The Morality of Ends and Means
First it was Salisbury and now it’s Istanbul. Once again the news outdoes the most lurid spy thriller. This time the story features the bumping-off of a dissident journalist as he collected divorce papers from a Saudi Arabian consulate, while his fiancée waited for him outside. At first, the Saudis flatly denied the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, saying he left the building unharmed. Now the Kingdom admits he died in a "rogue operation" - without explaining unverified reports of a team of suspected agents arriving from Riyadh in two private jets, accompanied by a pathologist with a bonesaw. How should Britain and her allies respond to this dark episode? Is it time to cut ourselves loose from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? The young ruler has been a reformer; he has let women drive and curtailed the oppressive religious police. On the other hand, those who care about human rights are concerned about the oppression of his political opponents. Bin Salman said recently that he was ‘trying to get rid of extremism and terrorism without civil war’. Is that an effort we should be supporting? Many believe we should stop supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia when we know they will be used to blow up children in Yemen. Others say it is hypocrisy for us to take the moral high ground and that we should be concerned only with what is in our national interest. More generally, when is it morally acceptable to make alliances with bad people in order to defeat worse people, or to allow bad things to happen in order to avert greater evils? When, if ever, does the end justify the means? Witnesses are: SORIN BAIASU, Professor of Philosophy at Keele University and Secretary of the UK Kant Society; DR STEPHEN DE WIJZE, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at Manchester University; DR NEIL QUILLIAM, Senior Research Fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House; and ANDREW SMITH, Campaign Against the Arms Trade.Producer: Dan Tierney
29 Oct 2018
Going to a music festival has become a rite of passage for the post GCSE teenager. Their excitement at the prospect of a long weekend of unsupervised possibility is perhaps only matched by the anxiety of their parents who know exactly what that might entail. Those fears may have been heightened by the news that a music festival in Cambridgeshire has just become the first UK event of its kind to offer people the chance to have their illegal drugs tested to establish the purity of content before they take them. The testing facility, at the Secret Garden Party, was offered with the co-operation of the police. The organisers said the aim was to reduce harm from drug taking and promote welfare. The group conducting the forensic tests this weekend hope other festivals will follow suit. Is this a pragmatic and realistic approach to drug taking that will save lives or a tacit endorsement that will cost them? Is it part of a gradual slide toward decriminalisation of drug taking? According to the 2016 European Drug Report, ecstasy has surged in popularity in Britain among those aged 15-34 in the past three years. Is it logical on the one hand to criminalise the sale of legal highs, but on the other to make it easier to take an illegal drug like ecstasy? Needle exchanges have long been available to registered intravenous drug addicts. Is this a logical extension or does discovering people have illegal drugs and then allowing them to walk away and use them, while the police turn a blind eye, cross a moral Rubicon? It will make it safer for people who want to take drugs, but what about those people who want to attend a festival knowing it is drug free? How should we balance those competing moral goods? Witnesses are Dr Ian Oliver, Johann Hari, Steve Rolles and Deirdre Boyd.
28 Jul 2016
The Psychology of Morality
Go on - admit it. You like to feel you're above average. Don't worry. We all like to feel we're somehow special - that our gifts make us stand out from - and above - the crowd. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as positive illusion. It's the sort of self-deception that helps maintain our self-esteem; a white lie we tell ourselves. The classic example is driving: the majority of people regard themselves as more skilful and less risky than the average driver. But research just published shows that this characteristic isn't confined to skills like driving. Experiments carried out by psychologists at London's Royal Holloway University found most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous and moral and yet regard the average person as - well, how shall we put it politely? Let's just say - distinctly less so. Virtually all the those taking part irrationally inflated their moral qualities. Worse, the positive illusion of moral superiority is much stronger and more prevalent than any other form of positive illusion. Now, as a programme that's been testing our nation's moral fibre for more than 25 years, we feel this is something we're uniquely qualified to talk about. Well, we would wouldn't we? So, if we can't entirely rely on our own calibration to judge a person's moral worth, how should we go about it? Is the answer better and clearer rules, a kind of updated list of commandments? There might need to be a lot more than ten though. Does legal always mean moral? In a world that is becoming increasingly fractious, being less morally judgmental sounds attractive, but if we accept that morality is merely a matter of cognitive bias, do we take the first step on the road to moral relativism? The Moral Maze - making moral judgements so you don't have to. Witnesses are David Oderberg, Michael Frohlich, Anne Atkins and Julian Savulescu.
