Cory and Rufus are encouraging us to sign an Open Letter to the BBC, badgering them about the Creative Archive. Something about its phrasing is a bit odd though. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, and then I thought about the curious love-hate relationship we have with the BBC in the UK, and I realised that they got the tone of sanctimony from the BBC itself.
Last week's Dr Who starred Maureen Lippman as a malign alien BBC announcer who steals souls through television, and she played it just right:
This reminded me a lot of the goddess Media in Gaiman's American Gods, though Neil was using a US TV archetype. The BBC has always wanted to set the cultural tone of the nation, and I don't think it is a coincidence that Orwell wrote 1984 after working there during the war. That episode makes the control of the faceless masses through TV explicit, but the Reithian attitude behind it is a familiar one.
However, it did set the cultural tone, certainly for my generation and before, and the tone was of a kind of shabby, well-read respectability, an Auntie knows best feeling, with a dash of 'lets put the show on right here' panto that let you know they weren't taking it too seriously. The old Dr Who was clearly made with an effects budget that wouldn't cover the hairdressers bill on a Hollywood film, but the willing suspension of disbelief made us complicit in this.
I grew up with the pips, the Shipping Forecast, Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a clue and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, with Playaway, The Clangers, Bagpuss and Ivor the Engine, with Dr Who, Top of the Pops, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Dads Army, Yes Minister and Blackadder. I'm proud of all these, and I am doing my best to share the best of them with my boys too.
I have been shaped by this culture too, I am involved, and I feel obliged to tell the BBC what to do in my own sanctimonious way. Having worked there, I know very well that the BBC is not a thinking entity, but a sprawling coalition of bickering bureaucracies that somehow manages to make great programmes despite it's internal regulations. But perhaps someone there can pick up on this and change things a little.
The BBC is bound by existing rights agreements, so it may not be able to distribute everything under a looser license as Rufus would like, but there are things it could do. Anything more than 50 years old is public domain, and could be released now, including all the Coronation footage used so well in that episode. Going forwards, new contracts can be drafted to enable public non-commercial use online, and I hope the BBC is considering this closely.
But the UK-only license is the sticking point. The BBC has gone down a wrong path here by expending significant resources to try an enforce territoriality online, blocking non-UK IP addresses, and locking up the content in Windows Media DRM to try to enforce a UK-only, one week duration public right through technological means. If they are bound by law, fair enough, bind others by law too, but don't use machines to enforce the law.
The BBC World Service exists for the very purpose of spreading British culture worldwide, and is funded to do exactly that. Let some of its funding be used to enable worldwide server access, and save the money and time spent on spurious technical protections that are, after all, easily circumvented (as my including that clip shows).
Just as the Archbishop of York had to come from Africa to explain to the English what a treasure they have in the Anglican prayerbook, perhaps the BBC should consider how much expatriates like me and Neil care about this, and how many others would be as entranced if they could have easy access. The BBC should be ashamed that Neil Gaiman has to furtively obtain Dr Who when they have the opportunity to share it with the world.