Compare and contrast. Read this first (I’ve linked to it before) from Open Democracy on how the BBC – the British public service broadcasting organisation paid for by every TV owner in the country through a licence fee – has consistently ignored the ramifications and reality of a stealthy privatisation of the National Health Service in the two years following the Coalition government’s power grab in 2010.
Now study the BBC‘s six public purposes as currently outlined here:
Sustaining citizenship and civil society
The BBC provides high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming to engage its viewers, listeners and users in important current and political issues.
Promoting education and learning
The support of formal education in schools and colleges and informal knowledge and skills building.
Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
Encouraging interest, engagement and participation in cultural, creative and sporting activities across the UK.
Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
BBC viewers, listeners and users can rely on the BBC to reflect the many communities that exist in the UK.
Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences’ experience of different cultures.
Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services
Assisting UK residents to get the best out of emerging media technologies now and in the future.
Now we could, of course, as per each of our very personal and political prejudices, fisk the above till the cows come home. But it’s not the purpose of this post to do that. I have my own view – fairly jaundiced by now – of what the BBC has become. There is evidence to support my view too – Open Democracy’s piece being only perhaps the most impactful and carefully argued of a raft of recent critiques on what was once a binder of nations and peoples.
To be honest, the BBC‘s decline and fall in the eyes of many was perhaps inevitable: it reigned unopposed in years and decades when the ruling classes had a pretty unique hold on the airwaves. The virtual ethers didn’t even exist at the time; the ever-suppurating pollution of such singular discourses simply didn’t take place. At least not publicly. What counted, in those days, as rebellion involved sexy young people singing their way into our consciences as, simultaneously, they preached revolution by perpetuating – at a personal level at least – the capitalist dream.
Hardly a revolution likely to bring down anyone, or indeed anything, of a traditional bent.
Public service broadcasting today, then. How does it stand? How should we conceptualise it? A broadcasting which serves the public via Parliament’s – ie the Coalition and the wider establishment’s – view of what we as a represented and mediated public need, deserve and can be allowed? Or a broadcasting which serves the public through a software constitution created behind closed doors by a private company’s software engineers to generate long-term content that can be duly monetised for the benefit of eager shareholders?
You may suggest that for all its faults, the BBC‘s Charter and relationship with Parliament guarantees a closer fit with the needs of the British people than an American corporation of broadly libertarian philosophies, where anything and everything very publicly goes.
Well. Maybe so. And maybe not quite so. Lately, I think, I’m beginning to conclude that if you’re looking for a truly 21st century equivalent of the very 20th century public service ethos the BBC once seemed to enshrine, you’d be better off looking to Twitter et al – even as their very American façades do make us pale on occasions in the face of their terribly gung-ho enthusiasms. All of the six purposes the BBC supposedly espouses – in its very 20th century “let me do it for you” way – I have seen generated on Twitter over the past couple of years, by the careful drawing up and development of an online constitution which permits people to communicate and fashion their environment directly and through their own voices.
Downsides? Many, of course. The biggest being the monetisation process. We are, it is true, the product and not the client. Our data, our thought patterns, our attitudes and reactions, are being number-crunched and made money of time and time again. But is this any different – or, at least, any worse – than a public service broadcasting corporation like the BBC which has not only permitted in its notably halcyon days a paedophilia of dreadful proportions but has also – in what we might term its moment of greatest decline and fall – exhibited a rank partiality to a government of barely democratic means which has shown itself emotionally incapable of leading a country as one?
Never mind via evidence-based mindsets.
It’s not that the BBC no longer serves the public.
It’s rather that, through its political taskmasters, it serves itself of the public. No difference, in truth, between the shareholding monetisers of American social networks and the allegedly cuddlier nationalities of our islands.
If that is to be our destiny, if that is to be our end, surely better that it should be perpetrated with even a scanty veneer of direct empowerment than this Coalition-sponsored daily thrashing and bashing of stats which BBC journalism and a wider current affairs have now become.
Me? Even right now? Even as I withdraw myself slowly from the web? I’d still far rather mutely follow the occurrences of the crowd on Twitter than turn on the tele and engage in rubber-brick-throwing at the privileged elites.