THE BLOG

BBC Coverage of First World War Will Take 2,500 Hours of Breath From Public

12/02/2014 12:25 GMT | Updated 13/04/2014 10:59 BST

Jeremy Paxman, Fiona Bruce, and other prestigious broadcasters have recently been found fronting the BBC's new trailer for their coverage of World War One. The Corporation are due to spend 2,500 broadcast hours on drama, discussion, and documentaries of the conflict to commemorate its centenary in 2014.

Dan Snow, one of the BBC's favourite TV historians, has described the programming as "breathtaking". The Independent described it as "a still-present history", "serious", and "knowledgeable". The senior executive in charge of the series, Adrian van Klaveren, assured that "different perspectives" would be explored. It's received general enthusiasm from across the board.

Quality, though, isn't the problem I have with the Beeb's coverage (for once). It's those 2,500 hours of programming - equivalent to 104 days, 15 weeks, or three and a half Aprils. It's too much for anything, no matter how many politicians argue about it.

Certainly, we should reflect on the causes and how to prevent a repeat of the massive, inhumane loss of life that the 'Great War' brought about. We should be doing that regardless of whether the number of years can make the graphics look pretty.

But there are so many other conflicts that need documentaries made about them. Conflicts that are happening now. Conflicts that are killing children not because they've signed up to join the armed forces, but because the armed forces are killing them without remorse, or because they've been forced into fighting for causes they probably don't understand, let alone believe in.

Could you imagine the BBC giving 2,500 hours of coverage over to starvation and indiscriminate killing in Syria, to Israel's land grabbing in the West Bank, to more than 1,000 deaths this January in "mission accomplished" Iraq, or to the enormous amount of death penalty executions in China?

In short, no, you couldn't. Certainly, they may cover these things, but not to the extent that a hundred-year-old event is going to be covered this year. As far as I'm concerned, that is wrong.

Why aren't those things being covered? Is there some sort of conspiracy going on at the new Broadcasting House? Some would have you believe that, but I'm not convinced.

The main problem is that it costs money. It's a damn sight cheaper to have Jeremy Paxman sitting comfortably in a chair in a semi-posh hotel than it is to send him - or anyone else for that matter - off to Syria, Israel, Iraq, China, the Central African Republic, and so on. It's even harder to get nice, HD, media-friendly people to talk openly about such issues.

As much as it has inspired a bizarre educational debate, the First World War is ultimately uncontroversial from all angles - programming quality, research needed, licence fee money spent, political bias, etc. 2,500 hours of programming, the BBC will be hoping, will be crowd-pleasing enough that it will amount to 2,500 hours of less complaints.