Ofcom has just asked for inputs on the terms of reference for a “Thematic review of representation and portrayal on the BBC“. It looks innocuous and slightly odd in an Internet Age but the BBC has recently failed in one of its key roles – to keep the British Establishment (of which it is a key part) in touch with majority public opinion – not just on Brexit but on a range of other issues.
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When the previous Chairman of Ofcom was Secretary and then Director of Policy at “Aunty” (from 1983 – 2000) most us knew who the BBC represented. It was “them” – the “Progressive Liberal Establishment” who ran the Government, whichever party was in power, and had told us what to think since the dark days of 1940 and newspaper rationing and censorship. The 1946 election saw those values reflected in the new House of Commons. Popular revolt against austerity, rationing and the abuses that accompanied the latter led to an adjustment in the 1950s but the centralisation of control (completion of the steam age nation state) that accompanied mass wartime mobilisation has never been reversed. And the BBC has been the propaganda arm of the co-operation between Westminster and Whitehall that, over time, emasculated what was left of local government – today we forget that most of the NHS, Social Services and Schools, as well as Electricity, Gas and Water were run by local government, not the private sector, before they were nationalised.
More recently came the wipe-out of local newspapers, as classified advertising transferred from to the Internet and was then consolidated into Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google and Twitter. in parallel came the implosion of local high street and village shops, burdened with business rates and UK VAT, unlike their on-line competitors. But with the “press release fed” London Media as the main source of news and comment the slow build up of resentment, including with all those digital enthusiasts herding us on-line to be fleeced, passed un-noticed – save for the occasional blip such as the fuel protests and London Riots . In consequence the “British Establishment” was caught by surprise when a majority of the English (the working and lower middle classes) voted to leave the European Union, despite having been told in no uncertain terms which way to vote.
The BBC failed it’s prime purpose – not just to tell British people what to think but also to convey their views back to Government before they are massaged and bowdlerised for public consumption (a role which has been airbrushed out of the histories of both the BBC and of mass observation).
That role is restated, much more politely, in the call for inputs on the terms of reference.
One of the Public Purposes of the BBC is for the BBC to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the UK, and in doing so, support the creative economy across the UK. All audiences should feel that the BBC offers something for them, but our research shows that several groups feel that it doesn’t adequately represent their interests or lives. We are conducting this thematic review of representation and portrayal to understand in greater detail what audiences expect from the BBC, and whether the BBC reflects and portrays the lives of all people across the whole of the UK. Looking at representation and portrayal in detail now will provide a baseline to inform whether further measures are needed to ensure that the BBC is delivering for all audiences.
This document sets out the terms of reference for the review. We are seeking views by 29 March 2018. Our final report will be published in autumn 2018.
The wording in the document implies that the BBC needs to better reflect the views of minorities. That may well be correct, but the BBC also needs to better reflect the views and priorities of majorities. Thus the population of London is greater than Wales and Scotland added together. Now compare the cover of London news on the BBC website with that of either. Now look for cover on the battles building up in advance of the Local Government elections, for example the scandals, splits and demonstrations in Lambeth over Library and Housing Policy as “Momentum” and “Progress” battle for the Labour vote in the run-up to 2018 in the face of a challenge from the Greens . A London Borough with a population significantly larger than the Highlands and Islands or Mid-Wales does not qualify for a section on the BBC website – not even a link to the Brixton Buzz . That might not matter had the UK still got a vibrant local media, on-line or off-line – but the internet giants, including the BBC, are throttling that which we have.
Hence the importance f the terms of reference for this innocuous looking exercise.