Barbarians at the Gate — Britain’s Broken Public Sphere

October 11, 2010

Alan Rusbridger’s What is the future of the fourth estate prompts a thought on the state of Brit­ish media, or — more simply — the BBC/Murdoch duopoly.

The BBC com­mands radio, online, magazines (Top Gear, Gardener’s World) and main­stream TV view­ing. Sky and News­corp com­mand sub­scrip­tion TV and print.

They are — natch — deadly rivals. News­corp thinks of the BBC as a patri­cian and para­sitic not-for-profit, leech­ing money off those who reap no bene­fit from the licence fee whilst sim­ul­tan­eously pun­ish­ing any free enter­prise (think News 24 remov­ing the com­mer­cial base for Sky News). The BBC for its part has replaced the Church of Eng­land in the lives of the nation, and its com­bin­a­tion of sanc­ti­mony, saint­li­ness and soap.

The Guard­ian is — of course — squeezed by both.

Such is the power of the duo­poly that one is obliged to take sides. As BBC loy­al­ists will tell you with the air of sym­path­etic, but impa­tient teach­ers: to cri­ti­cize is to under­mine; to ques­tion the licence fee effect­ively heresy. As News’ people will tell you — the BBC &**ç%!!

But this misses the point. The BBC is effect­ively apolit­ical, unable to cam­paign to change the estab­lish­ment on which it reports. News­corp is a weapon unsheathed in defence of its own quix­otic interests. One has the artistry and affect­a­tions of dec­ad­ence, the other the vital­ity and vicious­ness of barbarism.

Neither option in the duo­poly offers plur­al­ity. But it has, until recently, mirrored rather well Britain’s polit­ical sys­tem. Of course, coali­tion gov­ern­ment has inter­rup­ted that…