#研究分享#【面对新闻业危机,BBC这种公共服务媒体会是拯救者吗?】

#研究分享#【面对新闻业危机,BBC这种公共服务媒体会是拯救者吗?】如今,专业的新闻机构与传统的新闻业正处于艰难的境地:不仅传统的商业模式面临着巨大的压力,而且经常被指责“兜售虚假新闻”,另外,媒体也常常被批评没有发挥出强有力的监督作用与社会价值。如果新闻业处于危机之中,谁会成为拯救者?有人提出潜在的解决方案是一个独立的公共服务新闻媒体,它足够强大既能对抗政府和市场的压力,又能为公民服务。本文作者通过对公共服务媒体BBC的分析,考虑了制约BBC的一些结构性和制度性因素,并指出它长期以来与精英权力的密切关系,削弱了它作为可靠和独立的监督机构的能力。

timg

“Public Service” and the Journalism Crisis: Is the BBC the Answer?

First Published March 7, 2018 Research Article

Professional journalism is under extraordinary pressure: not only are its traditional business models under enormous strain but it is also regularly accused by the Right of peddling ‘fake news’ and criticized by the Left for failing to play a robust monitorial role. In this situation, there is a temptation to see public service media, and the BBC in particular, as beacons of light in an otherwise gloomy picture. This article attempts to provide a note of caution to those who see the public service model as the most effective means of holding power to account and as the most desirable alternative to the flawed news cultures of both commercial and authoritarian landscapes. It considers some of the structural and institutional factors that constrain the BBC’s journalism and suggests that its intimate relationship with elite power has long undermined its ability to act as a reliable and independent check on power.

If journalism is in crisis (Anderson et al. 2014; Pickard 2011), then who or what can save it? Of course, this crisis takes many forms, yet whether the crisis affects the formerly stable professional models of liberal democracies or authoritarian environments characterized by clientelism and complicity, one potential solution is regularly proposed: an independent public service news media that is strong enough to defy the pressure of both government and market and to serve citizens without fear or favor. In this heady narrative, it is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in particular that is often claimed to offer the best prospect of impartial, high-quality journalism that is insulated from narrow considerations of profits or politics.

So, for example, in an interesting collection of case studies that demonstrate how media in a range of countries—from Latin America to Eastern Europe and from Kenya to China—have been “captured” by a combination of government and business interests (Schiffrin 2017), the promotion of “transparently funded public service media” is held up as a key policy measure that would help address the problem of capture (Nelson 2017). In the same volume, the economist Joseph Stiglitz recognizes that while many public service broadcasters are hostages of state power, there is nevertheless an important distinction between public ownership and government capture: the “BBC and other public broadcasters are an example of successful government ownership in that programming is balanced, objective, and representative of diverse viewpoints” (Stiglitz 2017, 13). In his own chapter, Nielsen (2017, 36–37) describes the BBC as “the most famous example of public service media” that continues to operate with “a high degree of autonomy from government and Parliament secured through multi-year charters.”

The attraction of a fearless public service news provider is especially strong in commercial systems such as the one in the United States, an environment in which the media’s role as a trusted source of information and facilitator of rational dialogue has been comprehensively undermined and contested. News outlets, far from remaining above the ravages of partisan battles and ratings wars, have instead been contaminated by precisely those same forces. Coverage of the 2016 election, for example, was relentlessly negative and extraordinarily light on policy, which occupied just one-tenth of all reports, nowhere near the 42 percent of coverage that was devoted to horserace coverage of the campaign (Patterson 2016). This is a system in which, because of its fundamentally commercial orientation, the “elite media” were enthralled by the spectacle of a candidate they professed to abhor but which they literally could not afford to ignore. The comment by the CEO of CBS that Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America but it’s damn good for CBS” (quoted in Pickard 2017) was far from a slip of the tongue but an honest description of the system’s underlying logic.

So it comes as little surprise to learn that, according to a 2016 poll conducted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute (Kearney 2017, 16), four of the ten most trusted news sources for U.S. audiences are from outside the United States, indeed all from the United Kingdom: the Guardian, the Economist, Reuters, and of course, the BBC. This confirms data from the Pew Research Center, which revealed that the BBC was one of the very few organizations that were trusted by American audiences from across the ideological spectrum—with even those people described as “consistently conservative,” recording that they believed the BBC was “about equally trusted as distrusted” (Pew Research Center 2014, 5). Forbes magazine, reflecting this view, notes that the BBC “is the global standard bearer for excellence in broadcast radio and TV journalism,” sighing, “[i]f only U.S. cable news outlets could follow the BBC’s recipe” (Glader 2017). Bill Moyers echoes this praise when insisting that, to counter the influence of Fox News, the United States needs “a journalism more in the mold of the BBC at its best—unafraid of power and not complicit with it, reporting what conventional journalism overlooked or wouldn’t touch” (quoted in Hertsgaard 2017). Emily Bell, the director of Columbia University’s Tow Centre and someone who is very familiar with British journalism, has also argued that “America needs a radical new market intervention” along the lines of the BBC, one that is “independent of individuals or corporations” (Bell 2017). In an age of both hyperpartisanship and hypercommercialism, a public service organization such as the BBC, which is often seen as independent of the market and of government, publicly owned, sufficiently resourced, and free of advertising, appears to offer a genuinely refreshing alternative.

