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Reply to BBC's response.pdf

Reply to BBC's response.pdf

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Published by nosniborja
My reply to the BBC's response to THAT letter (http://www.scribd.com/doc/157406285/Letter-to-the-BBC). Their reply to my first letter can be seen at my blog: greeninkninja.blogspot.co.uk
My reply to the BBC's response to THAT letter (http://www.scribd.com/doc/157406285/Letter-to-the-BBC). Their reply to my first letter can be seen at my blog: greeninkninja.blogspot.co.uk

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Published by: nosniborja on Aug 09, 2013
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08/09/2013

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Dear Ms. xxxxx,Thank you for your email of 5 August in response to my letter, which - as I'm sureyou're aware - unexpectedly took on something of a life of its own on the Internet atthe end of last week.I'd like to thank you for replying so courteously and in such detail to my letter. I haveto confess that I didn't expect much other than a bland, corporate statement (ifanything at all), so it is reassuring to know that my letter has been read andconsidered carefully and seriously by someone involved intimately in the productionprocess.Thank you, too, for your recommendation that I view this week's HARDtalk interviewwith the composer Sir John Tavener. I agree that this was compelling and revealing,and indeed quite thought-provoking, in the way that it addressed his music, hispersonal religious beliefs, and the adjustments which those underwent following aserious illness. This was an excellent piece of journalism, and one which representedthe highest standards of the BBC.Bearing that in mind, I have to confess that I am even more baffled at the treatmentmeted out to Thomas Hampson in the interview broadcast on 29 July, and I am farfrom convinced by the reasoning given in the response which you sent to me.Detailed as it is, I think there are still some worrying gaps in your research when thisis considered carefully. Comparing the Tavener and Hampson interviews, I honestlyfind it difficult to believe that these come from the same production team and thesame interviewer, for broadcast under the same series title. One was informative,educational, and profoundly moving. The other, not so much. Allow me to explain in alittle more detail below.Sadly, the Thomas Hampson interview failed to meet the high expectations which Inormally associate either with this programme, or with Sarah Montague (for whom Ihave great respect for her tenacity in interviewing tricky, slippery customers on theToday programme). Judging by the overwhelming response which my letter receivedon the Internet, it seems fair to say that many, many people around the world sharemy opinion. At the time of writing this, my letter has been viewed by over 136,000individual readers from all over Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, NewZealand and beyond, and has been shared prolifically on social media by prominentsingers, actors, directors and conductors. I have also received countless supportiveemails, tweets, Facebook messages and text messages. In fact, so many peoplehave been in touch that I've struggled to keep up with the volume of correspondence.As an ordinary member of the public – albeit one with an intense interest in music – this is the last thing I expected. To be honest, I'm actually rather embarrassed by allthe attention, and would rather sit down in a quiet room with a good book and a cup
 