25 Nov 2016
This week the Prime Minister is touring the devolved nations of the UK as she prepares to trigger the Brexit process. Her message to the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is clear: we are better as one nation - the United Kingdom. Brexit has whipped up a complex and (some would say) toxic mixture of politics and patriotism. While Theresa May and others champion the national credentials of the UK, she's having to shout down the voices in the devolved nations that say their economic, cultural and democratic interests would be best served by independence. At the same time, nationalist political parties across Europe are growing in strength, with electoral challenges in France and Germany on the horizon. Is nationalism a moral force for good, because there's no better vehicle for the exercise of freedom and self-determination? Does it encourage a sense of belonging, community and culture? Or is it the worst kind of identity politics - exclusionary, divisive and populist, with sinister currents of "us" and "them"? Are we entering an age when trans-national ideas of the "Brotherhood of Man" are being replaced by loyalties closer to home? At the heart of the debate on nationalism there is an acute moral tension - between solidarity with oppressed national groups on the one hand and revulsion from the crimes perpetrated in the name of nationalism on the other. How and where should we draw the line? The morality of nationalism. Witnesses are Sophie Gaston, Simon Winder, Prof David Conway and Hardeep Singh Kohli.
23 Mar 2017
Most Popular Podcasts
Is Science Morally Neutral?
In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case for arguing that we should exercise more control over the research they carry out? Is science morally neutral? Is it just the choices about how to apply scientific knowledge that are truly moral? In a world where advances in science have the power to profoundly change our lives and the lives of future generations, can scientists still rely on that distinction? This week scientists are meeting in America to discuss the controversial "gain-of-function" research on highly infectious viruses such as avian flu. Do we need more moral, ethical and democratically accountable oversight of research? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Belinda Phipps, Prof Terence Kealey, Prof Andy Stirling and Bryan Roberts.
10 Mar 2016
Morality of Victors and Vanquished
Pundits and politicians alike are struggling to capture the enormity of the consequences of the result of the referendum vote. It's at times like these people often turn to George Orwell for inspiration. He likened our nation to "a family with the wrong members in control" - "that" he said "perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase." Who'll be left standing and in charge after all the political recriminations and bloodletting have ended is still not clear. It's been described as the worst peace-time constitutional crisis this country has faced. So this week on the Moral Maze we're asking what should now be the moral priority for the victors and the vanquished? Has the democratic will of the people been clearly expressed so that the victors must now deliver Brexit at any price? Is it the moral duty of those who championed Brexit to deliver on all their promises made during the campaigning? Or, once normal politics has resumed, should the utilitarian principle of cutting the best possible deal triumph - even if that means forgetting campaign promises on immigration and the single market? Should the vanquished now support Brexit and work towards it with all the enthusiasm they can manage? Or was this a mistake by the British people that means they have a moral duty to go on fighting to keep Britain in the EU and campaign for a second referendum? Or should the priority, above all others, be to find a way to heal a divided nation?
30 Jun 2016
Who Owns Culture?
It may not have the same impact as the Elgin Marbles, but a slightly battered bronze statue of a cockerel has re-ignited a row that has potentially profound implications for our museums and opens a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas. The statue in question sits in the dining hall of Jesus College Cambridge, but it was originally from the Benin Empire, now part of modern-day Nigeria. It was one of hundreds of artworks taken in a punitive British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Elgin marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes - which it says are part of its cultural heritage - to be repatriated. The students at Jesus agree with them and are demanding the cockerel be returned. But to whom? There are dozens of high profile campaigns around the world to repatriate cultural artefacts, but the legal issue of rightful ownership is complex and made more so by the value of the objects in question. Does the fact that many of the finest treasures in our museums were acquired during the height of our imperial history mean we're duty bound to return them? If we accept the principle that art looted by the Nazi's should be returned, why not, for example, the Benin Bronzes? Artefacts like the Elgin Marbles are important because they are part of the story or humanity itself. Can any one country claim ownership over that? Would artefacts that have been returned to their original setting take on a new and more authentic cultural meaning that we in the West may not be able to understand, but which is nonetheless important to those who claim ownership? Should repatriation be part of a wider cultural enterprise to re-write our national and imperialistic historical narrative? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Prof Constantine Sandis, Mark Hudson and Andrew Dismore.
