My BBC case Essay

All forms of mass media have the goal to provide the news to people that serves public interest. Therefore, the best idea that should come out speaking of the news and information is the term we could call as participatory journalism wherein media organisations are responsible to provide news for the public and the public in response should be involved with what media has presented to them. Media and market need to have a two way relationship, wherein both will share and interact to discuss about the news. The news should not just stop when the media presented it, but the other concern should also reserve the feedback from the public. An author about journalism said, “Audiences are not blank sheets of paper on which media messages can be written; members of an audience will have prior attitudes and beliefs which will determine how effective media messages are.” (Abercrombie 1996, p.140)

This is one thing that media organizations should always consider. These words suggest that audience needs to be interactive when it comes to media presentations. The ways by which media treats the audience is a communication process and audiences participation is vital (Hart, A., 1991). It only appears that media organisation can not be independent from the public. Without the public as the market there is no essence of running or producing any story as a news or entertainment item. That is why audience should be of major concern; however often it is disregarded because of the concentration on media ownership. As a result the company, the broadcaster might be influenced by its owner, whereas the viewer should be its top priority.

Critics raise the argument that concentration of media ownership and the dominance of media conglomerate lead to the doubt of the objectivity and truthfulness of the information that will reach the audiences or readers. Media ownership matters since media companies may tend to protect their own interest or the interest of their advertisers (Wikipedia, n.d.). This will hinder them to reveal the real issues to the public. They may not produce a story about a particular case or opinion that in one way or the other can be beneficial for the public to know.

Everyday we are in the process of searching to find the sense of the world. To see is a process of observing and recognizing the world around us. To look is actively make meaning of that world. The images we encounter every day span the social realms of popular culture, advertising, information exchange, commerce, criminal justice and art. They are produced and experienced through a variety of media. One could argue that all of these media are imaging technologies (Sturken, 2001). And it is basically through this means (media) that we are actually able to view the world around us and make judgments about it.

The news press and media have a variety of functions to fulfill: from investigating domestic, corporate, and political scandals to relaying news about significant events elsewhere in the world. Of course, many journalists and media institutions may presume that ethics can bear no significant relation to the realization of these goals. But it does not follow that the demand that journalists and the news media should be ethical is misplaced. Indeed, on face value at least, we have good reason to believe that such an interpretation must be wrong.

Important aspects of media systems are assumed to be “natural” or in some cases are so familiar that they are not perceived at all. Because it denaturalizes a media system that is so familiar to us, comparison forces us to conceptualize more clearly what aspects of that system actually require explanation (Hallin, 2004).

What is the point of news and investigative journalism? Presumably it is to investigate and report on significant events in the world, including the exposure of corrupt, deceitful, illegal goings on by corporations, politicians, organized crime, or the rich and famous. It is by virtue of this function that we tend to talk of the news media in terms of the fourth estate: as constituting a public check and balance on those in positions of power and influence in our society. Given that the news media’s function, at least in part, is to seek out and expose wrongdoing as such, it better not be guilty of the very same sins it exposes in others if it is to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. That is, journalists have a moral duty to report faithfully and expose wrongdoing. Hence journalists and the news media must themselves consistently aim to respect the very same ethical standards of behavior that they demand others should adhere to or strive for.

When we enter the area of journalistic ethics, we pass into a swampland of philosophical speculation where eerie mists of judgment hang low over a boggy terrain. In spite of the unsure footing and poor visibility, there is no reason not to make the journey. In fact, it is a journey well worth taking for it brings the matter of morality to the individual person; it forces the journalist, among others, to consider his basic principles, his values, and his obligations to himself and to others. It forces him to decide for himself how he will live, how he will conduct his journalistic affairs, how he will think of himself and of others, how he will think, act and react to the people and issues surrounding him. Tuchman (1978) maintains news is constructed social reality, and audience perception of news is dependent on how journalists frame it. It follows that Americans’ understanding of other cultures and countries is significantly influenced by the way international news is framed.

