The BBC have a ‘Comedy’ slot on a Friday. I would contend it is for left-wing metropolitan ‘comics’ only.
The October 24th edition of ‘The Now Show’ contained its usual blend of both hard and soft left polemics. The show started with a soapbox style rant about the police from armchair SWP member Mitch Benn. This was so unfunny that the audience (composed of BBC staffers and like-minded people) simply did not laugh – this is not surprising though, the script was not meant to be funny, just political.
Could you imagine a speaker from the right of politics being given so much air time on the BBC – I for one cannot.
Mitch Benn then gives way to Punt and Dennis – a pair of what I can only describe as the smuggest Cambridge Lefties you will ever come across outside a sixth-form debating chamber. Week by week, they prod Blair from the left because the government is not left-wing enough for them. Yesterday, they had a long and tedious item about the conservatives.
Fair comment you might say, except that it got me thinking about other shows on this slot.
‘The Now Show’ alternates with ‘The News Quiz’. Two of the regulars on this show are also armchair SWP members – Jeremy Hardy and Linda Smith. Even I admit Linda Smith can be very funny when she leaves politics alone, but the same cannot be said of Jeremy Hardy. Like Mitch Benn, he uses the show to launch furious left-wing rants which strangely never seem to be edited out. No speaker from the right would be allowed as much latitude as Hardy, who is like a bore at an office party who has trapped you between the water cooler and a filing cabinet. A facade of ‘balance’ is achieved by the presence of the Francis Wheen, who I would call an ‘apologetic Tory’.
‘The News Quiz’ also sometimes alternates with ‘The Mark Steel Lecture’, which is a soapbox programme for…an overtly left wing comic. Mark Steel is a darling of the BBC producers, so expect to see him back soon. During one of his last lectures (about a year after the attack on the WTC and Pentagon) he likened Osama Bin Laden to Hanibal, the great Carthaginian general and scourge of Rome, wishing that the Americans could be as respectful to Osama as Rome was to Hanibal. Except, of course, that Hanibal challenged Rome openly on the field of battle, not as a terrorist, in a time when military power was regarded differently. Like all BBC types, Steel parades his contempt of America openly and with pride.
The only exception in the Friday 18:30 left-wing slot is the marvellous Deadringers, which has short and all too infrequent runs.
The BBC response to criticism like this is ‘well, do you want right-wing comics?’ – but I think this misses the point totally. The 18:30 left-wing slot shows how BBC bias operates – giving airtime to views with which it has some sympathy over and over again. An answer would be to be careful not to choose such smug, overtly political performers and to find other voices.