THE BBC AND THE COMMON GOOD
The BBC’s publication of salaries paid to television and radio performers is an admirable step towards greater transparency, and predictably has produced and will continue to produce much discussion. Surely the injustice of the pay differential between the sexes will at last be dealt with.
Then there is the obvious question about the scale of remuneration for people who have become celebrities through their work at the BBC. What does it feel like to wake up in the morning aware that your £1 or £2m package is being paid for by the man in the street through his taxes and the licence fee ? On the other hand if these levels are not paid, will the BBC lose these talented folk ? And would that outcome be desirable or not ? It is not my wish to pronounce publicly on these questions, though I have my opinions like everyone else. But I am interested here in how a Christian mind approaches them.
I want to be among the first to salute the BBC for its immense achievements in the fields of drama, literature, music, news, documentaries, and political debate. These answer to its Charter which stipulates “Public Service“ as one of its principle objects. Furthermore some of their programmes are high earners abroad and help to make its good work possible.
However, “Public Service” alone is an inadequate concept for a Christian approach; it is not all-embracing enough. A better one is the “Common Good”, which can leave no one out. The concept of the Common Good goes back to early Christianity. St. John Chrysostom, a 4th century theologian wrote:
“This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbours.”
The BBC’s need for this concept is implicit, for example, in the so called “watershed hour”, before which certain programmes of an “adult” nature are banned because perceived to be harmful for children, and thus clearly not for the “Common Good”. “Adult” of course is a euphemism for material which is grossly disrespectful of people’s basic and elemental dignity. If this is something we do not wish to be a formative element in the upbringing of the nation’s children, our future adults, how can it be a good thing for our present adult population ? Jesus’ stern warning showed that he too was aware of this vital connection:
“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks . . . woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!” (Matthew 18, 6-7).
Another comment reported in the press anonymously, reads: “Transparency is not the problem: the problem is greed”. There is plenty of guidance concerning that to be found in the Scriptures ! One quote will suffice:
. . . .Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will anyone gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting his life ? Or what can anyone offer in exchange for his life ?’ (Mathew 16, 24-26)
Of course this is gobbledegook to anyone who can’t share the insight of someone like Nurse Cafferkey of ebola fame, who when questioned as to why she went to Sierra Leone (twice !), said quite simply, There is nothing more rewarding than giving - nothing.” Amen to that !