Decline and Fall of Broadcast Media

With its Director General having resigned, and more heads set to roll, I’ve been wondering what should happen to the BBC.

Norman Tebbit, one time chairman of the Conservative party, and no friend of the BBC, writes:

Contrary to what many of my critics believe, I regard the BBC as a valuable national institution, which served us well over many years. Its principal failures have sprung from an inbred culture which evolved into a censorship of dissident voices. Its habit of recruiting from a narrow range of political – and of late, politically correct – thought has led to a damaging arrogance.

Well, he’s quite right about the inbred culture recruited from a narrow range of the political spectrum. But, in my experience, this isn’t anything new: the BBC has always been left wing. It was when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the 1980s, 30 years ago. But would it be any better if it was right wing? And precisely why is it a “valuable national institution”?

Its very name – the British Broadcasting Corporation – announces that it was primarily a radio (and later TV) broadcasting company. And all broadcast media (radio or TV) is essentially one-way, from broadcaster to listener or viewer. And whoever controls such one-way broadcast media can control what listeners or viewers see and hear, and to a great extent control what they think as well.

Is it entirely accidental that the rise of totalitarianism in Europe coincided with the emergence of radio broadcast media? The Nazis in Germany were very quick to realise the power of such media, and to use radio and newsreel to tightly control what Germans heard and saw, and therefore largely also control what they believed. And the BBC was used in exactly the same way, except to counter Nazi propaganda. Broadcast media are inherently propaganda media. So the BBC was always as much a propagandist as any other broadcaster in the world.

And it still is. It’s just that the propaganda is a bit different these days. The BBC is currently a global warming propagandist, and an EU propagandist, and an antismoking propagandist. When I got rid of my TV set a few years back, it was largely in revulsion at being propagandised. (And it’s not just the BBC: all the UK TV channels are propaganda broadcasters).

Do we all need to be propagandised in this manner? Just because we’ve had 90 years of propaganda, does that mean it is now so institutionalised for it to be unthinkable to end it? And just who has it served so well for so many years?

The emergence of the internet is now breaking up the monopoly of broadcast media over news and opinion. And the internet is a two-way medium. It restores the kind of two-way conversation which preceded the appearance of the broadcast media.

In the past, you needed expensive microphones and tape recorders and cameras and transmitters to capture and broadcast a message. And you needed cameramen and reporters to lug this equipment wherever it was needed, often in large vans or trucks.

But now that the cameras are built into mobile phones and computer screens, and hard disks can store gigabytes of video and audio, and this data can be sent anywhere in the world via the internet, there isn’t really any need for all that expensive equipment, and for all those reporters and cameramen and editors. We are all reporters now. We are all cameramen. And we are all editors.

A good example of this, last year, was the grisly death of Muammar Gaddafi outside Sirte in Libya last year. There were no newsmen present. No TV cameras. But there were plenty of of mobile phone video cameras, and the shaky videos from these were published on the internet. The broadcast media were relegated to editorialising at secondhand about material produced by a bunch of amateurs.

And that’s probably the way all news is going to go (apparently the BBC didn’t even manage to get the scoop on the departure of its own DG). It will all be amateur. Parliament will be videoed by MPs sitting in it. Train crashes will be videoed by passengers. People will be interviewed at home, sitting in their own armchairs, and quite possibly smoking cigarettes as they do so. Editorialising will be left to everybody, rather than a select few.

Quite simply, it is no longer going to be possible to shape public opinion in the way it was done during the broadcast media era. And we should all be heartily glad of it.

So what’s there left for the BBC to do once news and current affairs slips out of its grasp? Well, it can do what it’s always been good at doing, and what it actually does best, which is to produce documentaries and plays and costume dramas whose costs haven’t been falling in line with other technological developments. It’s always going to be expensive for anybody to produce a documentary about arctic seabirds, or remote volcano eruptions, or moon landings. And it’s always going to be expensive to put together a cast of good actors and put them in Elizabethan period houses and clothes. These still need investment and management. But does it need to be done at the taxpayers or license-payers expense? It seems to me that could be done just as well (and perhaps better) privately.

Radio and TV are technologies approaching the end of their natural lives. There’s no more reason why they should continue to exist than there is reason for vinyl records or cassettes or 3.5″ floppy disks to continue to exist. What the BBC might now do best is to educate everyone else in its accumulated wisdom, gathered over almost a century. Show ordinary people how to do it. And then bow out, and leave it to them.

