Archive for June, 2007

The Unbearable Surplus of Space

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Is it any coincidence that the BBC’s definition of impartiality is shifting from a seesaw to a wagon wheel at the same time as the space to publish has shifted from finite to infinite?

That there is now the technical opportunity to air many different views must have been as important in changing the BBC’s philosophy as political or cultural factors.The author, John Bridcut, acknowledges this implicitly in an aside. ‘Impartiality’ he writes, ‘today requires a greater subtlety in covering and counterpointing the varied shades of opinion – and arguably always should have done’ (my italics).

But promoting complexity over simplicity brings its own dangers. In a world with no edges and no limits it’s very hard to find your way.

Take the BBC’s Have Your Say. You could argue this is a perfect illustration of diversity – hundreds if not thousands of voices being aired. Debates on everything from why the Afghan conflict is deteriorating (1,994 comments and counting) to the way forward for the EU Treaty (1,556 and rising).

But it’s just noise. It’s impossible to follow. It lacks narrative and relevance. If you don’t believe me take a look at a debate which began on Monday about whether the US and EU were right to renew ties with the Palestinians. In just over 24 hours there were over a thousand comments (closed at 1,716 comments, only 319 of which were published). Many begin ‘I think’ or ‘It’s interesting that’ or ‘In fact’.. But who is ‘I’? Interesting to who? Whose facts? Try reading them and you quickly drown in a morass of interruptions, interjections, digressions, and insults. These might as well be people shouting in outer space, whose words disappear almost as soon as they’re spoken.

Have your Say is performing a service, but not as a forum for discussion. It’s letting people vent. It’s no good if you want to listen.

We the audience need filters, channels, signposts, editorial judgement. We want people to tell the story, make it relevant, emphasise the important bits, explain why this person is worth listening to, challenge that person to back up what they’re saying.

The impartiality report talks about ‘twelve bottles on the alchemists shelf’; ‘Accuracy, Balance, Context, Distance, Evenhandedness, Fairness, Objectivity, Open Mindedness, Rigour, Self-Awareness, Transparency and Truth’. Missing from this divine dozen are relevance and story-telling. We’re told that ‘impartiality can no longer be served from on high, along with dollops of nectar and ambrosia’. But is editorial judgment so elitist? Aren’t we prepared to allow that a journalist expert on Russian politics is better able to decide how to tell a story about President Putin and pick out what is relevant than you or me?

The world is complex, but within our newfound surplus of media space, the BBC must be careful not to lose its editorial judgment.

Written by Martin Moore

June 22nd, 2007 at 12:40 pm

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Too little too late for Channel 4?

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Has Channel 4 already lost the privatisation argument? In the last week both OFCOM and Tessa Jowell have made ominous warnings about how the channel must keep to its public service remit and how it will be kept under ‘close scrutiny’.
In between the two warnings, in a bid to stave of the government auditors, Andy Duncan announced a review of the channel to ‘set out a bold new vision’. It could well be too little too late.
2006 has been pretty torrid for Channel 4. Its failure to react well to specific crises, like Celebrity Big Brother, combined with its inability to respond coherently to broader scepticism about its purpose have significantly damaged the channel’s standing. The bad press has been frequent and sustained enough to convince some people the channel has lost its public service way and should be privatised.
This would be a mistake. We desperately need to support and sustain public service media content, and there is not nearly as much intellectual capital in the Public Service Publisher concept as there is in Channel 4.
That said, the channel has to make a serious reinvestment in its intellectual capital – and then in the content that follows from that investment – if it is to reverse the growing conviction that it could do the same as it’s doing now as a private company.

Written by Martin Moore

June 21st, 2007 at 1:16 pm

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Cameron's media profile in need of a polish

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Today’s Telegraph tells its readers to ‘Post your own obituary online’.
Going by this morning’s Editorial Intelligence debate, ‘Can Cameron Crack it’, the Tory leader should get online quick and write a political obituary for the Conservatives.
Simon Heffer, Peter Kellner and Nick Clegg lined up to tell the audience why Cameron won’t (and can’t) win the next election. Shami Chakrabati didn’t offer a prediction of electoral success / failure but was at a loss to know what Cameron really believed. Only Ed Vaizey defended his chief (as one would hope from an Oxfordshire Tory MP).
More damning even than the panel was Peter Hitchens, whose question from the audience included the caustic comment that the Conservatives were now a ‘ghost brand’ like ‘woodbine cigarettes and the Daily Express’, all of which would soon fade into our collective memory.
Should we care what the so-called ‘commentariat’ have to say about Cameron’s chances? Only if we think the media has a serious impact on people’s political views.
But given Cameron’s recent appointment of Andy Coulson as the Conservative’s director of communications it’s clear he believes it does.
On this showing he’s going to have a job convincing even traditionally conservative titles like the Mail and the Telegraph.

Written by Martin Moore

June 20th, 2007 at 11:58 am

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Reporting from Gaza & the West Bank

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Following last week’s coup in Gaza, and to mark Alan Johnston’s 100 days in captivity, this week’s discussion on the Media Standards Trust website is about the difficulties of reporting from Gaza and the West Bank – not just the dangers and physical constraints, but navigating the minefield of comment and criticism.
Is it possible to report fairly and impartially about Gaza and the West Bank?‘ is this week’s debate at www.mediastandardstrust.org

Written by Martin Moore

June 20th, 2007 at 9:57 am

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