PETER HITCHENS: The BBC hoses us down with Left-wing propaganda. So if it wants to keep the licence fee, here’s what it MUST do
Nobody gets fined for refusing to buy the Guardian newspaper, and a good thing too.
The Guardian is an estimable product, but plenty of us do not agree with its opinions or with its priorities. So we can choose not to buy it, or to buy something else.
Why then are we threatened with being dragged to court if we do not pay for the BBC, which is more or less the exact broadcast equivalent of the Guardian? And now the BBC wants us to pay even more to be hosed down with its incessant propaganda and unacknowledged bias.
There is a simple solution to the BBC’s demand for another increase in its licence fee. If it won’t even try to be impartial – and it is not trying very hard at the moment – freeze the fee which will then quickly dwindle thanks to inflation.
Some may say that it is wrong for one part of the media to seek restrictions on another part of the Fourth Estate. But this is to miss the point.
Newspapers make no claim of impartiality. Each day newspapers publish leading articles in which they express clear opinions on the major issues of the day, openly taking sides for all to see.
The BBC wants us to pay even more to be hosed down with its incessant propaganda and unacknowledged bias
They tend to attract writers who broadly agree with their positions. And they tend to attract readers who do the same, though Conservative newspapers have a significant number of non-Tory readers, who like the product in spite of disagreeing with its politics.
The BBC is pretty much the exact opposite of a Fleet Street newspaper. Its money is forced from its users on pain of prison. It has opinions, but it pretends not to. And it recruits almost entirely from a section of society which agrees with these opinions.
Do not take my word for it. All this is in the open, if you look. Mark Thompson (then the BBC Director General) said in a 2010 interview with the New Statesman that the BBC had suffered a ‘massive bias to the Left’ (though he absurdly stated this had only been in the past). Roger Mosey, an unusually frank and honest former BBC executive, wrote soon afterwards in The Times that he broadly agreed with Mr Thompson.
Of course, the bias was not only in the past. It is constant and has been increasingly so since the fanatical social liberal Sir Hugh Carleton Greene took over as Director General of the Corporation in the 1960s.
This bias is not so much party political as general. BBC newsreaders do not suddenly cry out ‘Vote Labour!’ mid-bulletin. But BBC staff in general just find it very difficult to give a sympathetic hearing to the huge part of the population which holds socially and morally conservative views.
Here’s an example. I’d been having a number of impromptu conversations with Mr Thompson around the time he was in charge, as we often shared the same train. He had no answer when I said the BBC lacked presenters who would be prepared to give a really hard time to Clive Stafford Smith, the noted campaigner against the death penalty.
Although millions of British people support this penalty, the BBC does not contain a single significant man or woman who shares that view. On the contrary, they are all horrified by it. And it is easy to work out from that litmus test most of the other things they all hate, and what they all like.
There is a simple solution to the BBC’s demand for another increase in its licence fee. If it won’t even try to be impartial (Stock Image)
If the confessions of Messrs Thompson and Mosey are not enough for you, bear in mind the public remarks of two former BBC star presenters. Andrew Marr described the Corporation at one of its own seminars as ‘a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large’. All this, he said, ‘creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC’.
John Humphrys wrote around the same time in the Radio Times: ‘The BBC has tended over the years to be broadly liberal as opposed to broadly conservative for all sorts of perfectly understandable reasons … The sort of people we’ve recruited – the best and brightest – tended to come from universities and backgrounds where they’re more likely to hold broadly liberal views than conservative.’
Perhaps the most hilarious such admission came from Roger Harrabin, for years the BBC’s main reporter on global warming: ‘I’ve never considered myself a climate-change sceptic.’ Nor did anyone else. The BBC’s complete abandonment of any sort of balance on this issue is one of its gravest failings.
Much more of this sort of thing can be found in the book Can We Trust The BBC?, a trenchant insider study of the Corporation from Robin Aitken, for many years a BBC staffer.
Left-wingers feebly counter all this by pointing to nominal Tories, such as Lord Patten, who have held prominent posts in the Corporation.
But the key word here is ‘nominal’. BBC Tories are almost invariably of the liberal, metrosexual, Remainer wing of the Tory party, token figures chosen precisely because the organisation knows that it is far easier to make such gestures than to embark on proper reform.
Mark Thompson (then the BBC Director General) said in a 2010 interview with the New Statesman that the BBC had suffered a ‘massive bias to the Left’
There are, and thank heaven for it, still a few BBC staff genuinely committed to impartiality
There are, and thank heaven for it, still a few BBC staff genuinely committed to impartiality. But my own direct experiences (vetoed by a high Corporation official as a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze, increasingly excluded from all kinds of programmes where I was once welcome) suggest that the BBC’s mind is growing narrower with age.
So here is what we do: A new body, let us call it the BBC Tribunal, is established. Nobody who has worked for the BBC should be permitted to work for it.
Its Charter is to include, at all times, representatives of the major political, social and moral currents in the country. Some of its members should be appointed (perhaps by a Parliamentary Committee to avoid direct government involvement), others directly elected by licence-fee payers in a poll from which political parties are banned.
It will establish a new Complaints Board, whose email and postal address will be broadcast at the end of every possibly contentious programme. This board will publish a weekly report of the numbers of complaints received for each programme.
All complaints will be seen and responded to by staff of the BBC Tribunal, within a month (under the current system, most complaints never get beyond the computers of Capita plc, which handles them for the BBC, though I suspect most members of the public have no idea this is the case).
If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, the complaint will be passed up to officials of the Tribunal, who will have powers to publicly rebuke the BBC for significant breaches of impartiality.
The impartiality rule should explicitly cover drama, often used as a propaganda vehicle, for example in favour of illegal drug abuse and abortion on demand by the BBC.
The Corporation should also for the first time become properly subject to Freedom of Information inquiries, losing much of the raft of protections and exemptions which currently make it almost impossible to question it about anything it prefers to keep quiet about.
And it should now publish the long-suppressed Balen Report, written in 2004 by former senior broadcast journalist Malcolm Balen, into its alleged bias over the issue of Israel. It has spent a small fortune of licence-fee money on legal actions to keep it secret.
It is simply not entitled to be a public body and to behave like this. Disgorging this document at last, especially now, would be an excellent symbol of a new era.
But if not, then even those of us who value the BBC (as I do) and want it to survive will find it hard to defend its costly empire any more.
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