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Prof. Jean Seaton

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Jean Seaton is Professor of Media History and the Official Historian of the BBC. She will publish in the Autumn of 2024 the next volume of the Corporations story, Holding the Line: the BBC and the Nation, taking Lord Asa Briggs work forward for Profile Books. This involves everything the BBC did in a tumultuous decade from the conflict in Northern Ireland, to the invasion of the Falklands, to Not the Nine O’Clock News, the Proms, the early music revolution, devolution, Dennis Potter’s greatest plays, Attenborough’s revolutionary series Life on Earth, and Radio 1s most influential moment, as well as the role of women in the Corporation, programmes for children and a tense and complicated relationship with the government. The historian was given privileged access to BBC archives, but also gained privileged access to state papers. For the first time the Corporation’s history is seen in the round. It has depended on several hundred interviews, and explores both the programme making decision that go into the making of an iconic Television series like John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but also the high politics around the imposition of the broadcasting ban.

She has been involved in a variety of policy discussion within the BBC – because of her understanding of the historical precedent and shape of concerns. She has also assisted programme makers in formulating problems more accurately as well as appearing on programmes as an expert witness.

She has written widely on the history and role of the media in politics, wars, atrocities, the Holocaust, revolutions, security issues and religion as well as news and journalism and is particularly interested in the impact of the media on children. She has contributed to policy debates and formulation especially concerning public service content and freedom of speech.

Her Carnage and the Media: the Making and Breaking of News about Violence (Penguin) was published in 2005, and gives a, perhaps unexpected, account of sensation in the reporting of news about violence and audience reactions to it. While examining the destructive power of contemporary media in attack mode, it also shows how news paints stories in emotions and argues for the values of stoic fortitude. It shows how news provides us with contemporary ceremonies. It also contains a pictorial essay examining many iconic images and their role in the news.

A new 8th edition of the classic book she wrote with James Curran, Power Without Responsibility: the Press and Broadcasting in Britain will be published in 2014 containing new research on the international role of the British media. This book, which has both been translated into many other languages (including Chinese, Portuguese and Arabic), and copied by other writers, in other countries, has become a moving project, the book still aims to change the media as well as describe them.

Her concern with the impact of the media on politics has been developed in a series of books, including Ed. (with Ben Pimlott) The Media in British Politics, Gower, Aldershot, 1987, The Media and Politics in Britain: Harlots and Prerogatives at the Turn of the Millennium Blackwells, 1998, and with John Lloyd of the Financial Times, What Can be Done? Making the Media and Politics Better, 2006, Blackwells. This long term concern with politics has been developed in work on ‘Britishness’ in ‘Metabolising Britishness: Critical patriotism’ in ed Tony Wright Britishness, 2009, as well as the curating of several collections of essays in The Political Quarterly.

Her interest in the role of the media in conflict has been developed in Ed. (with Tim Allen), War, Ethnicity and the Media, Development Books, 1996, Ed. (with Tim Allen) The Media of Conflict. It was taken further in Carnage and the Media, developed in the work she has done as BBC historian on the BBC in Northern Ireland during the conflict. This led to being asked to deliver the 20th Century British History Memorial Lecture in 2012, and the resulting essay revealing, for the first time the background to the imposition of the Broadcasting Ban in 1987. She has opened Exhibition at the Belfast Museum, and run workshops on the BBC and reporting. In a wider way her essay Pragmatic Ethical Engineering: the BBC and the BBC World Service in May 2008, and forthcoming essay (2014) on the BBC and the Cuban Missile Crisis deal with reporting and the Cold War.

She is an editor of Political Quarterly, on the editorial Boards of 20th Century British History and Media History. She is on the editorial advisory board of Prospect. Recently she has received research awards from the AHRC, the BBC, The British Academy, the Leverhulme and the Axess Foundation. She is a founding member of several active media NGO’s that hold the media to account, including Full Fact and the Reuters Institute. She has chaired and served on a variety of public enquiries, including recently the Broadcasting of Parliament and the use of images of children for the Home Office.

She was awarded the Thank-Offering to Britain Fellowship for her work on the BBC and the Holocaust. She speaks frequently at conferences and public meetings

In 2007 she became Chair of the Orwell Prize, taking over from Sir Bernard Crick. This has become Britain’s premier prize for political writing, set standards and held journalism to account (as well as celebrating good journalism and writing) and has become under her stewardship a well known and respected force in journalism. In 2013, in collaboration with the Joseph Rowntree Trust it will announce a major new initiative. In 2014 it will announce a major appeal to rune.

She broadcasts regularly on historical, political and cultural matters.

She supervises PhD students across a wide range of political and cultural topics.