Westminster Talks is proud to continue the series with a talk by Professor Jean Seaton from Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design.
The BBC is a national asset in a globalised world, since 1927 it has had the motto and injunction that ‘nation shall speak unto nations’. One of the BBC’s ‘public purposes’, helpfully written into its constitution, is ‘to bring the world to the UK and the UK to the world’.
This is more apposite than ever before. In a world where international and national boundaries are utterly porous, where threats and opportunities leak from one realm to another, this global role, developed over decades, is of the greatest contemporary relevance. The new structure of international and national life is being shaped by communications, not borders, and the BBC's combination of international presence and national role makes the Corporation one of the few institutions we have that is fit for purpose in the evolving inter-connected world.
We need to be able to understand what is happening abroad, be able to react to it, understanding the domestic consequences and being able to manage those as well. As cross-national communities of interest – the great corporations, competitive industrial research, the emerging ideologies, the climate, cyber-crime, musical tastes, fashion – are increasingly important, the BBC is already organically fitted to this world. Its institutional shape matches them. Too much of our thinking about the BBC is parochial. Relating to home and abroad is not dismissible ‘soft power’, it is the hard, cutting edge of nearly all the battles we face. The BBC's fragile political independence, the size and ambition we need it to have, the creative challenges we need it to meet our national issues.
Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History, official historian of the BBC and Director of the Orwell Prize for political writing and journalism. She has written about the media and politics, wars, terrorism, the role of broadcasting - especially the BBC - and has helped shape policy. She is the author, together with James Curran, of the international classic, Power Without Responsibility, (in its 8th edition), Carnage and the Media and her volume of the official history of the BBC Pinkoes and Traitors: the BBC and the Nation 1974-87 was published in 2015.
She took over the Orwell Prize from Sir Bernard Crick, which has grown into an influential award, which has just launched a Youth Prize. She runs (with Professor Rosie Thomas) an innovatory Foreign Office project for Indian and Pakistani journalists, and is an editor of The Political Quarterly.