Nick Cohen in Standpoint Magazine :
A while ago, a BBC producer phoned to tell me I had written a “controversial” book. I knew that already, and gathered from the teeth-sucking sound coming down the line that she did not approve.
“So,” she continued, “we’ve lined up four guests to argue against you.”
I told her to go away — maybe I used a stronger term — and then thought about her predicament. As a biased broadcaster, she wanted to hear my book denounced, but she could not risk organising a one-on-one debate. Maybe I would have come out on top. More probably, some listeners would have agreed with me, others with my opponent, as is the normal way of things. By arranging her show to make it four against one, however, she could maintain the illusion of impartiality while creating the impression in listeners’ mind that the consensus was overwhelmingly against arguments she found uncomfortable. In the interests of “balance” and of letting “everyone have their say”, she would fill 80 per cent of the airtime with advocates of her own political position. I have watched out for rigged debates ever since. They are the surest signal the BBC dares send that an idea does not deserve a hearing in polite society.
I’m a bit busy today, and haven’t time to give chapter and verse from the B-BBC archives. Let Mr Cohen give us the latest example :
Ophelia Benson did not quite get the four-on-one treatment when she appeared on Radio 3’s cultural talk show Nightwaves to discuss a “controversial” book she has co-authored with Jeremy Stangroom. They gave her a mere two opponents, and the presenter tried to be fair. Still, when one adversary stopped disparaging her, the other started, as the BBC flashed warning signs to listeners to ignore her.
(The book, called “Does God Hate Women ?”, is ‘controversial’ in that it does not restrict its targets to Bible-bashing rednecks in the United States. Had it done so, I’d probably be hearing readings on ‘Woman Sour‘ this morning !)