The BBC has succeeded in gaining an impressive reputation: it’s respected around the world for its impartiality. While other broadcasters like Rupert Murdoch’s Sky and Fox channels and Silvio Berlusconi are universally despised for their undoubted political biases, the BBC usually manages to get away with its claim o be a balanced and impartial broadcaster. This claim is not sustained by the facts as revealed by a former Director General of the BBC itself, Greg Dyke, in a speech to a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference, only reported by the Belfast Telegraph, the Glasgow Herald and the Guardian media correspondent Roy Greenslade.
In his speech, about MPs’ expenses, Dyke called for a commission to look into the “whole political system”, adding: “I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.”
Dyke claimed that he had wanted to make big changes to the BBC’s political coverage but that these had been blocked..
“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming and yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system – the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one – are the groups most in denial about what is really happening to our democracy…
“I tried and failed to get the problem properly discussed when I was at the BBC and I was stopped, interestingly, by a combination of the politicos on the board of governors, one of whom [Sara Hogg] was married to the man who claimed for cleaning his moat, the cabinet interestingly – the Labour cabinet – who decided to have a meeting, only about what we were trying to discuss, and the political journalists at the BBC.
“Why? Because, collectively, they are all part of the problem. They are part of one Westminster conspiracy. They don’t want anything to change. It’s not in their interests.”
He went on to claim that at the BBC, “In the end, political journalists live in the same narrow world as politicians do and they don’t see a need to change because they think it’s the world. They just don’t understand that out there it’s very different.”
That’s the hub of the problem. The bias at the BBC is so ingrained, that it has become as natural as breathing to most of the journalists who work there. This was borne out by an impartiality seminar of BBC journalists hosted by former Desert Island Discs presenter Sue Lawley in 2006. Andrew Marr admitted to the London Evening Standard that the BBC did not represent majority British opinion, saying, “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly-funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people.
“It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.” Business presenter Jeff Randall told the same paper that he had complained to a senior executive at the BBC about the corporation’s pro-multiculturalism stance. He claimed he was told: “The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism, it believes in it and it promotes it.”
There is evidence that the prevailing ethos at the BBC at best disdains Christianity and seems to want to drive it from the public arena to the private sphere. According to the Evening Standard, Lawley’s seminar discussed a proposed episode of Room 101 in which Ali G would dump a copy of the Bible and the Quran. BBC executives were willing to dump one of these books but not the other. Can you guess which one?
Former BBC newsreader Peter Sissons, blows the whistle on this in his recent book When One Door Closes. Sissons says, “What the BBC wants you, the public, to believe is that it has ‘independence’ woven into its fabric, running through its veins and concreted into its foundations. The reality, I discovered, was that for the BBC, independence is not a banner it carries principally on behalf of the listener or viewer.
“Rather, it is the name it gives to its ability to act at all times in its own best interests.”
You might ask, so what? After all, we have the option of turning our television sets and radios off if we don’t like what we hear. What does it matter if the BBC reflects the concerns of a self-affirming political liberal-leftist elite? We can watch other TV channels, tune in to other radio stations or access other news sources online.
That’s true, but the big difference is that we are required to pay for this source of biased news on pain of criminal prosecution. When I pay for a copy of The Guardian, I know what to expect; thoughtful left-liberal political analysis. I expect the Irish News to promote an Irish nationalist agenda, the News Letter to promote unionism and the Daily Express to come up with something new or bizarre about Princess Diana every couple of months. I expect pugnacious conservative populism in the Daily Mail and The Sun and unrepentant Stalinism in the Morning Star. I pay my money and I take my choice.
No-one is going to send me a series of threatening letters saying that they have no record of me taking The Times and threatening me with court action if I don’t immediately go out and pay for the privilege of reading it whether I actually do so or not. I can choose to subscribe to newspapers, internet and cable or satellite television channels that reflect or challenge my political or religious opinions, prejudices and biases. I cannot choose not to pay for the BBC and use a television set without risking being taken to court and fined or sent to prison.
We have become so used to this extraordinary state of affairs because we have grown up with it, but in fact it’s a crazy system. A private company acts as if it was some kind of public authority to demand payment with menaces for another private corporation; one that holds the view that the masses who do not share its left-liberal metropolitan views are to be treated with disdain or contempt. Try ignoring letters from the TVLA and see how it ratchets up the threats and menacing language. Even better, if you have no television set, write and tell them so. It makes no difference. The threatening letters soon resume.
It’s time for the BBC to put its money where its mouth is. I suspect that the Corporation might have to change its ways were it forced to rejoin the real world and pay its way like any other business. The smug ‘we know best, so clear off’ response to viewers’ and listeners’ complaints might change if people were not treated as criminals should they decide to withhold payment of their TV licence fee.
Abolish the compulsion element in the licence and replace it with a voluntary subscription and quarterly fund-raising appeals and see what happens. That’s what happens in theUSwith American Public Radio and National Public Radio. Those who agree with the BBC’s political line or who like to be challenged by it will pay to receive BBC radio and television as their counterparts do inAmerica. Those alienated or offended by it or the indifferent will probably walk away.