25 Feb 2016
Every year thousands of terminally ill patients are being helped to die by their doctors, according to Baroness Molly Meacher, the new chairwoman of Dignity in Dying. She claims doctors are prepared to risk their own freedom rather than see their patients continue to suffer unbearably. Her assertion comes as the British Medical Association next week prepares to discuss the results of its 18 month long survey in to the public and medical professionals' attitudes on end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. For 26 years now this programme has charted the moral and ethical life of the nation and this subject, above all others, has been the one we've returned to most often. And little wonder as it's an issue that combines moral dilemma, religious principle, human compassion and fear in equal measure. As a prelude to the BMA debate, this week we're going to invite back witnesses who've appeared on our programme over the years to explore how the debate has developed over time. In 1991 we started out discussing the morality of suicide manuals. Advances in medical technology since then have transformed our expectations of what we demand from life. We've seen a growth of the "me generation" that prizes and demands individual choice and rights above collective responsibility. While as a society we have increasingly recognised the rights of disabled people, there is also growing support for legalising assisted suicide, which may give comfort to some, but could put many more vulnerable people at risk. And there has also been our changing relationship with religion. The moral maze that is the debate on assisted dying, live at 8pm Wednesday. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Dr Michael Irwin, Lesley Close, Dr Kevin Yuill and Prof David Cook.
16 Jun 2016
The ‘Tolerance of Intolerance’
The row in Birmingham over primary school lessons that teach an accepting attitude to homosexual relationships has been making headlines for most of this year, and now the courts are involved: the City Council has applied for a permanent ban on protests at the school gates. So far this escalating dispute about 'tolerance' has not displayed much of it – on either side. Muslim parents have been portrayed as backward and bigoted, while the local authority has been labelled Islamophobic.Behind this head-on clash is a moral problem that stretches far beyond Birmingham and far into the past and the future of this country. It's about negotiating a settlement between a liberal democratic state and those religious groups who reject its principles. How far can the state afford to accommodate beliefs, teachings and practices that 'enlightened' opinion abhors? Some would draw the line at the point where religion refuses vaccination or blood transfusions to children. Others are worried about the wider social consequences of being too 'tolerant of intolerance'. How much should non-religious citizens reasonably expect to be free from religion?Religion is central to our cultural heritage; it created our great institutions, held communities together and fed the roots of the values we profess. But the European Enlightenment set out to establish a social order based not on religious superstition but on reason, equality and human rights. If that's not quite how it's turned out, what's the solution? Is it to strive more fiercely still for a secular consensus, or to make new space for dogma some of us had thought was dying if not dead? How much does co-operative living ultimately require the stretching of our moral imagination?Featuring Anna Carlile, Assad Zaman, Dr David Landrum & Dr Stephen De Wijze.Producer: Dan Tierney
24 Oct 2019
The Work Ethic
The Moral Maze returns this week to apply its nose to the grindstone and naturally the prospect of work is exercising our collective mind. Ringing, perhaps guiltily in our ears, are the words last week of the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Defending the changes to tax credits he said "We want this to be one of the most successful countries in the world in 20, 30, 40 years' time. There's a pretty difficult question that we have to answer, which is essentially: are we going to be a country which is prepared to work hard in the way that Asian economies are prepared to work hard, in the way that Americans are prepared to work hard? And that is about creating a culture where work is at the heart of our success." According to one business expert he may have a point. Rohit Talwar, the chief executive of Fast Future, has said teachers should be preparing schoolchildren for a future that could see them having to work in 40 different jobs until they reach 100. For many this debate isn't just about increasing life expectancy and the cost of state pensions. It's about what kind of contribution society has the right to ask of its citizens and whether the common good demands that we try to meet it. Is work not just financially rewarding, but morally improving? Is self-reliance a virtue that is undervalued in Britain? Or are they both a moral smokescreen for a soulless, utilitarian attitude that sees us all as units of economic production and only values us while we continue to contribute? Isn't the true test of good work not whether it's 'hard' but whether it's fulfilling and productive? Whether we enjoy it? The Moral Maze chaired as ever by Michael Buerk. Michael is a man known for his love of hard work. He says he can watch it for hours.Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor.Witnesses are Sheila Lawlor, Dan Taylor, Tom Hodgkinson and Lord Maurice Glasman.
