Uncertain Vision: Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC

09/21/04

The BBC is the world's most famous and powerful cultural institution. Throughout its 80-year existence it has attracted controversy and political bullying, as well as epitomising globally broadcasting's democratic potential and the heights to which non-commercial broadcasting can aspire. It remains the model for public broadcasters around the world.

Dr Georgina Born of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University has published a book, Uncertain Vision, providing the definitive portrait of this remarkable institution in the 1990s and early 2000s, during dangerously uncertain times for public broadcasting. Based on the first such sustained research ever conducted inside the BBC, funded for three years by the ESRC, Dr Born gained access to all ranks of the organization.

Uncertain Vision gives an extraordinary analysis of the corporation during the later 1990s, the last years of the regime of the former director-general John Birt, and the early 2000s, including Greg Dyke's reign as director-general, the tumultuous events around the Hutton Inquiry and the BBC's entry into digital broadcasting. It gives the background to the Hutton crisis in changes to the BBC's journalism; and argues that in the face of increasing and inappropriately intrusive oversight by government, the BBC has rescued government policy by pioneering a free-to-air digital platform and digital channels.

The book probes the policies of the Birt period, which it analyses as a form of political subordination and charges with eroding the creativity of the BBC and with fuelling the declining quality of British television. It uncovers the damage to good programme-making caused by the centralisation of programme commissioning and the growing obsession with markets, market share, market research and management consultancy under Birt many of them continuing trends.

Looking ahead to the future, Uncertain Vision makes a cogent argument for a new kind of self-regulation on the part of the BBC. It outlines also a new philosophical rationale to underpin the BBC's ever greater importance in a pluralist world.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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