It’s a paradox: On the one hand we see new and disturbing threats to free speech, but, on the other, it’s never been easier to disseminate information and misinformation.
It’s the latter that concerns Adam Lent – who uses a piece for the RSA to lament the “growing boldness on the part of the politically ignorant to speak openly.” He’s got a point – thanks to the new media, just about anyone can share their ideas with the world, no matter how nonsensical.
But as long as this nonsense isn’t violent nonsense, does it really matter? Yes, it does, argues Lent:
“One only needs to look to Russia or the Arab world to see how widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories based on ignorance of history and the way politics and economics really works can utterly corrupt public debate, spread docility and, ironically, hand power to genuinely malign and anti-democratic forces.”
At any one time there may be thousands of bloggers and tweeters attempting to spread their crackpot notions – but, it most cases, no one pays them any attention. The danger is when the big names start talking tripe.
Adam Lent mentions Russell Brand and Nigel Farage in this regard – but while one may disagree with either or both of these gentlemen, no one has to buy Brand’s book or vote for Farage’s party. Furthermore, by appearing on “serious programmes such as Newsnight and Question Time” there’s an opportunity (though not one always taken) to put their arguments to the test.
However, the third name that Lent mentions is in a somewhat different category:
“Adam Curtis, appeared on a BBC2 programme called Screenwipe over the Christmas break. Curtis’s film is now on You Tube and has already been viewed nearly 120,000 times in the last four days…
“Curtis claims that governments are using new techniques to confuse their populations about current events in order to keep them docile…
“For example, the film claims that no-one knows whether the war in Afghanistan was a victory or a defeat; that we are told President Assad is evil but now bomb his enemies thus keeping him in power; and that while the Government is taking billions out of the economy through public spending cuts, it is simultaneously pumping billions into the economy through quantitative easing (QE). All of these developments, the film implies, have been made deliberately bewildering to confuse whole populations.”
“Baloney” is Lent’s verdict – and one has to ask why such a dotty idea was given a free run by our national broadcaster. Though scheduled as part of a satirical review of the year, there was nothing amusing about it and nor was there meant to be.
There is, of course, no such thing as a neutral point-of-view. Indeed, the BBC’s attempts to claim such a perspective can reveal some highly questionable assumptions. For this reason, the broadcasters should make room for as many visibly distinctive points-of-view as possible. However, these should represent a wide range of ideological positions and not just those that BBC types feel sympathy for. Furthermore, if an argument is good enough to receive airtime, then it should be good enough to withstand serious, in-depth challenge – if not in the same programme, then at least on the same channel.
Anyone with access to the airwaves – and the proceeds of the licence fee – should be subject to the scrutiny expected of other privileged elites.