About Frank Davis

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24 Responses to Decline and Fall of Broadcast Media

  1. wobbler2012 says:

    Another thing with the BBC is how it salivates over the royals, it makes me ill listening to them all saying how “wonderful” they are. Surely not every broadcaster at the BBC is a fan of the Royal family, I personally find them to be outdated and expensive parasites, yet it seems that everyone at the BBC loves them. You are right Frank it is all really one big propaganda machine and that becomes more apparent every day, it needs to go.

    • Paul says:

      You’ve never heard RTÉ broadcasting about the British royal family then? Even as someone with pro-union and monarchist sympathies, it makes me want the sick bag. It’s worse and even more fawning than the BBC. A lot of Irish people seem obsessed with the Royals in a way that’s completely alien to many English people.

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    The Queen keeps cigarettes for her guests lets cut her some slack for that and she can be a valuable asset when it comes time to abolish the ban in britain.

  3. Wiel Maessen says:

    Exactly what I was thinking tonight when I saw this news tonight. And it’s the same here and the public broadcasters here in Holland will probably also hit this wall shortly.
    They are really elitist and essentially left-wing.
    I remember that, during our anti smoking ban actions in Belgium, our Dutch main public news station came to Antwerp to interview us. But also Belgians on the terraces, asking them what they thought about our (Dutch induced) crusade against the smoking ban. They interviewed 7 people. Three were against our action, three for and one neutral.
    And what appeared in the news? Only the interviews with people opposing our action in Belgium!
    That’s how these public broadcasters work.
    Time for a tsunami hitting the public broadcasters!

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    To think this quack got paid to produce such insanity!

    Losing scientific integrity isnt even debatable anymore.

    These researchers belong in assylums for treatment.

    Study shows mothers’ smoking connected to childhood obesity

    A researcher in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health has found that children are more at risk of being overweight if they are born of mothers who smoked within one year before giving birth.

    Dr. Liang Wang, an assistant professor in the ETSU Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, studied the correlation between the smoking habits of mothers and children in elementary school. His study was published in the latest edition of the journal Pediatric Obesity.

    Wang’s investigation focused on children in first through sixth grade who were classified as overweight — specifically, those with a body mass index that puts them in the 85th percentile or above as compared to their peers. Children were more likely to be overweight if their mothers smoked a year prior to giving birth, and they were also more likely to have higher BMI averages, Wang said. He drew his conclusions from extensive study of data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.

    Existing public health programs offer help for women who want to quit smoking during pregnancy. Wang is hopeful that his study could lead to new smoking cessation programs not only for women who are pregnant, but also more generally for those who are of child bearing age.

    “The evidence suggests that a woman’s decision to smoke can influence the weight and health of her child even before she becomes pregnant,” Wang said. “There are significant public health implications that merit consideration of enhanced smoking cessation programs.”

    Maternal and child health is the primary research interest for Wang, who twice received the American Public Health Association Maternal and Child Health Section Outstanding Student Author award, in 2009 and 2010.

    Wang received his doctor of public health and master of public health degrees from the ETSU College of Public Health after earning his medical degree from China.

    This is Wang’s second first-author publication on the subject this year. He has been involved in more than 20 manuscript submissions in 2011-2012; eight manuscripts were published or accepted for publication, and several others are undergoing peer review. Wang was also assigned as an associate director for the China-Tennessee Health Education Training Institute hosted by ETSU in 2011. This summer, Wang received a Health Policy and Systems Sciences Travel Fellowship Award as a commentator for the Westlake Summer Youth Forum selected by China Medical Board.

    Wang received grant funding for his study from the ETSU Research Development Committee. Dr. Hadii Mamudu, an assistant professor in the ETSU College of Public Health’s Department of Health Services Management and Policy, is a co-author on Wang’s paper. Mamudu is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on global tobacco policies.

    • Messalina says:

      I remember always being told that smoking during pregnancy results in low birth weight. And smokers are generally slimmer.
      They can’t seem to make up their minds! Obviously these quacks make things up as they go along, maybe they’re trying to cash in on the ‘obesity epidemic’ as well! Kill two birds with one stone – why not!

  5. mntvernon says:

    Mr. Davis, the news media is the prostitute of ‘what sells’. Instead of being the handmaiden the fourth estate they’ve sold out to who or whatever will gain them the most advertising revenue. Once buyers realize they’ve bought air time alongside disreputable journalists, the more they’ll go with sensationalized tid-bits to jazz up viewership.
    Even print media is being called out:

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    International nanny staters gather in Seoul to kill tobacco farming
    by Robert Koehler on November 12, 2012
    in South Korea

    Sure, pot looks like its gaining global acceptance (pretty much Uncle Marmot’s only cause for celebration on Election Day. That and the gay marriage referendums), but tobacco is still evil, apparently.

