seem rather juxtaposed in terms of production, with Night and Day centred around creative use of archive footage and Life in a Day around more everyday content creation in the digital age, the central theme is still that of shared human experience governed by the perpetual cycle of the 24 hour day.

However, more importantly Night and Day bears testimony to the exceptionally broad remit of Arena over the past forty years. From Francis Bacon to George Formby, Marilyn Monroe to Henry Moore, popular culture and high are presented with equal attention and depth across the strand. What is also striking is the creative and imaginative ways in which these range of topics have been presented on screen. Through this Arena has built a reputation as a strand that is willing to be experimental with both form and content. Night and Day and the films featured within it don’t just serve to document art and culture, but also stand as significant cultural artefacts in their own right.

Contains Strong Language: Some Highlights


On the 8th of October the BBC marked National Poetry Day by launching a week long season of programmes celebrating both professional and amateur poets.

As the Director of Arts stated on the BBC’s Media Centre homepage:

From BBC One to Radio 3, the BBC is devoted to celebrating and showcasing the extraordinary arts and culture of the UK, bringing it to the largest possible audience wherever and whoever you are. To mark National Poetry Day, Contains Strong Language will celebrate the urgent and disruptive power of poetry, putting it at the heart of schedules, across the BBC’s channels, stations and online.

On World Poetry Day itself, the BBC Radio 4 schedules were taken over by We British: An Epic in Poetry, a series of programmes presented by Andrew Marr exploring ‘British history and identity through poems’. Arranged in a chronological fashion, the programmes featured readings, archive material, and interviews with a number of actors, media personalities and poets including Ian McKellen, Graham Norton and Carol Ann Duffy.


I must admit, a particular highlight was Marr accidentally calling the poet Liz Berry “Mary Berry”, which I’m sure he’d put down to the final of The Great British Bake Off airing the previous evening.

Listeners were also asked to join the discussion through Twitter with the hashtag #WeBritish. Alongside this there was a special edition of the Shipping Forecast which invited people to ‘sum up their mood or activities in 10 words or less, using the style of the Shipping Forecast’ and submit their poems to Radio 4 via email, Facebook or Twitter. A number of these were then featured on a later edition of the programme.


However, it seemed that the centrepiece of the season came a couple of days later with BBC Two’s 90-minute feature length documentary, Ted Hughes: Stronger Than Death.

Broadcast at 9pm on a Saturday night, the scale of the documentary presented itself through cinematic aerial shots of sweeping green landscapes and rustic towns. This was then juxtaposed by stark black and white footage of countryside scenes permeated by flocks of birds and lone foxes, mirroring the imagery of nature that dominates much of Hughes’ work.

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Speaking for the first time on television Frieda Hughes, daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, discusses her father’s work, life and relationship with her mother. Her accounts, alongside those of others who knew Hughes well form something of a narrative thread throughout the programme, taking the viewer behind the poems to understand the circumstances in which they were conceived.

In lieu of a single narrator or presenter, the use of interviews to weave this narrative thread throughout the film also creates a sense of authenticity. By hearing the accounts of those closest to him, alongside a few more recognisable faces such as the poet Simon Armitage and arts broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, it becomes a far more human story beyond the black and white indifference of newspaper headlines and English Literature anthologies.

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For me, another particular highlight of this poetry season was BBC Radio 3’s special episode of ‘Between the Ears’ entitled ‘We are Writing a Poem About Home’. In this programme, the writer Kate Clanchy takes us into her poetry workshop to meet some amazingly talented award-winning young poets. Speaking 54 languages between them, the students of the former grammar school recite poems around ‘home’ that takes us beyond mere bricks and mortar to touch upon themes of heritage, belonging and acceptance.

BBC Four also broadcast a repeat of Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, an elegy to the young woman who was brutally attacked and murdered because of her appearance. The screen adaptation of Simon Armitage’s poignant poems about the tragedy is both beautifully rendered and deeply harrowing.

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This isn’t easy viewing and nor should it be. If one of the functions of art is to provoke empathy within the observer, then it should not be overlooked that art can also give a voice to the silenced.

In a media landscape in which tragic news stories saturate our television screens and Facebook feeds, it is sometimes only in the steady rhythm of poetry that we can stop to think.

‘Everything is Arts’: The Theoretical Challenges of Arts Broadcasting


The question of how arts broadcasting is actually defined is something that I’ve discussed numerous times on this blog. From an early post entitled Defining Art Within Broadcasting to a more recent piece examining the line between history and the arts in programmes such as Treasures of Ancient Greece, a concrete definition of what I was proposing to study seemed at best elusive, and at worst impossible.

This on-going theoretical challenge was brought to the fore in a recent research interview. From the very beginning the participant made clear that he was fundamentally – and philosophically – opposed to the very notion of ‘arts broadcasting’:

‘Everything is arts. If you wield a camera, or a pen, or a microphone and you make content, that is art’

As persuasive as his argument for Eastenders being considered arts broadcasting was, I think the key thing to take away from this isn’t the need for practical change to the research design in the form of widening the parameters of the study to include everything ever created. Rather, the key area of interest here is how the arts are defined institutionally within the BBC, both from the perspective of those creating content and those in charge of arts strategy and commissioning.

But that still doesn’t completely answer the question of how we define the area of study. How do we set the parameters within which empirical research may be carried out?

Firstly, BBC Arts as a brand and ‘cultural institution’ within the BBC has been central in providing a starting point when trying to map a field of study. Forming something of a categorisation for programming, production and commissioning, BBC Arts has been the most visible way of identifying relevant content and people involved in arts broadcasting on the BBC.


However, I must make clear that I don’t think it’s enough to just go by what is ‘branded’ as arts alone. If you are subscribed to the weekly BBC Arts newsletter, you will notice that not all of it is what many would consider arts, even if at first glance it may appear so. For example, one of the programmes listed in this week’s newsletters is Timeshift: The Engine That Powers the World about the history of the diesel engine. Perhaps not what many people would consider an arts documentary in the traditional sense?

So if we’re using BBC Arts as just a starting point, and not an end point in itself, how do we further understand the ways in which commissioners and content creators define the field in which they work? A standard a question I ask all of my participants is how do they define arts broadcasting. When asked this, many of the people I have interviewed so far have referred to the notion of the arts as culture, and that in turn encompassing a wide range of creative activities and means of expression.

So even when interviewing those directly involved in the creation of arts content there seems to be no clear-cut answer or concrete definition as to what ‘arts broadcasting’ is. There are as many different answers to the question as there are people to ask. However, rather than conceptualising this ambiguity as a challenge to overcome, it is perhaps more useful to consider how this provides the space for certain forms of creative expression to be elevated above others.

If all broadcasting is inherently arts broadcasting in a philosophical sense, then the question is perhaps not ‘what is arts broadcasting?’ but ‘who defines what arts broadcasting is?’