What these commentators (and many audiences) want is a body to report on U.S. politics that is somehow removed from the corrupting loyalties and bruising skirmishes of everyday life and, therefore, able to provide a more impartial perspective. For some theorists (e.g., Benson 2011; Pickard 2015), public service media offer a significant, if limited, space for critical coverage, diverse voices, and independent journalism and are a necessary counterweight to the failures of commercial journalism. For others (and this applies to many of the writers referred to in previous paragraphs), public service can perform a more enduring and trusted monitorial role, such as that of the “stranger” discussed by the German social theorist Georg Simmel at the start of the twentieth century. These wandering figures, for Simmel, have long played a vital role in how societies come to see themselves, precisely because of their ability to take a “birds-eye view” of the world around them, something sadly missing from the silos and echo chambers that are said to dominate the contemporary news and information environment (Pariser 2011).

Because he is not bound by roots to the particular constituents and partisan dispositions of the group, he confronts all of these with a distinctly “objective” attitude, an attitude that does not signify mere detachment and non-participation, but is a distinct structure composed of remoteness and nearness, indifference and involvement. (Simmel [1908] 1971, 145)

Simmel insists that strangers are able, even with the harassment that many of them faced, to exercise a kind of independence not available to what he calls “organically connected persons.” The stranger

is the freer man, practically and theoretically; he examines conditions with less prejudice, he assesses them against standards that are more general and more objective; and his actions are not confined by custom, piety or precedent. (Simmel [1908] 1971, 146)

This is a powerful normative evocation of journalism as a fourth estate: news organizations that are protected both from narrowly commercial considerations and partisan affiliations and thus able to speak truth to power. Of course, most public service institutions are not “outsiders” in their own domains but, instead, quite the opposite: constitutive forces of national identity and what it means to be an “insider.” They are not strangers but primary definers of the territory in which “others” are designated and recognized as strangers (Ahmed 2000). Far from being able to escape “custom, piety or precedent,” public service broadcasters in particular are intimately tied to notions of tradition, heritage, and boundary-making. So when it comes to “actually existing” public service institutions such as the BBC, Simmel’s moving account of truth-telling and fearlessness may not stand up to meaningful scrutiny.

Indeed, I argue in this article that the BBC, as the most important institutional enactment of public service ideals, is perhaps the ultimate “insider” (at least in relation to its “home” state) and, therefore, a very unreliable ally in the battle to deliver hard-hitting journalism, to restore trust, and to resolve the journalism crisis. Far from retaining its independence from all vested interests, and delivering a critical and robust public interest journalism, the BBC is a compromised version of a potentially noble ideal: far too implicated in and attached to existing elite networks of power to be able to offer an effective challenge to them.

When offering this line of critique, I should make it clear that I have little sympathy for the arguments of conservative critics of the BBC in Parliament, the press, and even in its own midst. Consider Robin Aitken, a former BBC journalist, whose book on his time in the newsroom berates the Corporation for being a hotbed of left-wing ideas and a bastion of political correctness (Aitken 2007). The BBC, he claims,

Is passionately against racism, in favour of “human rights,” supportive of internationalism, suspicious of traditional national identity and consequently strongly pro-EU; it is feminist, secular and allergic to established authority in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches. (Aitken 2007, 12–13)

The problem with this line of attack is not only how odd it would be if the BBC was actively in favor of racism and opposed to “human rights” and internationalism (as if those latter two were things to be ashamed of) but that these claims, as I shall show, simply do not stand up to empirical analysis. Indeed, these arguments have long been put forward as a means to weaken the BBC specifically to expand the space for commercial provision inside the British media environment (Booth 2016; Green 1991). Precisely because of these attacks, there is an understandable reluctance among progressives to criticize the BBC for fear that they may give ground to would-be privatizers. However, this need not mean ignoring significant problems underlying the BBC’s news culture and organizational structures, and if we are to celebrate the principles behind public provision of the media, then we also need an honest accounting of the performance of actually existing public service institutions.

The article first explores normative definitions of public service media in more detail and then considers some of the structural and institutional factors that shape the BBC’s news output and that constrain its truth-telling potential.1 The article concludes by urging citizens, in whatever country they are based, not to turn to an admirable but flawed institutional model to rescue them from hypercommercial polarization or authoritarian capture but to struggle for public media that are meaningfully independent of all vested interests.

