Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Folk Awards controversy … the story so far.

For those just arriving on the scene, or for those wanting a handy reminder, here's a summation of just what the BBC Folk Awards controversy (2011) has been all about:

On November 16 the nominations for the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards were announced.

On November 17 FolkCast asked (not the first time) why the same names keep being being nominated year after year, and also asked just who makes up the "mysterious cabal" which both creates the nominations and then votes on those nominations to find a winner.

On November 18/19 a rather heated row brewed up on Facebook between some folk fans and performers on one side and (mostly) Mike Harding - the 'face' of the Folk Awards - on the other.
To sum it up, some fans alleged that there is a "closed shop" which greatly restricts which performers are even considered for an award, and complained that the people voting in the awards are largely commercially involved in one way or another with the folk scene, either through selling records or festival tickets. The worry is that commercial interests could be manipulating the awards unbeknown to the producers of the awards (Smooth Operations) or the BBC.
Mike Harding told them that they were wrong, that "no record company or executives are allowed to vote" and that fans and musicians should "give up on your moaning and support the folk scene instead". He also suggested that if people didn't like the way the awards were run they should run them themselves, but he did not supply details of where people could apply for BBC funding...
FolkCast reports proceedings of the Facebook row in a blog post.

On November 20 Emma Hartley published a blog featuring an email conversation with Kellie While of Smooth Operations, which gave some more details about the kind of people who are on the judging panel. Contrary to Mike Harding's assertions, it appears that record labels are among their number:  "festival organisers, journalists, broadcasters, agents, record labels and so on." In other words, largely people with a commercial interest in the folk scene in one way or another.
Emma's blog post also included a short interview with an (anonymous) awards judge, who seems unsure if he's allowed to tell anyone of his involvement.

On November 21, Emma is telephoned by John Leonard, producer of the Folk Awards (and head of Smooth Operations), who attempts to defend the awards. 

On November 22, Emma publishes a further blog post with various suggested points of action.

Twitter messages posted by Mike Harding
Meanwhile, on Twitter (see screen grab, right), Mike Harding again sets out to answer critics and, in response to FolkCast's suggestion that ordinary folk fans are disenfranchised by the awards procedure, says that this isn't the case because "The 150 people who vote are from all over the folk world". He also wrote: "And there's no way the BBC would open it up to the public - can you imagine how abused it could be then?"

Mike's stridently anti-democratic stance is surprising - especially as the BBC regularly opens up awards and competitions to public voting or input, ranging from Sports Personality Of The Year to the Radio 2 New Comedy Award via Strictly Come Dancing, and other music awards around the world - including the Scots Trad Awards, the Canadian Juno Awards and even the Brit Awards and the Grammy Awards - also trust the public to vote on at least some categories.

Mike Harding has accused critics of the awards system of spreading "false information and mischief". What false information there has been has come as a result of the secrecy surrounding the awards voting system (ie the correct information is not in the public arena), or from directly contradictory statements or factually incorrect statements made by people working for Smooth Operations (including Mike Harding himself). 

As for "mischief", well… folk fans are certainly making trouble for the awards organisers but it's not out of a sense of naughtiness or to make pranks. We question the awards system because we care about the music and the people who make that music, and we want to be sure that those who are rewarded in our name not only receive those awards for honest and straightforward reasons but that the machinary behind the awards is beyond reproach. 

  • A growing number of folk fans have criticised the awards for being too narrow in their frame of reference and for being exclusive, muddled and for having a voting system which is unrepresentative and undemocratic. The awards repeatedly rewards the same narrow group of performers while ignoring large swathes of the British folk scene, not only other performers but also the non-performing side, which is vital for the continued health of the music.
  • Smooth Operations have denied that there is a problem, have repeated that the awards are compliant with BBC rules and policy (although what that policy is has also not been revealed), and that the voting system involving between 150 and 170 "folk professionals - including festival organisers, journalists, broadcasters, agents and record labels" is completely free of the possibility of corruption or coercion or conflict of interest.
  • Folk Awards presenter Mike Harding has publicly announced that the public cannot be trusted to have a hand in the awards, and dismissed all criticism as "sniping", "carping" and "mischief".

  • The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards are Britain's premier folk music award. Because they fly the BBC flag, they de facto represent all licence-payers and consequently the vast majority of British folk fans. 
  • Commercially, they can transform the prospects of an act or a record, boosting ticket and record sales and consequently greatly boosting their fees of concert and festival appearances. 
  • The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards are widely covered by the mainstream media, and are one of the few occasions virtually guaranteed to give the artists involved publicity outside the folk scene.
  • The two-CD album produced each year in association with the awards is one of the best selling folk records in most years, which in itself is an important revenue generator for the artists and labels involved.


Mal said...

I hope mike responds in his show on Wed night... but i doubt he will.

Anonymous said...

I may be wrong in the details, but I think they were once open to public vote - a few years ago Seize the Day were banned for being 'political' and so inoffensive (but lovely, I'm sure) Terrafolk won.

Folk music? Too political?

AlbionRT said...

Whilst there is no clear view on what folk music is, one generally accepted component is “concerned with and involving the lives of ordinary people” – interesting then that a major folk event disenfranchises ordinary people in favour of a shadowy group of insiders. The whole thing demonstrates why folk is a closet interest; if this is typical it’s managed by closet people.

Anonymous said...

There are 2 sorts of awards, those voted by the public and those voted by insiders such as performers and critics. Those voted by insiders such as the Oscars tend to be more respected than those voted by the public.

AlbionRT said...

I have just written to Fergus Dudley as follows - though it may be helpful to post it....

I understand that you have responsibility for aspects of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. I am writing to ask if you could ensure that the names of the judges are made public.

As you may be aware there has been some public criticism of the secret nature of the way in which the contestants and winners are identified. This would help answer that criticism as well as ensuring that the BBC meets it’s obligation to ensure public transparency.

My own personal opinion is that it would be a positive step if some awards were open to public vote; just as you did with the “Top 50 folk albums of all time” a few years ago.

Folk should be a “music of the people” and the greater the transparency of the awards and involvement of the public the better it meets this aspiration.