“Whatever…” – a mission statement or a social condition?
It’s not every day that one gets to sit around the same table as representatives of Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian and Humanist networks with the chance to pick brains and question of the most senior leaders of the BBC. But that is exactly what happened today, as I’d been invited to attend a small group that meets twice a year on Religion and Belief in broadcasting. I certainly felt both out of my depth and a fish out of water (if that’s possible) – still, it was very interesting indeed (not least because the BBC is our next door neighbour) and a privilege to be present.
But the reason for mentioning it here is not so much what was discussed during the meeting (perhaps for another day), as the chance to mention two things. Firstly the fact that we were given a tour of the new Broadcasting House which is nothing short of spectacular. Within the next 18-20 months all of BBC news will move there (meaning 6000 people will be working bang next door to us) – all TV, Radio & Internet will be in one building – including the World Service. It is going to be the largest news broadcasting centre in the world. Here are a few snaps I was able to take. It was impossible not to be impressed and excited by the amazing possibilities of this place. Here’s a shot of one of the 2 atria that provide the whole building with natural light as they go from the roof all the way down to the TV news studios in the basement (see right). Each floor will be dedicated to different aspects of the work (so for example the World Service will be on one floor with different sections for each language group).
It was particularly fun to see All Souls from a completely different angle:
You can see more pics here.
But the one image that has stuck in my mind from the whole day is from the Council Chamber in which we had our meeting. Despite sitting under the glowering and rather intimidating portrait of Lord Reith, my eyes kept being drawn to the BBC’s coat of arms and motto on the opposite wall.
For a start, it is a very surprising indeed to find this as the motto for a public broadcasting body. Yet, as if to illustrate the perennial dangers of shorthand, the Latin inscription below is actually one word from the Vulgate of Philippians 4:8:
de cetero fratres quaecumque sunt vera quaecumque pudica quaecumque iusta quaecumque sancta quaecumque amabilia quaecumque bonae famae si qua virtus si qua laus haec cogitate
So there you have it. I’ve quoted the whole to show how quaecumque (or quaecunque to give its alternative spelling used in the coat of arms) is the key word in the verse. But as should be obvious to those who know the verse, it has a simple meaning: WHATEVER.
Now to be fair, that hardly describes the BBC. It is an organisation full of people who do genuinely strive after excellence. I’m a big BBC-fan on principle (and not just because of our time today). It is an impressive outfit for all its faults and critics. I only wish they took the whole of the Pauline quotation a little more seriously than they do. But that’s quite another story.
Now, I’m sure others have picked this up before me, but it did seem to me to suggest a telling statement of where our society is at. Convictions, confidences, conventions – all are commonly dismissed with a shrug (or something worse) – to which there seems no satisfactory response. To the extent that our national broadcaster reflects, rather than shapes, our national culture, it will inevitably communicate aspects of this – especially when it comes to those things which modernity demands to be excluded from the public square and confined to the private sphere (i.e. religion). Whatever… that’s fine… unless you take it seriously enough actually to believe this stuff…
It was just rather quirky to find both Paul the Apostle quoted, and our culture’s climate of apathy alluded to in the same place – on, of all places, the wall of the BBC Council Chamber.