Public media—including one of their most historic embodiments, public service broadcasting—stand in contradistinction to environments where the main concern is either to generate revenue for corporations or to generate publicity for governments. They are a crucial example of the “corrective surgery” that is necessary to compensate for the tendency of markets to underserve minority audiences and counter-hegemonic perspectives, and for authoritarian regimes to neglect them entirely. Public service media, argues Nicholas Garnham (1994, 8), are based on the rejection of “the market definition of broadcasting as the delivery of a set of distinct commodities to consumers rather than as the establishment of a communicative relationship.” They are designed not to sell or propagandize but to facilitate public knowledge, meaningful dialogue, and collective representation. In principle, they are “merit goods,” vital for democratic interaction but unlikely to generate the revenue necessary to sustain their production and, thus, in need of subsidies and support mechanisms that nevertheless do not compromise their independence. Public service media are the green vegetables that are necessary to offset the impact of the sugary content that would otherwise pollute our bodies and that have, as Paddy Scannell (1989, 136) once memorably put it, “unobtrusively contributed to the democratization of everyday life.”

Critical and comparative research seems to back up this democracy-enhancing potential.2Ramsey (2017) focuses on public service’s contribution to original content, while Curran et al. (2009, 22) suggest that “the public service model of broadcasting gives greater attention to public affairs and international news, and thereby fosters greater knowledge in these areas, than the market model.” Other researchers claim that public service media facilitate greater amounts of, for example, creative competition (Padovani and Tracey 2003), source diversity (Tiffen et al. 2014), political engagement (Baek 2009), and social trust (Schmitt-Beck and Wolsing 2010) than do their commercial counterparts. There is, of course, following on from Hallin and Mancini (2004), no uniform model of public service delivery or predetermined institutional shape and, therefore, no standard measure of its contribution to democracy. This is a crucial point for those seeking to democratize existing public service structures.

Yet there are also voices and organizations that argue that public service broadcasting, even as currently organized, constitutes an unadulterated public good. Peter Bazalgette, the chairman of the British commercial broadcaster ITV, has recently described public service television news as generating “the trusted news that informs our democracy in an era of widespread fakery, the original programmes that help define our national culture, and the economic growth and international influence that flow from our creative excellence” (Bazalgette 2017). UNESCO argues that public service broadcasting systems, underpinned by editorial independence, accountability, and transparency, can serve as a “cornerstone of democracy” (UNESCO 2008, 54), while the European Broadcasting Union (EBU 2016) found that countries with a strong public service media ethic had a higher degree of press freedom, increased voter turnout in elections, less corruption, and even lower levels of right-wing extremism than those without a public service orientation.

It is, however, a myth to think that actually existing public service media, as opposed to our normative conceptions of what they ought to be, are somehow automatically able to stimulate cosmopolitan viewpoints and higher levels of knowledge about the world, to act independently of elites, and to be accountable to their users. Evidence shows that public media have, at different times and in different circumstances (Benson et al. 2017), offered a more insightful and rigorous oversight of political culture than their commercial counterparts, and when they do so, they should be applauded. However, not only does this speak more to the structural flaws of commercial news systems rather than the intrinsic performance of public media, but it is also highly contingent. Public service media can be just as intertwined—through funding arrangements, elite capture, and modes of governance—with the specific configurations of political power in their “home” states as commercial media. According to Benson et al. (2017, 2), the undoubted democratic possibilities of public service media are, at times, offset by the fact that “some publicly funded broadcasters are less than civically optimal, producing content that uncritically reflects the views of those in positions of power or that fails to attract audiences representative of the citizenry as a whole.” The ability to realize the potential of public-ness depends on the extent to which broadcasters are able, in reality, to extricate themselves from dependent relations and to offer meaningful scrutiny of established power.

For example, with reference to the EBU’s list of advantages that accrue from public service media environments, empirical evidence suggests that they are an inconsistent bulwark against right-wing extremism. In Germany, where the market share for public service TV is some 43 percent, the far right AfD (Alternative for Germany) secured an unprecedented 13 percent of the vote in the election in September 2017; the Netherlands, where public television has a one-third audience share, also saw a vote of 13 percent for the nationalist PVV (Party for Freedom); Marine Le Pen and her Front National managed to attract a 34 percent share of the vote in May 2017 despite 30 percent of the TV audience tuning into public television; finally, Austria, where public television has a 35 percent audience share, nevertheless saw a vote of 46 percent for the Freedom Party candidate in the presidential election of December 2016.3 Public service broadcasters alone cannot guarantee low levels of right-wing extremism, not least because, far from addressing the structural problems and political crises that are exploited by far right parties, these broadcasters are often attacked by the far right who perceive them to be part of a ruling and corrupt establishment—precisely as we have seen in Germany (Schwartz 2016). Of course there are many variables behind the rise and fall of the far right, but my point is that it is unrealistic to expect that public service media will be able either naturally to transcend the tensions and polarization that mark their wider political environment or to establish themselves as fully independent of power elites wherever they exist.

全文戳原文链接:http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1527476418760985


Comments are closed.



无觅相关文章插件