Former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews said today that without the BBC we would have a more unequal, ignorant – and fatter – society.
Giving evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee, the singer and 6 Music presenter said that from her experience of living in the US, the BBC’s public service ethos has helped avoid the level of problems over wealthy disparity and racial tensions in the US.
She said: “In order to get a measure of the importance of the BBC culturally speaking, you have to go away from Britain and spend time in countries that don’t have an equivalent public service broadcasting.
“I have spent time in Australia and can report that Australasians are very envious of the BBC. And I have lived in America for six years in South Carolina and five years in Tennessee. It was during those years that I truly felt the true value and the extent of what the BBC gives us culturally. The disparity between the rich and poor and the blacks and whites in America is shocking. And I truly believe it’s because they lack a well-funded and easily accessed public broadcast provider that these huge disparities exist.
“I will give you an example. When you watch television in America, you will be bombarded with adverts that are very frequent and are very long that are selling the very junk foods that are killing those most vulnerable – vulnerable because they haven’t had access to unbiased information, access to the information that will prevent them being so easily exploited.
“I actually left America in 2007 because I missed the BBC so much. I wasn’t working for the BBC at the time. I’m a musician and I was song-writing and I was having children. And the decision I made was to come back to Britain and the BBC so that my children could have access to broadcasting that was advert-free and would give them a true window on the world. That to me gives a true sense of the value of the BBC.”
Matthews, a solo artist now who presents 6 Music Sunday, added that the BBC took risks the commercial sector could not take when promoting up-and-coming musicians and was “the only thing in the UK that we can agree united us as British people”.
Matthews was giving evidence to the committee alongside broadcasting grandee Sir Peter Bazalgette.
He said: “After the English language and Shakespeare it is the greatest asset this country has around the world.”
The committee is investigating the value of the BBC and will produce a report that will be sent to the Department of Culture Media and Sport – the department currently deciding the BBC’s next charter.