belfasttelegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

David Gordon: Lineker show exposes wider questions over BBC NI output

BBC Northern Ireland has been taken to task over some of its recent output. But programmes such as Northern Exposure mask a deeper malaise, says David Gordon

Costly exercise: Is Gary Lineker and Danielle Bux’s road trip a worthy use of licence payers’ money? This article has been inspired by the BBC Northern Ireland series Northern Exposure, featuring Gary Lineker and his lingerie model fiancee Danielle Bux.

And there's a sentence I never expected to write.

The Lineker series has been attracting some sharp criticism, but more of that later.

The main aim here is to raise some wider questions for BBC Northern Ireland.

But let's establish some ground rules first.

In my view — for what it's worth — the Beeb is a good thing.

So this is not going to be a rant against public service broadcasting or the licence fee.

The world would be a poorer place without the BBC and the sheer scale and breadth of its output is incredible.

That does not mean, however, that the organisation is beyond criticism.

It's only fair at this point to declare an interest on behalf of the newspaper industry in general.

Newspapers are a bit miffed with the Beeb at present, in light of the acute problems they are facing.

With news consumption increasingly migrating towards the worldwide web, there is a big debate over whether punters will be prepared to pay for it online.

And there, in the midst of all this, is the BBC skewering the “marketplace” by devoting massive resources to a website operation that is never going to carry direct charges.

So if you detect a slight antipathy to the all-powerful broadcasting corporation creeping in here, blame it on the global downturn.

Anyway, back to Gary, Danielle and Northern Exposure.

The series, in case you missed it, has involved the lovely couple travelling round Northern Ireland in their “trusty convertible”, visiting alleged places of interest.

The bland Lineker responds to the various treats with comments that are invariably bland. And Bux does her best to provide some high-pitched words of enthusiasm.

She responded to the majesty of a North Coast beach with the poetic comment: “It's amazing — look at that.”

Their excursions through the Six Counties have taken in leisure and sporting activities as well as upmarket accommodation and dining spots.

In one particularly memorable moment, Danielle enjoyed a pedicure in a Randalstown retreat while Gary poured them both champagne.

It's legitimate to ask just how much licence fee money has been spent on Northern Exposure.

Bux might be strictly C-List on the celebrity scale, but Lineker must surely cost a pretty penny or two.

But the Beeb jealously guards such financial information and has so far successfully resisted attempts to prise open its spending through the Freedom of Information Act.

The bigger question, however, is just what is the point of the programme?

It is only being broadcast in Northern Ireland, so it cannot be justified in naff tourism promotion terms.

Maybe it is intended to remind us that we have some great countryside, hotels and restaurants.

But I'd rather work that out for myself than be told by a former footballer and his lady friend.

So maybe BBC NI could explain why this is a worthy use of licence payers' money.

It's not really an isolated example either.

Northern Ireland's Greatest Haunts — about psychic investigations — springs to mind for a start.

And then there was NI Wags, which made some people I know so angry they became individual threats to the peace process.

Seriously, is this really the best this place can do?

And what about drama?

When was the last time a play or series made in and about Northern Ireland really captured the imagination?

BBC Northern Ireland’s Audience Council recently called for more locally-made programmes to be broadcast across the corporation's network.

Hopefully, they didn't mean Gary and Danielle's excellent adventures being beamed throughout the UK.

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