The wrong sort of diversity

The BBC has made an effort in recent years to portray characters in contemporary drama who just happen to be black, Muslim, homosexual or disabled. How often do you see a character in a drama who just happens to be Christian? Those Christians you do get in BBC drama come in two types. Both can be illustrated by examples from EastEnders: we have long had the slightly mad old dear, but some sort of diversity audit must have thrown up concerns that Christians were too often portrayed as elderly white Anglicans with comedy hypochondria. Ever-attentive to these issues, the BBC brought in a handsome young Pentecostalist minister who leaves his ex-wife to die, murders his wife’s ex-husband, drowns his son’s dog, strangles his wife, kills another woman who looks like his new wife, writes mad religious ravings on his cell wall in his own blood but is black. Ethnic minority: tick one, Britain’s thriving black inner city churches represented on screen: tick two.

Complaints of under-representation from the General Immoderator of the Church of Generalised Christian Fanatics have been dismissed by the BBC Trust after a spokesman pointed out that, in addition to Lucas Johnson cited above, we have in the last few years had the Christian fanatic from ‘Bonekickers’, the Christian pro-life terrorists in the opening episode of Spooks, and the pro-life fanatics in ‘Hunter’ who kidnap children and inject them with lethal drugs – of whom BBC Controller Kate Harward said that the show was based on “the day to day detail of the real world”. Really? I am not aware that there has ever been any anti-abortion terrorism in Britain ever. Aha, but what about America? BBC writers all believe that murders of people who carry out abortions occur every month or so in the US; in fact there have been two in the last thirteen years.

What set off this post, my first in a while for Biased BBC, was an email from a correspondent and Beeb-watcher going way back. (Please say if you want your name cited.) He wrote, “I just saw this from Barnabas Fund, a charitable organization that raises awareness, support and helps care for Christians undergoing persecution worldwide” and sends this link: The BBC is anti-Christian according to its own survey.

They noticed! Briefly.

Here it is. It has a boring title, “Development of a BBC Diversity Strategy: Summary of Responses to Public and Staff Consultations”. Perhaps that is why the BBC appear to have taken one look, yawned, and forgotten it. It does not exactly admit the BBC bias but the authors have gone out of their way to mention the portrayal of Christians as a recurring concern. It was leaked to the Daily Mail, and according to Harry Phibbs of that journal, the leak prompted a zinger of a response from a spokesman. He said the BBC had “strict editorial guidelines”. The existence of guidelines is not in itself considered sufficient to dismiss accusations of other types of offence against diversity.

(Apologies if this has been mentioned before – I do not recall seeing it on the main blog, but might have missed it. A Google search shows that it did come up on a Biased BBC message board, but I haven’t mastered message boards.)

There is much else of interest in the leaked document. And some things that are just strange. One female member of staff says that she has heard that a “senior member of staff in Development only employs ‘good looking people’”

Hate speech here and there

Kenya launches text service to stop hate speech” reports the BBC – utterly uncritically. The report assumes that this move is intended solely to reduce violence. No mention is made of the threat to free speech in Kenya, indeed no mention is made of any criticism of the hotline at all. It’s against “hate speech”, what more do you need to know? The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is quoted as having told the BBC “If hate speech is reported, we will be able to respond within 12 hours,” – but apparently the BBC did not see fit to ask him what that response would be. The BBC does not ask who defines “hate speech” or bring up the potential for abuse of this system by political leaders wishing to crush rivals or members of the public with a grudge against their neighbours.

Contrast this with how the BBC covers schemes in Britain in which the public are encouraged to report potential terrorism. In this story, University heads tackle extremism, the entire focus is on the clash between security and academic freedom. In this one, Anti-terror police seek help from internet cafes, a spokesman is quoted as fearing that an initiative “potentially criminalises people for accessing material that is legal but which expresses religious and political opinions that police officers find unacceptable.” That fear, it seems, is worth covering in Britain, but not in Kenya.

I have also posted about this over at Samizdata.

Those crazy Republicans explained: a BBC bias masterclass

I felt the following article on the BBC website, “Why do people often vote against their own interests?”, based on the first of two radio programmes collectively called Turkeys voting for Christmas, offered an instructive example for the young writer or broadcaster who aspires to produce material for the BBC. I hope that a few selected quotes will provide some useful tips.