    So evil, in fact, that UN busybodies will be gathering in Seoul this week with the aim of limiting tobacco production, putting millions out of work in the process:

    Technically known as the fifth Conference of the Parties (CoP5), the week-long meeting at COEX in Gangnam will focus on controversial proposals that attempt to artificially reduce, and eventually phase out the crop through absurd regulations that will have no impact on smoking rates in the world. Although their livelihoods are at stake, not one of the 30 million people who are dependent on tobacco farming worldwide has been invited to attend COP5. Among those being affected will be 25,000 Koreans who are dependent with tobacco farming.

    On the table are illogical measures such as regulating the seasons tobacco can be grown and limiting the land on which it can be grown. These ideas are so radical that even tobacco control advocates are calling them “simply impractical.”

    The FCTC is also calling on governments to outlaw financial support to tobacco growers, banning technical assistance and contracts between growers and buyers, dismantling the bodies linking growers to governments, and banning minimum prices. And although the recommendations contain some guidance on how to identify and promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco farmers, we are a very long way from being able to provide adequate solutions for farmers in every corner of the world whose livelihoods would be affected by these measures.

    It gets worse—it seems they even want to go after cigarette alternatives:

    When the World Health Organization’s (WHO) tobacco control group meets in Seoul this week, it risks harming smokers who need help quitting. The group will consider bans on less harmful alternatives to cigarette smoking such as Swedish-style smokeless tobacco, or snus, and E-cigarettes. These products have been shown to help smokers stop smoking. The type of regulation applied to these products is especially important to Korea, which has among the highest rates of cigarette smoking within the OECD.

    Much to the chagrin of New York City Nanny-in-Chief Michael Bloomberg, I’m sure, the United States is not a party to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which gives me hope that there may be a God.

    You do wonder, though, whether the same folk who were so opposed to the KORUS FTA will be out in force protesting this attempt—by unelected international bureaucrats, no less—to destroy farmers’ livelihoods. Korean tobacco farmers are making a stink, at least.

    Let’s watch how this unfolds.

  7. Zaphod says:

    There’ll always be a demand for spoon-fed entertainment, but the heyday of broadcasting is definitely over. A good thing, too. The quality took a serious dip when the number of channels exploded. That limitation shouldn’t apply so strongly to the internet world, as it doesn’t need intensive funding. But the superstars of blogging will always have an eye on their stats, and tend to give the masses what they want.
    Nevertheless, thank Dog for the internet! It arrived just in time.

  8. Walt says:

    More on the WHO conference. They propose a global 70% tax on tobacco, the profits to go to…them.

    Meanwhile, Basham & Luik quote a study showing such taxes cause low income smokers to spend 24% of their income on cigarettes and doesn’t cause them to quit.

    On topic: We may (solipsistically) forget that great swaths of the population do NOT get their information from the net and that Youth merely twitters or follows the blogs of twits. Also, as long as the left has its say, public funding for public broadcasting won’t ever stop. Romney’s talk of defunding it led to yet another bout of leftist “outrage.”

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Global pact adopted to curb illicit tobacco trade
      Posted: 12 November 2012 1438 hrs

      SEOUL: More than 170 countries Monday adopted what World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Margaret Chan called a “game-changing” global pact to combat the illegal tobacco trade.

      The treaty envisages an international tracking system which aims to halt the smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco products — a trade which accounts for 11 percent of the total tobacco market and costs governments an estimated $40 billion in lost tax revenue.

      “This is a game-changing treaty,” Chan said in an address to a meeting in Seoul of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which has been ratified by 176 countries since coming into force in 2005.

      “This is how we hem in the enemy,” she added, calling the pact a major step towards “eliminating a very sophisticated criminal activity”.

      The protocol gives signatory states five years to establish a tracking and tracing mechanism on cigarettes and every other tobacco product. The system will use non-removable markings and will be coordinated globally to detect illegal tobacco trading.

      Agents, suppliers and tobacco manufacturers will all have to be licensed. Manufacturers will have to carry out checks on customers to ensure they are genuine or if they have associations with criminal organisations.

  9. west2 says:

    There’s no more reason why they should continue to exist than there is reason for vinyl records … to continue to exist.

