Thursday, 12 April 2012

How an ideology-driven broadcaster might work

A little while back now, I worked for a public-sector quango producing statistics and reports for other people in very similar jobs to look at. One feature of this job was the unsurprising left-wing flavour of the conversation there, another was the curious authoritarian atmosphere. The woman in charge of the (rather female heavy) group was a fine person, but slightly intimidating.

To illustrate why, take morning coffee. Most bosses grudgingly accept coffee breaks as one of those things to be tolerated, like haemorrhoids or Laurie Penny. But actually in this job attendance at morning coffee was compulsory. Despite the bosses' diminutive size, her habit of singing happily over her desk, and the fact that you could imagine her knitting there quite happily, there was a quiet that came over this whole matriarchy when her will was expressed - there was NO WAY you would contradict it.

At these strictly enforced chats over coffee, which the boss-lady presided over (and dictated the tone and topic of each day's chat) there was a on-your-best-behaviour-or-else atmosphere. It was somehow required that you contribute, and you would try jolly hard to say things that met with approval - both general and from on high. This meant having an intelligent observation to make - but also one that fitted the prevailing political feeling. And it may not surprise readers to learn that boss-lady was a strongly political reader of the Guardian newspaper.

The designated topic one day seemed to be the pre-eminence, in athletics, of black people. Well I remember the nods of approval when I found something to say about Ussain Bolt. There was no doubt I was fitting in by saying it - rather than mentioning the extraordinary record of white males in gaining Nobel prizes.

The reason I tell this story is that I've been pondering how those in charge of a TV/radio broadcaster might encourage employees and writers to come up with dramas that fit their ideological slant. Now this is pure hypothesis on my part but may turn out to be useful. A political slant in some news coverage is interesting, but in a way easier to understand - if only in terms of journalistic incompetence. But allowing a political slant to enter into dramatic output seems more in the spirit of 1984 or Uncle Joseph himself

It doesn't, I think, take a great deal of imagination to read my story of the awkwardly political coffee mornings, and to start to understand how employees can be pressured into adhering to an ideology in their work. And not just through a dominating boss or bosses.

It might be that the rules - as so often - are left unspoken most of the time, lest an email be leaked and .. ermm .. misinterpreted. Far more effective if staff are left to guess the rules - in the competitive scrabble for position in their careers they are sure to fall in line pretty quickly. These staff may be the ones choosing or commissioning which dramas are shown, for example. 

Thus, unaccountably, the employee will do well, who introduces a drama with the requisite focus on particular designated victim groups (blacks, Muslims, etc). And it helps if the drama contains 'acceptable' representations of gender, race, and sexuality. So members of groups thought (by our hypothetical broadcaster) to be commonly racially stereotyped, will often need to be portrayed in an entirely positive light IN A DRAMA. The justification for this will be to fight said stereotypes.

By contrast, the employee who suggests airing a drama dealing with working-class British heroism in - say - the Falklands conflict, will be ignored. Other employees soon get the idea, and - fearful for their careers - toe the line. The same pressures consequently tell on writers of these dramas. Preference will quietly be given to the more ideologically sound work - and we all know well how this kind of interference leads to a far worse dramatic work.

So our hypothetical broadcaster is in great danger of feeding us ideologically sound drama, but of worthless quality. In my next pieces, I will look at both some possible effects of this kind of censorship, and some of the thinking behind it.


  1. Everything that human beings create is an ideological construct and therefore communicates, in all sorts of ways the same ideology or world-view.
    Anyone who pretends otherwise is a liar.

  2. Hi Sue thanks for dropping by & your comments

    I'm not sure, but what you say seems very similar to what I hear sometimes when I claim that opinions/journalism ought to be 'objective'. The cry will go up that an objective telling of the news is impossible to achieve. One friend said to me "there is no such thing as objective truth"

    I think he was wrong on several levels. Having studied science, maths, logic and a little philosophy, I am convinced it IS possible to describe things objectively (without value judgements). My description may not be absolutely correct (and in fact could be quite dull) but I can make it free of moral judgements.

    I also think it's possible to make descriptions and models that are very close to reality. If this were not so then we could not make predictions in science. The statistical parts of science are more of a grey area, but physics, chemistry, and biology can make incredibly precise descriptions and predictions that.

    Controversial, but I think this fact is a compelling reason why the idea (of there being no objective truth) is incorrect.