Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Debating points

I have been a tad too involved with the BBC is biased site of late (there is life outside of what Auntie does or doesn't do), and felt the need to outline why is there and what I hoped to get from it. It felt good to write, and I hope it's fair... so I share.

At risk of seeming rude, or plain daft in light writing this here, I personally don't see how 'the BBC' can be biased, any more than I would hate 'it'. The BBC is simply a vast organization, with many staff, and, on the whole, a proud history. But, especially of late, a few skeletons coming to light are compromising this big time. I have seen with my own eyes worrying trends and, as can happen, in trying to get some answers arrived at this forum. Obviously, with a Ronseal-esque moniker like that at the top, the likely thrust of the majority of comments is pretty clear. But I have to say that I am impressed that most seem to be relatively considered, and supported by fact, if mainly in the form of links. As most of these are to the BBC's own resources, it's hard to question the objectivity.

But from the replies of those courageous or at least passionate enough to 'defend' the BBC (sometimes, though from my viewing not very often, with reason), and even more so to identify themselves in this role, I have to say a worrying trend often emerges which tallies with my own concerns. And hence I can only wonder if there are now so many such individuals, pervading all levels, that indeed the corporate entity is in danger of becoming the sum of its parts. So that, even without the (impossible to conceal, or justify) policy/ies that would substantiate a charge of institutional bias, it has just crept in simply by sheer weight of numbers.

I guess that can happen, and see how. One major mechanism is the inability to acknowledge, much less accept, criticism, even of the constructive variety. And this I am seeing even here.

One of my greatest frustrations with the BBC has been the attitude of 'Whatever we do is right. And if it isn't we didn't do it. And if we did do it doesn't matter. And if it does there's nothing you can do about it so we certainly won't be making any changes. So there.' Which is why I stopped even bothering to write to Newswatch. I still write to the complaints boys and girls, if only to boost my collection of cookie-cutter replies to a point where even the Trust would have trouble keeping a straight face in saying ‘they are listening’.

Across many of these posts, I see truly amazing defenses being made that simply fly in the face of logic... or presented facts. But what has brought the BBC to its current pretty pass, yet still seems to not have sunk into almost any layer of the corporation, is that the truth is not something that can be ‘enhanced’ to suit the demands of modern broadcasting, be it at best feeding the 24/7 appetite of a multi-channel, mega-staffed machine, or, at its darkest and worst, personal agendas held in the belief that there are those who do not yet know what's best for them.

But the thing that has really knocked me offside in my attempt at seeing all sides, is the blatant attempt to derail honest debate by questioning, quite pointlessly, though with a clear attempt to tarnish, the 'origins' of those posting.

I don't care who you are, where you are from or who you may work for, so long as your tone is civil, your arguments well ordered, and your facts as honest and accurate as they can be. Then your opinion is more than worth reading and engaging with. But the minute I see any attempt, usually by those who know they are running out of legs to stand on, to say 'well, you lot are obviously all [insert perceived pejorative grouping here]', the argument has been tainted.

I like this site. I know where most are coming from. Many are very funny. Some well informed. I find out stuff I didn't know. Or leads to places to find out more. And in the debates there is a kind of balance. So I'll keep coming back. I may even try and throw a few notions into the pot. That's how debate should be.

I just hope the BBC, and those who work for us who are employed by it, can remember that.

I hope the club members appreciate the sentiment, and any BBC contributors get the message. We'll see.


Some positive replies and, it seems the spark of a disagreement, though from an 'Anon' ,which I tend to accord less value to.

Thank you to those who have provided me a generous welcome to your ranks.

I note also the words of caution, and indeed already feel a slight twist to the key in my back as I read the progress of some discussions. Participation, it seems, can be both addictive and perhaps corrosive. Maybe I should be careful to limit my exposure, but that of course leaves one prone to being less well informed... and open to accusations of superficiality. You really can’t win.

