But yesterday the BBC appeared to suddenly change its position. In a statement it admitted it had handled the matter badly and said: “We have offered David Lowe the opportunity to continue presenting his ‘Singers and Swingers’ show, and we would be happy to have him back on air. We accept that the conversation with David about the mistake could have been handled better, but if he chooses not to continue then we would like to thank him for his time presenting on the station and wish him well for the future.”
Thus, we could say to the latest verbal offender, it is not because we’ve glimpsed the hem of your bigotries that we are incensed by you – indeed we possess identical undergarments – but because you think we love it when you tease us with the prospect of your showing more. It’s not that you’re a bit of a racist so much as that you’re a bit of a whore.
As for Clarkson, it has always seemed to me that his real crime is to be interested in cars. Not just interested in cars in the way he is, as though they are a definitive badge of masculinity, as though the idea of a man unexcited by cars is inconceivable, as though the din and roar of them must be of universal male appeal, as though driving a car up a slope – sorry, up a hill – represents the ne plus ultra of human achievement, but just interested in cars full stop.
The Clarkson row is about something much bigger than his right to offend, which is why we need our public institutions to get with the programme. The inane discussion about whether Clarkson is personally racist is a side-show. He works within an institution that will clearly permit racist crap as laddish banter. Never mind the N-word; “slope” was vile. Oh, he didn’t know that it was nasty? Look, he’s my age. I wager he has seen as many Vietnam war movies as I have.
In a fascinating extract from a forthcoming book called Is the BBC in Crisis? Professor Justin Lewis details some of the ways in which the BBC fails in its mission to be impartial.
(I’ve long believed that the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ should be towards the truth, so that when the facts have a left-wing or liberal bias, there should be no need to wheel out the likes of Nigel Lawson to rebut the findings of 97% of climate scientists.)
Anyway, regular listeners/viewers will hardly be surprised to learn that the BBC has a right-wing bias – especially under a Conservative government, because of worries about the Conservatives (who are in power but have no mandate) eviscerating the BBC through the licence fee settlement.
Recent evidence from the most recent BBC Trust commissioned impartiality review appears to support this view. The research, by my colleagues at Cardiff, compared BBC news when Labour were in power (in 2007) with coverage under a Conservative-led coalition (in 2012). The study found, by a series of measures, that ‘Conservative dominance in 2012’ of BBC news was ‘by a notably larger margin than Labour dominance in 2007’ (Wahl-Jorgenson et al 2013: 5).
Beyond the main parties, the study suggested that the BBC is more likely than either ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right, such US Republicans or Ukip, and less likely to use sources from the left, such as US Democrats and the Green Party. But it is the imbalance between Conservative and Labour – by margins of three to one for party leaders and four to one for ministers/shadow ministers – that was most striking, especially since the research indicated that this rightward shift was a strictly BBC phenomenon.
The other interesting aspect of the article is its focus on the way the news agenda (news values) of the BBC also has a right-wing bias. They spend far more time discussing issues of interest to the right (e.g. immigration) than they do discussing issues of interest to the left (e.g. inequality).
I noticed during Party Conference season that the BBC spent much more time reporting the UKiP conference than they did the Green Party one, which was happening at the same time. What’s tragic about this, of course, is that ‘blind testing’ tends to show that twice as many people support Green policies as they do the foam-flecked ravings of the UKiPers. In other words, the BBC should be spending twice as much time covering issues if interest to Greens (climate change, inequality) than they do dealing with UKiP issues (immigration, immigration).
Heard a discussion about this on Radio 4’s The Media Show this week (download the podcast). It seems outrageous to me that the BBC are “dramatising” factual programmes for “narrative or emotional impact” – without shame. That they were almost certainly doing this kind of thing in the past, goes without saying. What gets to me here is the corrupt morality. In the past, they’d have tried to keep this kind of thing secret, because of shame and embarrassment. Now they don’t appear to know what shame and embarrassment is.
It’s cheap TV, it’s dumbed-down TV, and it’s TV aimed not at the core audience for wildlife documentaries, but at that other, nebulous, “broader” audience, of people who aren’t interested in wildlife documentaries – unless they have drama, narrative, and emotional impact. Pandering, in other words. And you know what? I bet they still won’t watch.
Viewers are warned in advance, though, that some sequences have been dramatised for narrative or emotional impact, with some animals filmed in captivity or in the studio. Publicity material relating to the series further explains that, in order to present the perspective of the tiny protagonist in each scene, \”stages\” or tableaux have sometimes been digitally created around the genuine footage of the animals and insects.
This attempt at being transparent about the process was clearly intended to pre-empt a repeat of controversies about \”faked\” wildlife footage in previous series, even including some by Attenborough. However, admitting to heavy drinking does not prevent people concluding that you are an alcoholic and the controversy has simply happened anyway, with the spin that the BBC has \”confessed\” to fakery.
This is fascinating. Actress/Producer Geena Davis has crunched some numbers about depictions of women in family-rated films (i.e. the kind of movies that young kids see), and discovered some shocking stats. This story relates to the representation topic, of course, but also to the media effects debate, because the underlying argument is that exposure to these kind of representation over time has a long-term effect on values and attitudes. This latter idea, by the way, has a name: Gerbner Cultivation theory.
