One of the BBC Trust’s specified priorities – originating from its interpretation of the public purpose remit entitled “Global Outlook” – is to:
“Enable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”.
The Trust expands:
“”The BBC should inform conversation and debate, providing forums where its international audiences can debate issues they find important.”
The primary nature of linear broadcasting will remain the same as it is today, and even in the digital age BBC Global News will be providing content for mass consumption.
The nature of digital technology also means improved opportunities to connect with audiences – and BBC Global News will consider carefully the various access needs of its diverse audiences and continue to seek ways to give voice to its many listeners, viewers and users. From emails read out by presenters, to questions put to world leaders, to chatrooms and websites where people can debate and engage in dialogue free from fear and censorship, the BBC will make space available to support free speech and informed democracy.”
However, as we have seen on all too many occasions, the practical manifestation of that aspiration not infrequently turns BBC discussion boards and Facebook pages into places where “free speech and informed democracy” are usurped by conspiracy theory, racist tropes and politically motivated defamation and delegitimisation.
On March 3rd the BBC News website decided to open its article titled “Netanyahu’s ‘chutzpah’ rocks Capitol and riles Obama” to comments from the public – with 338 responses. The next day an additional and related article headlined “Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’” was also opened to the public and it garnered 642 comments.
Even after moderation per the “house rules” which urge commenters to “keep your contributions civil, tasteful and relevant”, the comments sections of those two articles were replete with postings which were irrelevant to the topic of the two articles. Many of the comments were defamatory, promoted inaccurate information and propagated Nazi analogies along with tropes such as the ‘apartheid’ trope, the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope, the ‘dual loyalty’ trope and the ‘Jewish power’ trope. Below are just a few examples.
The provision of a space for the spread of such ideas obviously does nothing to support “informed democracy” or “debate” but it does contribute to the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse and misinformed delegitimisation of Israel.
Shockingly, the BBC continues to fail to take this issue seriously.