Personally, I found Thursday’s class discussion to be one of the more enjoyable talks of the semester. I knew when I did this week’s readings about “What’s Wrong with U.S. Public Broadcasting” that I’d be interested in the topic, but I found what we discussed in class to be particularly engaging.
It’s so incredibly frustrating to watch the kind of interviews and discussions that can take place in the United Kingdom and know that they would never be allowed to happen here. Watching the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman interview Tony Blair regarding his policy towards Iraq was refreshing – he was able to ask tough questions that weren’t scripted in front of a live studio audience, the members of which were also given the opportunity to grill the prime minister. It would be unheard of for someone to bring Barack Obama into a studio to be essentially cross-examined by journalists and members of the public in the same way that Tony Blair was. Even having shows like “Question Time,” where political figures are invited on the BBC to answer questions about their policies, plans, etc. is something that doesn’t exist here. It just seems like in general there’s a higher level of transparency and accountability that political figures are held to – which is how it should be. The only time we really get to hear from our politicians is in debates leading up to an election, and even then the questions are scripted and we rarely see the candid responses that were seen in Paxman’s interview.
I’d never considered why this kind of free public discourse was unheard of on United States television, but I now realize that it all goes back to corporate ownership (as does so much else). While the BBC is publicly funded, the large news organizations in the United States are owned by giant corporations and wealthy elites. Taking a look at all the media organizations Rupert Murdoch owns is a perfect way of illustrating how the media can be controlled by just a few individuals – which should be incredibly concerning to people! This reliance on corporations and elites is then reflected in what stories news organizations cover and what guests they have on. They are constantly under the thumb of whoever owns them and they’re not willing to take any risks for fear that they could lose funding. This is why the people with “revolutionary” ideas find their voices squandered.
For example: I honestly believe that the comedian John Oliver is doing some of the most honest and inventive journalism right now in a format that is easily digestible and accessible to the public – but he has to do so as a satirical news host, because he would never be taken seriously on a major news network. It’s upsetting to see people like this covering things that people should take more of an interest in, but not being able to do so because their views are deemed “too controversial.” One such individual who I’ve been following closely is the comedian Russell Brand, and his new venture called “The Trews.” What Brand is aiming to do with “Trews” is evident in the name – truth and news. Brand takes topics being covered in the mainstream media and addresses the different prejudices and hidden agendas that may be coloring how the topics are discussed. Not only do I fully support the idea, I love how Brand is using his celebrity status to expose injustices and deconstruct the prevalent narratives in mainstream media. He mixes his humor with intelligence to provide his audience with different angles that traditional outlets refuse to ackowledge.
Anyways, I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll stop my ranting here. I just really loved discussing the difference between public and private broadcasting and seeing how it affects what journalists can do on-air. Politics and broadcast journalism are two of my passions, and having an American news media that’s more representative of the political coverage that the BBC allows would actually make me genuinely excited about my future career.