The basics are that for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. Throw in the hypersexualization of many of the female characters that are there, even in G-rated movies, and their lack of occupations and aspirations and you get the picture.
It wasn’t the lack of female lead characters that first struck me about family films. We all know that’s been the case for ages, and we love when movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen hit it big. It was the dearth of female characters in the worlds of the stories — the fact that the fictitious villages and jungles and kingdoms and interplanetary civilizations were nearly bereft of female population — that hit me over the head.
Here’s a good one, an article in the New Statesman that links the “trolling” treatment of video games on mainstream news (although Channel 4 would like to think its news isn’t all that mainstream) with the representation (in both senses of the word) of people under 30 in the traditional media.
To be fair, Jon Snow was clearly on a bit of a mission to troll Brooker, but the fact that they could even have this kind of ‘wacky’ segment on a prime time news show speaks volumes; not just about gaming but the huge cultural disconnect that’s growing between the virtual world of traditional media and the real life Britain it claims to represent.
At 42 years old, Charlie Brooker is settling into his middle age, but in the world of current affairs, where few male presenters under 50 occupy top jobs, he’s basically a small angry child. At 66, Jon Snow is far closer to the likes of John Humphrys (70) and James Naughtie (62) at the Todayprogramme, Jeremy Paxman (63) at Newsnight, Andrew Neil (64) at This Week and the Sunday Politics, or Question Time‘s 75-year old David Dimbleby. The few female presenters on these shows are allowed – compelled even – to be under 50, but current affairs output remains dominated by 50- to 70-something white men.
There’s another good line further down. Newspapers may not be dying, writes Martin Robbins (they are, though, Martin), but their readers are getting on a bit:
many of their readers are only a sharp winter or two short of their final edition. Research in the US by Pew shows that the bulk of newspaper readers are in that same over-50s bracket. The average age of a Daily Mailprint edition reader is creeping toward 60.
That last link takes us to journalism.co.uk, which reveals:
The Mail Online and the Daily Mail have two different demographics. The average age of a Mail Online browser is 32, while the average age of a reader of the print edition is 58, he said.
So the next generation of curtain twitchers are coming along, but they’re not going to be reading the print edition.
The New Statesman one is an interesting article, but we have to remember a couple of things. First, anyone working in print media (which the New Statesman currently still is) can hardly dare to be objective about the future of print. Secondly, Charlie Booker, as the article acknowledges is hardly a young whippersnapper. He’s even older than Ryan Giggs, and is nevertheless probably a fair representative of the average gamer. As he reveals in this Guardian interview, he regularly drops £50 on games of which he then only completes 25%. How many of the 16-25 demographic can afford to buy that many £50 games and then not even bother to play them? As this article from Wired points out,
In a blow to stereotype fans everywhere, a study of 2,000 gamers has shown that rather than being a 12-year-old male shut-in the average gamer is actually 35 years old with a job, a family and a habit of taking four weeks to finish a title.
All of which is not to say that the traditional media doesn’t misrepresent games and gaming, but they do so in the same way that they’ve always attacked rival media platforms. The reports of “panic” following Orson Welles’ famous 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds were cooked up by newspapers who wanted to exaggerate the threat of the new medium of radio. In the movies, television is always portrayed as either a threat or a brainsucking box of dumb. In today’s beleaguered newspaper industry, the “threats” come from Facebook, Twitter, games, the BBC, and anything else that might potentially distract or occupy their former readers.
So Jon Snow disses games because if people are playing games, they’re not sitting on the couch watching the news. That said, there are too many over-50 males in news and current affairs; it is more or less compulsory for women to be under 40 and attractive. Frankly, Dimbleby at 75 should probably retire and let someone else have a chance at a job. The biggest problem in the media industry is that (at the entry level) people are expected to work for peanuts or nothing and at the top end, nobody ever retires. Unless they’re arrested by the Yewtree cops.
- How Jon Snow dissing the PlayStation 4 explains why no one cares you can’t afford a house (newstatesman.com)
- Charlie Brooker interview: Why are there no computer game TV shows? (digitalspy.co.uk)
The BBC’s controller of drama commissioning, Ben Stephenson, said Saturday\’s episode, the culmination of a week of programmes around the Saturday teatime series, was a celebration not just of Doctor Who but of the BBC itself.
The corporation has long been targeted by the Tory party whose chairman, Grant Shapps, warned last month that it could lose some of the licence fee, the first shots in a debate about the future of the BBC ahead of the renewal of its royal charter in 2016.
But it has also come under fire from one of its most respected presenters, Question Time host David Dimbleby, who this week suggested it was \”too powerful for its own good\”, echoing concerns of its former executive and Olympics supremo Roger Mosey, who earlier this month questioned the need for BBC3 and BBC4.
This week, University College London student union (UCLU) took the unusual step of banning a single song, Robin Thicke\’s Blurred Lines. It joins around 20 other UK student unions to do so. This is the latest development in the story of how the biggest song of the year became the most controversial of the decade: an unprecedented achievement, though not one that fills Thicke with pride.