Thursday, 31 August 2006

Minnow versus Whale: LMWN discusses The BBC.

by Edwin Hesselthwite

The previous article has fallen victim to a risk of blogging about internet journalism – The BBC has now updated the link listed below to become a reasonably decent source of information. The headline and header both still focus on the moral panic – grannies and murders – but now a growing list of politicians are nailed to the issue, the Solicitor General Harriet Harman is betraying our common law yet again.

However, this minor business leads me into writing a series of articles I’ve been meaning to compose for a while. LMWN would like to voice its varied opinions on the massive media monster that is The British Broadcasting Corporation. In a later article I intend to get back to the quality and nature of their journalism, an issue far more nuanced than sites like Biased BBC suggest; but before hammering nails into them I’d like to defend Auntie a little - I honestly regard the BBC as an asset to the British people.

First, let’s start with a couple of facts helpfully available on Wikipedia. The BBC is the world’s largest broadcaster with an annual expenditure of £4 billion (1/5th of the income of the world’s largest media group, Time Warner). Just under £650 million of this income is generated commercially, with everything else provided by the license fee and general taxation (The World Service is funded by the Foreign Office). Look at those numbers for a moment, we are dealing with a truly immense organisation here and it’s understandable, even expected, that it plays a role in the lives of everyone in the country.

The amount of content the BBC provides is huge: 2 analog television channels, 5 national radio stations, 40 local radio stations, The World Service - providing content received in 143 capital cities and 43 different languages; this is without going into their news, new media, digital and minor international services. The BBC has been in business for 80 years, accumulating an archive of intellectual property Disney must envy – Monty Python, Only Fools and Horses, Doctor Who and the productions of David Attenborough (who was Director Of Programming at the BBC for '69 to '72). Most of these programmes are still being shown worldwide, giving the BBC a continuous and growing drip feed of sales.

Anecdotally, you only have to leave Britain to see the propaganda value that this weight of content provides for the British people. The BBC has always emphasised comedy and on a visit to Serbia at Christmas this year I found it common in bars and on daytime TV for ‘Allo ‘Allo and Only Fools and Horses to be broadcast again, and again as they are here. But the real propaganda comes in the form of the news services and The World Service.

The World Service has existed since 1925 providing a British spin on world affairs over crackling long wave radio. Another anecdote illustrates perfectly the propaganda value this has: I was present in Uzbekistan (which has never been a British dependency) at the time of the Andijann Massacre last year, where locals were tuning into this British broadcaster to get information about a crisis that was growing less than 100 kilometers away. This universally important resource is being increasingly overshadowed by their online services and world television news channel. Before launching BBC News Online the BBC had a network of foreign correspondents and salaried journalists few other networks could match. Patch these into an advertising free news resource and BBC News Online has become arguably the world’s most important source of up to the minute news.

No one can possibly touch the BBC for international coverage, and so whenever something catastrophic happens, from the Lebanon war to 7/7 the whole world jumps onto news.bbc.co.uk. There are, in my view, fundamental failings in the BBC’s journalism and I will address these in the next article, but this is almost secondary. The world sees itself through the lens of British interests. If it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t believe it possible that a state broadcaster could get away with it.

The whole world is recieving British tainted coverage - the anti-globalisation left constantly accuse the Americans of cultural imperialism, but few seem to register that one of the last major vestiges of The British Empire is rolling ever onwards, shaping the world view. British Governments mess with the BBC’s charter at their peril - in some ways it's got a bigger role in foreign affairs than the Prime Minister.

1 comment:

Id it is said...

As a twenty-odd-year fan of the BBC world news, I must admit that I have always gone to BBC for a balanced report on world affairs, and I am not British. In fact I belong to a country that long suffered under British colonialism. Having lived in various countries and having been exposed to their respective media I strongly believe that the BBC world news is the most objective in its reporting.