On the fourth of July 2016, media diversified issued an open letter to the BBC entitled “Open Letter: The BBC must stop uncritical coverage of fascists”, which implored the BBC not to let fascist statements and opinions go unchallenged on its news network. The BBC’s response was perplexing. The BBC stated that they have a “duty to reflect these views and allow our audience to make up their own minds”.
Either the BBC misunderstood what was being communicated, that is, they understood the petition to be against the screening of all fascist views (which the letter clearly did not lobby for) - or the BBC did not feel the need to acknowledge that its coverage of fascist discourse could be handled better. Either way, they did not take the petition seriously enough to acknowledge its core message.
The open letter from Media Diversified merely petitions the BBC to apply the same critical standards that it does to other forms of extremism such as Islamic extremism. The BBC often laments the radicalisation of young and/or impressionable or vulnerable people due to their lack of critical insight into extremist Islamist propaganda, and hence seeks to challenge it at every turn. Rightly, it does not regard itself as neutral in the face of the Islamist extremist threat.
It is therefore difficult to understand why the BBC would adopt a standard of neutrality when right wing fascist views are being aired on their media platform (as was the case in the BBC’s letter of reply). Whether reporting is concerned with Brexit, or any other major political discussion, the viewer expects to be presented with a diversity of opinion on values and beliefs and ideas about society and the world we live in, so that they can contextualise the information that is being relayed to them. That is what helping viewers “make up their minds” should be about; not merely adopting a neutral position and abdicating the great responsibility that comes with being a heavyweight global media platform such as the BBC.
The BBC, precisely due to the vast reach and formidable power it possesses, and the reputation it enjoys, cannot pretend that it can adopt a neutral stance. It is a ludicrous position because; purely by virtue of the global power that the BBC enjoys, it elevates whoever is on it, and whatever they are discussing, onto the global stage, and acts – in many ways – as an authority device for filtering opinions and political ideas (e.g. such as Brexit).
If all the viewer desires is unfiltered opinion they can just as well get that from social media platforms themselves. They do not need the BBC to merely regurgitate unchallenged the opinions and ideas that they encounter in social media and societal spaces; what they need is a diverse critique of them so that they can make an informed judgement for themselves.
By adopting a stance of neutrality towards right wing fascist views, and not actively challenging them, the BBC is – by default – aiding in legitimising and manufacturing consent for these views. It is not performing its duty as a public broadcaster; as it is not upholding the same standard for all extremist views that it encounters as a global news and media platform. Neutrality, in this case, is an abdication of journalistic ethics and standards. It’s not difficult to venture a guess why some extremisms would be regarded as ‘more equal’ than others at the BBC, but that is a topic for another discussion.
In this light the BBC’s letter of response can only be regarded as facetious at best; it reads as though it was written by a PR or “communications” unit, and not a serious and considered response by a group of senior journalists. This is corporate media at its worst, pandering to the worst sentiments within society merely to boost ratings. Jerry Springer can get away with remaining neutral and allowing the circus to take centre stage on his reality television show, but it is a sad day when the BBC casts itself in the same light and forsakes journalistic standards for ratings, or is reluctant to challenge right wing fascist views and ideology with the candour that the subject deserves.
Corporate media often does not exercise the care and caution that is commensurate with its power. In the chase for ratings, and advertising revenue, keeping viewers glued to the screen has become the main driving force behind the media’s content, presentation and curation. Sensationalism sells. Titillation, provocation and awe entertains well. They keep an audience riveted, hanging off every word. Indeed, we may expect this level of engagement when watching entertainment news, or a movie on the big screen.
When it comes to the news and current events of the world, however, the integrity of the news is sacrosanct; journalistic principles and ethics must be upheld. Where there are slip-ups, they should be acknowledged; where there is room for improvement, advice should be eagerly received and carefully mulled over, and when it is determined that a significant correction is required in order to improve the news and empower the audience it should be welcomed, and not fobbed off with a cursory dismissal.
It is no wonder that so very many people – especially among the youth – have grown disillusioned, not just with political establishments, but the media establishment that plays along with its dangerous game. Perhaps this, more than anything, is a sign of things to come.
Long live citizen journalism!