Already I must reiterate my point about labels, and to those from all ‘sides’. One man’s Daily Mail reader can too easily be deemed - and dismissed - as a fascist, it seems, while one woman’s Guardianista (or, it seems, the entire staff complement of the BBC ) an eco-fascist.

It may be true that this group is small and niche, but even from my brief exposure I would not agree that it is from one sole section. Hence the value of the input and the debate created.

But from just the few posts in discussion topics subsequent to mine above, I see already a necessary addition to add to my idealistic considerations; and one that is apt considering this forum is about a broadcaster. That is the power of the edit suite (or, in miniature on pages such as this, the cut and paste facility of our PCs), along with those who control it, and what motivates them in their decisions. Plus the commissioners, producers, directors and journalists who can of course by personal choice decide what ingredients get fed into this mixing pot in the first place.

I laid... lay great value on facts, and at least qualified this by adding ‘honestly presented’. This is key in much we are served on air, because while what we are shown or hear can shape our views, there is equal power in doing so through influencing what is omitted. And by golly that is much harder to measure because, by definition, you probably don’t know about it!

Hence my greater concerns, not just from the BBC but any who would set themselves up to provide ‘us’ with information. And here is the value of open source blogs such as this, when a convenient fact can be exposed to be less compelling when placed in proper context, or set beside some others that may show it to be but one take of many. Which is why I am valuing this blog’s debate as I am being introduced to pieces of some jigsaws that I did not know were missing.

My personal interest is in the environment, and now more than ever the phrase ‘not all that is green can be viewed in black and white’ sums up my frustration with the media grabbing extremes (from all sides) more to stir up a ratings-fest than to adequately inform an audience enough to come to a decent personal conclusion. Hence I am often even quite critical of the oft-lauded last bastion of journalistic integrity that is Newsnight, for what I have deemed their ‘twofer’ style of debate. Here two polar opposites are wheeled in to knock spots of each other (and their arguments), with the moderator in the centre picking off morsels to keep things bubbling along. Most unsatisfying for my purposes. I want to get to the core issues, see them rationally debated by a decent cross-section of views, but of course with all nailed to what they say and then held to them. This seldom happens. Where on earth are these ‘experts’ and/or talking heads that are presented as representatives, or our proxies, sourced? The wine bar next door?

But at least in such cases there is some measure of exchange, though again shaped by the choices of those to appear. And they are live, though often what gets served up subsequently can become a version of what I call ‘enhanced reality’ (i.e.; agenda driven fabrication, for either venal (ratings) or ‘personally passionate’ (‘we’ need to be ‘helped’ to understand what’s best for us) reasons. Which is why the Newsnight ‘re-arrangement’ in the Gordon Brown piece was my tipping point (along with Andrew Marr, I believe). That, and the subsequent inability of almost all involved to comprehend why I, and others, were so outraged.

Personally (and despite the questioning of an 'Anon'), while I would still hesitate to use the word ‘biased’ for the whole organisation, I hope I may be semantically accurate in offering the subjective view that I think the BBC is often... perhaps too often... unbalanced. Whilst recognising it’s easy to expect, and much more difficult to practice. Or ever be seen to be carrying out perfectly.

I don’t want rid of the BBC. But I do want it to remember what made it the unique and valued entity it was, and hence get back to oscillating more evenly about, and not as wildly from a balanced mean. There are much smarter folk than I to figure out how to achieve this, assuming they want to, but I’d say a reduction in scope, and hence size would be a good step towards to getting back to focussing on doing what has been done well, well again.

Sadly, with growing populations come ever growing empires in government, quangos and public services not just to serve but also feed off them, so I am not holding my breath.

But I will continue to stick to my expectation that all the relevant facts available are presented faithfully, and in order, by my public broadcaster, ta very much.

And if they are not, I guess I will need to rely on sites such as this to find out if and when they stray.

ADDENDUM 2 - For a copywriter I can be a wordy bugger. This little lot wouldn't upload, so I tried on another PC and it still didn't work... until I chopped out a few paras. Seems there is a limit I didn' t notice applied. Mea cupla.

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