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The purpose of TV

Peter Barron | 10:25 UK time, Sunday, 26 August 2007

If the theme of the first day of the Edinburgh TV Festival was trust, then the buzzword of the second day was "purpose". Jeremy Paxman made a plea for a renewed sense of purpose in the industry in his lecture and Channel 4's Andy Duncan should be in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of times he used the phrase "public purpose".

Today Vint Cerf, the chief evangelist of Google, will set out his vision of the future of the media in his alternative MacTaggart Lecture. Where do the issues of trust and purpose sit when everyone can publish content and there are millions of sources of information to choose from? Let us know what you think.


  • 1.
  • At 01:35 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Xie_Ming wrote:

The basic problem is a confusion of motives and objectives.

If ratings or audience count is a criterion, what is its relative importance?

The first step in planning what the Service is to do is to state the objectives, rank them in order of importance and weight them.

The vague idea of competing with CNN and becoming an advertising vehicle is not really compatible with a purpose of enabling the public to participate intelligently in democratic decisions, and serving other worthwhile goals that the medium is capable of.

  • 2.
  • At 06:46 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Peter Smith wrote:

That everyone can publish means that media and politicians are subjected to greater scrutiny than ever before. They will be held to higher standards and this pressure will in the long run cause them to earn more trust.

  • 3.
  • At 10:01 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Dave Campbell wrote:

I would challenge your statement that "everyone can publish content." This blog and all reader/viewer comments are censored including HYS. It follows therefore that getting the public's true response to issues are nothing more than 'approved' ones, which puts the BBC alongside those other secretive countries that consistently suppress real issues.

Get real!

  • 4.
  • At 11:04 AM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • E C wrote:

When there are so many more sources of information, television has to play to its strengths: the experience of its journalists, the technology and resources available to you, and the ability to consult experts and make authoritative, mature judgements. TV can't compete with new media in the speed of its response to events or new trends, closeness to its audience or interactivity, and it shouldn't try. You should make the most of what you have rather than squandering the established public trust which is your greatest advantage over other forms of media.

  • 5.
  • At 12:37 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • Scott Graham wrote:

The BBC is unique in the way it is funded. Why not use that opportunity to be a truly unique, visionary broadcaster instead of a network sheep.
Lead..don't follow. That is your purpose.

EC wrote

TV can't compete with new media in the speed of its response to events or new trends, closeness to its audience or interactivity, and it shouldn't try.

That way lies oblivion.

  • 7.
  • At 09:49 PM on 27 Aug 2007,
  • ken wrote:

trust us and find out :)

in a week where 17 year old hackers are showing the futility of vendor-lockin (America - the iPod and Australia - the porn filter) and DRM security is hacked before it's released why would we trust anyone peddling this expensive insecurity? Listen to your viewers, not the consultants peddling their out of date MBA economics.

  • 8.
  • At 03:44 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • Martin Harris wrote:

The British are unique in so many ways but this almost child like obsession for there to be truth, light and enternal goodness flowing from the squawk box in the corner of the room is really weird. It's almost as if the British were given TV by some higher being and told to do good things for mankind otherwise there will be no redemption.

The rules are simply with TV, if you don't like it hit the channel button. If culture doesn't rate no good crying about it, perhaps more work on making culture funny or interesting or sexy might work.

Politicians used to make a big deal out of controlling things like newspapers and TV stations but now with the internet we can choose our media and its content so TV and papers are still of interest but for how long????

  • 9.
  • At 08:12 PM on 28 Aug 2007,
  • csharp wrote:

is it true that at a meeting discussing Bebos big hit handcam soap katemodern, a bbc staffer in what was seen as a marie antionette style question tone asked those involved 'how did they get their producers and who are their hair stylists'?

tv is in a race to the bottom. if the bbc won't give the public topless news someone else will? So the answer is to go up market. Identify the 100,000 decision makers in the uk and target them. The rest will follow.

we need a public service newspaper.

  • 10.
  • At 03:02 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Magellan wrote:

Much of what is available out there is superficial and shallow; you can not say this about Newsnight and Panorama (in its pre-90s format that is).
Trust is won by teams and individuals providing well researched and authoritative insight into events and trends.
Newsnight is one of the few remaining programs I can still say I trust.
I support Jeremy in his opinions; British middle and upper management is obsessed with style and the need to be seen to act, rather than defend the quality of the output.
When British middle-management starts naval gazing, anyone of integrity needs to look out.