15 Oct 2015
We live in a complex world where it's often hard to know what's the right thing to do - the right thought to think. But there are increasing sectors of our public discourse where any sense of moral ambivalence or doubt will not be tolerated. Race, homosexuality, child abuse are just some of the touchstones where any expression of doubt is often pounced on and hounded out, especially on social media. Our Moral Maze this week isn't about freedom of speech, or political correctness; it's about the moral value of certainty. We prize and reward moral certainty and consistency, especially in politics, but also business and even sport. Any expression of doubt is seen as weakness - even moral turpitude. Is this a good way of binding society with a set of common values? Or is the public shaming that follows the transgression of those boundaries not so much about morality, but ensuring conformity that itself is a kind of prejudice? Do we need a bit more humility about our moral certainties? Or would that mean bowing thoughtlessly to the latest fashionable cause? Bertold Brecht made the point that doubt is a good servant but a bad master. In an uncertain world if we don't stick to our values do we risk indecisive moral paralysis?Chaired by David Aaronovitch with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Iain McGilchrist, Katie Hopkins, Professor Andrew Samuels and Ben Harris-Quinnery.
3 Dec 2015
For Donald Trump it was an 11 year old dusty tape that appeared from the archives. For Sam Allardyce it was a sting by undercover reporters. For the Olympic gymnast Louis Smith it was a video leaked on to the internet. All of them conversations they thought were private becoming embarrassingly public, with varying degrees of consequences. We all say things in private we wouldn't want made public, so what right to privacy should those in the public eye be entitled? Is it a simple case that we have a right to know if it tells us about the character of people who have power or who are asking us to trust them? If that's the case how do explain the myriad of examples from minor sporting celebrities to victims of stings by fake sheiks? Should we put them in the same category? We may think their views are unattractive, even offensive, but shouldn't they be allowed to express them in private, like the rest of us, with some confidence that they'll remain private? What right do we have to know? Would the world be a better place if we never said anything privately we wouldn't want made public? In our clamour to expose and condemn are we creating an unhealthy reality gap between what our leaders and politicians are allowed to say and what they actually think? Or has the digital age rightly blown apart the tight and elitist clubbable privacy that was once so much part of our society? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Michael Portillo, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Prof Steven Barnett, Prof Josh Cohen, Paul Connew and Tom Chatfield.
13 Oct 2016
Morality and Gender Equality
Despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act nearly half a century ago, the BBC salary revelations of last week suggest that the most dramatic example of inequality for women - the gender pay gap - shows no immediate sign of narrowing. In a letter urging the corporation to act now to deal with the disparity, many of its highest-profile female personalities emphasise "what many of us have suspected for many years... that women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work." Logically, the legal and moral case for paying the same rate for the same job is overwhelming. But in practice, can two jobs ever be exactly the same? Even if they are the same on paper, what people do with their jobs may be very different. Many examples of the difference in the average earnings of men and women stem from the biological fact that women are the child-bearers. Does that mean we will never be able to escape an inherently misogynistic culture? What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities? Is positive discrimination essential, or does it merely address the symptoms rather than the causes of inequality? Would a ban on the promotion of perceived gender stereotypes in advertising be one useful way of tackling everyday sexism? Or is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education? Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams.Producer: Dan Tierney.