The journalist collects facts, reports them objectively, and the newspaper presents them fairly and without bias in language which is designed to be unambiguous, understating and agreeable to readers. This professional ethos is common to all the news media, press, radio and television and it is certainly what the journalist claims in any general statement on the matter (Fowler, 1991).

A concern for ethics is important. The journalist who has this concern obviously cares about good or right actions; such a concern indicates an attitude which embraces both freedom and personal responsibility. It indicates also that the journalist desires to discover norms for action that will serve him as guiding principles or specific directives in achieving the kind of life which he thinks most meaningful and satisfying. Ethical concern is important also for it forces the journalist to commitment, to thoughtful decision among alternatives.

The desire to search out and present the truth does, indeed, seem to be one of the moral foundations of libertarian journalism. Most journalists think of truth as they do of objectivity — as temporary, splintered and incomplete. Accuracy, fairness, balance, comprehensiveness are generally related to objectivity by the journalist — and, therefore, have to do with truth. Naturally, the main problem with such truth is that it must be considered in context with editorial determinism.

Often, the news is presented in such way on the broadcast television that it becomes hard to believe in the independency of the channel. And taking into consideration the number of people watching the particular channel at the same time, we might conclude that views of most people are affected by such misinterpretations and wrong judgments that serve for the benefit of the broadcaster’s owners and might affect the whole country’s viewpoints and democracy of the country as a result. Stuart Allan in his book “News Culture” discussed the role of the media in great detail. The book is describes the principles of the journalism, including its audience and effects. It starts with a historical reflection on the rise of “objective” reporting in journalism. It also discovers the way news is developed and edited before the viewer gets a chance to see it. Let’s examine the structure and ownership of one of the major broadcasters on TV based on Allan’s discussion on journalism. We will take a closer look at the root of the problem, that journalism might affect the democracy.

According to Wikipedia, “In the United Kingdom the term ‘public service broadcasting’ refers to broadcasting that is for the public benefit rather than for purely commercial concerns.” The television and radio broadcasters also need to fulfill certain requirements, laid down by the communications regulator Ofcom, as part of their licence to broadcast. All the television and radio stations of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) have a public service remit. However, even the private companies like Channel 3, GMTV, Channel Four and Five are obliged to give public service programming as they are mostly viewed freely anywhere in the UK.

The BBC is a non-commercial and the most well-known public service broadcaster (PSB) in the UK. However, it was with the launch of the first commercial broadcaster ITV in 1955, which made the government formulate certain rules, wherein, the broadcasters were obliged to show a certain level of local news coverage, arts and religious programming.

The Ofcom in its report assessed the effectiveness of the designated public service broadcasters ­­­­­­­­- BBC, Channel 3, Channel 4, Five, S4C and Teletext – in delivering the public service purposes set out in the Communications Act in the UK. The report also analysed “how the quality of public service broadcasting can be maintained and strengthened in future.” Ofcom set a new framework for PSB that would be adaptable to “respond to and reflect changing technologies, markets, and the needs of citizens and consumers.”

The Ofcom in its report recommended the formation of a new Public Service Publisher, which would be flexible enough to adapt to the constant changes witnessed in the media industry in the contemporary world. The report also addressed the issue of the governance of the BBC. It stated that the governance framework should “support a well-run, strong, independent and properly funded BBC which operates consistently in the public interest.” However, Ofcom also demanded to have a greater clarity between the functions of internal governance, the accountability of publicly funded bodies in broadcasting and of regulation for the broadcasting sector as a whole.

The BBC, developed under the first Director General of the channel Lord Reith, had the mission to inform, educate and entertain. Although, being funded by the government, the BBC tried to remain independent from the government’s interference, which has made the BBC a respected organization throughout the world. However, the danger of being influenced by the government and the upper-class society always lurks on an organization funded by the government. Further, BBC has also earned the reputation for ‘cultural paternalism’ and being ‘popular with the upper-middle-class viewers’. This is also being attacked by the left-wing critics of the media time and again. The first challenges to the BBC’s monopoly came in the early 1950s in a report by Ronald Coase, an economist with the London School of Economics and Political Science. Coase in his paper “The British Broadcasting Corporation. A Study in Monopoly” (Coase 1950) identified two clusters of arguments supporting the BBC’s monopoly i.e. arguments from technical and efficiency considerations and arguments from programming considerations.

