The BBC has an advantage over the UK's media landscape that would make a Murdoch blush, but in the words of the late Ben Parker; with great power, comes great responsibility. To that end OfCom, the communications regulator, suggested in June that the BBC assesses its contribution to 'media plurality', or in less obtuse language; that audiences are informed by a sufficiently diverse range of viewpoints.
The recommendation is admirable in theory, especially at a time when the Internet has freed extreme opinion from the constraints of locality and veracity, but there is an obvious limitation to Ofcom's vision; it only concerns news and current affairs. While the balanced delivery of information is essential, Ofcom are missing a trick by refusing to scrutinise the one programme on the BBC that commits obvious crimes against diversity: Match of the Day (MoTD).
As Daniel Taylor reasoned so effectively in his recent article on Gary Neville punditry, the former right-back has bucked a trend by delivering insightful, evidence-based analysis. But those fans unwilling to pay for Sky must continue to endure the moth-eaten opinions of TV's least enthused pundits.
It feels disrespectful to criticise an institution, but when you consider Alan Shearer's mumblings are publically funded, it's worthwhile questioning the established order. If your local NHS Trust left scalpels in unsuspecting patients, a change would be affected...so why is Match of the Day allowed to consistently underperform?
The analysis is not always appalling, and not everyone will feel there is an issue, but ask yourself; if Match of the Day began with a plain man in an unremarkable room announcing: "Good evening. This is Match of the Day on the BBC. The football will commence in five, four, three, two, and one..." and then we were shown some highlights; would that constitute a decline in service?
Match of the Days' post match analysis serves little purpose other than to hand-feed pub bores with cliché, enabling them to burp up a convenient statement about Nathan Dyer's work-rate being 'second to none'. Real discussion is increasingly found on a format that doesn't have the luxury of live footage: the podcast. For years now, The Football Ramble and Football Weekly have consistently delivered post match reflection that is both insightful and entertaining. Of interest, neither relies on the input of a former footballer, let alone a cluster of them.
The BBC's elite squad of dull men expertly transform football gold into analytic lead. Mark Lawrenson sucks the energy out of the studio by assuming the aspect of a cuckolded bin-bag; Alan Hansen has clearly fallen out of love with football but doesn't know how to end the relationship. Alan Shearer's continued presence on Match of the Day is the most astounding; his only realistic function is to serve as a perverse, follicular sun-dial, his dissolving hairline subconsciously informs us that a week has progressed, even if the analysis hasn't.
MoTD's brief flirtation with proper analysis emerged from an unlikely source; Lee Dixon. Whilst not to everyone's liking, Dixon did the simple things well, like doing research, delivering an opinion supported by evidence, or appearing vaguely appreciative of having a job. Some may point the finger at Gary Lineker, but while his questions may be broad at times, they also provide breadth that a more skilful pundit could weave into a more meaningful answer.
The atmosphere in the MoTD studio is similar to that of a packed office lift; everyone knows each other; but no-one feels comfortable exchanging anything other than the most banal pleasantries. In truth, it's not purely Alan, Alan, Mark and Gary's fault; the BBC must accept responsibility for cultivating an environment of decaying banter, then letting it fester for a decade.
Channel 4 once put youth before knowledge, handing the keys of their athletics coverage to those more accustomed to interviewing Olly Murs. Awkward hilarity ensued, unless you were a fan of athletics, but at least the controlling minds of Channel 4 recognised their error and took remedial action. Meanwhile, Match of the Day trundles on, committing serial assaults against analysis but with no repercussions.
This isn't a call for BBC to car-jack Andy Townsend's tactics truck or to lazily parachute a marquee signing into Match of the Day, it's to find a way to encourage insightful commentary and proper discussion so we hear more than one point of view not three men talking like one. Yes its only football, but without challenging the status quo, we can wave 'Jessica Ennis, goodnight' to the analysis this sport and it viewers deserve.Suggest a correction