Monday, 26 January 2009

A Sea Change on the BBC?

Having just heard a roundtable on Newsnight in which Jeremy Paxman got a load of Journos together and asked them to give the Beeb a good kicking, I thought it might be worth my spelling out my views on the Beeb at the moment.

Yes, I'm deeply unhappy about the decision not to air the DEC campaign. The decision has been given such ludicrous justifications by the D-G that it is a transparently political decision.

I have also had reservations about the way that the BBC has framed the reporting of the Gaza invasion, not making it clear frequently enough what the wider context of the conflict is or that the Hamas government did not break the ceasefire or any of the other myriad details that spell out just how indefensible Israel's position is.

I also do not like the way that the BBC's reporting of demonstrations, particularly anti-war ones, are consistently underplayed, both in terms of numbers and in terms of portraying protesters in a negative light.

I also think that workers get a raw deal from the Beeb. In situations where there is a strike or imminent job losses, the opinions of workers are either not mentioned or are placed in the context of an inevitable process that they have no power or authority to change.


I also think that the role of the BBC is essential. Reading the Media Guardian section on Mondays is always depressing, because their key correspondents are all in favour of greater market inroads into the Beeb's public service remit - recently calling for privatisation of Radio 1 and 2. Too many sections of the media are, like the rest of the capitalist class, clinging to the monetarist logic of the market even as it collapses all around them. Why? Well one reason is the continuing collapse of old formats like newspapers - as Charlie Brooker pointed out recently, because people are more and more turning elsewhere for their actual news, papers are becoming repositories for comment and opinion.

But this doesn't explain why the BBC is so frequently attacked. The reason for that is good old-fashioned competition. The Beeb provides a public service and is still seen as a largely respectable source of information by the public. But more importantly, it delivers news in areas that the traditional dead-tree press are still trying to get into or have been struggling with: freeview, freesat, DAB, radio and t'interwebs. The Graun's attempts to pitch the marketisation of the Beeb, for example, are probably not unrelated to its ownership of Smooth Radio, Real Radio, Century Radio and Rock Radio. Much of it's coverage in recent months and years has been on the inability of commercial radio to outstrip the Beeb.

Of course, this is only a problem if you think that competition is inherently a good thing. I don't. The only important issue is whether or not a good public service is on offer. Whilst I would ideally [in my socialist utopia full of flowers and bunnies and liquid happiness] see a more bottom-up approach to the Beeb, decentralised and democratic especially for local affairs, for example, commercial radio suffers from the same problem that all private media have: their audience is not who they have to appeal to. Their paymasters are advertisers and audiences are the goods they sell. Consequently they do not operate in the public interest.

The BBC's paymasters however, are you and me, the great comrades that are the British public. That's why everyone who dribbles onto Have Your Say seems to think they own the BBC: we do. This is why I despair when people complain that the BBC puts on a show they don't like - the logical corollary of the following propositions:
(1) The BBC is there to deliver to the whole population of the UK
(2) It'd be a dull world if we all thought the same wouldn't it?*

(3) Not everyone is going to like everything that the BBC makes.

So I have no truck with the deeply suspect 'moral'** hysteria that occasionally sweeps through the dead-tree media and is reflected on our tellies. I have very specific objections to certain aspects of the Beeb's coverage of current affairs because it reflects the way that everyone thinks and feels about the world around them. But I don't want Songs of Praise taken off just because I'm an atheist. I know, it's an obvious line of reasoning, but when you're surrounded by this latest maelstrom and you hear newsreaders conflating the recent mercenary 'moral' panics with this issue I think it bears pointing out. And I'm sure I'm not alone in holding this or similar opinions, and I don't think it does anyone any favours to reduce this specific piece of poor decision making on the DEC issue to 'why can't the BBC do anything right?'

The BBC frequently does things right. Most of the time, in fact. It's science coverage, for example, is rarely anything like as ropey as the Sunday Times' or the Mail's. It produces a variety of programmes that appeal to lots of different people. Sometimes they even produce programmes that appeal to almost everyone except determined miserabilists who need to get out more (you know the show I mean). Sometimes it works better than others (Two Pints, for example). I really don't think there's some kind of breakdown occurring at the Beeb, rather that it is being put under pressure for all the reasons mentioned above. The DEC issue is to my mind a very specific case where it has made a seriously wrong decision and I have absolutely no problem with going to them tomorrow in person and with as many comrades as can be rounded up to tell them so.

But to conflate this with the I'm-Now-So-Old-My-Pussy-Is-Haunted-Gate Scandals is just ludicrous.

Ooh I feel better for that.

*Thanks Nan, I knew your wisdom would come in handy one of these days.
**If swearing is a moral issue at all. Which it clearly fucking isn't.

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