The BBC belongs to all of us. A statement of the obvious, you might think, but in a world of division that can be a burden and not a blessing.
It is very easy for us all to escape into the echo chambers of social media. No matter what your opinion or how niche your interests, you will find others online who share your outlook.
It might be a bit of harmless fun like nostalgia for old style Presentation or it could be a potentially harmful or extreme political opinion.
Meanwhile the BBC and the other major broadcasters are not echo chambers – they are the public spaces we all have stakes in and where any opinion which is respectfully expressed should have a place.
The row over Gary Lineker’s tweet and the BBC’s response sits at the centre of this.
There is an alarming tendency in certain quarters to see the world in black and white – you are either completely and unquestioningly for something or against it.
There is no need to understand where an opponent is coming from, far less a need to engage constructively with their arguments and accept they might have a point. You are either for something or against it.
In this toxic environment, demonising opponents or saying things online which no decent person would say to someone’s face is considered acceptable.
Mark Chapman highlighted the abuse some BBC Sport colleagues had received over the weekend.
For a lot of people, the row over Gary Lineker’s tweet seems to be a black and white issue.
Their view of whether the BBC’s initial actions were appropriate depends entirely on whether they agreed with the sentiments in the tweet.
Missing from this intemperate well of social media poison were two reasonable positions which I suspect many people hold.
- I agree with Gary but BBC Sport presenters should not comment on issues like this publicly.
- I don’t agree with Gary but he has a perfect right to voice his views.
If only a few more people realised there were shades of grey.
Add to the toxic mix, the current BBC chairman and the fact the director-general was active in local Conservative politics 30 years ago and you can see the perfect recipe for conspiracy theorists.
Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of how the BBC works will be aware of how the chairman is well removed from editorial and creative decision-making.
Similar claims were made in the past about governments sending in chairmen to “sort out” the BBC – from Lord Hill to Marmaduke Hussey.
But somehow the BBC has to enjoy the confidence of everyone in the land – through all shades of mainstream political opinion and beyond.
To say it can be a challenge and a nightmare is an understatement.
For some critics, the fact a story did not run on the BBC News at Six means the BBC itself did not or would not cover it – even if that story actually ran on, say, the News at Ten or featured prominently online.
Others imagine preconceived left or right wing bias, misinterpret inclusivity as wokeness, see a concern to attract younger audiences to some services as meaning that older people don’t matter. The list goes on.
In the meantime, the review of the BBC’s social media guidelines will get underway in earnest.
Hopefully any reasonable person will be able to distinguish between those who appear on BBC programmes and those who might be seen as representing the BBC itself.
I say hopefully because there are undoubtedly grey areas. Not least the question of those freelance presenters who are principally associated with key BBC output.
But there is nothing new. Thirty five years ago, David Icke somehow managed to combine being a BBC Sport presenter with being a Green Party spokesman. (This was before his notorious appearance on Wogan and all which followed.)
And can you imagine having a regular contributor to children’s programmes with right wing views which went well beyond mainstream Conservative politics? Well did anyone suggest Norris McWhirter should have been taken off Record Breakers in the 70s and early 80s?
Thankfully though this was before social media.
Perhaps this is a timely reminder. The current problem facing the BBC is an age old one but one which poses different challenges in an online age.
PICTURED: BBC Broadcasting House, London. COPYRIGHT: BBC.
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