Magazine article Times Higher Education

Radio Ga-Gagged

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Radio Ga-Gagged

Article excerpt

Press a button and someone's reputation dies, warns Felipe Fernandez- Armesto.

Beware! An insidious and hitherto largely unsuspected form of censorship threatens. We are armed, or at least warned, against traditional abuses. Academics are used to political interference from regimes that want to enforce ideological uniformity or black out peculiar viewpoints. Even supposedly benign governments manipulate immigration regulations against supposedly subversive teachers. At local or regional levels, book-banning boards try to restrict the curriculum, even in the "Land of the Free", where I work. The Church to which my own university belongs has sometimes abused religious discipline to contend with heterodoxy. Big business exploits lobbying and vexatious litigation against academic challenges to corporate malpractice. Partisan alumni sometimes mount campaigns against lecturers they dislike. Some university administrations try to prune or clip their turbulent clerisy for a quiet life or a corrupt donation.

We think of radio, however, as a friend. At least, public broadcasting, of the kind represented by the BBC in Britain or National Public Radio in the US has an honourable record in giving contributors a fair airing. Typically, producers who work in these stations are well educated, open- minded people with a vocation for public service, fairness and truth. The ratings war means less, in the public radio world, than high standards of quality and morality. Television, even in publicly funded hands, is less reliable because entertainment dominates producers' priorities to the near exclusion of education. I have done little work for television in recent years because I lost confidence in the medium's fidelity to fairness. I will present only material of my own devising, and will not take part in interviews or panels unless they are broadcast live, because I have seen too many recordings traduced in the cutting room, with academics' views warped to support the dim or shallow agenda of a director - often a frustrated wannabe professor - or jiggered to make the contributor look stupid. I would never advise a colleague to appear on television in a recorded interview.

My faith in radio, however, has only recently begun to ebb. I have so much positive experience of this lovely medium, which is well adapted to appeal directly to the mind. For many years I was a regular presenter of one of BBC Radio 4's current affairs programmes, Analysis, and although the budget shrank over time, the quality barely wavered. When I interviewed contributors, the producer and I took it for granted, as part of our basic professional standards, that we would record everything said, and that in editing we would strive to represent fairly views we disagreed with. …

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