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Why Countries Fail: The Politics of Dependency

Alright people, big topic, so put on your seatbelts and crash helmets, because I’m about to shatter your well-meant neo-liberal illusions as to why countries fail.

Hint: It’s all your fault.

Yes you — you paragons of democracy, you believers of humanistic values, you defenders of equality and equity, you bleeping bleeding-heart liberals — it’s all your fault.

“Why is it our fault, great voice communicating with us from the far reaches of the internet?”

Because for all your good-heartedness and do-gooderness, the very policies you’ve supported are the direct cause of most of today’s misery in developing nations around the world.

What happens out there in the real world is not what happens in wealthy jurisdictions like Aberdeen, Sheffield or Cardiff.

So, bear that in mind when Western military powers enter and control a country for the purpose of eliminating warlords, etc. — let’s say Somalia in this case, but it could be any number of African, Asian, or Arab countries, and stay there for any length of time — those countries operate under foreign military rule and the moment those foreign military units leave, the warlords re-emerge and resume their normal terrorist activities.

Which prompts many on-scene Western TV reporters to plead with their viewers to stop the government from removing their troops from that forlorn country. And good on them! It comes straight from the heart, there is no doubt that such reporters mean well and speak with years of experience in the region. I salute them for their very human response to what they must see as “America abandoning it’s allies” or “The West abandoning it’s mission to restore peace” or whatever.

But it isn’t what they think.

What’s really happening is that by sending powerful Western military forces into places like Somalia in the first place, the local population no longer feels they’re responsible for bringing peace and prosperity to their own country — after all, why do that when America shows up to do the job for them? And the longer the Americans and their allies stay, the more dependent local populations become upon ‘the Americans’ to operate their country.

It’s even worse than that.

What happens is that over decades of time powerful local lobby groups emerge that encourage some amount of home-grown violence to occur… so that ‘the Americans’ will return and restore order, and the population can then have another 5-10 years of relative peace and prosperity.

‘What’s wrong with that?’ Said every bleeding-heart liberal, everywhere.

What’s wrong with it is that by sending Western military units to ‘bring peace and stability’ to war-torn countries is that it prevents those populations from taking responsibility for doing it themselves.

Consequently, over generations of time, those populations work an unspoken deal with the warlords to cause trouble every time the Americans threaten to leave. (Warlords and their minions, by definition, are highly mobile and can easily slip across the border until the Americans leave) Not only that, but in cases where the Americans and their allies have already left, all it takes is a few dozen car bombs destroying a dozen city blocks (with many casualties) along with some carefully choreographed displays of civil disorder to get Western powers back into their country to restore order.

It’s nice that Western governments spend multi-billions per year in each war-torn country to restore order and bring about a peaceful standoff between the forces of terror and the forces of democracy. If only Western taxpayers knew the total combined cost of these military operations they might not think it so nice.

But it isn’t about the money, nor should it be.

The fact is, that by doing so repeatedly, the West is setting itself up for failure by sending troops to solve what are essentially, political problems. And political problems can never be solved by removing power from local populations, temporarily giving it to a Western military unit, and then, at length when that military power leaves, the situation again becomes highly unstable.

And it keeps happening again and again, all around the world.

The latest example of this is Somalia which has seen foreign troops come and go many times, yet as soon as they leave, it’s only a matter of time before the cycle of violence begins again — thereby necessitating yet another Western military intervention.

Today on BBC TV, another well-meaning reporter was pleading with the camera to keep US troops in Somalia because he (rightly) fears the situation there will deteriorate once the Americans leave.

And why will that happen? Because people there have forgotten how to govern. They’ve forgotten that they’re responsible for what goes on in their country, and they’ve forgotten that every developed nation has already gone through what they’re presently going through — and it seems a failure of human psychology that most countries can’t seem to get their act together until they’ve had a civil war or two. Including some Western countries.

Rather than shield countries from themselves by continually sending troops abroad to restore order, thereby preventing any form of organic self governance occurring, perhaps we should be awarding scholarships to their kids while our troops are still deployed in those countries — so that those students can live in the UK and experience an actual working democracy while taking their education — and hope that they study urban development or excellence in governance, thereby equipping them to return home with the knowledge to help set their country aright. That’s so much better than their local warlord teaching them how to fire an AK-47 at tourists and locals alike and to make improvised explosives.

Cheaper for us, AND better for them!

What’s not to like about ‘cheaper and better’?

What it will take to make this proposal a reality.

The UK can spend half of it’s foreign aid budget on ‘bullets’ or it can spend half it’s foreign aid budget on rescuing any child from a conflict-ridden Commonwealth country by giving them a proper education in the UK before returning them home.

Which is better, do you think?

In the short term, it’s easy to keep spending British treasure and blood to separate enemy combatants within developing nations. But over the long term it makes more sense to educate a new generation that there’s a better way to solve political problems than picking up an AK-47.

Thanks for your time, people. I wish you a wonderful week ahead.

by John Brian Shannon

A BBC for the 21st-Century!

by John Brian Shannon

The UK government needs to drop the present funding model for the BBC by 2021 and help the corporation get ready to serve Britons even better than in the 20th-century. Which it did quite remarkably, considering the times and the level of technology available back in the day.

