BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The British, long accustomed to TV news delivered with metronomic precision and compulsive observance of political impartiality, suddenly can enjoy a new experience. Just a few weeks ago, thanks to 300-channel miracle of digital satellite transmission, the UK has had access to the Fox News Channel and all the stridency, theatricality and conservative politics that come with it. Critics are concerned that Fox will influence the highbrow traditions of British TV news, but in addition says Ian Hargreaves, director of the Center for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University and media columnist for the Financial Times, Fox may actually be violating British law!
IAN HARGREAVES: The, the mainstream culture of news broadcasting in the United Kingdom is that it has to be politically impartial. That is written into the law. It's written into the charter of the BBC, and it's written into the terms of regulation that apply to every commercial broadcaster that is licensed to transmit in the United Kingdom.
BOB GARFIELD: Now you said that, in your piece, that the arrival of Fox heralds some sort of alarming future. Why do you suppose that is?
IAN HARGREAVES:Because Rupert Murdoch is very skilled at seeing his way through and round regulation. The great bogey fear is that this highly partisan type of news is going to overturn a long tradition of impartiality in British television news because it may turn out that the public likes it.
BOB GARFIELD:How is it that Fox News Channel and Al Jazeera for that matter have been able to legally maintain the transponder time on this satellite without being somehow shut down or challenged in court?
IAN HARGREAVES: My understanding is that there haven't been any complaints yet, but the thing's only been on air for a few days, and it may be that there will be complaints. It may be that there will be a challenge. But the regulator may take the view that the test of impartiality which should be applied to an analog terrestrial television news service viewed by 25, 30 percent of the audience is rather different from the tiny, tiny audience that any all-news channel is going to get on digital satellite.
BOB GARFIELD:Ideological and pugnacious journalism is certainly not a new phenomenon in England. The newspapers there are, by American standards, actually extreme in their degree of shrillness, in their partisanship and so forth. In that sense, do you think that the Fox News Channel is just offering up a, a televised version of what English news consumers have been accustomed to for, for their lifetimes?
IAN HARGREAVES: Rupert Murdoch is the biggest owner of national newspapers in Britain. His papers have more than a third of the market. The provocative, telling-it-like-it-is, up-yours sort of headline is your normal fare in British tabloid newspapers. And there have been attempts before in Britain to create what is something called Tabloid Television, but they haven't so far been very successful.
BOB GARFIELD:All right, professor, I want you, I want you to take of the cap and gown for a moment and become a media columnist for me -- how will it strike you if these values that you've described, these rougher, ruder, livelier values actually wind up infecting -- let's just go all the way here and say -- the BBC?
IAN HARGREAVES: I wouldn't-- condemn it out of hand as you may expect me to, because it may be that broadcast news has to change in order to engage with an audience which is not reared on the monolithic solemnities of the BBC but which is used to a rougher, more diverse world coming at it through the worldwide web and 300 channel, 400 channel television.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I'll tell you what -- in 5 years when the BBC has become Talk Radio with Pictures-- [LAUGHTER] we'll give you a call and see how you're liking it.
IAN HARGREAVES: [LAUGHS]!
BOB GARFIELD: Ian Hargreaves, thank you very much.
IAN HARGREAVES: You're welcome. It was a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD:Ian Hargreaves is director of the Center on Journalism Studies at Cardiff University and a media columnist for the Financial Times of London.