By common consent the media is in serious trouble. As TCW co-editor Kathy Gyngell reported in TCW last month, Nigel Farage, with the considerable help of David Keighley, also of this parish, brutally condemned the media as out of touch at the international News Xchange conference in Copenhagen.
TCW readers are well aware from Kathy’s and David’s writings the extent of BBC bias, but an equally pressing concern is the cultural boxing-in of commercial mainstream media by the wider metropolitan liberal culture. That culture, rather than coming to terms with new realities engages in outright denial, terrifyingly rejecting any views or facts it doesn’t like as simply being “post-truth”. Brexit: post-truth! Trump: post-truth! And so on.
Fear of alienating the intransigent but highly affluent liberal segments that drive so much of advertising spending has created a catastrophic market failure that seems particularly acute in the broadcasting sector. Both here and in the United States, most commercial networks are far more politically correct in their views and content than the general population and jump instantly on any perceived heresy – just look at how Sky defenestrated Eric Bristow after his admittedly tasteless remarks. Recently, the same station removed the respected broadcaster Mark Longhurst in mysterious circumstances after he spectacularly fell out with the left-wing pundit Owen Jones live on air.
We conservatives should not feel too smug: the alternative right-wing internet-based media is no better. Often paranoid, bombastic and self-pitying, it crucially lacks resources for fact checking, giving rise to allegations of being nothing more than the purveyors of “fake news” by threatened established players. A society where liberals and conservatives can’t even agree on basic reality does not constitute a nation, and there is no evidence that economic trends will do anything but exacerbate the situation.
At least in Britain, perhaps a radically reformed public service broadcasting sector may provide part of the answer. As it stands most of its content serves no purpose: in terms of both quality and liberal bias, it is largely indistinguishable from commercial offerings.
Instead let’s imagine a world where the commissioning of a substantial fraction of BBC or Channel 4 news features and documentaries was democratised via the internet. Independent investigative journalists could publicly bid for a fraction of the available budget to make innovative feature programmes on subjects of their choice. The general public could then vote for which programmes they would like to have made. The successful bidder would then receive the expertise and personnel from either the BBC or Channel 4 to them realise their idea. The voting public would then provide feedback on the results, and that feedback would be publicly visible when the same person or people made future bids.
A similar system could be used for the commissioning of programmes in other areas, particularly drama: instead of commissioning whole series, the public is asked to vote on pilots, or even pre-pilot ideas, and determine which are then made. In terms of the culture wars, the democratisation of public sector drama is probably much more important than that of documentaries or news, as it is through broadcast drama that the Left has been highly successful in insidiously spreading left wing ideas and slowly but surely changing our perceptions. Both systems could be extended to include an element of crowdsourcing, where content is created using a mix of privately raised and public funds.
Of course this system would still be very far indeed from being perfect: anyone can instantly see ways it could be gamed. Even so, it could partially prise open the sealed cultural world of public broadcasting and help rebuild some level of public trust and engagement with the media. At long last, publicly owned broadcasting would be attempting to fulfil its primary role, by offering what the market cannot.
In the spirit of democratic engagement on media content, please leave your comments and suggestions on these ideas below.
(Image: Gareth Milner)