Sunday, June 26, 2016

Will Brexit Affect My Favorite International Broadcaster?

So I'm using the BBC to keep abreast of the Brexit story. The BBC happens to be the "inventor," if you will, of the public broadcaster genre, and if you want you can read about it in David Attenborough's* biography. 

Before they ventured forth, nobody really used the new technologies of Radio and subsequently Television in the manner we have become accustomed to in this day and age. They pioneered public broadcasting as well, because heck, si there was a whole Empire right there to talk at? And so with their British can-do attitude off they went to colonize the airwaves. You see that word 'International' appended to any of your favorite channels? Guess who you have to thank for it.

To this day, they remain a rock-solid brand that commands respect from competitors and detractors alike. One may accuse them of having biases all one wants, but nobody dismisses the Beeb outright. I grew up knowing the tune of Rule Britannia (sadly I can still sing the first few bars) and I still "fact-check" major global stories with the Beeb- especially if the story has been broken by an American newsroom. (CNN International? Ptuh, ptuh).** 

There are other newsrooms now that do incredible work and whom I consult on a range of issues. But nobody documentaries like the BBC, to date. I mean, I am a completely zealous convert to the Vice media empire, but still. If I want to know about a subject and there is a BBC documentary about it, then it gets watched first.

As an Africanist I have absolutely no problem being anglophilic about certain things, the BBC being one of them. They gave Tanzania the likes of Tido Mhando, Zainab Chondo, the delicious Salim Kikeke and on and on- there is a list of superb Tanzanian broadcasters who have passed through the BBC's hands. Idhaa ya Kiswahili ya BBC is one of the pilgrimage spots that I would like to visit some day, Inshallah.

This morning as I was catching up on the Brexit issue, it occurred to me that the BBC is a public institution with a penchant for independent thinking. Now that the conservatives have so much sway over the country's fate, what will become of them? I like to think that the institution is safe- it is too big, too old, too majestic to be messed with. But I know this is just wishful thinking. A conservative government that would happily cripple its own public healthcare system is a government that just might mess with anything else that is good about Britain.

Understand: I certainly dodged paying the TV license (tax) as a student in Britain out of solidarity with my fellow broke housemates. When one is young, one must sail the seas of piracy with bravado, knowing that you are only stacking up debt for further on in life. Did this mean we didn't watch the hell out of BBC products? Nope. We watched the hell out of BBC products, especially those of us who were not British and who needed news of the world beyond the little isle.

So in a way I guess this is me making up for it a little bit. Of all the institutions and practices that Britain has offered the world, the BBC is by far my favorite and always will be.*** If anything could impassion me about the Brexit saga, this would be it. Don't nobody mess with Auntie.

*Speaking of awesome institutions, David Attenborough's gorgeous curiosity about the natural world has probably done more to educate the English-speaking world about nature than anyone else I can think of. Between him, Jaques Cousteau and National Geographic magazines you can literally give your kid an amazing education about this planet while instilling deep respect for it and for science.

**I love what Shaka Ssali is doing on VoA but let's just admit he is a lone hero stranded in a country that just doesn't even begin to understand how important this kind of work is. I am perpetually horrified that PBS and VoA are run on donations and would totally donate to their excellent causes if my Tanzanian debit card were acceptable unto them.

***That is saying a lot considering the competition: Smarties, Sunday pub lunches and the romance novel genre thanks to one Austen lady. Not forgetting Builder's Tea and the glorious F-word as noun, adjective and everything in-between.

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