27 Jul 2017
Do we have a moral duty to make friends with people of different races, social backgrounds and sexuality? The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, is warning that a lack of social integration in the UK is costing our economy about £6bn and he says the answer lies in our own hands. Talking at an international conference on the issue he said "Promoting social integration is a matter for everyone, for every citizen of our cities. It means ensuring that people of different faiths, ethnicities, sexualities, social backgrounds and generations don't just tolerate one another or live side by side but meet, mix and forge relationships as friends and neighbours as well as citizens." London is said to be one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in it and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000. Yet even there it's clear that some groups choose to settle in areas where there are already a high proportion of people from the same background. Go outside London and that effect is even more pronounced. At a time when social polarisation is an issue in many communities, is it time to see social integration not only as a policy priority but also a personal moral imperative? Should it be as unacceptable to admit to having a mono-cultural social network as to admit being prejudiced? Or is this the kind of PC interference in our lives which fires public resentment and actually encourages division by fostering identity politics?Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Michael Portillo, Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Ludi Simpson, Jon Yates, Jemma Levene and James Delingpole.
17 Nov 2016
The wobbly mobile phone footage and someone calling out "you ain't no Muslim bruv" has given us a powerful rallying cry. It was filmed by a bystander as police restrained a man who's since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. What it doesn't show is how one very brave man fought to try and disarm the attacker, while people stood around filming it all on their phones. Mobile phone footage has now become a staple of our news and not so private lives. Which one of us hasn't clicked on a link and experienced a vicarious thrill from watching the latest talked about clip of death, disaster or embarrassment? It is undeniably useful too, but what are the moral consequences of videoing and displaying everything in public? Does looking through the prism of a phone camera create a kind of moral distance that atrophies human capacities like empathy, compassion and self--reflection? The instinct to say 'I was there' is immensely strong, but earlier this year there were a number of cases bystanders filming distressed people as they threatened to jump to their deaths. Are we trying to give life meaning by creating a permanent record of it, instead of by thinking more deeply about it and living life in the moment? Is the craze for selfies just a harmless piece of fun or are we gradually being infected with a narcissistic personality disorder? Or is the drive to record everything and to make our lives public, part of what makes us human? And mobile phone footage is just today's equivalent of ancient cave paintings of hunting scenes? Live our life on film - the Moral Maze. Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser, Anne McElvoy and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Madeleine Bunting, Jane Finnis, James Temperton and Justine Hardy.
10 Dec 2015
When is a personal opinion so offensive that it becomes morally unacceptable? This weekend former Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom discovered her comments on motherhood had transgressed an unwritten social convention. The outraged legions of leader writers, columnists and Twitterati descended and by Monday she was gone. As the politics of offence, identity and rights become ever more toxic, they become equally hard to navigate and the price of transgression is ever higher. The whole Brexit debate and its aftermath have been characterised by claim and counter claim of racism, ageism and classism. We've had laws against "hate speech" for many years now, but are we too keen to create whole new categories of "-isms" to which we can take offence? If morality rests on the ability to distinguish between groups and make judgements about their lifestyles, how do you distinguish between a legitimate verdict and an unjustifiable prejudice? Why is it acceptable to say 'It's good that the President is black' but not to say 'It's good that the next President will be white'? Why is the insult "stale, male and pale" OK, but it wouldn't be if you changed gender and race? Is this about defending the powerless against the powerful, or limiting people's rights to say what they think? Where do we draw the line between policing the basic principles of equal rights and mutual respect with a capacity to judge people by what lies in their heart?Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Maya Goodfellow, Josh Howie, Peter Tatchell and Dr Joanna Williams.
31 Aug 2016
Turning a Blind Eye and the Law
If you're the kind of person who likes to smoke a joint and chat on your mobile while out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive it seems you're in luck. According to figures released this week it seems that the police are increasingly turning a blind eye to these offences and when it comes to enforcing the new law banning smoking in cars where there are children, the police have said it's not their job. If the purpose of the law is to protect public health and safety, and to set moral boundaries, can it ever be morally acceptable to ignore law breaking? Should the law be about defining what is right and wrong, good and bad in all circumstances? Or is it acceptable for a law to be a moral symbol of disapproval, with no real threat of enforcement? And if the police don't have a moral duty to enforce the law, what about us as citizens? From this week landlords will be breaking the law if they don't check their tenants have a right to live in the UK and teachers now have a legal duty to tackle extremism. In both cases it's no longer enough to define a good upright citizen as one who doesn't break the law; it's now about having a legal duty to enforce it too. The Moral Maze and the letter of the law.Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk, with Giles Fraser, Michael Portillo, Claire Fox and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are John Cooper, Luke Gittos, Professor John Tasioulas and Peter Garsden.
