BBC1's flagship current affairs program was devoted to file sharing last night, and contained something to piss off a range of lobbyists.
Usually when this happens, BBC producers often conclude "they're doing something right", and pour themselves a large, congratulatory drink. They shouldn't, because while the program succeeded in trying to be "fair", it failed in its larger mission to present the issue properly - something we already understand.
One luxury journalists have left is to call bullshit on self-interested parties - to ask whether they really represented anyone in particular or whether their arguments had consequences. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, TV journalism used to do this all the time. But not this time. The issue was viewed through lobbyists' eyes. And because equal time was given to a cross-section of lobbyists, the BBC will doubtless insist this was fair and balanced. Yet if the Honourable Old Duffers in the House of Lords can make monkeys out of the lobbyists - and debate legal P2P - why can't the BBC?
I've written many times that the anti-change contingent at record companies and the freetards are sides of the same reactionary coin. They both staked out a position many years ago, probably back when John Perry Barlow was giving his 1995 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace speech, and they like it there: they haven't had a new thought since. It's all very static.
On the one side is idea that coercion will cause "behaviour change", leading to the public embracing the current set of retail choices. This permits them to apply the might and logic of physical distribution control in a digital world, and avoids embracing structural reform. On the other side is the idea that music just had to be free, just because some people demanded it must be - therefore it had no value. Or that the property right couldn't be defended, because doing so was implicitly oppressive. Every technological revolution has made creators richer, yet in this one, they're collateral damage. The possibilites that new technology opens all go legal eventually, as black markets go white. To deny this - as both sides do - requires self-interested and incredibly unimaginative arguments. We got no shortage of those.
Panorama simply didn't dare raise questions on behalf of the viewer and look at the future of music delivery.
Dumb and dumber
The clue that the BBC would not dare ask bold questions came quite early on. Producers chose quite possibly the dumbest family in Britain. One dad of four said his teenage daughter used his work laptop every night and he didn't know how to stop this. Uh. Password? (Obviously the kids ran this household.)
Mum said she depended on the household computer for two jobs, but didn't know what was going on.
Towards the end, a residential student and heavy BitTorrent user whose connection was being throttled said she thought music should be free anyway... but now life wasn't worth living. She looked very unhappy, her eyes glued to the screen, as the Torrents trickled in - now very, very slowly. Did she even have an offline life?
When the BBC chooses people this dumb as representatives of us, we can infer it thinks we're all this dumb.
There's really no excuse, because the Bill prompting a debate on the idea of creating a legitimate business out of P2P file sharing was discussed by the House of Lords last month. Some favour a compulsory tax. Others favour a legitimate market, which doesn't tax people for a service they don't use (that's at least two thirds of UK users) and who prefer a la carte or nothing at all. But even the most naive Peers showed rather more thought than the artists (hello, Billy Bragg, yet again), industry people, or activists.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised because as the fantastic Tweets I've captured demonstrate, file sharing is the political issue for people who don't want to do politics. It's much more like a cartoon virtual reality game, where you adopt a character (eg 'Hulk') as you step into the cartoon arena. Just grunt and roar according to character. (The LibDems' Lord Clement Jones has belatedly realised this - that whatever politics you try to please the freetards, you'll always lose.) It's the ultimate expression of democracy, Web 2.0, a parody of the real thing.
And so copyright has become the perfect issue for the eternal juvenile. It's like the man who hated the Eiffel Tower so much, he had to go up to the top every day. It was the only place in Paris from which he couldn't see the Eiffel Tower. ®