Political scientist Dr David Runciman looks at why is there often such deep opposition to reforms that appear to be of obvious benefit to voters.

Focus now, on that “appears to be”, for it is masterful. It – er – appears to be a marker of impartiality. But what it actually does is get that impartiality tick-box done and out the way with a quick, grey, forgettable phrase. The question of whether the appearance of obvious benefit is correct is not subsequently addressed; it is simply assumed.

Last year, in a series of “town-hall meetings” across the country, Americans got the chance to debate President Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms.

What happened was an explosion of rage and barely suppressed violence.

At this point the radio programme has some people shouting. (Note for the style guide: people never shout at left wing demonstrations because of barely suppressed violence; they are just passionate.) The great thing about the phrase “barely suppressed violence” is that it suggests violence but you don’t have to provide any evidence for it. No one accused of being full of “barely suppressed violence” can disprove it.

But it is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help.

The inclusion of the word “godless” here is exquisite. Godliness or the lack of it has not greatly featured as part of advocacy for or against Obama’s plans for healthcare. (In fact my personal impression is that most of those bringing religion into the issue are liberal Christians saying that Obamacare is what Jesus would do. Such rightwingers who have opposed Obamacare on religious grounds have mostly done so in the belief that it would mean more abortions.) The word “godless” functions merely as a probe to twitch the right neurons when mentally picturing those who oppose. Note that the two phrases on either side of “godless”, the two concepts that have indeed featured in the debate to a significant digree, are never analysed.

Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

Why are they manning the barricades to defend insurance companies that routinely deny claims and cancel policies?

A lesser article might actually try looking at some potential answers to this question. For example, could it be because they suspect that the insurance companies are happy enough to take a bit of public abuse from Obama in exchange for a whole new pool of captive customers? However the author here knows better than to take that path. Note also that this sentence frames opposition to Obamacare as being a defence of insurance companies.

It might be tempting to put the whole thing down to what the historian Richard Hofstadter back in the 1960s called “the paranoid style” of American politics, in which God, guns and race get mixed into a toxic stew of resentment at anything coming out of Washington.

Admire the ju-jitsu with which the author gives us a pleasing whiff of paranoia by warning about that scary toxic stew of right wing paranoia which has been bubbling poisonously in the background for decades.

All that we have seen so far was merely the appetiser to this superb bit of technique:

If people vote against their own interests, it is not because they do not understand what is in their interest or have not yet had it properly explained to them.

It sounds so good, doesn’t it? It appeals to the disquiet that even the most liberal reader might have felt in reading the patronising BBC coverage of the tea parties. You think you are going to get a bracing defence of the tea partiers as being independent adults. This defence could be along the lines that even right wingers sometimes vote for what they believe is the wider good against their selfish interests, or it could be along the lines that they do not believe that what is claimed to be in their interest really is in their interest, and here’s why.

Of course no such argument is actually put forward. That might involve talking to these ghastly people and even worse, listening to them. Instead we have a portrait of the Republican voter as an overgrown teenager in a sulk against the grown-ups:

They do it because they resent having their interests decided for them by politicians who think they know best.

There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots.

And then the rest of the article explains that they are idiots.

UPDATE: There are some very good comments to this post. Please take a look in particular at the comment from Martin. You know the anecdote in the article about how Bush responded to Gore’s sober figures with nothing better than a silly little crowd-pleasing quip? It turns out, if you go to the source (as I should have thought of doing myself), that Bush went straight on to give some figures of his own.

Today’s Nazi words of wisdom from the BBC

You may think that headline is overwrought, but it’s literally true. Today’s BBC front page currently has up, effectively as quote of the day, without any comment, and indeed with a slight implication of approval, the words of a prominent Nazi.

I don’t know how to record it for posterity, but the quote is towards the bottom left of the front page (as seen from Britain, anyway; the international version of the site may be different).

