How the BBC leans to the right

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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).

Read more: Extract: ‘How the BBC leans to the right’ – Opinion – Media – The Independent.

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Staged sequences makes Hidden Kingdoms hard to watch | Television & radio | theguardian.com

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Green room, green screen.
Green room, green screen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

via BBC telling us it staged sequences makes Hidden Kingdoms hard to watch | Television & radio | theguardian.com.

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The blog is dead, long live the blog » Nieman Journalism Lab

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Here’s another interesting post, from prominent blogger Jason Kottke, who is arguing that Peak Blog has passed, and 2014 is the year we’ll notice.

My own philosophy of blogging (with my main, personal blog, not this one) has been to do it as long as it interested me, and not to worry about whether anyone was reading it. Apart from anything else, I sometimes look back on things I wrote to see what I was thinking about, all those months ago. But Kottke is probably right that things are done differently these days.

The design metaphor at the heart of the blog format is on the wane as well. In a piece at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal says that the reverse-chronological stream (a.k.a. The Stream, a.k.a. The River of News) is on its way out. Snapchat, with its ephemeral media, is an obvious non-stream app; Madrigal calls it “a passing fog.” Facebook’s News Feed is increasingly organized by importance, not chronology. Pinterest, Digg, and an increasing number of other sites use grid layouts to present information. Twitter is coming to resemble radio news as media outlets repost the same stories throughout the day, ICYMI (in case you missed it). Reddit orders stories by score.

via The blog is dead, long live the blog » Nieman Journalism Lab.

Geena Davis’ Easy Steps to Make Hollywood Less Sexist | The Hollywood Reporter

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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.

Read the rest: Geena Davis’ Two Easy Steps to Make Hollywood Less Sexist (Guest Column) | The Hollywood Reporter.

Soap operas: has the bubble burst? | Television & radio | The Guardian

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Twenty-five years ago, soap operas were delivery systems for melodrama, cliffhangers, women’s issues, comedy and social critique, and, best of all, white-knuckle rides on the narrative express. Now? “Soaps are now just seen as something to fill the schedules,” says Phil Redmond, the TV producer who brought us Brookside and Hollyoaks. “There’s been a loss of vision.”

In the early 80s, the most popular soaps – Crossroads and Coronation Street – lost the plot: they had nothing to say about a Britain mired in Thatcher’s austerity years. Then, Brookside (1982-2003), set in a Liverpool suburb, and later EastEnders (1985-present), set in a fictionalised east London, gave the British soap a new lease of life by returning the genre to its manifest destiny: right down to the specially built cul-de-sac in suburban Merseyside and the faux-East End Albert Square in Hertfordshire, the new soaps were simulacra that told us about how we really lived. Brookside was, at the time, especially radical since it junked that staple notion of the British soap, that the action must revolve around the local pub. Instead, it depicted an all-too-recognisable, fragmented owner-occupying non-society of the kind for which the then prime minister proselytised.

via Soap operas: has the bubble burst? | Television & radio | The Guardian.

Understanding the rise of a new fascism: John Pilger (New Statesman)

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Here’s a great piece from The New Statesman by John Pilger about the ways in which power is exercised through the media. He’s talking about the concept of hegemony, which we’ll be looking at in class soon. It’s a long article, but worth a read. Here’s a snip:

Control and dominance are the two words that make sense of this. These are exercised by political, economic and military design, of which mass surveillance is an essential part, but also by insinuating propaganda into the public consciousness. This was Edward Bernays’s point. His two most successful PR campaigns convinced Americans that they should go to war in 1917 and persuaded women to smoke in public; cigarettes were “torches of freedom” that would hasten women’s liberation.

It is in popular culture that the fraudulent “ideal” of America as morally superior, a “leader of the free world”, has been most effective. Yet even during Hollywood’s most jingoistic periods there were exceptional films, such as those of the exiled Stanley Kubrick, and adventurous European films would find US distributors. These days there is no Kubrick, no Strangelove, and the US market is almost closed to foreign films.

When I showed my own film The War on Democracy to a major, liberal-minded US distributor, I was handed a laundry list of changes, to “ensure the movie is acceptable”. His memorable sop to me was: “OK, maybe we could drop in Sean Penn as narrator. Would that satisfy you?” Kathryn Bigelow’s torture-apologising Zero Dark Thirty and, this year, Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets, a cinematic hatchet job on Julian Assange, were made with generous backing by Universal Studios, whose parent company until recently was General Electric. GE manufactures weapons, components for fighter aircraft and advanced surveillance technology. The company also has lucrative interests in “liberated” Iraq.

Read the rest: Understanding the Prism leaks is understanding the rise of a new fascism.

Free Weekends coming up for Theory Without Fear

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Attention Media students about to start their Year 13 work. My gentle introduction to various media-related theories will be available on the Amazon Kindle store free of charge next weekend (26th – 28th April 2013) and the weekend after (3rd – 4th May 2013). After that, I can’t make it free again for another 90 days, so download it while you can.

You need a hardware Kindle or the (free) Kindle app on your phone, tablet, or computer.

Theory Without Fear eBook: Robert McMinn: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store.