22 Oct 2015
The Morality of Big Data
Worried Facebook-users who have deleted their accounts because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been discovering that the social network held even more data about them than they had feared: complete records of their phone calls and text messages, contacts from their address books, appointments from their calendars, reminders of their friends' birthdays... It is naïve to suggest that we can ever again be truly private individuals, however much we might like to be, but is the harvesting of our personal information getting out of hand? The moral issue is not just about privacy - whether these companies should have such information about us in the first place - but is also about the ways in which it can be used. Is it right to divide up the population into sub-groups, without their knowledge, so they can be precisely targeted with advertisements and political propaganda? "Shocking!" say some newspaper pundits. "It's what advertisers and campaigners have always done," say others. What, if anything, should be done about it? Harsher punishments? Stricter regulation? Is it the moral duty of companies to be more transparent, beyond the small-print 'Terms and Conditions' that hardly anyone reads or understands? Cheerleaders for Big Data point to its potential to transform our lives, improving health and education. Its detractors say the abuse of personal information is nothing less than a threat to democracy. And there are some who believe both positions are overstated and who worry that we have lost faith in the public's ability to make its own judgments. Witnesses are Silkie Carlo, Christopher Graham, Timandra Harkness and Katz Kiely.Producer: Dan Tierney.
29 Mar 2018
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
It’s exactly 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dramatic demolition on that chilly November night in 1989 symbolised liberal aspirations for a world soon to be remade in the image of America and Western Europe. For the political theorist Francis Fukuyama it was ‘The End of History’ and a decisive victory for the global democratic project. But history didn’t end in 1989 and understanding the reasons for that is perhaps the moral imperative of our age. Democracies are shaking, America is polarised, Russia is meddling with Western elections, China is crushing democratic protests in Hong Kong; then there’s 9/11 and its aftermath of Islamist terror. Where has it all gone wrong? Some see it as a moral failing on the part of the West that it did not seize its moment of triumph. Others believe the West was arrogant in expecting the nations of Eastern Europe and the Middle East to adopt its version of capitalist democracy. What are the lessons? The capitalist and communist ideologies may not be as entrenched as they were during the height of the Cold War but neither have they gone away. Today it’s fashionable to argue that only a resurgence of international socialism will keep the ‘evils’ of global capitalism in check. Others think that totalitarianism never died – it merely morphed into a new kind of political and moral orthodoxy that now dominates our institutions. Where do we go from here? Should each nation be left to work out its own destiny, or do we need a new global project? Featuring Anne Applebaum, Chris Bambery, Paul Mason, Dr. Alan Mendoza.Producer: Dan Tierney.
7 Nov 2019
The Moral Purpose of the BBC
Her 98th year has not started well for Auntie BBC. The Government is consulting on decriminalising the licence fee; 450 jobs are being cut from BBC News to help meet a huge savings target; gender pay disputes are never far from the headlines; and audience figures reveal that the Corporation is struggling to connect with many British people – especially the under-35s and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the Director-General, Tony Hall, will step down in the summer after seven years in the job. If this is a crossroads, what should be the future direction of the BBC? There are loud voices calling for an end to the licence fee, calling it a poll tax, an outdated funding model overtaken by the streaming giants. Is it fair, they ask, to be forced to pay for a service you don’t want? Supporters point out that the BBC reaches 91% of adults every week and is the envy of the world; a unique and valuable service meant for everyone – that’s the point of it – which therefore must continue to be funded by everyone. They believe it is uniquely able to unite a fragmented nation and that the founding Reithian aspirations – to inform, educate and entertain – have never been more relevant in this era of fake news and social media echo chambers. The BBC’s severest critics, however, believe it no longer acts either as ‘cultural glue’ or as a touchstone of impartiality and truth. Instead, of leading us higher, they say, the BBC is sinking ever lower in pursuit of ratings. Bloated and greedy or lean and beleaguered? Perhaps we won’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. What, now, is the moral purpose of the BBC? With Robin Aitken, Philip Booth, Claire Enders, Jonathan Freedland.Producer: Dan Tierney.
13 Feb 2020