Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Write what you're told

The BBC Trust has launched new draft guidelines especially aimed at online content today but many of them seem reactionary rather than totally necessary.

Some ideas appear on the surface to be common sensical, advice such as, 'Audiences should not be able to tell from BBC programmes or other BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists and presenters on such matters.' But there could be another reason this particular guideline has been rushed through - as the Guardian points out this has already been dubbed by some in the industry as the 'Jeremy Bowen clause' due to events earlier this year which saw Bowen, the beeb's middle east editor, disparaged by the Trust after playing fast and loose with his online version of a potted history of post-war Israel.

Far more reactionary though are those new measures which could be construed to target the broadcasting styles of particular names. The cutting-out of swearing, even after the watershed for example, would certainly affect the presenting style of a certain Jonathan Ross who has obviously gotten in trouble lately for his part in the Sachs/Brand furore.

'Sachsgate,' as it was dubbed at the time, was almost certainly the point of origin for another and perhaps the most strange of the new rules. The BBC said, 'Some comedy can be cruel but unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks must not be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. Care should be taken that such comments and the tone in which they are delivered are proportionate to their target.'

This appears to be approaching dangerous grounds to me. Censorship of art forms like comedy smacks of a more old school and conservative beeb. I rather thought that by now we had left behind the days of banning these entertaining and even controversial forms of free expression.

All in all I wonder about the true motive behind these new guidelines, and can't help but think they are not there to benefit the real audiences of programmes at all. More likely they were put together to placate those angry-letter-scribbling, and more importantly license fee paying Daily Mail readers who were so outraged at the treatment of the elderly Mr Sachs - not that they actually heard the Russell Brand show going out, not that particular and fateful night - not ever! And who exactly are these people? Who revel in writing into various media, calling Offcom and generally getting riled up about something which in reality is not directly offending them or indeed really soiling their apparently previously utopian lives at all - and afterall, hasn't anyone told them? If they don't like it they could always try turning the filth off?!

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