Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse is the best case yet for publicly funded television

THere are two very different sides of Netflix. On the one hand the glamor: the prestigious films of honored directors (Roma; The Irishman; The power of the dog). The glossy hit series like stranger things or Squid Game. But then there are the other things. Equally critical to Netflix’s business model — perhaps more so — is the streamer’s extensive catalog of less reputable material. From racy true-crime documentaries to paranormal investigative shows, Netflix teems with programs that range somewhere between knowingly mushy and outright schlock. In a climate where new streaming services seem to come out every few months, increasing competition and limiting Netflix’s non-original content catalogue, it’s only natural that Netflix would turn to what gets people watching . So if a program like Ancient Apocalypse Dropping onto the streaming service, you might be inclined to think that everything is just business as usual.

But that’s not necessarily the case. Ancient Apocalypse, a documentary hosted by author and repeat guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast Graham Hancock, focuses on Hancock’s own flimsy theories about the existence of an advanced Ice Age civilization that was roughly wiped from the face of the earth by comets and a powerful flood before 12,000 years. Experts have branded the topic a pseudo-scientific conspiracy theory; Much of the program follows Hancock’s own vain efforts to be taken seriously by the archaeological establishment. The guard branded the series “the most dangerous show on Netflix,” while historian Greg Jenner called it “absolute nonsense that fails to provide convincing evidence at the most basic level” — and yet the series has been in the top 10 for several days List by Netflix , currently ranked 7th in all movies and TV at the time of writing. The documentary has raised concerns about Netflix’s own complicity in disseminating dubious or misleading information. However, it has also made a compelling case for the value of UK public service broadcasters.

With the BBC and Channel 4 increasingly threatened by a hostile government, the future of public service broadcasting remains uncertain. Calls for an end to license fees seem to grow louder every year and plans to privatize Channel 4 are already underway. The rise of streaming services has cast doubt on the inherent value of the Beeb; it struggled to compete with the sheer size and reach of Netflix or Disney Plus. but Ancient Apocalypse has demonstrated, the BBC has something Netflix sorely lacks: accountability.

The issue of accountability goes beyond that Ancient Apocalypse, Naturally. Whether it’s a drama series about Jeffrey Dahmer, who was condemned as “exploitative” by the families of the serial killer’s victims, or polarizing stand-up specials featuring offensive jokes about the Holocaust or trans people, Netflix has always been enthusiastic plunged into controversy. But who holds them responsible for these decisions? As a streaming service, Netflix isn’t even subject to the same regulations as regular UK TV channels: if viewers are offended by something on traditional TV, they can always complain to broadcast regulator Ofcom. As Netflix is ​​based in the Netherlands, it does not fall under Ofcom’s jurisdiction. (Ofcom suggests that people with complaints either contact Netflix directly or contact the Dutch media regulator, the Commissariaat voor de Media – but these avenues seem less likely to result in substantive changes, unlike Ofcom, which is both domestic and independent.) Netflix too often seems to operate under the amoral free-market ethos: if people see it, that’s reason enough to do it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the BBC and Channel 4 are entirely without sin. The BBC – BBC News in particular – has been criticized in recent years for a perceived right-wing political bias; The handling of transgender issues has been repeatedly condemned by activists for LGBT+ rights. Channel 4, meanwhile, has gained a certain reputation for tacky stunt assignments, such as: B. the recently published Cancel Culture Debate program Jimmy Carr destroys art. It is worth noting that Hancock previously presented two Channel 4 documentaries in which he espouses his controversial pseudo-archaeological theories, the 1998s Search for the lost civilization and 2002 Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age. Two decades is a long time, though – it’s hard to imagine the current iteration of Channel 4 uncritically platforming something like this.

The BBC, meanwhile, took a close look at one of Hancock’s theories in 1999 horizon episode “Atlantis Reborn”, which prompted Hancock and his Belgian collaborator Robert Bauval to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Commission. The organization ruled in favor of the BBC, with one caveat – the horizon had wrongly omitted an aspect of Hancock’s argument. The following year, a revised episode titled “Atlantis Reborn Again” aired, containing expanded counter-arguments from Hancock and Bauval. In this incident we can clearly and simply see the benefits of the BBC’s process: rigorous and transparent accountability to both the subjects of the documentary and the viewing audience.

There’s clearly a burgeoning market for conspiracy theories: just look at the popularity of Rogan’s podcast (which has regularly seen guests spread false information and conspiracy theories, leading to a high-profile boycott of podcast distributor Spotify this year) or Russell Brands YouTube channel (where he posts outlandish theories on everything from vaccines to the Russia-Ukraine war) to see that this is the case. Perhaps it was inevitable that Netflix jumped on the pseudoscience bandwagon. But it’s a stark reminder of what exactly is being lost in TV’s focus on privately owned streaming services. A topic that also threatens to be swallowed up by social media platforms: How exactly is the dissemination of (incorrect) information regulated? Modern businesses need to start learning from the lessons of the past – it might help to understand why the BBC has endured for so long. Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse is the best case yet for publicly funded television


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