Friday, February 08, 2008

How the BBC helps manufacture Public Opinion

Question Time
is a TV show on the BBC which purports to allow the public to ask a selected panel of 'experts' various questions of current political interest. In fact, Question Time is a classic example of the tyranny of the new managerial class chattering to itself while studiously ignoring the real issues.

Or as one perceptive critic observes, QT is nothing more than "an echo chamber for approved establishment views."

Despite being constantly pissed-off by its smug, self-gratifying tones I find myself compelled to watch it, always hoping that someone on its weekly panel might say something closely approximating the true state of affairs in British politics.

Invariably this turns out to be a punishing experience. Question Time's talking heads are deliberately chosen either to represent right-wing, establishment views or the kind of anodyne inanities meant to lull the audience back to sleep. Discussion is tightly controlled in order to reflect the values and attitudes of the British establishment's rulers. Radical attitudes are taboo. Week in week out various panels are chosen for their somnambulist nature. Socialists, dissidents and lefties need not apply.

Last night, for example, Afghanistan was discussed, Not one speaker had the intelligence or honesty to question what on earth NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is doing occupying a country in Central Asia or whether its real purpose to be there was decided by geopolitics, to secure Gas and Oil reserves in that area. It was simply assumed that Britain was there in order to 'bring democracy' to the unruly Afghans, a regurgitation of the 'White Man's Burden', the Victorian rationale for unabashed imperialism.

No discussion of the actual colonialist, imperialist reality behind Britain's military aggression against Afghanistan or Iraq, no discussion of the several war crimes committed by Britain's leaders and Military in either country. Instead this rather bovine acceptance of the Big Lie that we invade countries and cause genocide in order to 'bring democracy' to uncivilized darkies who otherwise wouldn't know any better! Any objections from the audience were kept off. The question was dealt with, the audience were invited to go back to sleep.

This morning, I found the following comments on the Medialens which I feel are worth repeating here. They follow an ongoing debate on that site that in recent times Question Time has made a clear shift to the right:

The "general shift to the right" puts the cart before the horse. It might well be correct to some extent, but this analysis overlooks the role various media plays in the [re]reproduction, the sustaining and most importantly the cultivation of a right wing (or better perhaps to call it a regressive, pro establishment, pro capitalist) ideology.

Furthermore, that this uncritical (of the establishment) viewpoint and representation is normalised and seen as "centre ground". The BBC in particular play a crucial role in this ideological sleight of hand.

Question Time performs a particularly useful role for the establishment. It is representative of the mediated public sphere and as such narrows the discursive frame. Discourse both defines and limits what is speakable about particular subjects. By repetition, the Public Sphere comes to be Question Time. Or better: Politics in this country comes to be best described as "the workings of parliamentary democracy and the choices put forward during various election campaigns" this is then reproduced via media and none better suited to the task than the BBC and Question Time in particular.

What we loosely call democracy is actually nothing of the sort. We are in fact periodically consulted on the questions who will best administer the empire - this question is of course not overt. Neo Liberal market based capitalism is designed to ensure that most people struggle to financially survive, with the odd reported success story thrown in just to keep the "dreams" alive.

Most of us are occupied with all consuming labour in order to service our unpayable debt. Then up pops Question Time with the "Big Issues of the Day" but none of the issues discussed can actually solve our problems. However, if nobody speaks of them (in the mediated Public Sphere) then they do not exist, and the frames of debate narrow and the discourse is sustained.

Every 4 -5 years we make the choice between two incredibly similar branches of the technocratic class. This is how ideology, discourse and the Mediated Public Sphere works in western capitalist economies. QT is the finest example of discourse formation that I know of. The thing is: we need to engage with it as opposed to just switching off precisely because, through mediated and signifying practices, it sets the political, economic, socio-cultural, public debate agenda.

I agree, we in Britain should be engaging with the BBC about the manner in which TV licence-payers are being forced to finance what is nothing more than an organ of state propaganda. Why is there no movement, for example, to refuse paying the licence fee? Why allow these apparatchiks the luxury of continuing to fatten themselves on our money when they should have been kicked out of their jobs a long time ago?

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