It’s my job to watch, read and listen to the news. First hand I see the trickle down effect of news coming in off the wires, to that particular event being covered by all major news outlets. From the guttural to the high-brow, one sets the agenda for the other and this becomes our rationalised understanding of the world, and of our own communities.
Some say the media only confirms that which we already hold a position on and some see it as wholly influential. Whatever the opinion might be on either side, the fact remains that our society allows us to have a diverse range of news and entertainment providers which are regulated through the Communications Act.
The act was implemented in 2003 and is controlled by Westminster and the UK Government, and much of the regulation is to ensure a diversity of views and focuses on the concentration of ownership. It has always been maintained that we should have a public service broadcaster, which of course we have in the BBC and we pay a license fee to sustain an ad-free service.
BBC productions in Scotland consist of token shows such as ‘Waterloo Road’, a programme with no real Scottish identity. I’m also certain that anybody who has ever tried to get into the ‘media’ in Scotland has at some point been told, ‘you know you will probably have to move to London to get anywhere’. Really, what should happen is that we have the resources to keep and draw talent here so our communities can be more educated about the things that matter to them. In doing so, people might feel more inclined to get involved in whatever way they feel they can.
It is widely recognised that the referendum motivated people on an unprecedented level through online, grass-roots campaigning from both sides. Vincent Mosco in his book ‘The Digital Sublime’ wrote, ‘all of the major social movements have developed communications strategies and policies’.
The internet and social media helped to ignite a fully formed debate which took place everywhere, from the playground to the pub. It involved the nation as a whole, and in some ways the internet filled whatever gaps there were in the mainstream media coverage of the referendum. This momentum needs to continue for democracy to thrive, and this can be achieved with a media that is representative of the variety of issues we have in Scotland.
The reason broadcasting is so important is because even in a digital world, it is our primary source of information. We can trust documentaries, current affairs programmes and 24 hour news as this is all quite familiar to us. It was even stated by Jürgen Habermas back in 1984 that when it comes to our trust in mainstream media, people can be convinced of anything, even ‘there is no such thing as true’.
As noted before, the media rationalises the world in which we live by placing certain events/issues in to the public sphere. A great example right now is the furore over immigration and asylum seekers.
Places such as Clacton have a lower than average proportion of immigrants but it is in parts of the country like this where immigration is the greatest concern. The prominence of the issue of immigration within the mainstream press and on our tellies gets us properly riled up. It is also in places like this UKIP are gaining ground.
John Kay put it nicely in his Financial Times column, he said on the matter, “citizens express dissatisfaction with the current state of modern politics by hostility to anonymous others”.
If people were more educated about the world they inhabit, they might not be so quick to make generalised assumptions based on media rhetoric. With more local and regional media, there can be a more informed public and therefore a public who are empathetic to the needs of the community around them, not a public who are suspicious of things they know nothing about.
For this to happen Scotland’s broadcasting industry needs to flourish and have greater autonomy from London. With that we can achieve better regional representation, putting us back in touch with our communities. This can only happen if we have control of our own broadcasting policy.
It was pointed out in another article on the National Collective website that in federal Germany, broadcasting is the responsibility of the states, therefore they have a total of nine public service broadcasters working alongside nationwide broadcaster ARD.
In the event of the Scottish Parliament being given primary power over broadcasting in Scotland, it would be possible to set up our own Scottish public service broadcaster while coming to an agreement with the BBC over their continued role in Scotland.
The media and online is our connection to the people in power, and this has become even more apparent over the last two years of referendum campaigning. It may be generally thought that social media, websites and blogs cancel out the need for the press or television news programmes but we need a balance. Good quality professional journalism, passionate citizen journalists and an engaged public.
Now I realise that this takes money and a public who are willing to invest in a proposed Scottish public service broadcaster, which is where it gets tricky, but we live in a democracy. Together we can debate the issue, come up with sustainable business models and education programmes which will encourage all of the above.
Let us have a voice and promote the idea of true optimism. Let our communities know what is relevant to them. Let us continue to take an interest in our own political and social affairs by having a broadcast media that actually works for Scotland.
Jenni Flett & Laura Richmond
Illustration by Laura Richmond