It comes as part of a “QI FACT OF THE DAY”, just after the information that Arthur Conan Doyle and WB Yeats believed in fairies. Placed thus, it reads to me as a kind of riposte to them:

“Unfortunately this earth is not a fairy-land, but a struggle for life, perfectly natural and therefore extremely harsh. MARTIN BORMANN”

Which is all very well, but the job of saying the stern words of sense in response to credulity could have been given to someone more savoury. Martin Bormann was Hitler’s Private Secretary and head of the Party Chancellery. He was condemned to death in absentia at Nuremberg.

OK, you don’t have to explain it to me. Whoever put this up has no idea who Bormann was but there were lots of those German philosopher blokes weren’t there? The BBC are not Nazis but numpties.

Update: Hat tip to Happysnapper who kindly provided this screenshot. I would also like to pass on Millie Tant’s comment:

It’s extremely crass of the BBC to quote a Nazi – and doubly crass: a murderer talking about the struggle for life. Yeah.

The Bormann quote is still there on the main page at 18.48 GMT.

Here’s one terrorist whose motives are not a mystery to the BBC

Following on from Laban’s post below concerning the BBC’s claim that the motives of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are a mystery, it is only fair to point out that for some religiously-motivated terrorists the BBC does feel able to pass on the statements of the perpetrators as to their own motives:

Murder charges for Jewish settler

A Jewish settler has been charged in Israel with murdering two Palestinians and attacking left-wing Israeli, gay and messianic Jewish targets.

Yaakov Teitel, an American immigrant who lives in the West Bank, faces 14 charges, including two counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

“God is proud of what I have done,” Mr Teitel said in court.

Police called him a “Jewish terrorist” when he was arrested in October. His lawyer says he is mentally disturbed.

(For bonus points, the BBC even managed to mention that Mr Teitel was an immigrant and told us where he emigrated from! Compare this.)

Have you suffered from disability discrimination?

If you have, then the BBC wants to know. We all know the sort of things that happen and how upsetting they can be – when the lack of a wheelchair ramp means you cannot get to an art gallery, when the selection committee looks askance at your application because of your health problems, when persecution by feral youths drives you to burn yourself and your daughter to death…

North-Northwester of They’re Joking. Aren’t They? writes:

…it does lead us quite nicely to the BBC’s political class mantra. They’re actually going to allow comments on this story and so must think that they’re onto a winner.

Have you suffered from disability discrimination? Do you live in Barwell? Have you been affected by the issues raised in this story? Tell us your experiences using the form below.

A selection of your comments may be published, displaying your name and location unless you state otherwise in the box below.

They can only think – if that’s not too strong an expression – and confront this problem (which certainly is too strong an expression) in terms of a clash of competing victimhoods.

You see, Francecca Hardwick wasn’t burned by her distraught and desperate mother as the result of 10 years of barbarians persecuting them in their home and the utter abdication of the authorities from their paid and, in the police’s case, sworn duties – far from it.

She died because some individuals still don’t understand people with ‘learning difficulties.’

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me

Following on from David’s post earlier today, I am struck by the contrast between the BBC’s pursed lips at Joe Wilson’s saying the words “you lie” to the current US president when he is giving a speech and its indulgent chuckles when Muntadar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at the previous president when he was giving a speech. Mr Zaidi has claimed he was tortured in prison, so it is perhaps right that there should be a story. (I deplore the torture, if the claim is true. I do not know whether or not it is true.) But why, exactly, if the story is about the alleged torture, do we have this jolly piece: In pictures: how shoe throwing became fashionable. For most of this morning this and other shoe-throwing retrospectives held pride of place on the BBC front page, all in the tone of someone discussing the latest internet meme.

The BBC had a rather different series of pictures the other day showing reactions from various Americans to Obama’s address to Congress, but I’ve lost the link. This is what I think I remember about it: there were around six people interviewed, and all but one of them basically approved of the speech. I thought this ratio was odd, when about half of Americans oppose Obama’s proposals. About three of them remarked disapprovingly at the heckling. If anyone can give me the link we’ll see if my memory is off.

We also had Lawmaker sorry for heckling Obama, and Obama woos Congress on healthcare. The latter story included this:

At this, the Republican ranks grew restive – even mutinous. One Republican shouted out “It’s a lie!” while the president was in mid-flow.

