Saturday, 25 January 2020

Does the BBC even deserve to survive?

Without the BBC we could be facing a post-truth dystopia shrieks Jonathan Freedland. I'm not sure this is a debate I can even be bothered with. I just don't use the BBC to any real extent. Freedland can't convince me that the Tories pose a real threat to it simply because it's in the process of self-destruction without any outside help.

There's been a debate over the course of Brexit about BBC bias. It's not something I've really touched on for one simple reason. I don't care. I made the decision in 2006 to cut the BBC out of my life and the only contact I have with it is clips posted by others to Twitter and short bursts of Radio 4 whenever I'm stuck in traffic. Nothing I've seen or heard on that time persuades me that I'm missing anything.

As far as bias goes I'm really not one to get worked up about the balance of leave/remain panel members on BBC Question Time. I have no idea why anyone would subject themselves to it. Other than serving as a showcase for state of the art political idiocy there is no information value in it. Similarly I have no use for the Andrew Marr show or Andrew Neil. These programmes are not essential to staying informed. The Andrew Neil programme is lightweight entertainment at best.

As to Radio 4, I've long wished the technology existed for the BBC to be able to track the precise moment when listeners hit the off button, along with a sanctimony meter. Such data would be revealing because I seriously bet I'm not alone in forcefully hitting the off button when the shrillness becomes unbearable. Every single time I switch it on I'm either being lectured about climate change (last week they were calling leavers and climate doubters conspiracy theorists), or they're ramming home a diversity message. Today it was The Economist's Soumaya Keynes asking "Does economics have a problem with women?". Middle class woman's hour toss.

Then there's Radio 4 "comedy". It's as inane as inane can be. Over the years I've come to accept that BBC content is something I am just not the target audience for.  They don't want me in their audience. They don't want to make content I might be interested in. That's fine too because I don't pay for it. Why should they?

Freedland believes that the BBC being free of commercial pressures means that it is something unique and a cut above the rest but there is no substantive difference between Sky News and BBC News. All the journos are infinitely interchangeable. Androgynous clones asking weak questions from a position of total ignorance. Were it not for the on-screen idents I wouldn't even know which channel I was watching.

As regards to its neutrality it is neutral when compared with Channel 4 News but on the whole our media is not reporting on the circus, rather it is an integral part of it, and as such is a political actor whether it knows it or not. They have the power to decide who gets an airing and in search of "balance" they've given us Owen Jones, Grace Blakely, Femi, Ash Sarkar and various activist academics leaden with bogus credentials, and on the right they've given us Farage and Mark Francois. Where are all the serious people? When do the adults get a look in? And why was the junior from the Morse spin-off on Question Time? Why did we need to hear his opinions? Who is he?

Worse still the BBC is playing the same game as the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph once had its own blog network recognising that independent blogs were a direct threat. Having marshalled all the traffic away from independent blogs, blogging pretty much died a death. The BBC is doing the same with podcasts. Essentially Freedland wants it that way. It wants the BBC to have the monopoly over the narrative. He believes there is an objective truth and only the BBC gets near it.

But as this blog demonstrates, there are nuances and depths to just about every factoid in media circulation from the egregious "rule taker" meme to the various perceptions of sovereignty. There are additional facts that completely reframe a debate which are, either deliberately or through negligence, left out of the public debate. Only if we have a thriving marketplace of ideas and voices can we enhance public debate.

I don't deny there are malevolent actors peddling fake news and toxic spin. It's not even confined to the fringes. The Daily Express and Telegraph is a universe away from this reality. But the thing about the Daily Express is it reflects pretty much what your average kiptard grunter thinks. It wouldn't be commercially viable if it didn't. Freedland would rather these voices were drowned out because he doesn't like that they have influence. The left hasn't learned a thing.

I don't want state broadcaster that thinks its job is to correct my thinking. I don't want sanctimonious lectures. I just want information. I don't need them to make it snappy or digestible. I don't want it sanitised or censored. I don't want to be patronised. Every time it withholds essential information it is saying we can't be trusted to know what is going on. Most of all I just don't want lightweight superficial poorly researched infotainment produced by teenage underlings.

If the BBC were to up its game and treat its audiences with respect - as adults capable of arriving at their own independent conclusions, then there wouldn't be calls for its demise. By all means if it chooses to keep insulting our intelligence and wasting our time then it should be free to do so but not if we are expected to finance it. As it happens it doesn't matter either way. It can keep on preaching but more people than ever are simply walking away. I'll always know where to find a radio documentary about a team of Welsh transgender lesbian canoeists training to navigate the Rockies to raise awareness of climate change induced breast cancer if I need it, but somehow I just don't. I guess one of us is out of touch. 

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