  • 11.
  • At 04:11 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

The very notion that television has a purpose other than to serve as a means of communication is a dangerous one. When the number of channels were highly restricted by available broadcast bandwidth and the high cost of production and transmission such as over the air broadcasting of decades past there are two alternatives. Either the market (audience) decides through its viewership as measured by ratings, or some agency, usually a government or quasi government agency decides. Because TV is such a powerful medium, this second alternative is an invitation to dictatorship because government can monopolize it to serve its own agenda. It can be overt as in the USSR and Communist China or subtle as in Europe. In the US, audiences pick what they want and the competitive system is forced to respond. Those who are proponents of government control invariably set themselves up as arbitors of the public taste dictating what the masses should like and watch based on their own standards. However, when I lived in Europe and even today talking to Europeans, it is remarkable how much of what they watch is produced in the USA. This includes much of what some would call our worst products such as Jerry Springer which appeals to a base level of taste and intelligence. It must annoy the hell out of those who set the standards of public taste in programming when they are forced to broadcast this stuff out of public demand.

Now that the cost of broadcasting has dropped to nearly zero and anyone can buy a camcorder and post on U-Tube, the game is over. There is simply no way around catering to public taste to win an audience no matter what the authorities say. If Russains want to see high speed police car chases and apprehension of criminals but reject the Bolshoi, that's just too darn bad for the censors.

  • 12.
  • At 08:39 AM on 29 Aug 2007,
  • Bryan wrote:

Scott Graham at no. 5 makes a good point. But in order for the BBC to adopt a broader vision and lead the media it will have to be reformed from top to bottom. The BBC's present left-wing tunnel vision makes it apparent what stance it will take when reporting on any of the following :

left-wing dictatorships
right-wing dictatorships
global warming
the EU
immigration (from Muslim countries)
immigration (from Eastern Europe)
the war on terror

and so on.

The BBC follows the narrowest of narrow agendas. We can write its script for it on any of the subjects listed above. Its attitude and stance has become depressingly familiar.

So here are some suggestions, BBC:

Stop your propaganda. Stop trying to tell people not only what to think but how to think. Stop your gross indoctrination of the very young through CBBC. Stop campaigning for causes dear to your heart while ignoring or disparaging other causes. And stop your gross bias through distortion or omission of inconvenient facts.

  • 13.
  • At 01:40 PM on 30 Aug 2007,
  • Xie_Ming wrote:

The confused comments by some BBC "editors", indicate that specifying programming objectives and ranking them in order of importance may be too intellectually demanding.

Try "Channeling", so that these may find a comfortable place for their psyches:

1) TABLOID CHANNEL. Cannibal arrested in Germany. Actress gets new boyfriend. Harry drunk again, etc.


3) TRAVEL & ADVERTISING. Beautiful spots in the World. House beautiful. Expensive cars. Museums, beaches and cruises.

4) BUSY YUPPIES. All the current rages, with business items, delivered in two sentence phrases each.

5) ECOS & HOUSEWIVES. All the items that might make it into a middlebrow women's magazine.

6) NEWS. Calm, deadpan and factual.

7) ANALYSIS & DISCUSSION. For the people who might read Foreign Affairs Magazine, etc.

At the present time, there is a tendency to mix all these "channels" together and the result is very spotty.

For a world-wide audience, perhaps a concentration on (6) and (7) would be the most interesting "channels".

  • 14.
  • At 08:29 AM on 31 Aug 2007,

RE: Purpose
There is some confusion between PURPOSE and RESPONSIBILITY. The latter is holistic and therefore not exclusive.The former is specific to context(ie broadcaster and situation) and therefore exclusive. Those broadcasters who are unable to relate the one to the other beware!Everyone looses!

  • 15.
  • At 01:31 PM on 31 Aug 2007,
  • Lee Roy Sanders, Jr. wrote:

What is television for? The television is the unbridled home invader. Sometimes it entertains at our expense. The boob tube is used as the brainwash machine of the present. It cultivates our psyche, subverting our id's decision. It dictates the thoughts of the public and the actions of its society. Memorization of what it dictates, has become the whole thought of the public and demanded as good citizens.

  • 16.
  • At 07:14 AM on 01 Sep 2007,
  • mel wrote:

Well said, Xie_Ming. I enjoyed your analysis and agree. This 'blurring' of the 'channels' is similar to the blurring of boundaries in a dysfunctional family, where roles are neither deliniated nor respected. Where mum's having a secretive affair with a powerful banker and embarrasses her teenage daughter by copying what she wears and getting a piercing; where dad's obsessive focus is sport and blond celebrity cleavages, leaving him unable to address his kids' crying need for impartial knowledge and adult analysis... and so on. In healthy relationships, clear boundaries are drawn and people are happier knowing where they stand.

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