However, it’s a new century now, and even the hallowed institution of the BBC must gear-up for the new media environment that’s only begun to impact the world, and the first thing that needs to change is that the BBC license fee must end by 2021. That’s it. Gone! Just like that.

Of course the BBC will need to fund its programmes and it should sell advertising on all of its websites, TV programmes, radio broadcasts, and on all other media, in the same manner as other media outlets.

There won’t be any problem getting companies to advertise with the BBC as it remains one of the premiere media providers in the world. And, the day the BBC license fee model ends, the BBC should begin funding its programming via advertising.

The UK government should consider taking a page out of the Canadian government’s book when it moved the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the CBC is Canada’s national broadcaster) from 100% government control to a more arm’s length relationship with the Canadian government. Until the 1990’s, the CBC didn’t run ads unless the adverts were government advertising of some sort (during elections, or to provide public information, etc.) thereby making the CBC 100% dependent upon the government for their funding. Not the best way to build a free-from-government-control media empire…

The really smart thing the Canadian government did was insist that the CBC provide 50% Canadian content (CANCON) in its programming. That is, half of the programmes that aired on CBC TV or CBC Radio were required to have significant numbers of Canadian actors, hosts, Canadian news, or even if an American host was conducting the interview the interviewee had to be a Canadian in order to qualify for supplementary funding from the government.

This so-called CANCON requirement allowed Canadian programming to flourish — even though the gigantic American media machine lived right next door to Canada which could’ve easily subsumed Canada’s entire media establishment had they wanted to.

In exchange for providing CANadian CONtent, the CBC received supplementary CANCON funding from the government for Canadian programming on a per show or (sometimes) on a per series basis.

In some cases, the Canadian government paid up to half the cost of Canadian programmes, depending upon how many Canadian actors appeared on a show or series, and depending upon where the story took place. More CANCON funding was paid when the shoot was in Toronto than if shot in New York city, for example. A little complicated, but apparently not that onerous.

The Canadian film industry loved the new arrangement — and it saved the Canadian government millions of dollars per year — as the cost of running the entire CBC was no longer borne by the government, rather, they paid only for the portion of the programming that was considered Canadian content.

It was a win for the Canadian government which saved millions per year and got the taxpayers off their backs, it was a win for Canadian actors, directors, producers and theatre houses because they got rapid access to the massive (massive for Canada, that is) CBC which was suddenly hungry for Canadian content, and it was a win for Canadian viewers who got to see more programmes that interested them and fewer American shows that were less relevant to the Canadian experience.

Yes, the one downside was that Canadians had to suffer through commercials. (Oh, the agony!)

But there likely isn’t one Canadian who’d willingly go back to the old days of wall-to-wall American TV shows (mostly about crime) and American news (also, mostly about crime) and American soap operas (also, mostly about crime) with only bits of Canadian content scattered here and there.

CBC News, CBC Sports, and CBC Documentaries are of exceptional quality nowadays, and are broadcast and rebroadcast on many channels around the world. And even with that said, all of it seems to have improved every year since the Canadian government gave the CBC an independent mandate.

Yet, at the time the model was unilaterally changed by the Canadian government, some old-school CBC hosts tut-tutted the change, complaining that ‘Canadian television would never be the same’. And in a way, they were right, it’s even better now!

Today, as a result of the Canadian government’s foresightedness, the Canadian movie industry is booming and Hollywood movies are often shot in Canadian cities because the economics work so well. Even Hollywood film makers can qualify for CANCON funding when they shoot in Canada, and that’s in addition to the savings due to the Canadian dollar presently pegged at 75 cents to the American dollar.

Based on the successful CBC example, the BBC could break free from government funding and control, from the bad press surrounding the BBC license-fee, add more revenue to their operations via typical advertising, and gain additional funding from the government whenever it creates a made-in-the-UK film, series, documentary, news programme, or other UK-based programming.

To be fair to smaller centres, the BBC should receive slightly more funding per capita from the government for creating programming set in or geared towards Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, or in any economically depressed town or region of the country. For one example: What could a television series that is shot in the Orkney Islands do for the economy there? And for another example, what could a new BBC production centre mean for Blackburn?

There are plenty of spectacular landscapes in the UK and millions of fascinating stories to tell — one only needs to watch Escape to the Country to get a sense of the history of the UK and of the interesting people hiding in plain sight all over the country.

In short, the UK government needs to simplify the BBC’s funding model, it needs to lower its total spend on the BBC while rewarding it for producing UK-created content, it needs to drop the abhorrent BBC license fee, it needs to allow the BBC to advertise, and it needs to provide supplementary funding to the BBC and film makers hailing from Hollywood, Bollywood, or from anywhere in the world that film movies, documentaries, or series anywhere in the UK, especially in economically depressed regions.

That’s a BBC model that will allow the corporation and its great people to succeed even better in the 21st-century than it did when it was founded in 1922 and every year since.