of tea, but having unleashed this torrent of support I feel I have a responsibility tospeak again on behalf of the (quite literally) thousands who have contacted me.There are a large number of points which I addressed in my letter, and a largenumber which you addressed in your reply, and for reasons of time, space, andmaintaining your attention (and that of my blog readers) without inducing a coma, Idon't propose to go into all of them in extensive detail here. However, there are a fewissues which trouble me.First of all, I understand, as noted in your email, that the format of HARDtalk isintended to be challenging, robust and provocative. I have always (before now) beenimpressed by the detailed research underpinning the interviews. I also understandfully that HARDtalk is intended not only for domestic audiences, but for thoseoverseas listening via the BBC World Service or viewing on the BBC News Channel.With this in mind, it is all the more important that HARDtalk should uphold the BBC'sreputation for excellence, rigour and impartiality in all that it does.There is a fine line, however, between a legitimate “Devil's Advocate” interviewingstyle, which involves presenting statements of opposing opinions; and outrightaggression, which presents matters of opinion (or simple falsehood) as objectivetruth. We can argue
ad infinitum 
about perceptions, and these are fine subjects for aninterview, but they should never be presented as authoritative fact. On this occasion,my feeling - and one shared overwhelmingly by my correspondents – is that in thisparticular case the tone of questioning was misjudged and strayed too far intopresenting opinion as fact.As an example, take the introductory piece to camera – approximately 40 seconds byMontague alone, in the absence of Hampson, who thus has no right of reply. Theopening statement is among the most important parts of an interview, as it sets theunderlying assumptions and premise of the follow-up questions. In this case, elitismand expense are presented as matters of simple fact, inviting the viewer to assumefrom the start that negative perceptions of opera are true, as well as implying thatlittle can be done about this. This seems to be rather too subjective - and important -a matter to generalise and trivialise in such a way.This tone is continued throughout the interview. You say in your response that
“the style […] is robust; it should never be either hostile or aggressive […] I cannot accept that either is an accurate description of Sarah Montague's mode of questioning.” 
I amafraid that here, it seems we are going to have to agree to disagree. There is a subtlebut important difference between reporting a perception: “Many people think thatopera is elitist and not relevant to them”; and endorsing that point of view: “Opera iselitist, and irrelevant to most people”. These are paraphrases of the type of questionasked here, but I hope you can see the distinction. Here I feel strongly that the toneof questioning was very much – almost exclusively, in fact – in the latter camp.
 
Similarly, the repeated use of the word "elitism" invites us to assume that opera isfinancially inaccessible to all but the most privileged in society. This is demonstrablyuntrue, as I have argued in my first letter. Opera attendance is open and affordable toso many more beyond the “elite” (much as I dislike that vague term).I certainly don't expect interviewees – on HARDtalk or elsewhere - to be invited in fora cosy chat where everyone agrees on everything. That teaches us nothing. Butequally, an interview only works if there is a genuine two-way discussion. Here,Montague clearly had her "lines to take" and was determined to get through them nomatter what Hampson said. Witness, for example, Montague's repeated statements – first as conjecture, then later as fact – that the only attendees at the opera are thefamilies and friends of the performers, who are insinuated to be exclusively the
 
elderly and the wealthy. Where is the evidence for this? This line of questioningsimply disregards Hampson's answers and makes Montague appear ignorant, biasedand rude, with no regard for the answers to her previous questions. It is quite plainlyuntrue and misleading to make this assertion.I acknowledge the existence of an image problem in my letter, and so I find yourextensive array of quotations in this regard really rather bizarre. You seem to simplyquote my arguments back at me along with a large number of quotations whichactually support my position. The message of these quotations is not that "opera ISelitist", more that opera directors, managers and the like are aware that there is a
perception 
of opera as elitist and expensive which they need to work to dispel, aswell as working to ensure that the public subsidy is put to good use, as argued byLyndon Terracini.I would actually be rather worried if people in such prominent positions
weren't 
awareof the need to work hard to dispel the image problem and to ensure they do as muchas possible to attract the wider public - to do nothing would be complacent. If youlook up the Terry Gilliam quotation in context, he follows up with a statement that
“Opera’s for anyone who’s willing to submit. Stick your nose in and find out what’s going on. The ENO's your place – it's all in English. There's no excuse for not turning up, English speakers!" 
(http://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/oct/03/damon-albarn-kickstarts-eno-opera-scheme).I really don't know how much clearer I can make this! It's clear that he's actuallysaying "I thought opera was elitist, but I got involved with ENO and discovered I waswrong." This is even pretty clear from the snippet quoted in your email. Similarly, thequotes from ENO and WNO are telling people "don't be afraid - it's not stuffy andincomprehensible. Come along and try it out!"
 
I certainly don't intend to suggest that opera audiences are wholly representative ofthe population at large. That is, in my experience, sadly not yet entirely true. But thefact of the matter is that opera
is 
accessible to those on low incomes; there
are 
plentyof young people attending; and opera companies
are 
doing their utmost to continue

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