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Mark Thompson: the BBC is the answer to Brexit

September 25, 2019 - 3:39pm

OK, he didn’t say exactly that, in his speech last night to the Royal Television Society, but that was the implication of the New York Times CEO’s argument. It’s an interesting one.

He began by asserting that the root causes of the current Brexit impasse were cultural just as much as political:

If you claim that the concerns which led to the Brexit debacle relate to political rather than this kind of cultural sovereignty, my reply is that it’s impossible to separate the two, that national self-expression – recognising your language, your life experience, your community in the prevailing culture – is not just an important element, but a necessary pre-condition for national self-determination and a sense of individual and collective agency.

A society which loses its shared culture loses much of its sense of distinctive identity. A society in which different communities and groups can no longer listen to and come to understand each other’s pasts and presents shouldn’t be surprised if mutual incomprehension and division are the result. If you doubt that any of this connects to big politics and national well-being, you’re not paying attention.

- Mark Thompson

He then goes on to suggest that the BBC, as the only media player that can possibly fulfil the role of protecting a distinctly British cultural voice and projecting that voice internationally, should really be seen as the ally of Brexit voters, not their enemy. He even supportively quotes JM Keynes’ famous “death to Hollywood” remark, before calling for more investment in the BBC to maximise its cultural power:

The BBC as a whole should be a shoo-in as a probable global winner. It’s the only British media brand with truly global recognition and potential. Its international audience runs in the hundreds of millions. Its indispensable presence in the lives of most British households is a testament, not just to its heritage, but to the talent it still attracts, and the creativity and excellence it still fosters.

But – at a moment when Britain contemplates setting out on a brave new voyage in search of new friends and new global markets – we can’t put Britain’s media flag-carrier on the list.

That’s because of an essentially hostile public policy stance on the BBC, which began to coalesce more than a decade ago but has hardened notably in recent years.

- Mark Thompson

Full text of the speech is HERE – worth a read.

Freddie Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.


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