Yesterday evening, according to my Twitter timeline, a discussion about abortion was held on the BBC NI Nolan TV show which was the latest demonstration that people of considered and reasonable opinion do not have free speech.
Placed on the panel on the so-called “pro-life” side was someone with neither expert nor representative capacity. She should not have been there. The argument that this is “free speech” doesn’t fly – there are plenty of “pro-life” public representatives or indeed church figures (expert in the doctrine many follow and presumably up to a point representative of congregations). I cannot speak for the “pro-choice” advocate as I did not watch. I do not watch programmes which give a deliberate and frankly harmful platform to extremists, while denying moderate and reasonable opinion a voice (often even when someone is there to represent moderate and reasonable opinion/expertise they are shouted over).
As I have written here before, even this month, the fact is we do not have free speech. Platforms are consistently and deliberately given to extremists who shout the loudest on the basis it will rile listeners and draw ratings. But the BBC in particular cannot be about ratings. It exists to inform, not to rile. If it is to present opposing opinions (and by the way it is peculiarly obsessed about doing that, rather than just having guests who can give considered opinion and expertise without necessarily facing confrontation), these should take the form of debate, not slanging. Indeed I gather the show went on to do precisely what I advocate in an interview about drug addiction with someone who has faced it (expertise from experience without confrontation, a very sensitive and informative way to do it), but by then I have no doubt much of the home audience will have turned off in disgust (or suitably riled).
Ultimately this is making it increasingly difficult for moderate and reasonable voices to be heard just at this very precarious time in human history when we most need to hear them. It is time for the mainstream media to think again about what its mission really is.