    Oh dear. Vinyl is quality, This is an unfortunate comparison IMHO.

  10. margo says:

    As far as I can see, the BBC’s always been pro-establishment, propagandist and politically correct. As wobbler says, it’s very keen on the royals, and our military can do no wrong. This year it’s gone to town in a big way over the Olympics. How does all that make it ‘left wing’, Frank? In my understanding, it’s nationalistic and in favour of order and control – which I think of as ‘right wing’. Are my definitions of left and right up the creek?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Was Hitler left wing or right wing? For much of my life, I saw him as authoritarian and right wing. But that was probably because I was a bit left wing. These days I see him as a socialist (a national socialist) and left wing. But that may be because I’ve become a bit right wing. Depending who uses the terms, both “left wing” and “right wing” are more or less synonymous with “bad” as far as I can see, and have no other meaning.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        We are all victims of the times.

      • margo says:

        OK, thanks for that. I suppose Hitler was a ‘fascist’ – an extreme something-or-other, anyway, and I’d say extremes in either direction are a bad idea. it’s all become very confusing to me. Maybe it’s like the old Chinese philosophy of everything eventually turning its opposite – so you can get burnt by extreme cold and go blind in extreme light?

        • Smudger says:

          The thing is with the BBC and the Royals, or the London Olympics, or anything else packaged and sold as quintessentially ‘British’, is that their hearts aren’t actually in it. They televise the Jubilee because they have to; they have news correspondents speak in hushed tones about events that they assume Joe Public feels sorrow about; but they don’t (as a collective entity) believe any of it. I can’t stand watching the BBC’s output as this patronising, sickening falseness just cascades out of the screen at me.

  11. garyk30 says:

    But, does anyone actually,really care?

    In America’s recent general election, almost half of the eligible voters did not vote.

    They just did not care!!!!
    I doubt that this is solely an American problem.

    • garyk30 says:

      Just a bit more.

      The American Prez claims that; since the majority of Americans voted for him, his policies represent the desires of the majority of Americans.

      The MSM chooses not to notice that he was elected by ONLY 29% of the eligible voters and that is NOT the majority of them.

      I doubt that this is solely an American problem.

  12. jaxthefirst says:

    My biggest beef with the BBC is the same as my beef with all the rest of the MSM these days – and it’s something which many, many commenters on here have pointed out many times – that the media no longer seem to see their role as one of informing the public about what’s really going on in the world (even if they grandly claim that that is what they are doing), but rather they seem to see their primarily purpose as one of reinforcing already-held stereotypes (paedos are only ever single men living alone, sex murderers are only ever odd “loner” types, only smokers get ill and die of nasty things like cancer, only yobby binge-drinkers cause trouble when they are in their cups, only “pit-bull” type dogs ever attack people). In the event that these stereotyped images aren’t there in the story, and the facts tell a different one (women abusing children, “good family husbands” committing sex crimes, non-smokers dying of cancer in their thousands, middle-class “moderate” drinkers getting into fights, doe-eyed family Labradors biting people) those inconvenient facts are quietly omitted from the story, so that at least if the stereotype cannot be reinforced it at least will not be challenged.

    Maybe, of course, it’s at least partly because most people don’t want to be challenged anyway. They like having their opinions confirmed as “right,” which is why people who already vote Tory tend to read the likes of the Daily Telegraph or the Sun, whereas people who already vote Labour tend to buy the Guardian or the Daily Mirror. It makes them feel good to know that their judgment is confirmed by journalists who are (or should be) “in the know.” The trouble with the Beeb is that its funding is Government-controlled, which renders it susceptible to producing/showing primarily those programmes which it knows the Government of the day will approve of. Hence the reason why left-wing voters so often bemoan the fact that the Beeb is a right-wing mouthpiece when there is a Tory Government in place and thus all the Tories’ favourite stereotypes are broadcast at every opportunity; and right-wingers complaining that it’s so left-wing when Labour get their turn and all the stereotypes become those most beloved of the Labour party. He who pays the piper calls the tune, as they say.

  13. beobrigitte says:

    It’s just that the propaganda is a bit different these days. The BBC is currently a global warming propagandist, and an EU propagandist, and an antismoking propagandist. When I got rid of my TV set a few years back, it was largely in revulsion at being propagandised. (And it’s not just the BBC: all the UK TV channels are propaganda broadcasters).

    In passing by today I overheard someone lamenting that the BBC stands a good chance of losing it’s credibility. I’d say the BBC has long lost any credibility.

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