BiE's Prof Julian Petley expresses grave concern over the BBC's coverage of the Referendum, in a chapter which was just published as part of an Open Democracy e-book on Rethinking the BBC: Public Media in the 21st Century.
Gathered in the e-book are some of the most influential thinkers on media politics and policy in the United Kingdom and further afield. They give their assessment of the current state of public service media in Britain and set out to show how another BBC is possible.
In his chapter, Prof Petley situates the BBC in the emerging context of a ‘post-truth politics’, drawing out lessons that urgently need learning in the aftermath of the referendum campaign. There is a resounding sense that the BBC’s approach to ‘balance’ impeded its duties to ‘educate’ and ‘inform’ and other chapters too in the book imply that this failure emerges from the ways in which the BBC organizes debates.
Prof Petley argues more specifically ' that whether or not the BBC succumbed to government and newspaper pressure in its coverage of the referendum is impossible to ascertain, but the very fact that it appeared so timorous and over-cautious is a matter of considerable concern.'
He draws from this observation a number of lessons that we must learn. Firstly, that there is an absolutely pressing need to defend the BBC’s independence from government, particularly in the light of the White Paper’s proposal that up to six members of the Corporation’s new unitary board should be appointed by government.
The second lesson is that the BBC must do its utmost to prevent the news agenda being set by the dominant political voices of the day.
The third lesson concerns how the BBC deals with controversial subjects in general. The fundamental question here revolves around the range of views to which the Corporation should be giving voice.