Via “Roy”, The Times on old media and the internet:
“This is not just a problem for weblogs. The internet is teeming with “news”. Visitors to the BBC website, for instance, can read stories about New York, Indonesia and Shropshire. One could be forgiven for believing that it was dispatched by BBC correspondents on the streets of Manhattan, Jakarta and Shrewsbury. It appears under Auntie’s banner, after all. But this is rarely the case. The stories are often unamended agency copy* without any attribution given to Reuters, Agence France-Presse or the Associated Press. Such a muddled and muddied provenance merely encourages cynicism about large news organisations.”
“Muddled” is right. Many decades ago, in a world of telegrams, overseas travel for government and film stars only, and Communist tyranny, the BBC provided a sterling news service (with its own correspondents) and high-culture broadcasting throughout the world. It was part of England’s mission civilisatrice. As with all state institutions, lack of accountability gave rise to a holier-than-thou mandarinate, and when the cloth-caps were content to be cowed by this, all was well. Thatcher came along and really questioned the old CP Snow world, and at the same time, as Reagan challenged communism, the BBC was overrun by a new mandarinate (see here for the uncanny Australian parallel), recruited at universities from student leftists who read the job advertisements in the Guardian.
As the left was rolled back in the real world, in the BBC and academia it grew stronger, as leftists, like insects scrambling for cover when you lift a rock, scurried to the one last bastion of tenured privilege where their soi-disant “progressive” worldview was accepted. Add the PC worldview to the old carapace of the holier-than-thou institutional mandarinate and you get today’s bastard child that is the BBC, which combines soft-left “progressive” Islington smugness with a very new-fashioned view of the media, influenced greatly by Blair and New Labour’s ideology-free micro-managerialism. The BBC puts News Corp to shame with its excessive use of agency copy, its shameless promotion of low and gangsta culture and its subsidised competition with private shareholders who have to put their own money up to provide for-profit TV stations and other media. Yet, nobody is forced to give money to News Corp.
The BBC’s lack of accountability as a state institution means that nobody can ever really stop it from peddling Chomskyite propaganda (however many enquiries Blair announces). At the same time, it always has its hand out to the taxpayer, asking for ever more money to do the sort of things that any local community can do with a website now (eg BBC Leicester), and to compete with News Corp by recycling AP and Reuters feed, filtered through a sneering, petulant post-communist leftist world view – a worldview that cannot countenance, apart from attributing it to the only manifestation of evil it allows to exist, the fact that there is a respectable intellectual case for free conscience (including religion), free markets, judging on the content of character rather than the colour of skin, property rights, a limit to the power of the state, free will and individual responsibility.
Is there in fact a case for the BBC at all? Is there anything it does that the private sector is not doing already and better? Would anything be missed if it were abolished tomorrow?
We’re all grown up now, and it’s time for Aunty to leave the house.
* Update “Steve”, who says he works at the BBC (and impliedly represents that he is sufficiently senior to credibly say this), says that “Nothing you see on the BBC News website is ‘unamended agency copy’, all the stories are compiled from a mixture of agency reports and stringers/correspondents on the ground.” Do we really need the BBC to editorialise/amend agency copy when it would be much cheaper to consume commercial TV/media to see that copy ourselves?
Update II “Frank Frink” writes: “I for one have worked as a news journalist for BBC (world and n24) and now work for the agencies. I know for a fact many agency stories are given a cursory subbing (seldom as much as a rewrite) and then get packed out as BBC gospel. Correspondents or stringers might be involved in about 1 in 10 of these reports on the rolling news tv and radio channels. The journalists doing the subbing are completely free to amend the copy to suit their own prejudices, which they of course do freely. The BBC Producer guidelines require that a report be sourced to two agencies before it’s used, however this is mainly honoured in the breach. The terrible waste of all this is compounded by the fact it takes about 10 BBC journalists to rewrite the work of about 2 agency journalists of an evening.” (how many unionised workers does it take to change a lightbulb?…)