BBC bias is a national disgrace and a global menace

As the second senior BBC presenter this year slams the BBC for politically correct bias, it is now time for the Western world’s most powerful media outlet to put its house in order, or face the prospect of its eventual abolition.

Robin Shepherd, Owner / Publisher
On 4 April 2011 13:28

For two decades, Peter Sissons, was one of the most visible faces of the BBC. Prime time news presenter, prime time interviewer, prime time moderator, prime time everything in sight. Safe to say, then, that he knows a thing or two about the organisation he used to work for. Here is how he recently characterised the culture that pervades it:

“By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent,” he said. “Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’”.

Violating the party line is clearly dangerous, and heaven forbid that you might be seen in possession of anything signalling an awareness of the views of the political right:

“If you want to read one of the few copies of the Daily Mail that find their way into the BBC newsroom, they are difficult to track down,” said Sissons, “and you would be advised not to make too much of a show of reading them. Wrap them in brown paper or a copy of The Guardian, would be my advice.”

A former employee with a grudge? Hardly. The man made millions out of the BBC which also cemented his reputation as one of the most celebrated journalists of his generation. And it’s not just Sissons. To the horror of senior executives, another BBC megastar, Michael Buerk, has just come out in broad support of his appraisal in a review of Sissons’ recent book on his life and career in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine. “What the BBC regards as normal and abnormal,” he said, “what is moderate or extreme, where the centre of gravity of an issue lies, are conditioned by the common set of assumptions held by the people who work for it.”

Precisely. And if all you ever read are the opinions of left-leaning commentators there is no mystery about the form that that BBC groupthink is inevitably going to take.

This is all in evidence on a daily basis when one considers the style and substance of the BBC’s reporting on three of the great litmus test issues in international politics: The United States of America; The State of Israel; and climate change.

America is largely characterised as a brutish, avaricious exploiter of the global and domestic poor: a country that will leave you to bleed to death in the road following a traffic accident if the ambulance team can’t find the appropriate health insurance card in your wallet. Admittedly, things are a little better now that the country has a president who, unlike his predecessor, is not mentally retarded, and at least has the good graces to appear thoroughly ashamed of everything America has ever stood for. 

Israel, of course, is an international outlaw which takes delight in bombing and strafing Palestinian primary schools and health centres, while the Palestinians themselves are helpless third world victims of a pitiless war machine financed and equipped by America’s military industrial complex.

As for climate change, it’s literally gospel. The only questions worth asking are about the timing of the world’s appointment with Armageddon: will it be when Bangladesh disappears into the Bay of Bengal, or will it be when the last arctic polar bear cub succumbs to the tropical heat as its ice float finally melts into the bubbling stew that by then represents the ocean beneath it?

Unfortunately, the hierarchy at the BBC doesn’t see the problem. In fact they seem totally oblivious to the fact that there might be anything wrong at all. Referring to the salvo fired at it by Michael Buerk, an unnamed BBC spokesman was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying the following: ‘While Michael is entitled to his opinion, it has been some time since he has worked for BBC News so it’s interesting he feels in a position to comment. We certainly do not recognise the picture he has painted and nor would his colleagues. Impartiality is critical to our success as a news broadcaster and is always at the centre of what we do.”

No. Being a state funded monolith is the critical element in their “success”, and since a critical mass of the BBC’s editorial staff appears to regard the Guardian – Britain’s most ideologically charged newspaper – as a paragon of truth and objectivity it is hardly surprising that most of Michael Buerk’s colleagues are so utterly clueless about what the word “impartiality” even means. 

But, if you’re hoping for change, don’t hold your breath. Guess who has just been appointed chairman of the BBC Trust, the BBC’s governing body. None other than Chris Patten, former Commissioner for External Relations at the European Commission who in 2010 became president of a charity called, wait for it, Medical Aid for Palestinians.

It is tempting to just shrug one’s shoulders and walk away. But as the most powerful media outlet in the UK and, via its website and its world service television and radio platforms, the most influential broadcaster in the world, we can’t. So, what to do?

Three possible strategies come to mind: work to reform it; work around it by pressing for a freeing up of the regulatory environment so that a robust competitor can be established in the private sector; or work to abolish it.

The first has been tried. That is no reason not to try again. But the rot runs so deep that we may have to face the prospect that the BBC is simply unreformable. The second is a good idea regardless of what the BBC does. In an open society it is deplorable that the state should dictate who can say what in the public domain. The airwaves should be free.

Looking to the long term, the third is a less remote possibility than it might currently appear. While today’s political establishment is largely supportive of the BBC, there are significant strands of opinion taking shape within it that have grave misgivings about the way things have been going.

But the key dynamic here is technology. As the internet continues to develop at breakneck speed, web-based “television” is surely set to explode. As more and more channels appear in an environment which is all but impossible to tax, regulate, or make subject to a television license it will become increasingly difficult to explain why one particular channel should get state support while others do not. When that day arrives, a sustained campaign for abolition, drawing on the growing ranks of the BBC’s critics, may yet be strong enough to deliver a fatal blow, or at least to shrink it to a pale shadow of its former self.

That would be a shame since, particularly in the fields of drama and the arts, much of the BBC’s output is exemplary. It is also a huge global brand which Britons should be able to be proud of. But if they won’t play by their own rules on bias and objectivity in politics and current affairs, they will leave us no choice.    

Whatever happens, we need to say loudly and clearly that the current state of affairs is unacceptable. If the BBC eventually goes down, it will have no one to blame but itself.

Robin Shepherd is the owner/publisher of the Commentator. His most recent book, A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel, is now out in paperback

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