Thursday, January 29, 2015

Opinion formed

OK, three posts coming on the BBCs "Future of News" report, nicely chunked up here by the NiemanLab into three themes - doing much more for audiences round the world, improving local and regional news services, and reaching more under-50s.

We're coming up to the first anniversary of licence fee-funding of the BBC's World Service - and still struggle for an essential rationale for the change. The key sentence in the report "If the UK wants the BBC to remain valued and respected, an ambassador of Britain’s values and an agent of soft power in the world, then the BBC is going to have to commit to growing the World Service and the government will also have to recognise this".

We ought to remember that the UK never got to vote on this deal, cooked up over a weekend by Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt. There is no mechanism for licence-payers to change the situation, no opt-out, and The Trust has not sought their views directly. Mr Harding can not seriously be expecting manifesto commitments from parties on this.

The platitude that is the BBC "purpose" in this area (Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK:The BBC will build a global understanding of international issues and broaden UK audiences' experience of different cultures) is hardly a mandate to become  "an agent of soft power".

Nonetheless, our liberal consciences would all be clearer if we didn't leave international news to Fox and Russia Today. Sadly, the funding model for the BBC's international news services is an uncomfortable mix of licence-fee and advertising. So, the "ambassador of Britain's values" finds room in its tv schedules for more and more travel shows and business bulletins, which attract advertisers. In growing "home pages" for, most recently in Australia, the opposition is not Russia Today, but The Guardian. The drive to build up BBC World in the States is not to fill some democratic deficit, but to make money. Potential advertisers with BBC World in India are advised that "52% of the audience are Business Decision-makers", with no mention of the proportion that might be disenfranchised.

Now the hint in the Harding report is that global audiences might be asked to help fund expansion (telethons with Lyse Doucet ?) and that the hunt is on for more commercial partnerships. At the moment, the only success criterion I can spot is the Lord Hall target of 500m users around the world by 2020.

The aspiration has to be expressed more clearly. I would like to see the BBC offer a core multimedia news service, say, in 20 of the world's biggest languages, with an ambition to have at least 20 other languages covered (by agreement with an outside advisory body, which could feature appropriate NGOs) by 2025. This core news service has to be clearly defined and transparently costed, and funded (again by 2025) by a publicly-specified percentage of the licence fee, plus partnerships, advertising etc. If the Government wishes to add support, it could do it at arms length through the British Council, a defined agent of soft power, who could be treated like any commercial partner. Otherwise the Government shouldn't come near decisions about where and when to broadcast.

And let's hope we measure the success of this global news service by reach across classes, rather than "opinion formers".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Other people who read this.......