The ideological dreamscape of BBC News online: the strange tale of the terror squirrel of Knutsford

Alec Charles (University of Bedfordshire, UK)

There are a number of factors which differentiate online news from its print and broadcast counterparts, including its virtually unlimited space and time, its private mode of delivery, and the anonymous, alternative or post-institutional nature of its medium. These characteristics may to some extent recall those of the dreamspace. The tone and content of online news appears to be affected by the corresponding ontological ambiguities. This phenomenon can be particularly well witnessed in the online expressions of a journalistic organisation which seems subject, perhaps more than any other, to its public, regulated nature: BBC News. This paper offers a survey of a sequence of 143 stories which appeared on the BBC News website between 1 April 1998 and 1 April 2008 to explore the symbolic resurgence of taboos repressed by the corporate super ego – a latent fixation upon contemporary subjects of populist media hysteria (immigration and terrorism) – expressed in a form of imagery simultaneously appropriated by the UK’s far right (and one painfully reminiscent of a metaphor made notorious in the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Third Reich): the ethnic struggle between Britain’s populations of red and grey squirrels, and the latter’s demonization (as immigrants and terrorists) and threatened eradication. In doing so this intentionally eclectic paper advances the possibility of a new mode of quality journalism, one based not upon objective authority but upon subjective symbolic narrative.

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