Hear the white world
horribly weary from its immense efforts
its stiff joints crack under the hard stars
its blue steel rigidities pierce the mystic flesh
hear its deceptive victories tout its defeats
hear the grandiose alibis of its pitiful stumbling
Pity for our omniscient and naive conquerors!
— Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land
Member's of the BBC's Empire Service staff, including T.S. Eliot and George Orwell, thinking of ways to bring Literature to the natives, 1942. Via @bintbattuta
By 1939, the British Council had developed significant holdings in Cairo, Alexandria, and Baghdad, and later expanded its operations in Jamaica, Nigeria, and throughout Latin America, ensuring at the very least the continued circulation of English literature and criticism abroad. The “Panel of Book Selectors” included the literary critic Ivor Brown, who authored Contemporary General Literature, and Daniel Jones, a linguist who had written extensively on English phonetics and pronunciation. The council published short introductions to a culturally dominant group of writers. To name a few, Stephen Spender’s Poetry since 1939 summarized the New Signatures movement; Rex Warner revived an interest in E.M. Forster; Edmund Blunden wrote a short book on John Keats; Herbert Read did one on Byron; and John Lehmann provided one on Edith Sitwell. John Hayward wrote Prose Literature since 1939. The council copublished works, such as Bernard Lewis’s British Contributions to Arabic Studies, as a way of reinforcing and maintaining power amid growing anticolonial pressure.
. . . By the beginning of decolonization, the spaces that the council occupied were extensive. It opened offices in Kenya in 1947, Malawi in 1950, Malaysia in 1948, Pakistan in 1948, Sri Lanka in 1950, and India in 1948. The council’s library system was the most extensive in the world. At the end of 1956, there were ninety-five libraries in fifty-seven countries, containing about 900,000 volumes and about 10,000 periodicals. The cultural presence of the council assumed many forms: institutes, centers, libraries, pamphlets, novels, poetry, manuals, magazines, auditoriums for conductors and symphonies, and spaces for exhibitions. The Sound Department of the council recorded a talk by E.M. Forester to accompany and exhibition of a large model of an Elizabethan theater that was installed adjacent to a display that provided a history of “Shakespeare in the British Theatre”—all to ensure English culture maintained its value in what was then East and West Pakistan; or at the very least, that England retained its imperial identity in order to exert its authority in countries it no longer directly controlled.
* * * *
With the postwar expansion of new occasions for transmission and translation, as well as the emergence of new forms such as the “radio magazine,” the relationship between the writer and the public underwent further transformations that would decisively expand and constrain cultural space. Working for the East Indian Division of the BBC, Orwell produced a series of radio talks from 1941 to 1943. Entitled Voices, the radio program brought together a group of Anglophone writers to read and discuss their poetry and prose on the air. In London, the BBC’s Third Programme, which began broadcasting in September 1946, performed a critical function in establishing a dominant culture and community, thus securing the reputation of Isaiah Berlin and T.S. Eliot as public figures and intellectuals. Isaiah Berlin, for example, delivered numerous addresses on the BBC’s Third Programme. T.S. Eliot was broadcast more than on more than eighty occasions on the Third Programme, for which he recorded his British Academy lecture on Milton. Edward Sackville-West speculated that the Third Programme would become “the greatest civilizing force England has known since the secularization of the theater.” What was significant about these institutions is the way that they appeared to inadvertently interact and overlap with the CCF [Congress for Cultural Freedom] and the various organizations it had established in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Rome. The first comptroller of the BBC’s Third Programme, Herman Grisewood, served as the treasurer for the British Society for Cultural Freedom, was the editor of the Twentieth Century, the successor to the Nineteenth Century and After, among one of the first publications that the CCF sponsored before it launched Encounter in 1953.
— Andrew N. Rubin, Archives of Auhtority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012, p. 48; 60-61.
|Poster for the "Hands off Somalia: No to Imperialist Intervention" campaign, 2012.|
We decided . . . to see just how 'numerous' the BBC's references to Chavez's legitimate elections are, taking as a dataset all articles about Venezuela between the start of November 1997 (when the BBC website began) and the end of December 2011. This totalled 2,248 articles from the BBC website. Our objective was to research how regularly Hugo Chavez is referred to as a democratically elected president, and to compare this with how often words depicting the president as autocratic or dictatorial have appeared (including direct quotes from opposition politicians/media).
We found that, indeed, out of the full dataset, there were 146 articles (165 mentions in total within them) which referred to Hugo Chavez as either being elected or winning elections. The word 'legitimate' has appeared only in direct quotes by Hugo Chavez himself.
Looking further into the data gave interesting results on some of the more unfavourable reporting of Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected. In the full dataset, there were 160 articles (containing a total of 198 references) in which Hugo Chavez is described as 'authoritarian', 'totalitarian', or a 'dictator', 'autocrat', or 'tyrant'. These descriptions were overwhelmingly from the Venezuelan opposition and the US government; however there were three instances in which BBC reporters used such descriptions directly in their own words.
— "13 Years of BBC Reporting on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez," newsunspun.org, February 14, 2012.