On Viewing Good Movies – A Response to the BBC’s Director General

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BBC logo sketchSo about a week ago, I posted a YouTube video of Mark Thompson, the BBC Director General, offering remarks to Coventry University on the question of moral media, and whether the bulk of the content of the BBC was moral or not. While I cannot go into a detailed review of Mr. Thompson’s remarks, there are two points that I wish to address, one I agree very strongly with, and the other I half agree with.

First, towards the end of his remarks, Mr. Thompson observes that there is a shift in International Cinema because of the increased feasibility of small budget production as a result of drastically reduced production costs (read: digital video).  This is allowing for more quality content to come from a variety of voices and perspectives around the world. It was also noted that there appears to be a shift in appetites in media consumption away from celebrities, and towards the serious. He noted that people want to be entertained, but they also want to learn.  He cited the BBC’s tremendous success with Planet Earth as one such evidence.

Mr. Thompson observed that in order to improve the consumption of these higher quality, more substantial products that are being produced, consumer education is needed. Children need not only to be taught internet safety, but also need to know where to go to find the very best. I feel that taking this line of thought one step further would promote movie viewers (media consumers) to become more educated and informed in their movie viewing habits.

How do we educate? We teach people to create, especially the children. We teach children to read and write so that they can be exposed to the best books.  Then why do we not educate in our classrooms about media consumption and expose children to the very best in movies and entertainment, and then teach them how to do it themselves? Only then, will they begin to think about what they are watching.

This leads me to the other point of Mr. Thompson’s that I wanted to touch on, of which I half agree with. Paraphrased, he observed that movies and media are most valuable when they tell the truth.  In Mr. Thompson’s way of presenting the argument, the role of the media is to reflect the realities of the world that we live in. The best of that reflecting happens when a truth is told. So though he is saying that the media should be a mirror to our reality, he is at the same time acknowledging that the best of it reflects truth.  To reflect that truth, is no easy task and so I do not wish to assume that taking a mirroring approach to filmmaking is exclusively passive and thus a weaker option.

However, this also seems to be Mr. Thompson’s reason for media that is less than exemplary, stating that media should not be reassuring and bland. I half agree. Bland it cannot be, but reassuring, some how, it must be! Reassuring, in our time, by all means is the harder task. Given the message of hope that unique to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the undergirding theme of every message that we tell must be reassurance.

What I find so curiously ironic is that in my mind, as in Mr. Thompson’s mind, the ultimate objective is to tell the truth. Yet, I submit that the way that we tell the truth in movies is to become social propagandists or social idealists. He didn’t elaborate at all about this concluding point, so to be fair I won’t make assumptions. My perspective however causes me to suddenly have greater sense of social responsibility to tell the truth, reassuringly at all cost, lest the sins and misunderstanding that would otherwise result from our poor media presentation be laid upon our shoulders.


Notes:  BBC Director General, Mark Thompson at Coventry Cathedral


Media in the age of moral ambiguity:

  • The discussion on global media is about a lot more than just journalism…
  • Pernicious effect of shallow, materialist, consumerist values on cultures around the world.
  • Are these fears groundless? Of course not.
  • Extraordinary pervasiveness of western entertainment, citing a Somolian army watching a VHS copy of Rambo


  • The upside is international cinema is flourishing.
  • Global audiences want to be entertained, but many also want to learn. There is a new battleground.
  • What is most important is the demand side, to try and help media consumers form their own .
  • Help children not only to know about safety, but how to find the best on the web.
  • A change away from celebrities, toward the serious.

Concluding thoughts:

  • Determination to tell the truth – it turns up in the best media.
  • Modern media is a mirror of what the world really is.
  • World media is least valuable when it is reassuring and bland.
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Brent is married to a very supportive woman, is father of a large family, and went into business for himself in 2006.

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