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June 26, 2016

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From Arse To Elbow

Bear in mind that some of the stronget advocates of the BBC promoting "the best that has been thought and said" are those (e.g. Murdoch pere et fils) who would like it to become an elitist and relatively unpopular broadcaster, leave the airwaves free to more partisan and "entertaining" channels.

Blissex

«in being impartial between truth and lies»

W Churchill expressed this with his usual elegance:

«I decline utterly to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire»

("Speech in the House of Commons", July 7, 1926)

Blissex

My usual theory: the Tories/Whigs have very publicly complained that the BBC was a socialist propaganda mouthpiece, and that in a democracy a media company that gets public funds must respect the opinions of the majority elected government, and that they wanted to privatise it or simply abolish the license fee.

The BBC seem to me to have taken that none-too-subtle hint very very seriously, and to have "aligned" themselves as much as they could and I think very hypocritically.

So they now "respect" all opinions regardless of their easily-checked merit, and also to be extra-safe they give much greater prominence and volume to stories unfavourable to the opposition or favourable to the government.

Because of "impartiality" there has been no overt criticism of J Corbyn from the BBC, but every little embarrassing moment or criticism of J Corbyn has been reported by the BBC in extra-bold time and tone (with the eager complicity of many New Labour big names, who also understand the BBC's game very well I guess), while the coverage of D Cameron by the BBC seems to me to have given volume and time to positive thinking.

BTW I saw a suitably toned report by N Smith (IIRC) from the Labour conference, plus while he was talking about J Corbyn the rolling subtitles were repeating incessantly the phrase "share the wealth", which is like waving a red-flag to the southern middle class. To me it seemed quite shameful.

Blissex

«This requires that it move far up-market, [ ... ] employ philosophy and sociology reporters, not political ones»
«an elitist and relatively unpopular broadcaster, leave the airwaves free to more partisan and "entertaining" channels»

It is must worse than «leave the airwaves free to more partisan and "entertaining"» alternatives.

The BBC are *acutely* aware that public mandatory funding would be quite indefensible if they were watched by much less than 50% of the population.

The enemies of the BBC could make a very good case that if it were «far up-market» then it should fund itself from that narrow viewer base only. And then it would have to move very much to the right to accommodate the tastes of their affluent, reactionary remaining viewers, and of the advertisers targeting them.

chris

@ Blissex: I agree. I fear the crapness of BBC political reporting is exacerbated by the fact that many of its reporters (eg Smith & Kuenssberg) were privately educated and so are more sympathetic to Cameron than the Left.
More high-minded news reporting needn't lose the BBC a mass audience: it's entirely compatible with it running very popular drama programmes.

Blissex

«high-minded news reporting [ ... ] compatible with it running very popular drama programmes»

Indeed that's a mixed-brow approach and I suspect it is the preference of much of the "old style" BBC people, those still having the "knightly motives" that you mention.

But I also suspect that given the significant wealth that a suitably aligned BBC career can give, there are quite a few people in the BBC that have seen that post-Soviet collapse the UK and other anglo-american governments have stopped pretending to care about the bottomost 80% of losers, and are eagerly aligning themselves with the new situation.

Most of them, neoliberal winner-take-all style, will be used and discarded. My usual quote from an USA journalist where this evolution has already happened:

www.eschatonblog.com/2015/04/why-didnt-i-get-rich.html
«journalists/columnists of a certain age (meaning ones not much older than me and younger) are coming around to the realization that the economy is screwing them, too.
There was a moment when a lot of them (we’re talking ones at elite outlets, not your random small town paper) thought they’d done everything right, would become celebrities, and get Tom Friedman’s speaking fees. The economy sure was working for them, and screw everybody else.»

Churm Rincewind


CD - just as a matter of interest, are we to assume from your remarks that in your view ITV, Channel Four and Sky were by comparison innocent of the charges you level against the BBC? I myself cannot see it.

And if not, why do you single out the BBC so vociferously?

M

Chris, how much transparency would you like the BBC (and other media) bring to the information aspect of political debate, should relevant personal interests be exposed? Would knowing more about the actors in the political debate lead to the right sort of judgement calls?

Taking the EU referendum as an example, most of the UK's political elite from ministers down to local government leaders (think leaders and cabinet holders in local authorities) have a foot in some form of EU body. Most people know about grandees in Commissioner posts, but the widening and deepening strategy was designed to hook ministers, MPs (including back benchers), local government leaders, trade union leaders, and various special interest groups in to bodies operating under an EU banner. Whether its quangos to administer "EU funded" projects or local enterprise partnersips, there is usually an EU tie-in somewhere. That is how widening and deepening works.

This goes wider than the EU debate. Most reasonably intelligent people know that when a "business leader" promotes something they are representing specific interests, just as they know union leaders are paid advocates of their members interests. Both might pitch X or Y as in the public interest, but we know the public interest is not their main concern. However, it often goes under the radar that there are few real independent actors out there. When an "independent" health campaign group uses the media to "educate" us, should the media point out that "independent" actually means "mainly funded by the Government or EU"? When a political or economic expert tells us how to vote should the media also point out if that person has some form of paid interest (could be a seat on a quango, could be a non-exec directorship of a company with a specific interest, could just be a paid advisor to such a body)?

Guano

"However, it often goes under the radar that there are few real independent actors out there."

So if a climate scientist warns us about how human activity is altering the climate, and could alter it in large-scale, unpredictable ways, whose agenda are they pushing? What agenda is government or the EU pushing if it funds such research?

Where are they supposed to get funding for their work if there are no independent actors?

Guano

One of the dangerous aspects of the referendum has been the anti-intellectualism that it has unleashed. And there is a real risk of university research being cut as EU money is withdrawn.

Scientists need to get themselves organised quickly.

Barry Murphy

Chris,

I very much appreciate your post, especially about "teaching broadcast techniques to an expert." Rather than adding comments when I entirely agree with you, can I raise two related points?

First, what about the coverage of newspapers which aspire to be impartial, like the Guardian? For the most part its Brexit coverage has been from either those who make no pretence to knowledge of recent economics, or those who unjustifiably do; and here I am not thinking solely of Larry Elliott or Paul Mason. It needs to hire a good blogger: care to volunteer, or prompt Simon Wren-Lewis?

Second, while the World Service coverage of economics is (still) better than on the home stations, there are quite frequent editorial biases common to all: for example the frequent introduction of Roger Bootle or some other City hack as an "independent economic commentator" without a more qualified opposing economist. Where are the invitations to such as Simon and you, Martin Wolf, Jonathan Portes, John Van Reenan, Willem Buiter, or any of the informed American academy? "Editorial" here refers to specific programmes like Analysis (Radio 4) and World Business Report (World Service) and not only to particular correspondents.

Endrew

I guess this is why the BBC didn't just uncritically report the petition for a repeat referendum, instead doing some basic journalistic checking an uncovering the obvious fraud?

It was them, wasn't it?

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