Thursday, 7 April 2016

Objectivity, the BBC & the British Media

The Broken BBC: From Public Service to Corporate Power


Whatever the logic or feasibility of that model, it is fair to say that BBC News24 in no way achieves any ideal of a discursive space free from market motives. Instead it repeats and mirrors existing institutional power dynamics. Formally, the channel is a twin of Rupert Murdoch�s Sky News. Its editorial values are so identical that viewers get exactly the same hierarchy of news stories, at the same time of day, and predominantly from the same ideological viewpoint. The channels even screen their weather reports simultaneously, and each have �newspaper preview� segments, also broadcast at the same time. Like Sky, the BBC is happy to define itself in relation to the right-wing press but almost never allows comparison with the diversity of other national public sector-based global news broadcasters�France 24, or Russia Today (RT), for example�to throw the validity of the �new� BBC project into question. The BBC�s �newspaper preview� also almost exclusively features guest commentators from the oligarchic print media, rather than representatives of civil society, thereby ensuring further ideological conformity and continuity. This hegemonic homogenization with the right-wing press is even more dubious given, as Goldsmith�s College professor James Curran has pointed out, �according to the 2010 Eurobarometer survey, the British public was the least disposed to trust its press, out of a total of 27 European countries.�4 A more recent poll by YouGov ranked the British press as the most �right-wing� and �biased� in Europe.5

What, then, are the broader characteristics of the new BBC, and how representative is it? In its ideological assumptions and structural representations, News24 is resolutely pro-business and pro-market. A definitive study led by Mike Berry of Cardiff University notes that �on BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than five to one (11 vs 2) in 2007 and by 19 to one in 2012. On the issues of immigration and the EU in 2012, out of 806 source appearances, not one was allocated to a representative of organized labor.� When covering the 2008�2009 banking crisis, �opinion was almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage.�6

The corporation�s journalists pursue this pro-business, free-market ideology to the point of blatant hypocrisy and even self-destruction. In February 2014, a BBC journalist cross-examined then-Labour leader Ed Miliband about the lack of privatization plans in the Party�s public-sector proposals. This is a common theme in BBC news interviews. In the previous week, Hard Talk presenter Stephen Sucker berated the Indian finance minister for subsidizing the country�s farmers. Though editorially critical of other, less well-paid workers receiving public sector incomes, the issue of BBC funding and its own journalists� ample salaries, similarly supported by taxes and public spending, seems to present no quandary to its reporters.

Obviously, none of this accords with the ideal of a public sphere separate and free from vested interests. Nor is this ideological positioning some accident compensated for by the diversity of representation in other parts of the network. The larger consequence of the invention of News24 is that, again, diversity of provision has been throttled by the imposition of a post-Fordist, core-and-periphery management structure. The BBC�s other channels either take their bulletin newsfeed from the main news channel, or have their output homogenized around the editorial dictates and demands of the core control location.

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