Democrats looked thunderous – this was not the kind of polite hearing a president usually gets when he addresses both houses of congress.

In fact it does not even happen in the British House of Commons. And it may backfire on the Republican concerned.

I gather it didn’t.

The BBC’s Mark Mardell saw Representative Joe Wilson’s behaviour as part of a pattern of American political vituperativeness, discussed in this piece: Mark Mardell’s America: Unparliamentary or un-American. Mr Mardell writes:

Listening to the “tax-payers’ tea party” in Washington on the radio over the weekend, it struck me that if I were reading a transcript blind of context, I would assume I was listening to a demonstration of a growing resistance to a brutal and undemocratic regime.

Indeed, in the four or five speeches I heard on the radio, details of tax rises and healthcare were hardly mentioned: the theme was “recapturing America” from “tyranny” and regaining “freedom”. It sounded as though they were protesting against a coup, probably a violent one, rather than the natural consequence of losing an election less than a year ago.

But I am too new to this place to know if the debate is getting harsher, more strident, even uglier, or whether this is just the vigorous terms of debate that are normal. I’d like to know what you think. But it is why many see Congress as the last refuge of grown-up debate, and want to keep it that way.

He might be new to America, but given the internet and all it’s hard to see how he managed to miss the one-a-minute Bush = Hitler allusions over the last eight years. Even harder to see how he missed the Bush=Hitler poster in one of the BBC’s own newsrooms, as pointed out by commenter Duhbuh. He linked to a video clip where Robin Aitken, formerly of the BBC and author of Can We Trust the BBC?, discusses that poster.

For what it’s worth I too disapproved of Wilson making his outburst at that time and place. Too much unparliamentary behaviour coarsens debate. Physical attacks coarsen it rather more but so long as the victim is Bush rather than Obama do not elicit quite so much high-minded concern from the BBC. One last thing: I thought at the time that given the fairly high risk of assassination that Bush ran in speaking in Iraq, Zaidi would have had only himself to blame if he had been shot there and then. Throwing things at political leaders makes it more likely either that a thrower will end up dead – because someone thinks a shoe is a grenade and reacts too fast – or a politician will end up dead – because someone thinks a grenade is a shoe and reacts too slowly. If either happens the BBC will be the first to ask, “how could this happen?”

Dead man at the controls.

I cannot justly call this bias, but this headline from the British Broadcasting Corporation is a tad strange:

Obama tackles UK PM on Lockerbie

The BBC obviously thinks that there is a substantial audience out there that knows who Obama is, that knows what Lockerbie refers to, but that would not recognise the name of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Come to think of it, who am I to argue?

Not for the likes of us to question

The Times reports: Jana Bennett, BBC TV chief, says stars’ pay is too complex to understand

The BBC will not disclose the salaries of its top stars because the public would not understand why they are so high, according to one of the corporation’s top executives.


She said: “The BBC is in a market; in the broader sense it’s part of the creative industries. It performs a fundamentally different role than that performed by, for example, policemen or teachers. It is a category error to suggest that the public would actually be able to contribute to working out what we do about it. It’s like me talking about Tom Cruise’s movie deals. I’m not of that sector.”

Ed Vaizey, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said that if a politician made similar comments there would be outrage. “A politician caught on camera saying the public don’t understand why we need to be paid £120,000 gets a front page and outrage. What Jana is saying is that the public don’t have the right to know talent and executives’ pay at the BBC because they wouldn’t understand why they’re paid that money,” he said. “ I think you’d find the public is far more sophisticated than your remarks suggest.”

Sing the right tune

House of Dumb quotes Jeremy Vine:

The Patients Association has uncovered “appalling” cases of poor hospital care. But did you want to sing the praises of the NHS after your operation?

As Dumbjon comments,

Now for Stage 2: counting up all those times when the BBC has reported on cases of alleged police brutality by asking people to ‘sing the praises’ of their local police.

This link to Jeremy Vine’s webpage will change soon. But for now, yes, that’s exactly what it says.

