The Radio 4 Friday 18:30 ‘Comedy’ Slot

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.

Good Morning Scotland

is BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship morning news programme.

The Friday 24th October edition carried an article about how Network Rail is to assume control of routine maintenance contracts from private contractors. During the article, which was a conversation between the news ‘anchor’ Alex Bell and the BBC Transport Correspondent Tom Simons, the BBC got a chance to show it’s economic illiteracy.

BELL: “I suppose that costs will be reduced because they [Network Rail] will no longer have to pay the profit margin?”

SIMONS: “Yes, but the savings from that may not be that great…the contracts were being negotiated down anyway”

I enjoyed this exchange because it shows the marvellous ignorance from commerce which is key to success as a BBC journalist. That a private company might be capable of operating more efficiently, or with some degree of innovation even in an area like rail maintenance, simply does not come into it. On this basis you have a good argument for the nationalisation of the whole economy, so that you would not need to pay the ‘profit margin’ to companies like Easyjet, Tesco, BP and so on.

Equally strange to me was the fact that any sane person could use the terms ‘cost reductions’ and ‘Network Rail’ in the same sentence not as an obvious oxymoron. Network Rail has overseen truly breathtaking rises in costs (costs guaranteed by the taxpayer), and only a few days ago was censured by the regulator Tom Winsor for it’s wasteful performance – but that’s OK this time as we won’t be paying a profit margin. As you would expect, this point was not made during the article.

Talking Politics

The Saturday 11th October edition of ‘Talking Politics’ (Radio 4), hosted by Sheena McDonald, was a model of BBC P.C. bias.

Let me say at the start that I have nothing against opinion programmes, so long as there is diversity in the kind of opinions offered, and opinion pieces are clearly sign posted as such. Talking Politics is not sign posted as an op-ed piece.

The programme was on the subject of women in politics (Westminster politics). A group of like-minded labour politicians and left-wing writers gathered together to discuss what is wrong with politics. Naturally, it is awful, and it’s those pesky men.

If I tell you that one of the contributors has written a book called ‘Why do women vote Conservative?’ you’ll understand the thrust of the programme. The assertions that ‘Affirmative Action’ was a good thing was hardly challenged – in fact we need more of it. That ‘Affirmative Action’ could also be called ‘State-Sponsored Discrimination’ was not discussed, nor was the irony that such policies fell foul of anti-discrimination law discussed either.

For me, the most remarkable thing about this programme (aside from the presenter’s lack of professionalism) was the fact that the ‘T’ word (Thatcher) was not mentioned. Love her or hate her, I believe she ranks with Clem Atlee as the most successful post-war PM, at least in terms of changing society. She is a woman (and a mother) but of course would have no truck with a bunch of lefties like these, and so is not worthy of mention.

As a final word on this poor programme, getting a group of like minded individuals together to discuss a political topic makes for poor radio.

Andy Whittles

The Saturday 11th October edition of Today carried an article about the California election.

Margaret Doyle introduced an American author called Jonathan Franzen. Franzen was introduced as a ‘liberal’, which a spot of googling certainly confirms to be the case (though the BBC shows progress here in introducing the standpoint of a speaker who would be unknown to most listeners).

Franzen’s interview was really a monologue. Naturally, the result of the California election was down to the stupidity of the electors. According to Franzen, there are a lot of angry people in America who have no right to be angry. The electorate couldn’t understand the issues etc etc. The failures of previous Governor Mr Davies were not mentioned.

All of Franzen’s comments were accepted without comment by a fawning Doyle. The real question was why this article was included at all. Franzen certainly was not a witty speaker (rather dull actually), and he had nothing fresh to say on the subject. Was it because has was, from a BBC point of view, ‘on message’?