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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Ex-minister attacks culture policy
Tony Blair with Noel Gallagher
Tony Blair courted singer Noel Gallagher in 1997

Former arts minister Mark Fisher MP has attacked the UK Government for what he called its fixation with "popular music, youth culture and new technologies" - and called for a "balanced" cultural policy.

Mr Fisher told BBC News Online that the government was only excited in "art created for and by young people".

And he said that this emphasis posed a threat to the UK's great museum collections.

Mark Fisher
Fisher: "This runs through the cultural area"
"The emphasis they are giving to collections and scholarship and curatorial skills - the things that make the collections of museums and galleries particularly fine - is diminished, given a lesser priority."

He also called on the BBC to be "more concerned about the balance and content of the programming, and less on the new technologies".

Mr Fisher will be airing his views at an Institute Of Ideas seminar on Monday for Museums and Galleries Month, which runs throughout May.

'Mistakes'

He told BBC News Online that the government's approach to the cultural sphere was part of a whole philosophy about the past.

"The government seem to be of the opinion that the past is a place of mistakes, and that to characterise the government as being forward-looking, they do not want to be associated with the past.

"You can carry this too far - there's a great deal we can learn from the past and at the moment the government does not seem to be interested in history."

Mr Fisher said he was particularly concerned about museums policy since 1997.

The British Museum
Museums: Scholarship "diminished", says Fisher
"The government has abolished the Museums and Galleries Commission and replaced it with an organisation called Re:Source, which looks after museums and libraries.

"The whole thrust of Re:Source's concerns and interests is in new technologies and access and education."

This, Mr Fisher said, "diminished" the role of scholarship and curation that gave rise to the great collections in the first place.

"This runs through the cultural area," he added.

Mr Fisher, who was shadow arts minister and then served in the Department for Culture Media and Sport until 1998, said: "This has been the stance of the Government since 1997, and I was thoroughly aware of it at the time.

"I had attempted to develop a policy which was even-handed, which recognised the great strength and interest of the new cultural industries - broadcasting, the new technologies, the media - but saw them related to the past.

Responsibility

"Only half that message got picked up by the new government."

And the former minister said that the BBC had to carry its share of cultural responsibility.

"There's not enough arts and drama on prime time.

"The BBC should be more concerned about the balance and content of the programming, and less on the new technologies.

"The same is true of news reporting, and I'm concerned over the time and investment that has gone into digital because it is a new technology.

"If some of that investment had gone into quality of programming, of journalism, of writing at the BBC, it would have higher standards."

Mr Fisher called on the government to adopt a more balanced approach to the arts - despite the pressure of cultural fashion.

"This may be part of the zeitgeist, but the role of a government is to lead and not necessarily to follow.

"A wise society would do well to adopt a more balanced approach.

"The mistake is to give the impression that the future has no roots, that the future starts today - when the future starts in our past."

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