Fine words butter no parsnips

Bishop Hill blogged about how the BBC forced George Alagiah to quit his role as a Fairtrade charity patron. His Grace wrote:

Does it strike anyone else that the BBC have got this the wrong way round? Allowing BBC journalists to make programmes about issues on which they are active campaigners would indeed lead to biased programming. But merely demanding that they leave their official posts in those campaigns doesn’t change a thing. We now know that George Alagiah is an active campaigner for Fairtrade. Ergo his programme on the subject is still biased, whether he has left his position as patron or not.

I’d like to look at two subsequent letters to the Times written by BBC top brass in response to a letter from various charities (that is, charities and “charities”) complaining about Mr Alagiah being forced to quit. The bold type in the quoted letters was added by me. Here’s the first BBC reply:

Sir, The charities that ask that George Alagiah be reinstated as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation neatly articulate the reason why we asked George to step down from this role in the first place. Their letter (Aug 8) says that the Fairtrade Foundation seeks to “transform trading in favour of the poor and disadvantaged”. Such an ambition is the prerogative of the charities. Many may find it admirable, though others may take a different view of global economic priorities.

It is not the business of BBC journalism to take a view on this or to be perceived to take a view. We are committed to due impartiality, which means we do not take sides on issues of controversy including the fairness of the global trade system. Our job is to represent all sides in an argument accurately and fairly, and test them as rigorously as we can to allow our audiences to reach their own judgments.

And it is not enough for our journalism to be impartial. We must also be seen to be impartial. That is why it is inappropriate for a BBC journalist to take a high-profile, public role representing an organisation which, as the charities’ letter makes clear, takes a very particular view of the controversial issue of global trade.

Helen Boaden

BBC Director of News

Fine words! I really approved of the tone of that letter. I liked the second BBC response – that came after a further letter of complaint – even better:

Sir, Michael Mitzman (letters, Aug 12) misunderstands the BBC’s commitment to impartiality. Yes, of course we would give airtime to those in favour of, as he defines it, “unfair” trade practices, should the story demand it. We would also give airtime to their opponents and a range of views in between. More likely, we would also want to hear the views of those who believe in the untrammelled operation of the market, even though that might give rise to “unfair” trade.

In Burma we would be very keen to hear and test the arguments of the generals were they ever to grant us access. We would challenge all those views with vigour but as long as they fall within the law and within our own code of taste and decency, it would be entirely against our commitment to plurality of voice and due impartiality to exclude them. Assuming a liberal consensus is dangerous for any news organisation.
Putting someone on air and testing their argument is not an endorsement by the BBC — the BBC does not have a view — rather it is allowing the audience to hear the whole story. Our job is to find the facts, test a wide range of opinion fairly and rigorously and let the audience, armed with the best assessment of the evidence we can provide, make up its own mind. And given that, it is important that our journalists, who carry the brand of the BBC, do not take on public roles that call into question the BBC’s impartiality on issues of controversy or dispute.

David Jordan

Director, Editorial Policy and Standards, BBC

Very fine words. Really, could scarcely be bettered. Only…

How does the BBC cover trade? How does it go about ensuring that all sides of the story are heard? All this caught my eye because in 2004 I wrote a post called Fair Trade 4 Kidz which dealt with the way Children’s BBC handled trade issues. Looking over five articles I found literally half a sentence that was not promoting the idea that trade was exploitation and corporations oppressors. I was particularly struck by the fact that all the links provided were to bodies like Oxfam and Make Trade Fair. There were no links to any pro-trade organisation. Come 2005 I posted Fair Trade 4 Kidz Part II. Basically, I called up the CBBC Newsround website, typed “trade” into the search box and saw what I got. Among the things I got were two lesson plans, one written by Christian Aid and one by the Fairtrade Foundation. Yes, the same Fairtrade Foundation that Mr Alagiah supports. Why does the BBC website host lesson plans provided by bodies who, by its own admission, support only one side of the argument about trade?

Well, that was then, you might say. What is there now? So off I went back to the CBBC Newsround website, typed in “trade” again and got…

Do you care about fair trade? Somehow I don’t think that the next story was called “Have you ever heard of selection bias?”