Later, former Prime Minister Thatcher, set up the Peacock Commission to investigate the methods of financing the BBC. The committee compiled a list of elements – it received from the Broadcasting Research Unit – which make up public service broadcasting. The list encompassed of the following: geographic universality, catering for all interests and tastes, catering for minorities, concern for national identity and community, detachment from vested interests and government, one broadcasting system to be directly funded by the corpus of users, competition for good programming rather than for numbers and guidelines to liberate programme makers and not restrict them.

The Peacock Committee advocated restructuring the UK broadcasting system through a “sophisticated market system based on consumer sovereignty” Such a system would, the Committee argued enlarge “both the freedom of choice of the consumer and the opportunities available to programme makers to offer alternative wares to the public”. Peacock’s objectives were thus both political and ideological and also improvement of the sector’s efficiency. On the recommendation given by the committee, Thatcher “resolved to submit the BBC to the rigours of the marketplace.”

However, with the growth in technological innovations in broadcasting segment, the role of government regulation was started getting questioned. Even the 1996 Broadcasting Act raised the issue of government’s regulatory role. Some analysts also argued that as the press is not regulated by any central regulatory authority, then why should the broadcasters be regulated by the government.

Further, the need for lesser government interference was also needed due to the increase in competition amongst broadcasters for a share of a finite fund of advertising support. Some also believed that quality television can be sustained in the free market as it happened in the case of Discovery Channel. However, the issue with BBC is funding and with the government, the question of access. At present, BBC1 has an audience share of 30% to 40%, which gives the government a reason to use the network to spread information, education and culture to the poorer sectors of the population.

The regulation of news and current affairs programs might not be possible in future with the development of digital television. However, in today’s scenario, the broadcasting spectrum is a scarce resource and therefore, corporation vying to enter the industry are willingly accepting the imposition of some public service responsibility in return for access to a scarce resource. But, this condition might soon change, when the broadcasting industry in the UK turns towards digital technology.

However, in such a circumstance, the private players would monopolies the market and would not look after the interest of the masses. These corporations would only broadcast commercially viable programs that would earn them greater revenues. Various analysts have cited the influence of Rupert Murdoch on the media in Europe. They believe that to give a proper answer to such profit-making organizations, the government should encourage PSB and give them more freedom to produce not just socially-relevant programs but also commercially viable one as well. Even Irish Trade Union chief, David Beggs has expressed his concern at the development of media monopolies in Ireland and the UK. He said that “Media diversity is of concern not just to journalists because media ownership has a direct impact on democracy, he said. Media organisations, he said, are interested in accumulating not just profits but power, and media ownership means political power.”

Most of the contemporary discussions on the broadcasting policy in the UK now focus closely on the role and purpose of the BBC. This debate has intensified due to the fact that “the BBC’s Royal Charter comes to the end of its customary ten year period in 2006 and the terms on which the Charter is to be renewed are currently a matter of intense public debate.” However, the BBC time and again has tried to re-affirm its position and independence. Some of the major contemporary landmarks in the re-assessment of the BBC’s role and performance are: the BBC’s own “renewal” manifesto “Building Public Value” (BBC 2004), Ofcom’s Review of Public Service Television Broadcasting (Ofcom 2005), the Report of the Burns Committee on BBC Charter Review (DCMS 2004 and 2005),  the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport Report “A Public BBC” (House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport 2004), and the Government’s Green Paper “Review of the BBC’s Royal Charter: A Strong BBC, Independent of Government” (DCMS 2005a).

