BBC a bulwark against pandemic of fake news, Tony Hall to argue | Media

The BBC plays such a critical role in countering misinformation that according to international health chiefs it could positively influence the take-up of any vaccine during the Covid-19 pandemic, the broadcaster’s outgoing director general is expected to tell television executives.

Describing two pandemics – one of coronavirus and the other of disinformation spread on social media – Tony Hall will highlight public service broadcasting (PSB) as “vital to democracy” and say its values “have never been more needed.”

In a keynote speech to open the Edinburgh television festival on Monday, Hall is expected to stress that the BBC’s responsibility as the “UK’s most trusted news provider” is to “help bring the nation together”.

“The forces of disinformation and social media tend to feed on fracture and drive polarisation. They’re often specifically designed to exploit division for commercial or political gain; to unsettle societies or undermine democracy,” he will say.

“What we do, as a PSB, is a force in the opposite direction.”

Hall will cite an interview with a World Health Organization leader who addressed a recent seminar for PSB leaders in Europe: “Why you people are so important, he said, is because even if we have a vaccine tomorrow – up to 30% of people, according to polling, would not use it. There is, he said, another pandemic – that of misinformation.”

The BBC’s role is “much more than protecting integrity in news” though that is critical, but is also “about helping to protect our democratic integrity, and fostering unity and cohesion.”

“More and more, in the fake news world, truth is a priceless commodity in our societies.”

Hall will address delegates on issues including diversity, the role of news in public service broadcasting, and how to stay relevant while competing with streaming services such as Netflix.

He is also expected to touch on past BBC controversies, including the Jimmy Savile scandal, and failings over executive pay-offs, which left fundamental questions hanging over its future. He will insist it is an “organisation transformed, inside and out.”

The “tragedy and calamity” of the Covid crisis has been a massive real-time consultation of what the British public wanted and expected from public service broadcasting, he will stress. And it has pulled the clarity of BBC’s mission into even sharper focus.

The broadcaster’s response to Covid, and also to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, had yielded lessons that PSBs were vital to democracy.

“They inform us. They educate us” and, he will add, their values are “deeply stitched into the fabric of national life.”

He will point also to the broadcaster’s role in education during school lockdown, the biggest in its history, highlighting two hours of original programming daily with 2,000 hours of curriculum-led daily lessons.

It could, he will say, be taken a step further in future, with the idea of an “open school’ in the tradition of the Open University.

The Covid crisis was a major factor in 94% of the UK public using the BBC in March, with 87% of 16-34s doing so, and TV viewing up nearly 50% year on year some weeks, not only for news, but for dramas and escapist programmes.

By adapting successfully to the digital world, the BBC has made a “pivot to a new world,” he will argue.

“So there is no doubt in my mind that PSB’s can do more than ever for the UK in the years ahead. We have to keep banging the drum for what only we can deliver.”

“Public service broadcasters – and the BBC in particular – have always been part of the glue that binds our nations and communities together. But the last few months have emphasised that even further.”

Broadcaster and historian David Olusoga will close Monday’s event by delivering the annual MacTaggart lecture, named in honour of producer, writer and director James MacTaggart.

Source: The Guardian

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