I was until recently on the steering committee of the Federation Of Entertainment Unions Love It Or Lose It campaign to save the BBC.
I had to step down because of geography and work commitments but I did also have concerns about the campaigns unwillingness to address the issue of political bias in BBC news and current affairs.
It is clear to me that the BBC has increasingly over the last 15 years failed in its duty to provide ‘impartial’ political coverage and that the BBC’s response to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to leadership of the Labour Party has been pretty disgraceful and exposed the bias in the BBC coverage to many millions who were not previously so aware of it.
The problem for the FEU campaign is that they hold to the line that unions representing BBC workers cannot be seen to criticise the BBC.
I think this is a profoundly mistaken approach. I am fighting for the BBC to be kept in the public sector so that it can be reformed, not so it can carry on regardless!
The BBC as an institution has clearly lost its way. Since John Birt back in the ’90’s BBC senior management has largely accepted the neoliberal, ‘marketising’ approach of Thatcher, Blair and Cameron and largely abandoned the Reithian ‘public service’ ethic that had guided the BBC for 70 years.
News became more and more like ‘entertainment’ and the values of ‘entertainment’ (speed, drama, melodrama, spectacle) gradually invaded the arenas of news, current affairs and even documentaries and the idea that ‘impartial’ news was a crucial part of our democracy was lost in a simple quest for ratings. Thus the BBC can seriously defend the pre-arranged on-air resignation of Stephen Doughty using the tabloid entertainment values of a dramatic scoop.
Somewhere along the line it also became accepted that if you were offending equal numbers of right wingers and left-wingers then, ‘we must be doing something right’.
But this is to assume that being ‘in the centre’ isn’t taking a political position… but of course it is. It’s taking a position in the centre. A BBC supporting the centre-ground of British politics will offend equal numbers on the left and the right but not because it’s being ‘impartial’ but because it’s representing the views of the centre as if they were impartial!
Its like claiming that being a Liberal Democrat isn’t taking any political position, that being a Liberal Democrat is being ‘impartial’… But it isn’t, its being a Liberal Democrat.
Its like claiming that the accent of the upper-middle-class of the south-east of England isn’t an accent but that the way everyone else speaks is. [Incidentally, this very distinct accent of the upper-middle-class of the south-east of England was hugely promoted by the BBC to the extent that it became accepted as ‘received pronunciation’.]
It is also true that as New Labour shifted UK politics to the right, so the ‘centre ground’ of UK politics shifted to the right. Thus what many journalists at the BBC will perceive as the ‘centre-ground’ is to many of us in the audience shockingly right-wing. This is why the Corbyn effect has been so visible on the BBC. Because to people like me Corbyn is not ‘hard-left’ or ‘far-left’, he is merely ‘centre-left’. So when BBC journalists like Andrew Marr, Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg attack Corbyn as if he is some Trotskyist revolutionary, they are attacking the political, social and moral values of millions like me.
Terms like ‘moderate’ and ‘centre-ground’ are entirely relative terms even though those who adopt these positions often assume a sort of rational, moral superiority, as if only they can see the ‘truth’ while the lunatics on the ‘extremes’ rant and rave irrationally. But of course that is simply a ‘partial’ self-justifying opinion; the people on the so-called ‘extremes’ don’t even regard their views as ‘extreme’, they regard their views as entirely rational and the ‘moderates’ in the ‘centre,’ as unprincipled, ill-informed ditherers.
A BBC that equally offends the left and the right is doing so because it is taking a ‘partial’ position in what it perceives as the ‘centre’ of British politics and by doing so it is failing in its duty of impartiality.