Big protest at trade talks. Contained “A draft agreement from the summit has already been attacked by relief agencies, with ActionAid calling it “a disgrace and an insult to poor people all over the world”. Also had a link to the same piece about the WTO as I mentioned in the Fair Trade 4 Kidz II post – lots about why protestors hate it, nothing to the contrary view.

How fair is international trade? A lesson plan! With a picture of a puppet! The same lesson plan and the same puppet as the one I mentioned in both the earlier post as provided by Christian Aid… only all reference to Christian Aid has gone and it is presented as the BBC’s own. Funny.

By then I was running into stories I’d covered earlier. But I had an inspiration – instead of typing “trade” in the searchbox I would type in “Fairtrade”.
Whointroducedthiswordtothedictionary, anyoneknow?

And I got…

Do you support Fairtrade products?, Cadbury to make Fairtrade chocs, There should be more fairtrade easter eggs, We rapped with Shystie for Fairtrade, Why I support Fairtrade products

UPDATE: A further thought or two. I asked above who introduced this new all-in-one word “Fairtrade” to the dictionary. The answer is, of course, supporters of “Fairtrade” such as the Fairtrade Foundation. If the BBC were to be as exquisitely careful about avoiding all loaded words as it is with the word “terrorist”, then it would say not “Fairtrade” but “fair trade” – or indeed “fair trade”. After all, it’s keen enough on the scare quotes in other contexts! But talking of the t-word, I suddenly remembered where I’d heard of Helen Boaden. She is the one who sent out the memo saying that the 7/7 bombers could not be referred to “terrorists”, for fear it might offend the World Service audience. The BBC has the duty to be impartial between shades of opinion within the democratic pale and it also has the duty to not be impartial between those within and without the pale; in this example, between the victims of murder and their murderers.

The Rielle Story

Did you know the BBC has only mentioned Rielle Hunter once ever on its website?

I didn’t intend to post about this. It just happened I had read on some US blogs and in the papers that John Edwards was being investigated by a Federal Grand Jury over illegal payments to Ms Hunter to buy her silence over their affair and was, you know, checking the BBC website for news about it. Silly me.

Seems odd. John Edwards is quite an important person – if the 2004 election had gone the other way he’d have been Vice President of the United States of America, and he had hopes that were not by any means crazy of becoming President himself. Furthermore one would have thought that the story had a certain degree of human interest – Edwards cheating on his terminally ill wife, the love child, getting his aide to take the rap, the birth certificate with no father listed, finally getting caught by the National Enquirer when all the respectable papers wouldn’t look at the story.

“John Edwards” is a common name. A search gives loads of irrelevant results. I did try “John Edwards” and “affair” – didn’t get much. In fact I couldn’t find any other mention of the affair other than the story I linked to above, though I didn’t search through all the thousands of results. It’s almost as if the BBC didn’t want to talk about a Democrat behaving badly.

I suppose one of these days the BBC will run a second story on the matter.

There were a hundred and twenty seven stories on the BBC about a sex scandal (which didn’t involve any actual sex) concerning the Republican Mark Foley. Foley represented the 16th District of Florida in the House of Representatives.

UPDATE: Aha! I thought to do a search for “John Edwards” and “National Enquirer”. I found … three mentions in BBC blogs.

Invisible UKIP

In the first comment to David’s post about the Norwich North by-election, an anonymous commenter said:

I caught the commentary on The World At One. The report included the returning officer reading the results for the Labour Party, Liberal Democrat Party, Green Party, Conservative Party and …. no, that was it.

As a listener, I got the impression the Greens came fourth. No mention of UKIP beating the Greens in to fifth place (and coming pretty close to the Lib Dems).

This was backed up by a comment from GCooper who said:

JeffD’s report was more or less the same as the one on the BBC R4 6pm news roundup I listened to a few minutes ago.

With one exception. The announcer said ‘….Labour were beaten into second place, ahead of the Lib Dems and the Greens…”
Used as I am to the shocking political bias routinely displayed by the BBC, even I was poleaxed by that.

Again, see this post from Bishop Hill:

I was just listening to the BBC coverage of the Norwich by-election on Radio 4. The reporter was talking about Labour holding on to second place, “ahead of the LibDems and the Greens”.

