Saturday, November 08, 2008

Undiplomatic communicators

Yesterday afternoon, Philip rang from church to ask if I'd be willing to go down early to church today and be interviewed in the BBC Radio Wales booth, set up in St John Street, for the Match Day special programme. Wales are playing rugby against South Africa. A request from the producer had arrived at the office. It meant having to get up early to get may brain into gear and my body down to St John's by 9.15am, a bit of an effort on what's meant to be my 'day off' this week.

I arrived on time, but the BBC mobile studio looked abandoned, apart from having a security guard on duty. I asked if I was expected. Clearly not. He asked someone sitting at a console inside, who also looked non-plussed and said that the interview team had gone for their break. Just then a young lady turned up, and struggled to remember my name and looked not a little embarrassed.

"There's been a change of arrangements." she said.

"What does that mean?" said I.

She wouldn't come clean with me.

"Do you want me or not?" I asked.

She was vague.

"Are you very keen on rugby?" she asked.

"What's that got to do with it?" I said

I'm here because your producer rang up and asked for someone from the church to come and be interviewed yesterday and here I am, on my day off."

More discomfort.

"E-er, we tried to email you."

"What's wrong with my phone number?"

"We didn't have your home phone number."

"BBC Wales News has my home phone number and ring me if they are looking for a comment or an explanation about something."

"But that's a different department."

"So, what's the problem?"

"Our systems are incompatible."

"But you're the BBC. You have all that technology and your systems are incompatible!
My home phone number is in the public telephone directory."

With that I returned home exasperated, the start to my day off all messed up.

There was no email waiting when I logged on later. No message on the answering machine.
I recalled that previous outside broadcast producers rang me at home, also BBC engineers, occasionally needing access to an ISDN phone line terminal locked behind the church railings, used to provide a direct outside broadcast link to BBC Llandaff studios.

The fact is, these folk are great at finding you and communicating with you if they need you, and drop you when they don't. Changing demand of the moment is the general excuse. In reality much of live broadcasting is made up as it goes along, perhaps to the extent that insufficient attention goes into planning, or managing the team, so that courtesies of communication are forgotten or disregarded.

Now maybe they had second thoughts about using me, having heard the rumour that I'm not in love with the impact of stadium events on the cleanliness and well-being of our city centre. Maybe they were anxious that I might fail to talk idolatrously about our national sport, chill the atmosphere and cripple morale. Now that would be fair enough if they'd changed their minds. But just letting me turn up, to the embarrassment of their minions and annoyance of myself, is not what public service broadcasters should be doing with the Corporation's good name.

A few minutes on the radio now and then is one of those obligations that goes with my job, being an office holder in a public situation. I have no emotional investment in obliging. It's just the discourtesy of not making an effort to spare me a journey they invited me to make for their purposes which gives me concern about the values of the teams that do the broadcasting nowadays. Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave.

After lunch Clare and I finally got out of the house and went to the edge of Cardiff and climbed the Garth, just about the highest spot along the ridge for miles behind the city. It's a favourite walk, with its 4,000 year old burial mounds, close cropped springy turf and invigoratingly chill wind coming off the Severn Estuary. And all the while Wales were battling themselves to another glorious defeat against the Springboks - without my words 'on air'.

No comments: