BBC ‘NOT REFLECTING WHITE WORKING CLASS’: Anita Singh (£ Telegraph 6/10) reported that June Sarpong, the BBC director of creative diversity, had told an Ofcom conference that the BBC had failed to connect with ‘white working class’ audiences and must do more to make them feel represented. Ms Singh noted that in her speech Ms Sarpong had claimed that she was the only black person on the BBC executive committee and that ‘there was nothing new in that’. She had also asserted that the corporation still did not connect with BAME audiences, and that the BBC’s survival depended on its diversity, ‘as that is what young audiences demand’.
SIR ROBBIE GIBB ‘FAVOURITE TO BECOME BBC CHAIRMAN’: Christopher Hope (£ Telegraph 5/10) claimed that former BBC news executive and Downing Street communications chief Sir Robbie Gibb had emerged as a ‘surprise frontrunner’ to become the new chairman of the BBC. Mr Hope said that others now in the frame included Sir Peter Bazalgette, currently the chairman of ITV, and Trevor Phillips, a former chairman of the equalities commission. Mr Hope added that Sir Robbie, who had recently been advising GB News, the new news service to be fronted by Andrew Neil, was seen as a reformer and a potential ally of the new BBC director general Tim Davie, who had promised to deliver reforms.
MOORE ‘NOT APPLYING’ TO BECOME BBC CHAIRMAN: Ryan Fahey (Mail online 3/10) claimed that former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, who had been thought to be the leading contender to become the next chairman of the BBC was said to have decided not to apply for the role ‘for personal reasons’.
BBC ‘SECURED PRINCESS DIANA SCOOP UNDER FALSE PRETENCES’: Craig Byers (Is the BBC Biased? 4/10) reported that the Sunday Times had claimed that the BBC’s Martin Bashir – who had secured in 1995 a ‘bombshell’ interview with Princess Diana in which she had said there were ‘three of us’ in her marriage to Prince Charles – had secured the scoop by allegedly misleading her brother, the Earl Spencer. Mr Byers said the article had also claimed the allegations would raise difficult questions for the BBC as it had conducted an internal investigation at the time and cleared itself of any wrongdoing.
DAME JENNI MURRAY ATTACKS ‘SUFFOCATING’ AUNTIE: Jessica Carpani (Telegraph 3/10) reported that Dame Jenni Murray, who had stood down as presenter of BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme after 30 years, had launched a ‘scathing attack’ on her former employers for banning her from presenting items on the 2019 general election or about transgender issues because of her allegedly biased opinions.
Writing in the Daily Mail (2/10), Dame Jenni – emphasising that she had fought the many inequalities she perceived existed against women throughout her time in the role – explained that on transgender issues, she had ‘merely asked the trans activities to acknowledge the difference between sex and gender’ and had been ‘shocked’ by the BBC’s response which had been to ban her from chairing any discussions on the trans question or the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Dame Jenni, who suggested she had been stopped from political reporting for stating that she supported the UK staying in the EU, and found the embrace of the BBC as ‘sometimes suffocating’, said:
‘It’s an interesting word, impartiality. For years, until recently, I and other broadcast journalists have written articles and books. In my case they were often controversial ones on marriage, abortion, pornography or bringing up boys, and I suffered no comeback from the BBC. At one point I was actually encouraged by a channel controller to write a regular column as a way of widening awareness of Woman’s Hour and Radio 4.
‘Impartiality was perceived as what a presenter demonstrated in the studio. It was not assumed that the radio or television audience expected the men and women who entered their homes on a daily basis to be dull ciphers with no opinions or personalities. I defy anyone to know which political party I have voted for, or what I think about the current moves towards Brexit, or the way the coronavirus crisis has been handled — because, on air, I have been impartial, exactly as I should have been. I do hope the new Director- General, Tim Davie, will bear this in mind and have no fear of a seemingly unfriendly government or the Twitter mob bringing down his greatest broadcasters.’
Dame Jenni also attacked the pay of female presenters at the BBC who earned more than she had. In the Telegraph article, Ms Carpani said the BBC had responded to Dame Jenni’s observations by saying the corporation wished her well in her new role as a columnist, ‘but the public will understand the importance of impartiality while working at the BBC’.
BBC ‘DOUBLES BORROWING LIMIT’: Rachel Russell (Express 2/10), in the context of director general Tim Davie’s appearance before the Commons Digital Media and Sport committee earlier in the week, noted that the BBC’s annual report showed that the corporation had ‘demanded’ permission from the government to borrow an an extra £1 billion (doubling the current limit of £1 billion) in order to pay for changes in to the international accounting standard in lease laws. Ms Russell said the extra spending capacity had been criticised by the Defund the BBC campaign, which had pointed out the BBC was paying huge salaries to star presenters while at the same time withdrawing free licence fees for the over-75s.
BBC ‘EMPLOYED ME BECAUSE OF THE COLOUR OF MY SKIN’: Ramsha Khan (£ Telegraph 30/9), in a personal opinion piece, explained that after undergoing work experience at the BBC in Manchester and London, she now believed – ‘as a woman of Asian heritage’ – she had been ‘invited into the gilded palace of political correctness because of the colour of my skin, not because of my insights. If I had been white, I doubt I would ever have been parked in front of a microphone’. Ms Khan described how she had noticed something was ‘off’ when she had been invited to appear in a programme on BBC Radio Manchester. She said:
‘I naively presumed I was invited because they believed I would have something insightful to add. It was a blow when a producer on the show, seeing me, casually said “Oh, we’ve hit the diversity quota today”. The panel consisted of five of us, all ethnic minorities. At that instant it seemed as if I had been invited purely based on my ethnicity. I felt as if I was being defined by my race and cultural background, rather than as a person.
‘From there, it was a short hop to feeling as if I was expected to have “correct” opinions on certain issues. The fact that I might not view the world through socially progressive biases – that, as a conservative-leaning person I might support Brexit, for example – seemed not to have occurred to them.’
Ms Khan concluded that because of the BBC’s approach to ‘diversity’, the time was right to defund it.
BBC STAFF EXPRESSING POLITICAL VIEWS ‘FACE SACK’: Anita Singh (£ Telegraph 29/9) said that Tim Davie, the BBC director general, giving evidence to the Commons digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS)committee, had warned that BBC stars who broke planned new guidelines banning the expression of their political views would face ‘the sack or their Twitter accounts being taken away’. Mark Duell (Mail 29/9), also reporting the DCMS committee meeting, said that football presenter Gary Lineker had responded to Mr Davie through his twitter account by posting laughing emojis and stating: ‘I think only Twitter can take people off Twitter’. Mr Duell added that Mr Davie in his appearance had defended radio presenter Zoe Ball’s £1.36 million-a-year salary, stated that the corporation had a strong grip editorially ‘of what we do’, and had defended the current BBC licence fee funding system, including criminal penalties for non-payers, as ‘logical and hard to beat’. He had also asserted that the BBC’s track record of reporting from across the whole of the UK was good. Mr Duell also said that Mr Davie had indicated that in future, the BBC would not be aiming to secure as many consumption hours from audience members.
NEIL DEPARTURE ‘IS A NEEDLESS BBC SELF-INFLICTED WOUND’: Robin Aitken (£ Telegraph 28/9), in a comment article, argued that the departure of Andrew Neil from the BBC to work for new news channel GB New, meant that for the first time for more than 40 years, stretching back through Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day, Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, there was at the corporation no ‘number one, undisputed heavyweight political interviewer’. Mr Aitken claimed that because political interrogators such as Mr Neil could not be conjured up at the drop of hat, the loss of his services was ‘cack-handed’. He reasoned that his departure was not due to absent-mindedness, but because Mr Neil’s particular blend of Conservativism – even though it was tempered by social liberalism – was never going to fit in comfortably at the BBC, with the result that he was passed over for taking over the main presenter’s role at Newsnight. Mr Aitken opined:
‘ . . . the Newsnight role was never offered and the programme remains an anti-Tory laager. As far as the senior echelons of the Corporation were concerned Mr Neil was never going to be “one of us”. This all had to do with his ideological approach, the way he asked his questions.
‘It was Robin Day who once observed that every question contains a disguised comment, and the truth of that can be observed in every political interview you’ve ever heard. Last week, for instance, in the wake of the Chancellor’s new measures I listened as a BBC presenter quizzed a Treasury minister. The line of questioning was all about why more could not have been done and who would be left out of the new support scheme; if Neil had been in the chair the questions would far more likely have been about cost and affordability. He is hard-headed, tough and unsentimental; though his qualities were widely admired when it came to the crunch the BBC decided they were dispensable.’
Mr Aitken, after suggesting that Mr Neil’s new home, GB News, which – unlike other UK broadcasters wanted to avoid the ‘inanities’ of liberal culture – might be thwarted in its mission by Ofcom, asserted that none of the interviewers left at the BBC were candidates to fill Mr Neil’s former interrogator-in-chief role. He concluded that the BBC had inflicted on itself a needless wound.
BBC IMPARTIALITY ‘IS BEING CONSIDERED BY GOVERNMENT’: Alastair Stewart (£ Spectator 28/9), discussing press speculation that former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore and former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre were being considered by Downing Street for the chairmanships (respectively) of the BBC and Ofcom, claimed that the appointments could ‘redraw the broadcasting landscape’. Mr Stewart also noted that culture secretary Oliver Dowden – though not commenting directly on the speculation – had told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the sort of person he wanted for the BBC role ‘would guarantee genuine impartiality at the corporation’ and would ensure that it represented the whole of the UK, not just the metropolitan elite. Mr Stewart added that in the ‘highly competitive’ era of modern broadcasting, there was a growing sense that impartiality had become an afterthought, with journalists often taking to social media to put their own take on stories, and ‘wokery’ at the top. He said:
‘I sense it but, more importantly, so do thousands of what Alastair Burnet used to call, with respect and affection, ‘the plain folk’. More of them voted to leave the EU; more of them voted for Conservative candidates than Labour candidates in recent general elections. Rightly or wrongly, they sense a greater warmth for Remain than to Leave on the BBC. Rightly or wrongly, they sense a greater affinity to opposition parties than to the government. In truth, it shouldn’t be either and that is the burning issue. These matters, as my quote above of Ofcom clause 5.1 makes clear, must be reported with ‘due accuracy and due impartiality.’ If they are not, Ofcom is the public’s final court of appeal. If their disquiet is not answered to their satisfaction, they have another course of action: they can cancel their TV licence. And many are now doing that.’
Mr Stewart, noting that culture minister John Whittingdale was working on a new definition of public service broadcasting and would soon launch a public consultation on it, said that the various concerns made the issues of dealing with the BBC and impartiality more pressing. He concluded that, while the speculation about Charles Moore and Paul Dacre might be kite-flying, ‘the appointment of people who take the issue of impartiality seriously and will act to defend it’, was on the agenda.
DOWNING STREET “WOOS DACRE AND MOORE’ FOR TOP MEDIA POSTS: Glen Owen (Mail on Sunday 27/9) reported that prime minister Boris Johnson – in a bid to ‘shake up the left-wing establishment’ – had approached the ex-editor of the Daily Mail Paul Dacre to become chairman of Ofcom in succession to Lord Burns, who was stepping down a year early at the beginning of 2021. He added that Mr Dacre had been ‘wooed’ by Mr Johnson at a drinks party earlier in the year and had responded that he was interested, subject to assurances about freedom and independence. Mr Owen also claimed that senior civil servants, meanwhile, were attempting to thwart – by insisting on due process – the appointment of another Downing Street favourite, the former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, as chairman of the BBC, also at the start of next year.
Patrick Sawyer (£ Telegraph 27/9), also reporting that Paul Dacre was being considered by Downing Street as the new chairman of Ofcom, said he was one of the BBC’s fiercest critics, and that the prospect was ‘certain to cause deep alarm among the BBC’s current hierarchy and its supporters’. Mr Sawyer speculated that he would want to rein in the BBC, forcing it to downsize and focus on its core public service responsibilities. He added that talks with Mr Dacre were at an early stage and it was not yet certain that he would be chosen, or agree, to take up the role.
Guido (27/9) quoted a speech by Paul Dacre from 2007 in which he outlined problems of BBC bias and ‘Cultural Marxism’, as well as ‘inherent statist bias’. He had said:
How often do you hear, on the Today programme or Newsnight, contemptuous references to the tabloid or popular press as if it was some disembodied monster rather than the very embodiment of the views of the great majority of the British people?
Fair enough. The tabloid press – and it’s getting confusing here, because the Times and the Independent are, of course, tabloids now, and the Mail has more quality readers than most of the so-called quality papers put together – is big enough to look after itself. Except I don’t think it is fair, because this ignores the ever-burgeoning influence of the most powerful media organisation in the world: the hugely subsidised BBC. And it’s my contention that the BBC monolith is distorting Britain’s media market, crushing journalistic pluralism and imposing a monoculture that is inimical to healthy democratic debate.
Now before the liberal commentators reach for their vitriol – and, my goodness, how they demonise anyone who disagrees with them – let me say that I would die in a ditch defending the BBC as a great civilising force. Indeed I for one would pay the licence fee just for Radio 4. But the corporation is simply too big. For instance, it employs more journalists and their support staff -3,500 – and spends more on them – £500m – than do all the national daily newspapers put together.
Where there was once just a handful of channels, the BBC now has an awesome stranglehold on the airwaves, reaching into every home every hour of the day – adding ever more channels and even considering launching over 60 local TV news stations across the UK.
No wonder Britain’s hard-pressed provincial press complains it can’t compete, our ailing commercial radio sector is furious that the market is rigged against it, our nascent internet firms rage that they’re not competing on a level playing field, and ITN, aided and abetted by some pretty incompetent management, is reeling on the ropes.
But it’s not the BBC’s ubiquity, so much greater than Fleet Street’s, that is worrying, but its power to impose – under the figleaf of impartiality – its own worldview. Forget the fact that the BBC has, until recently, been institutionally anti-Tory. The sorry fact is that there is not a single Labour scandal – Ecclestone, Mittal, Mandelson and the Hindujas, Cheriegate, Tessa Jowell, and Prescott and Anshutz – on which the BBC has shown the slightest journalistic alacrity.
No, what really disturbs me is that the BBC is, in every corpuscle of its corporate body, against the values of conservatism, with a small “c”, which, I would argue, just happens to be the values held by millions of Britons. Thus it exercises a kind of “cultural Marxism” in which it tries to undermine that conservative society by turning all its values on their heads.
Of course, there is the odd dissenting voice, but by and large BBC journalism starts from the premise of leftwing ideology: it is hostile to conservatism and the traditional right, Britain’s past and British values, America, Ulster unionism, Euroscepticism, capitalism and big business, the countryside, Christianity and family values. Conversely, it is sympathetic to Labour, European federalism, the state and state spending, mass immigration, minority rights, multiculturalism, alternative lifestyles, abortion, and progressiveness in the education and the justice systems.
Now you may sympathise with all or some of these views. I may even sympathise with some of them. But what on earth gives the BBC the right to assume they are the only values of any merit?
Over Europe, for instance, the BBC has always treated anyone who doesn’t share its federalism – which just happens to be the great majority of the British population – as if they were demented xenophobes. In very telling words, the ex-cabinet secretary Lord Wilson blamed the BBC’s “institutional mindset” over Europe on a “homogenous professional recruitment base” and “a dislike for conservative ideas”.
Again, until recently, anyone who questioned, however gently, multiculturalism or mass immigration was treated like a piece of dirt – effectively enabling the BBC to all but close down debate on the biggest demographic change to this island in its history.
Above all, the BBC is statist. To its functionaries, insulated from the vulgar demands of the real world, there is no problem great or small – and this is one of the factors in Britain’s soaring victim culture – that cannot be blamed on a lack of state spending, and any politician daring to argue that taxes should be cut is accused of “lurching to the right”.
Thus BBC journalism is presented through a left-wing prism that affects everything – the choice of stories, the way they are angled, the choice of interviewees and, most pertinently, the way those interviewees are treated. The BBC’s journalists, protected from real competition, believe that only their worldview constitutes moderate, sensible and decent opinion. Any dissenting views – particularly those held by popular papers – are therefore considered, by definition, to be extreme and morally beyond the pale.
But then, the BBC is consumed by the kind of political correctness that is actually patronisingly contemptuous of what it describes as ordinary people. Having started as an admirable philosophy of tolerance, that political correctness has become an intolerant creed, enabling a self-appointed elite to impose its minority values on the great majority. Anything popular is dismissed as being populist – which is sneering shorthand for being of the lowest possible taste.
The right to disagree was axiomatic to classical liberalism, but the BBC’s political correctness is, in fact, an ideology of rigid self-righteousness in which those who do not conform are ignored, silenced, or vilified as sexist, racist, fascist or judgmental. Thus, with this assault on reason, are whole areas of legitimate debate – in education, health, race relations and law and order – shut down, and the corporation, which glories in being open-minded, has become a closed-thought system operating a kind of Orwellian Newspeak.
This is perverting political discourse and disenfranchising countless millions who don’t subscribe to the BBC’s worldview; one of the reasons, I would suggest, for the current apathy over politics.
How instructive to compare all this with what is happening in America. There, the liberal smugness of a terminally worthy, monopolistic press has, together with deregulation, triggered both the explosive growth of right-wing radio broadcasting that now dominates the airwaves and the extraordinary rise of Murdoch’s right-wing Fox TV News service. Democracy needs a healthy tension between left and right, and nature abhors a vacuum. If the BBC continues skewing the political debate, there will be a backlash and I predict that what has happened in America will eventually take place in Britain.
Now, there’s been much talk recently of the need for more civic journalism in Britain, the very thing the BBC prides itself on. But let’s pose this question: what if a civic BBC finds itself dealing with an administration that does not behave in a civic way? An administration that manipulates news organisations and the news agenda, that packs ministry press offices with its supporters, that chooses good days to bury bad news, that favours news bodies that give it positive coverage and penalises those who don’t, that fabricates health and education figures, and concocts dodgy dossiers – an administration that, in Campbell and Mandelson, thought nothing of engaging in systematic falsehood.
Is the BBC’s civic journalism – too often credulously trusting, lacking scepticism, rarely proactive in the sense of breaking stories itself – up to dealing with a political class that too often set out to dissemble and to deceive? The bitter irony, of course, is that when, for once, the BBC was proactive in its journalism and did stand up to the Labour party by breaking a genuine story, the corporation and its craven governors all but imploded under pressure from a rabid Campbell.
And what is interesting is that this contrasted with the ruthless support for the Iraq war that Rupert Murdoch imposed on his papers and their equally ruthless suppression of any criticism of the invasion whether it involved the attorney general’s malfeasance, virtually ignored in the Times, or Dr Kelly, all but hung drawn and quartered by the Sun.
Indeed, I would suggest that the intimacy and power-brokering between these two papers and No 10, and the question of whether Mr Blair would have got away with his falsehoods and misjudgments over Iraq – indeed, whether Britain would have gone to war at all – without the support of the Murdoch empire, is a brilliant doctoral thesis for some future media studies student.
Yes, the BBC is, in many ways, a wonderful organisation. But the fact remains that it depends for its licence fee on the British population as a whole, yet only reflects the views of a tiny metropolitan minority. If it continues with this abuse of trust, then the British people will withdraw their consent and the corporation will fall into discredit. And that would be a very great pity.
FOX ‘TO LAUNCH POLITICAL PARTY TO REFORM BBC’: Christopher Hope (£ Telegraph 27/9) reported that the actor Laurence Fox had raised over £1 million, including ‘substantial sums from former Tory donors’, to launch a new political party to fight ‘culture wars’ and to reform publicly funded institutions ‘likely to include the BBC’. Mr Hope said the new party, subject to Electoral Commission permission, could be called Reclaim. He quoted Mr Fox:
‘Over many years it has become clear that our politicians have lost touch with the people they represent and govern. Moreover, our public institutions now work to an agenda beyond their main purpose. Our country is now in desperate need of a new political movement which promises to make our future a shared endeavour, not a divisive one. This is now my endeavour.’
ANDREW NEIL ‘LEAVES BBC’: Steven Brown (Express 26/9) reported that former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, who had worked subsequently for almost 25 years as a presenter of BBC political programmes, had confirmed in a tweet that ‘with heavy heart’, he was leaving the corporation. Mr Brown added that Mr Neil had also revealed he had been appointed editorial board chairman and flagship programme presenter of GB News, a new advertiser-funded television news channel – the main investor in which was by Discovery Inc, the US company behind Discovery Channel and Eurosport – which would be distinguished by ‘intelligence and a more independent mindset’. Mr Brown quoted Mr Neil:
‘Despite sterling efforts by new DG (Tim Davie) to come up with other programming opportunities, it could not quite repair damage done when Andrew Neil Show cancelled early summer + Politics Live taken off air. But I leave with no animosity or desire to settle scores. I look back on my 25 years doing live political programmes for the BBC with affection.’
ANDREA JENKYNS: “BBC FOMENTS DIVISION”: The Morley and Outwood Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns (£ Telegraph 24/9), in a comment item, argued that, because the BBC was breaching its Charter by ‘fomenting division through questionable and blatant political positions’ in its programmes, defunding the Corporation ‘cannot come soon enough’. She wrote:
‘Not only is the BBC teetering on the precipice of a full embracement of “cancel culture” – which it fortunately stepped away from on the Rule Britannia chaos, even if it was after heavy pressure – but it often appears that there is an inherent leftwing agenda in its political coverage, be that interviews with a clear bias or reports that stem from a particular left of centre political position. . .
‘This political slant has become even more clear during this pandemic. . . The BBC’s charter obligates them to support the country’s social cohesion – to be a beacon of hope for our United Kingdom, but this can often see like a pipe dream as at every level the BBC is fomenting division – through questionable and blatant political positions in its educational content or Countryfile reports essentially labelling the countryside as white privilege.’
Ms Jenkyns concluded:
‘These are just some of the reasons why I am adding my support for the Defund the BBC campaign to decriminalise the non-payment of the license fee. The legal privilege for the BBC regarding its licence fee is deeply regressive. It hits those who are most vulnerable hardest, with those who are less well-off or older being most likely to be challenged and end up before the magistrate. These cases are frankly unnecessary and, even if it is a minor impact to the huge overall workload of our legal system, any reduction in the legal workload is beneficial and allows for more time to be spent on meaningful cases.
‘Taxpayer money should not be wasted on chasing non-payment, and it certainly should not involve a multi-million pound contract to chase those who haven’t paid. I fully support Boris Johnson’s move for a roadmap to licence fee reform – we have a strong government majority and so now is the time to tackle these issues. Frankly, if the BBC is unable to shape up on its own, the government should force the issue and withhold the licence fee. The BBC and the country can only benefit from an end to taxpayer funding as it is then forced to compete in the open market – improving content and stripping out waste. Defunding the BBC cannot come soon enough.’