Friday, 13 July 2012

Responsible broadcasting for the 21st Century

Last week the BBC announced that the new Director General would be the current head of BBC Vision, George Entwistle.  He will take up his new role as head of the world’s largest broadcaster in the autumn.

It has been said that the BBC’s output can shape the values of a generation and, whilst this may be less true today than in the past, the corporation’s output has a huge impact on society. 

In 2009 Ofcom found that the BBC controlled 70% of national and international news on British television and the institution employs more journalists than any other in the world save for Chinese State TV.

Mr Entwistle probably has the most powerful job in British media – if not the world.

As soon as the news broke commentators and observers were quick to weigh in with what they thought Mr Entwistle’s priorities should be.  John Simpson said he would like the new Director General to improve staff morale whilst The Times counselled that he should ‘remember his job is chiefly about content’.  Lord Patten, the Chairman of the BBC’s regulatory body, the BBC Trust, said that he and Mr Entwistle believed the BBC ‘can and should be 10% or 20% better than it is’ despite the six year licence fee freeze.

George Entwistle could do worse than consider the words of the first Director General, Lord Reith, who said the role of the BBC was to ‘inform, educate and entertain.’ 

Today ‘Reithian’ is used describe certain principles of broadcasting including an equal consideration of all viewpoints, probity and universality.  These are easily distinguishable from the free-market approach in which programming aims to attract the largest audiences or advertising revenues, ahead of - and, in practice, often contrary to - any artistic merit, impartiality, educative or entertainment values that a programme may have.

Hqpefully George Entwistle will ponder the words of his predecessor and consider the inevitable effect that a broadcast diet of degrading behaviour models, inappropriate sexual content and graphic depictions of brutality and violence will have on society.  Wouldn’t it be a great legacy if we could look back on his tenure as Director General and see a renewed commitment to responsible broadcasting.

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