High-velocity media, superficial news and sound bite-driven debates are increasingly shaping our public discourse. The Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. election are cases in point. In the age of social media and digital television, what potentials and limits are there for strengthening constructive public debate? What are the roots of the present crisis and what can be done to fight back?
Sebastian Cody (Open Media) and Christian Fuchs (University of Westminster) will discuss transformations of television and digital media and how they impact the possibilities for public debate. Sebastian Cody will focus on the technical and historical context as a practitioner; Christian Fuchs will discuss the acceleration of the public sphere and its impacts on society.
Alternatives to superficial television are possible. The series “After Dark” – described in the television trade press as defining “the first 10 years of Channel 4, just as “Big Brother” did the second" – ran between 1987 and 2003. Based on principles developed for “Club 2”, a debate programme broadcast by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF, “After Dark” was unique in the history of British television. The programme’s ground rules of absolute live broadcasting (no editing or delay) and open-ended intimate discussion meant that guests' utterances were uncensorable.
Roly Keating, former BBC controller and current Chief Executive of the British Library, described it as "one of the great television talk formats of all time". The subjects discussed ranged widely across national and international news events, while also exploring personal and private matters. As the programme faced challenges from broadcasters, government, the legal system and various vested interests, it was often a source of controversy.
Later iterations of ‘reality TV’ have shaped the current media culture, which is dominated by commercial logic. News and debate are served up as fast-paced entertainment on social media, and big data exacerbates the speed and superficiality of news, undermining possibilities for controversy and fruitful communication.