chapter  11
Liberation
Pages 18

It is in the nature and name of broadcasting that it reflects and plays to the broad consensus.It finds it very difficult to let spirits roam free, for fear of scaring off the great majority thatattract the advertising or pay the licence fee. Television may, from time to time, seek to stoke controversy and even innovate, but only as far as the audience will support it. As soon as a programme series fails to meet its anticipated ratings, it is liable to change, demotion to a later, less exposed slot, or more likely cancellation. This is not just true of ITV, like the American networks dependent upon the advertising revenue that follows the audience. It can happen at the BBC, where interpretation of the public broadcast charter responsibilities places emphasis on reaching all the audience and thus the heights of popularity, at least on its main channels. Before the internet, outraged sensibilities had little recourse other than to write to the television executives to complain at the majoritarian exclusion of different and dissident voices. The new media have liberated a veritable tsunami of opportunity and opinion, forcing at least a token recognition by the mainstream media. Facing the fragmentation of their audience in the multichannel digital universe and the possibly permanent loss of younger audiences to the internet and other new media, the broadcasters have belatedly adopted such contemporary ideas as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. Programme-makers are charged with finding ways of extending their programme propositions so that interactivity may involve the audience, and newsmen are encouraged to engage their viewers in the news-gathering process by running ‘user-generated content’ such as mobile phone pictures. There is, as yet, little evidence that any of this will or can fundamentally transform broadcast editorial values or behaviour.