Nation speaking peace unto nation

Mark Thompson outlines the BBC's global mission, with cuts to its international services looming.
Mark Thompson
12 May 2010

Quality picks up after a minute or so - apologies

Commentary by Daniel-Joseph MacArthur-Seal

I had the novel experience yesterday of being read the news of Gordon Brown's resignation by the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson. Neutrality was, of course, maintained but there can be little doubt that the new government that Brown's exit has ushered in is a cause of some consternation to Thompson and others at the BBC.

The BBC's international arms, and in particular the commercial companies BBC Worldwide and BBC Monitoring have been threatened with privatisation. Worldwide's activities are curtailed under the proposed Strategy Review. BBC World Service, the international and multilingual radio service funded by Foreign and Commonwealth Office Grants is likely to be subject to further cuts. The fate of BBC World News, the advertising-funded satellite television channel, and BBC World Service Trust, the BBC's international charity, BBC Arabic Television and BBC Persian Television is uncertain.

Thompson's talk at Chatham House anticipated the coming storm, making the case for the value of the BBC's global activities. The dilemma for anyone trying to justify Foreign Office-funded broadcasting is that a defence of the BBC's value to the British government does not conflict with the BBC's avowed neutrality. If the net effect of the BBC's output, however neutral, is to benefit British interests, then those with contrary aims can only be expected to launch counter-measures.

The BBC negotiation of foreign government's opposition, ranging from full scale banning to restrictions on reporters' movements to the creation of technical difficulties, is a tight-rope act. Imitation of the BBC, by the Saudi (Al Arabiya), Iranian (Press TV), Qatari (Al Jazeera), American (Al Hurra, Voice of America) and French (France 24) governments, is no doubt a form of flattery, but as more governments bring their nations to the world the chances of a discrediting competition for viewers and influence determined by sponsor-states' relations with the audience increases.

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Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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