The problem with this is that UKIP were in fourth place, 600 votes ahead of the Greens.

Can’t mention UKIP on primetime, can we?

Update on July 24, 2009 by Bishop Hill
I notice that UKIP are complaining that the BBC froze them out in favour of the Greens during the run up to the election too. There’s a clear pattern emerging isn’t there?

Some writers of BBC dramas speak out.

In last week’s episode of the ground-breaking new drama “Left of Centre”, the Guardian published a lament about the state of BBC drama by veteran producer Tony Garnett. The BBC’s drama commissioning controller Ben Stephenson responded, using the word “passionate” four times and – controversially – saying that the BBC ought to promote “left of centre” thinking. (The Biased BBC specials dealing with this story are to be found below.) But his was not the only defence of the BBC. The Guardian also published “TV writers in support of BBC drama” in which

Along with Ben Stephenson’s blog, the BBC passed on the following comments from a selection of TV writers

Someone ought to fire the scriptwriter for this one. They were so exactly like you’d expect BBC writers to be that I began to wonder whether they weren’t parodies. Here’s Tony Jordan (EastEnders, Holby Blue, Hustle, Life On Mars) (Emphasis added by me in both excerpts):

Do I prostitute my vision for a fast buck or do I stop the process and put my beloved script back in the drawer and wait for its time to come? As I write this, my bottom drawer is bulging with scripts that saw the light of day briefly and came under sustained attack before being rescued from the brink of whoredom.

Why? Because I’m an artist, not a fucking arse licker.

During my time at EastEnders, I wrote almost two hundred episodes. My chest still bulges with pride at every single one of them, reaching out to an audience of 20 million-plus in its heyday still gives me a hard on.

Guardian commenter “acme” suggested Viagra. Equally stereotypical in a different mode was Billy Ivory (Common as Muck)*:

Because television has changed massively. There is no longer the solid block of white, middle-class, metropolitan, male viewers sitting in their droves, waiting to lap up a certain kind of programme once it is put before them. The TV demographic has changed and misty-eyed remembrance of times past is inadequate as TV tries to shake itself up to compete with the new media to capture the current audience for TV drama.

At the same time one has to acknowledge that there IS less cash around and the BBC is a public service broadcaster, which must cater for a broad church (not just that white, middle-class, male, heterosexual one … am I going on about that? Well, that’s because it’s such a critical point and one which MUST be considered in remembering the good old days of drama; who was the audience?) so of course it’s going to be hands on in how it develops its output. It can’t just chuck cash at it.

Finally, one has to be aware that the arts in this country have always been prey to the most awful snobbery. Remember the 1970s and the time when certain cinemas were called FILM THEATRES?

Why? Because the middle classes always want to claim the good art, the thoughtful art, the liberal art, for themselves.

That mention of “liberal” art is just the same sort of Freudian slip as Stephenson’s “left of centre” thinking.

*That’s a credit, not a comment.

Left of centre, off of the strip…

BBC executive says corporation should foster ‘left-of-centre thinking’ reports the Telegraph.

Hat tip: DB, who wrote in the comments to David Vance’s earlier post on this: “An anonymous commentator mentioned the Ben Stephenson piece in the comments here yesterday. I brought it to the attention of Conservative Home where Jonathan Isaby blogged it. This led to the Tory culture and media spokesman commenting on it, as did a number of Telegraph bloggers. The Daily Mail has run a story on it and today I see that it’s on the front page of the Telegraph. Not bad going.”

Not bad at all.

Takes me back, this does. I just went on iTunes and spent 79p on a little Suzanne Vega nostalgia. Having spent three minutes back in 1986 I can almost, sort of, maybe believe Ben Stephenson’s claim that:

“Like ‘left-field’, it is a phrase that I use with frequency when talking to the creative community to encourage them to develop and approach their ideas from a completely new perspective,” he said.

Correction: that he frequently uses the phrases “left field” and “left of centre” when talking to the “creative community”, that I believe 100%. I bet they lap it up.

The bit I almost – but not quite – believe is that he really doesn’t think he is being political. I didn’t believe it of Suzanne Vega either.