More media Big Questions post-Woolwich

More media Big Questions post-Woolwich

On BBC1's important, topical television 'morality and beliefs' show, The Big Questions, next due to air at 12.05pm on Sunday 26 May 2013, a major focus of discussion will be the horrific Woolwich killing and its aftermath.

Live from Ashton Park School in Bristol, presenter Nicky Campbell will apparently ask, "Have British Muslims done enough to counter extremism?" That's what the pre-publicity says (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b021mpc2). Hopefully he will also ask whether the UK government could help counter terrorism by changing its foreign policy, and other tough questions, too.

It's bound to be a lively debate, as usual. Friends and colleagues of mine appear from time-to-time on the Big Questions. Unfortunately, even if they knew, they could say no more about future programmes (other than that I will not be on them!), because its producers have issued a rather strange edict to participants.

Several people outside Ekklesia have forwarded me a copy of this. It seems to be causing some bafflement, and would appear to indicate a rather nervous, short-sighted and counter-productive approach to social media and the digital age within at least sections of the BBC. Which is a real shame.

The Big Issue has written to contributors to say: "Please do not publicise details about the show, the debate or your possible participation in it, this includes postings on the internet, Facebook, blogs, personal websites or Twitter. Unfortunately we have found in the past that advance postings and discussions have damaged the live debates. Further, given the Big Questions is a topical programme, debate topics and participants are often changed, even on the weekend of the show." [The punctuation has been left as is.]

A quasi-injunction against pre-publicity seems a rather odd way to proceed in the twenty-first century. To say the least.

Of course, there is a difficulty with lobbying around texting-in, and so on, with many live programmes these days. Discussion of hot topics can be febrile, accusations can be thrown, and emotions are easily stirred. And, yes, guests and topics on many live programmes change. Most people understand that.

So there can be a downside to social media. There are a variety of ways of dealing with that, including broadcast delays, advice rather than prohibition, and online correction protocols - all short of trying to stop people communicating, which would seem the opposite of a public service remit, surely?

Because the upside of social media is much more awareness, participation and (hopefully, for television programmes) viewership. We live in a multi-platform, interactive media age, and despite the challenges, that is an overwhelmingly positive thing, in my view.

The Big Questions deals with very important issues and creates a shared space for people from a variety of belief communities, both religious and non-religious. The BBC should be congratulated on trying to do this, not least when budget cuts and redundancies continue to be the order of the day within the Corporation. It would be good if that could be kept open online as well as onscreen.

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(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. He has a natural face for radio, and is an active member of the National Union of Journalists.

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