Though broadcasting has an increasingly global reach, it is the voice of individual national cultures that needs to be heard if we are to appreciate and understand the forces that shape the world today. The globalisation of television has provided me with some of the more uncomfortable moments of my travels. Pop videos provide an example. Slick, well-produced and accessible almost anywhere in the world, they have a considerable audience. The images, often wildly and exuberantly sexual, may seem playful and ironic in New York and London, but in many parts of the world they are seen as glimpses of life in the West. Removed from their cultural context, they can send out seriously wrong signals, which make things very unpleasant for women travellers from the West, who are expected to be as available and provocative as their counterparts on the satellite screen.
This demonstrates two things. One is the power of the television reach, and the other is the responsibility of those who have the resources to exploit it. In John Cleese's film Fierce Creatures, Kevin Kline, as the ultimately unscrupulous TV mogul, argued over the best time to schedule live executions. How outrageous, we all thought, and laughed heartily. Now, as producers seem drawn ever closer to the nastiest aspects of human behaviour, it seems still outrageous but no longer unlikely.
Because I travel a lot, I am particularly mindful of the image of my country abroad, and TV plays a considerable part in promoting that image. As English becomes the lingua franca of communications, the more popular English-language programmes become and the more crucial is the quality of, and responsibility for, what we produce and sell to the world.
There are certain areas in which British television always does well. Sports broadcasting is universally popular. The great national events, mostly involving the Royal Family, may make us look a little Ruritanian, but they are well-presented, often spectacular manifestations of a peculiarly British culture and tradition. For music, like sport, there is a universal appetite. And period-drama, history and natural-history output is of sustained high quality.
What concerns me more is how we present an image of our country when we're not at sports events or pop concerts or waving flags at the Queen. How do we match up to the challenge of showing a country of the present, not the past? How complete a portrait of Britain does our television reflect? There is no doubt that the rest of the world is curious, as the number of asylum-seekers goes to show. What do people want to know about us?
I believe that the best way to win hearts and minds abroad is to continue to invest in programmes that honestly and truthfully address life as it is lived here in Britain. I don't mean life as one great game show, or even the lives of holiday reps or neighbours from hell, but programmes that reflect, for instance, the plurality of our religions, the diverse backgrounds of all our people, the successes and achievements of this busy democracy as well as its problems - unresolved tensions, the poverty of our estates, and the challenges of maintaining a free education and health service. …