Keep the Beeb that sets the standard!
Last (=Coronation Jubilee) Sunday, I pondered about the value of monarchy in Britain and other European countries. This Sunday, let’s celebrate another coronation, that of the BBC, the world-wide queen (or auntie) of quality news, be they broadcast, online or whatever. To me, and to hundreds of millions of people, the BBC remains mediatic Britain’s best asset, its unique standard-setting proposition to the world.
The aptest thing to do for me to underline this is to quote Sebastian Faulks My View column in yesterday’s Independent:
‚In general, the BBC seems to me rather like the monarchy. You would not, as they say, start from here; but just as, against all modern logic, our hereditary head of state has proved to be the envy of the world, so the BBC is in my view the greatest cultural possession this country now has left.‘
On BBC Radio 4 (whose Today Programme is arguably the most balanced and intelligent, the fastest and cheapest daily national news source for approximately 4 million regular listeners, including me while I am in Britain)
‚Its importance grows daily, as newspapers lose readers and influence. Without Radio 4, the United Kingdom would, I believe, have a collective nervous breakdown. It is our agora, our parish pump, our water cooler; it exerts a defining and centripetal force on our society. Without its binding coherence, we would be left with the atomised Babel of deregulation, Facebook and „on-demand“ streaming, each with our own little headset.‘
On BBC Radio World Service (the most cosmopolitan reliable and balanced, and fastest and cheapest, international news source in the world (not only according to former staff members as the one writing this):
‚if Radio 4 is our greatest present to ourselves, the World Service has been our gift to the world. Without it, those who lived under totalitarian regimes would have lost hope; imprisoned leaders would not have had the strength to carry on; and millions would never have heard factual news reporting or known that there was such a thing as democracy.‘
I cannot but wholeheartedly agree with these judgements, and I’m not reticent at all to add that I am a former staff member who still feels privileged to have learned his trade as a broadcaster at the BBC’s External Services historical Bush House home (which they seem to be definitely leaving now).
Neither do I wish to conceal the one (and a half) „fly in the ointment“ that Sebastian Faulks, critical mind that he is, detects in 21st century news broadcasting:
‚Journalists ought to be able to be rude and adversarial with politicians when necessary, but for that to be the default tone for every news interview is wearisome and self-defeating.‘
Again, I agree (although that is not really the problem in my part of the world, where journalists are better known for making friends with the powerful, rather than being rude to them…).
‚In more than 30 years of occasional work for it, I have never met a right-winger at the BBC.‘
Well, I do not remember meeting an outspoken radical left-winger either! And I still think, this is what customer service oriented broadcasting news is about: providing the raw material for everybody, of whatever political leaning, to make up his and her’s own mind.
‚it doesn’t follow that a mildly leftish belief prevents you from doing a good day’s work or implants bias in your reporting.‘
…or mildly rightist, or whatever belief, I would add. I am deeply convinced (and personally I am trying all the time) that, in an open society, journalists are able to meet the challenge of delivering news service as reliable and unbiased as possible. The BBC has been showing this consistently.
Elsewhere, for example in Italy, the possibility of an unbiased treatment of news is generally dismissed as hopelessly intractable if not outright impossible, unrealistic, hypocritical, and last not least as a mortal danger for any journalistic career. No wonder only a minority of Italians regularly follow (not to speak of trust) any news.
Back to Britain, and to The Independent’s columnist’s conclusion, a common sense defence of the BBC against those critics who did not like its Jubilee TV programmes:
‚To extrapolate from one substandard day on the Thames the idea that the BBC is not worth having is more than foolish, more than commercially self-interested and politically naive; it is the self-indulgence of spoiled children, ignorant of the privileges their history has showered on them.‘