The recent clash between the BBC and the government has shown how fragile a relationship the two shares. Andrew Gilligan’s story, which he broke on Radio 4’s today programme on Wednesday July ninth 2003, shook the government and the BBC to their cores. Gilligan’s story was not the first action by the BBC to cause friction between them and the government. In the 1980’s the BBC and the government often clashed over the issue of Northern Ireland and the fact that Margaret Thatcher preferred to have more of a free market economy.
Hutton’s report split the nation because many believed that the BBC had reported what they believed to be a fair and accurate, a belief that grew daily and continues to grow as weapons of mass destruction have still not been found let alone weapons that could be fired at forty five minutes notice, story and they believe in the BBC as an impartial body. Many people also believe that governments lie for a living. The two linchpins of British society clashed and the government won. They were cleared of all charges while the BBC came under so much flack from Hutton the Director General, the head of the board of governors and Gilligan all left the corporation.
Where the BBC comes under question for it’s dedication to public service broadcasting on its television stations few doubt the high quality and diverse range it offers through it’s radio stations both local and national. Many of the programmes are accessible and relevant for society and incorporate the audience. Shows like ‘Talkback’ are massively successful but would not be attempted on commercial based stations. Many of the shows have so much contained in them that they cannot possibly be making enough to make them commercially viable but they are needed by the public and the BBC obviously feels it’s role to give the public these shows. Radio is the BBC at it’s very best in terms of public service broadcasting. It’s institutional values to inform, educate and entertain are upheld in it’s many and diverse range of radio channels.
Big institutions dominate what we listen to on the radio and what bands are successful and which ones aren’t. Mtv has a lot to answer for as it has sanitised the music world. Music often seen as on the fringes has become part of the institutions. Rock as been institutionalised for a long time now. Successful rock bands are bands that have allowed themselves to come under the protections of the big corporations they fight against in there music.
Two of the most successful bands of the 1990’s were bands that allowed themselves to become part of the institution. ‘Rage Against the Machine’ was a band that presented an anti-authority, anti-institution image through their music and their videos while in reality they were part of the machine they were raging against. They were signed to the ultra-capitalist Sony label while they were preaching communist values through their website and their lyrics.
Kurt Cobain realised that the battle cry of ‘Punk Rock is Freedom’ was a fraudulent one. He felt that his music was been compromised by big business in order to be radio friendly unit shifters. The images of both bands were carefully cultivated to aim at the disgruntled teen end of the market. Cobain used his songs to launch thinly veiled attacked at the institutions he felt had compromised his music calling a song ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ on ‘In Utero’ and launching an attack on the station many felt had made the band through the song ‘Rape Me’ also on ‘In Utero’ but by promoting and actively encouraging cobain’s music both his record label and MTV were happy to put forward this angry youth as part of their appeal to generation x.
Record companies make music trends the current success story of the moment ‘The Darkness’ had a massive publicity push for a first album for an unproven act and are now reaping the rewards as they have been credited with a rebirth in interest of rock music. In reality the Darkness did not bring rock back to the mainstream record labels realise the era of the boy band is almost over and that they need a new trend to exploit.
One of the most famous examples in music industry of how the institutions have given the public the meaning came in 1977 during the queens golden jubilee when the sex pistols classic reworking of ‘God save The Queen’ was kept off number one despite having sold the most copies of any single that week to save face for the Queen during her big celebration. Johnny ‘Rotten’ Lydon has recently allowed himself to be institutionalised by appearing in ITV’s ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’. Maybe Rotten, Cobain and Rage against the machine believed that the best way to fight the power was from within or maybe they just sold out to big business.
The major institutions dominate the market they are involved in. Hollywood’s dominates the movie industry more than it has at any other time in its history. The values that dominate Hollywood cinema now dominate world cinema. The BBC has come out of it’s battle with the government battered but not broken and now has to try to rebuild it’s credibility with a public who may now have their traditional view that the BBC is an unbiased impartial and fair body shaken.
The music industry has more control over its stars than any other industry on earth and carefully selects what the audience wants at a particular time (although the debate over whether we need to hear a Peter Andre song will run and run). Media institutions control media meanings and have created whole movements on the basis of the meaning e.g. the grunge era of the early 1990’s. The trick so expertly applied by these firms is that they allow the audience to think they’ve taken the meaning while in reality the meaning is already in built through the style, structure and production of a media text.