Is the worm turning on the BBC?

Has the nation finally had enough of BBC bias?

Is the worm turning?
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 16 March 2013 12:43

Absolutely not, according to Ms. Raphael on Feedback, emboldened to spout self-serving drivel about attaining the balance required by the remit. You really have to listen to her argument it to believe it.

This is the BBC in action: a feeble denial that it can't find the talent required to deliver balance, followed by a vehement abrogation of responsibility for the failing of the talent she and her team are required by remit to deliver. BBC management writ large.

One might ask Ms. Raphael, if the only political jokes her team can come up with have to be at the expense of the right or the coalition government, to follow the remit and dump them all. My God, if they can't regularly lampoon the likes of Miliband, Balls, Harman and the ghastly Eagle sisters, not to mention classic grotesques like Tom Watson and George 'the gift that keeps on giving' Galloway, then they really are in the wrong job.

I don't know Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse's politics, but they produced a cracking take-down of Question Time, savagely lampooning every aspect of the show: audiences, panel, locations even the lame question at the end. So it can be done.

But it's not just about political bias. Stewart Lee has shown you can keep upping your game while keeping your political credentials intact. Interesting that he avoids panel shows like the plague. And while Armando Iannucci could hardly be described as hiding his leftism, The Thick of It shows political satire at its funniest, precisely because it is at its most even-handed. Have I Got News For You still washes its face.

The fact is virtually all comedians and actors are lefties, but happily most leave their politics at home. 'Funny' is key.

Alas, when chief lefty and eco-psycho Richard Curtis stopped being funny and came up with Comic Relief, the BBC ensured it became part of the national psyche and comedians, by association to the cause, are tarred as activists for one sort of social policy or other, as defined by Curtis and his highly-paid Comic Relief executives (£130K+pa since you ask, and £45K for a Climate Change Officer). Once again the schedules are cleared for Curtis' political vanity, and (insert failing comedian here)'s career. Asking the BBC not to be quite so left wing is a bit like asking the Pope to be not quite so…whatever.

But the poor old viewer doesn't really come into it. One would think commissioning editors saw the car crash that was The 10 O’Clock Show and realised that even C4 audiences are not predisposed to sub-student hectoring from millionaire, tax-dodging, left-leaning celebrities.

And it's not just comedy bias that has piqued the nationals. On the BBC's Eastleigh-edition of Question Time, an audience member described UKIP's policy of immigration as 'disgusting'. It quickly turned out, not least of all on twitter, the woman concerned was a Labour party activist and had tweeted prior to her appearance that she was going to give the 'disgusting UKIP woman', Diane James (widely acknowledged to have been the most assured candidate, by a country mile), what for.

At the time, Dimbleby floundered, and it was very much of the Harry & Paul sketch. But it took Melanie Phillips to see this spiteful creature for what she was, and slapped her down with universal support. The, somewhat late, Mail take-up of the story at least revealed the poor lamb was relying on Mum to fend off the subsequent, presumably Daily Mail, media attention. But the point was made and Question Time, with its socialist editor, briefly became a parody of itself.

Question Time this week was a modest affair, but when a particularly inspirational Asian businessman demanded tariff assistance he was greeted by silence. Amazing. Question Time needs a total revamp and to rid itself of its public sector employee audience in its entirety.

And that may be the common problem. The live audiences for all these programmes – never more than a few hundred – are easy to formulate. For example, why are so many Any Questions set in schools and colleges where unionised teachers and lecturers can mobilise a braying left wing lobby? The fact that ogres like George Galloway are so lauded on Question Time, tells you all you need to know.

Of course, there is only one openly 'right wing' popular programme on the BBC.

It is, naturally, widely reviled by the left – although many celebrity lefties are thrilled to appear on it. There is barely any political content aside from a sense of anti-political correctness. It is a man's programme that embraces women and women love it back. It is also the only BBC programme on which you will hear a hint of climate scepticism. The left hate it so because they know the people love it. And they do. It is exported globally and has made worldwide stars of its laughably unhip hosts. To be fair, it, too, occasionally shows signs of creakiness, no more so than in its last series, but then kicks again and reminds us what the BBC is for.

That programme is Top Gear. And, thanks to its phenomenal success, the BBC can indulge 20 years of Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, The Now Show, The News Quiz. And Marcus Brigstocke.

Quite why the BBC cannot understand the juxtaposition of the duty to its audience and the essence of its remit by indulging for so long ostensibly tired programming simply because the left wing face fits, is a mystery.

Why the licence fee payer allows it, even more so.

Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_BG

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