Journalism, the BBC, and advertising

November 12th, 2007 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

The ‘he said/she said’ model of journalism is frequently problematic, reducing complex issues to two ‘sides’ and often unduly elevating a marginal or rogue opinion to parity with broad informed consensus. Sometimes, however, it can be rather helpful, and I think that this example from the BBC shows that in action. Here the model is used to systematically list the ‘sceptic’ views regarding climate change, and then debunk them one by one.

On the topic of the BBC, it’s interesting to see that they have added advertisements to their website when viewed from outside the United Kingdom. Funding is always a complicated issue, and this move has been the subject of much debate, though advertising has seemed inevitable for some time, with ‘consultations’ mainly aimed at gauging reader resistance to the move. The rationale given is that the license fee only covers services to users within the United Kingdom, and with ever stricter EU regulation of this area, some other revenue source was needed for the service to overseas audiences. An explanatory note on the BBC site notes that “the inclusion of advertising on the website when viewed from outside the UK will create revenues which can be used to develop better content and services for both UK and international users.” Just how the cost allocation and revenue allocation will work is unclear, but I’m guessing that international internet connectivity would be one of major costs that would be initially met from advertising revenues. The issue of subsidising general services (such as programme production) from this revenue stream is somewhat problematic – advertising has a habit of colonising that with which it comes in contact.

In terms of alternatives that might have been considered, I would note that the world service is traditionally funded directly by the British government, but that is also a problematic solution, as the rationale for that is that the world service is part of the government’s propaganda activities (politely termed public diplomacy).

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