Thursday, November 15, 2007

'An obsession with balance'

There's an engaging discussion of changing media and the future of "public service journalism" – all from a British context – at this blog hosted by the London School of Economics.

Bear in mind that England is no proxy for the U.S. in such matters. Newspapers there are generally ideological, and the government spends big money supporting the BBC. These arguments all come in that context.

For all that, there are various voices here that echo prospects and concerns we're facing, as well. A taste:

Richard D North is an elitist free market ideologue who believes that the UK newspaper market is the ideal. A diverse range of robustly held views give us choice and competition. The reader can sort out the bias for themselves. He believes that the BBC is inhibited by its authoritative obsession with ‘balance’, when in fact it is simply another point of view (liberal, metropolitan, middle class). And because the BBC’s journalists are forced to be ‘impartial’ they end up being negative about everything.

P.S. I lived in England for a year (1992-93) and looked forward with enthusiasm to extended exposure to the U.K. press. I ended up unimpressed. Here is my journal entry from February 1993 on the subject.


  1. Charlie Beckett1:07 PM

    Dear Howard,
    This is a wonderful post and a perfect example of why it is good to contrast and compare international media markets. I am Charlie Beckett, Director of Polis which hosted the debate you mention.
    Polis has strong links with the US. Indeed, I was over in NYC in October for a journalism conference and we are hosting a MacArthur Foundation event in February back at the London School of Economics.
    Considering our cultures and politics are supposed to be so close I am always struck by how completely different our news media is. I suspect that it is more about British exceptionalism than American. As you say, the incredible dominance of the BBC - especially now that it has gone online - has to be seen to be understood. The strength of our public service broadcasting (including ITV and Channel 4) is matched by a high quality but highly partisan national newspaper market. Remember that unlike in the States our regional or local press is insignificant politically and even culturally.
    I was delighted to read your 1993 journal as it reminded me how much more partisan the British newspapers were back then and how prevalent racism and sexism was. Apart from some Islamaphobia that is much less the case. I bet you never did work cricket out.
    I personally suffer from a deep affection for and interest in America so I welcome anyone who wants to make contact with Polis at LSE and our international network to get in touch.
    My blog is and you can email me at

  2. "I just can't imagine readers really wanting the steady diet of political skirmish and positioning that winds up in the headlines here day after day after tiresome day."


  3. I'm posting both the journal entry link and Charlie Beckett's blog to a University of North Carolina class discussion on global views of the U.S....Thanks for the homework help.