The BBC and its commie economists

On November 2nd the BBC website ran a provocative piece by Martin Jacques. Unfortunately, the BBC didn't think it necessary to explain Jacques's background with communism

Shouldn't readers be aware of whose opinions they're reading?
Steve Baker MP
On 6 December 2012 10:09

On November 2nd the BBC website ran a provocative piece by Martin Jacques, ‘an economist’ extolling the virtues of China’s communist regime and suggesting it was more legitimate than western democracies.

I made the following complaint about journalistic standards.

Martin Jacques sat on the Executive Committee of the Communist Party for a quarter of a century from 1967 and was Editor of the Communist Party’s theoretic journal Marxism Today from 1977 until 1991. Without being made aware of this affinity, it is impossible for the reader to assess the true provenance and credibility of the points he makes in praise of the Chinese Communist regime.

The piece trots out standard communist apologia that were used about the USSR: a vast, disparate country needing a dictatorial centre, the precedent of primitive authoritarianism to justify modern totalitarianism, the economic miracles credited to the regime before they are proved to be unsustainable and silence about horrific human rights abuses.

Particularly sick is the suggestion that the Communist regime is the guardian of Chinese civilisation. During the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party performed perhaps the greatest cultural holocaust in history as countless ancient buildings, artefacts, antiques, books and paintings were destroyed as “old ways of thinking”. Tens of millions of people were murdered

It is rightly inconceivable that the Corporation would publish the opinions of other extremists without proper introduction. Martin Jacques is not merely a disinterested “economist” or an objective observer. He is a Communist propagandist. Whatever the merits of a provocative piece, it is unprofessional journalism not to have pointed this out.

The BBC refused to accept my point.

Dear Mr Baker

Thank you for taking the time to write to us.

You are obviously right about Martin Jacques’ history but we’re afraid we can’t agree that we needed to explain it.

As you point out, it has been 20 years since Jacques edited Marxism Today and in those intervening decades he has developed a mainstream career in journalism, writing for publications like The Sunday Times, The Economist and The Independent, and of course developing the interest and expertise on China for which he is now best known.

We are really not sure it’s particularly helpful to the listener to preface everything he now says with reference to his earlier career. To do so would clearly imply that we think he is – as you suggest –a communist writing in support of a communist regime, which we don’t believe is the case.

His pieces ranged over 2000 years of Chinese history, contained criticisms of the government and, frankly, could not obviously be associated with any prior position on the merits or otherwise of communism. We would also emphasise that A Point of View is, of course, just that – our contributors are able to develop an argument, and we wouldn’t expect (nor indeed want) listeners to agree with everything they hear.

Yours sincerely

BBC News website Magazine

I agree that provocative pieces are legitimate journalism, even including anti-democratic viewpoints. I am not arguing that whatever he does now, it is always relevant that Jacques was an anti-democratic extremist for the best part of 5 decades. It wouldn’t be relevant if he contested Masterchef or reviewed wines. Or indeed, if he discussed politics and economics but manifestly adopted a more enlightened and democratic viewpoint than he did in his first 45 years. There are legions of distinguished commentators who have had their insights enriched by maturing away from the Left over the years.

The problem with this piece is that Jacques is saying the same things as people like him said when he was a leading Communist. He’s praising a Communist regime using the same Communist propaganda lines that were used to justify the USSR. The older among us grew up hearing about how the Tsars were as autocratic as the Politburo and this supposedly proved that autocracy is in the Russian blood, that Russia needed electrification not human rights, and that it would fall apart without a strong man at the centre and so on.

If, in the period between his release from Spandau and his death, the BBC had carried a piece by Walther Funk on, say, the exogenous growth model, the epithet ‘economist’ might just have been appropriate. However, if he advocated giving the economy a boost by introducing slave-labour, or redistributing wealth by murdering certain religious groups and sharing out their assets, then surely his past as Reich Minister for Economics and President of the Reichsbank would be more salient? Not so, according to this response by the Beeb.

Steve Baker is the Member of Parliament for Wycombe

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