Friday, 24 January 2014

Dan Hind's "parallel BBC" (or an overhaul which needs competition, not amelioration)

The BBC has been/was an important part of my life.  As one of the greatest televisual publishers of the acceptable faces of British art and culture - as well as sometimes, most tellingly, initially unacceptable scandal - it drew a line of meaning through my thoughts from childhood.  I was a stick of Blackpool rock to its ability to narrate my environment.

Now, of course, all that is done and musty.  From its truly scandalous misreporting of NHS privatisation to the recent mishandling of the Jimmy Savile case (the revelations of which only serve to increase my sadness and distrust), the important part that the Beeb played in my life is undermined, questioned and divisive to my soul.

Dan Hind has, over the years, consistently analysed why - more importantly, how - the institution should be reformed.  Whilst both political left and right have always been happy to lambast its actions when one or other has felt badly-done-to, and whilst it has become evermore attached to the convenient "he said, she said" journalism so easily manipulated by our present crop of professionalised politicians (Nick Robinson is a classic example of how an apparently competent and quite natural journalism may be able to construct a persistent channel of misrepresentation - especially with respect to what our body politic should really occupy itself with: people and policy first; celebrity only if we must), Dan has always preferred to make a structural analysis of the institutional forces that lead to the BBC's (now manifest) dysfunctionality.

But his latest piece on what to do about the organisation goes much further than tinkering about with subjects of establishment control, with that institutional lack of democracy and with the Beeb's own smug - apparently widely-held assumptions - that if both left and right are unhappy with its output, everything in media-land has to be OK (that being the fallacy of "he said, she said" journalism ...).

In his most recent post, Dan suggests:
[...] If David Icke and his associates can launch a broadcast operation, why can’t the left, broadly defined, operate successfully as an independent player in the media field? We hear a lot about the weakness of the British left, but weakness is relative. Almost six million people are still trade union members. The Co-operative Group has around seven million members (there is bound to be a considerable overlap, of course).  UK Uncut and Occupy enjoyed considerable popular support. Many thousands participate in demonstrations and protests when they think that they might make a difference. Owen Jones has 60% more Twitter followers than David Icke.

The near-absence of the organized left in the main currents of the media is even more striking when one considers that most of the country is somewhere to the left of all the mainstream political parties. This is true even though this majority has few opportunities to hear its position articulated in the media.
He also looks to cost ("back of a fag-packet style") how much this would mean in an online Internet world of virtual TV, newspapers and social networks.  Much less than the hidebound mindsets of the Eighties could ever have imagined:
[...] the sums are not prohibitive. In 2011 Resonance FM in London was putting out an impressive 24 hour schedule for around £200,000 a year. The money paid for full-time technical, administrative and commissioning staff, as well as offices and broadcast facilities in central London. This, together with in-kind contributions from volunteers, has enabled Resonance to build an audience of somewhere close to two million.

As he concludes:
Popular institutions are not entrepreneurial businesses and I don’t want to suggest that they should be. But they are suffering acutely from their weakness in the sphere of communications. Of course the challenges are considerable. The operation would need editorial integrity and a genuine pluralism. The temptation to make it the rote deliverer of a trade union or Labour Party line would have to be resisted. But surely no one could deny that the need for an alternative space for deliberation and debate is very pressing. The risk of losing some money is there, of course, but the risks of doing nothing are much more serious.
Which does continue to beg the question: if it's now so relatively easy to do stuff like this (Labour-leaning examples go from the grand old stalwart of Labour Matters - now morphing into something rather more interactive - to the rather newer, more even-handed and clearly far more combative Labour List), why on earth hasn't anyone done anything of significance to establish a broadly left-focussed new-tech-based source of news and current affairs? Is it perhaps that the establishment includes our left-wing MPs just as much as it includes our right-wing equivalents?  Vested interests which keep real innovation at bay?  It wouldn't be the first time, now would it?

Of course, there are issues which need to be kept in mind: Dan himself mentions the importance of avoiding a slavish relationship with one party grouping or another.  And therein lies the problem of finance: how do you convince people and organisations to cough up important sums of money when you don't/can't promise them you'll massage their prejudices and convictions?

There are also examples: warning examples.  Al Gore's TV project being just one.  But just because the framing of a tech-based communication channel in the US wasn't "done right" in the past doesn't mean it can't be "done right" in the future here in England/the UK.  Mistakes are made to be learnt from, after all.

Dan's proposals for a competing "parallel BBC" (if you like) do, therefore, deserve to be taken seriously.

In much the same way as I proposed some time ago that we might begin to fashion a parallel English NHS

That was always the Interweb way.  If you don't like what they give you, set up an alternative environment elsewhere.  Be productive, proactive, creative and outward-looking.

Much better, surely, than the navel-gazing destructiveness which simply looks to close down incompetent governance.

It could yet be the offline democratic way forward in a future which, to be honest, we all need to learn how to participate in much more effectively than at the moment.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Zebra Red: time to return to this idea

Sustainable biz, whether big or small, must surely be our focus as we attempt to recover some semblance of not only economic justice but efficiency.  As the intro to Alex's excellent piece in the Guardian on the failures of trickle-down economics points out:
The richest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5bn. That should be a wake-up call to the deepest sleepers
And I think it was Tom Watson who just this morning tweeted that this wealthy group could all fit into a London double-decker bus.  If, that is, they were of a mind to use that public a transport.

So it is I return to the idea of a progressive publishing and distribution network.  Network being what "red" means in Spanish.  And "zebra" reminding us of the beautiful black and white hot-metal effect of ink and cat-smelling newspapers and books!

For owning the means of production isn't a revolutionary act in the least. 

After all, how many capitalists - of a minimally competent sort, that is - do you know who go out of their way not to?