During the last few years, the BBC has also incorporated many changes to keep in pace with the changing time. For instance, it has shown greater transparency in undertaking its activities like requiring independent evaluation of proposals for new services and establishing a network of public advisory bodies. The BBC has also given greater accountability to the public through a reformed complaints procedure and a tri-annual survey of licence fee payers. It also started the measurement of performance against a ‘public value’ criterion. The organisation also increased the proportion of television programmes sourced from independent producers to about 40%.

Recently, the BBC has also established a new governance arrangement with a stricter separation between management and Governors and a mandate of the Governors to evaluate stringently and independently management proposals and performance. It has also strengthened the Governors’ secretariat.

Although, the BBC has undergone changes since its inception, there are a few concern areas that are still being discussed in the media circuit. Some of them are the issues of accountability, governance and independence, pluralism and competition and definition of PSB’s role and remit. Both the BBC and the government are trying to resolve these issues. On the issue of accountability, the BBC in “Building Public Value” and the Government, in the Green Paper, both proposed improvements in the BBC’s accountability to its viewers and listeners. Similarly, Ofcom also proposed to make BBC more clearly and straightforwardly accountable to Ofcom and to harmonise the BBC’s inter-institutional accountability arrangements.

On the issue of governance, the BBC and the government have diverging views as a debate is raging whether the self-regulation of the BBC should be undertaken by a BBC Trust or by the BBC Governors or by Ofcom or by a new public service broadcasting regulator. However, on the issue of pluralism, analysts agree that the programme supply by independent producers should increase. Analysts also stress on the need to define the term PSB, which might guide policy makers in allocation of resources and assessing performance.

Deliberation of news and information is essential in shaping public opinion that is productive for the society. Therefore the main concern is public interest and not just the interest of the company. Too much commercialization should be set aside as to provide news that supports and benefit the public. Rokeach & Cantor (1986, p. 200) said: “The audience, regardless of the medium, has not been historically passive or inconsequential in shaping its participation in, or the content of, popular media.”

So it is really an issue once the concentration of media ownership affects proper and responsible deliberation of the news. Journalistic views, information and diversity of opinion is of great importance and voicing it for the public should not be in any way be suppressed by media companies or conglomerates. It is a two way relationship that should exist between media organizations and market and this should uphold in bringing the real content of the news.

References:

Allan Stuart, News Culture (Issues in Cultural and Media Studies)

Abercrombie, N., 1996. Television and Society. Cambridge: Polity Press

Hart, A.,1991. Understanding the Media: A Practical Guide. London: Routledge

Sturken, Marita och Cartwright, Lisa (2001): Practices of looking – an introduction to visual-culture, Oxford University Press, p 12-13.

Hallin, Mancini, 2004, Comparing Media Systems, Cambridge university press, p2.

Tuchman, Gaye (1978): Making News: a Study in the Construction of Reality, New York; Free Press

Fowler, Roger (1991) Language in the News, London; Routhledge, p1.

Rokeach, S.& Cantor, M., 1986. Media, Audience, and Social Structure. Sage Publications.

Collins, Richard, 16-7-2006, Taking the high ground: the struggle for ideas in UK broadcasting policy, [online], http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/staff/rcollins/taking_high_ground.pdf

BBC Charter Review, 16-7-2006, BBC Governance: Preferred Model – BBC Board plus Public Service Broadcasting Commission, [online],

http://www.bbccharterreview.org.uk/pdf_documents/050123a_Governance.pdf

Wikipedia.org, 16-7-2006, Public Service Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, [online], http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_service_broadcasting_in_the_United_Kingdom

Cultsock.ndirect.co.uk, 16-7-2006, Mass media: broadcasting systems, [online], http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/media/peacock.html

Currie, David, 16-7-2006, Ofcom review of public service television broadcasting – Phase 3 – Competition for quality, [online], http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/psb3/

Culture.gov.uk, 16-7-2006, BBC and other public service broadcasting, [online], http://www.culture.gov.uk/broadcasting/bbc.htm