Rather than representing the nation as a whole, the BBC has become a vital resource – and sometimes attack weapon – for a narrow, arrogant Left-Liberal elite.
Awkward…..Did the BBC and Guardian splash this on their front pages day after day in 2011? I am guessing Peter Oborne wasn’t such a hero then.
Coming to the BBC, an everyday story of bias and falling standards
The corporation has fine values. It must act swiftly to stop their further erosion
There are very few institutions – maybe only the monarchy, the Armed Forces and Parliament – that express what it means to be British more than the BBC. The state broadcaster enjoys a very privileged place indeed at the heart of our national conversation. But this, in turn, means that there is an implicit deal between it and the British people.
On the one hand, the BBC is funded by public money and given a semi-monopoly of broadcast news coverage. On the other, the BBC is by charter expected to reflect the British values of fair-mindedness, decency and tolerance.
Sadly, it is only very rarely that the BBC keeps its side of the bargain, and this negligence is starting to become a scandal. Rather than representing the nation as a whole, it has become a vital resource – and sometimes attack weapon – for a narrow, arrogant Left-Liberal elite.
BBC chiefs used to deny this charge outright, but in recent years even they have been forced to acknowledge the weight of evidence. The organisation and its staff were institutionally opposed to Margaret Thatcher, whereas they took New Labour to their heart. They have swallowed every progressive orthodoxy, while viewing with naked contempt the concerns of ordinary people.
The BBC is doctrinally pro-European. During the 1975 referendum campaign, it was the propaganda wing of the pro-Brussels machine, and this attitude has not changed since. The ranking members of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten of Barnes and his deputy Diane Coyle, have never made any secret of their contempt for Eurosceptics, let alone the opinions of the very significant and growing minority of the British people who want us out of Europe altogether.
This ossified institutional attitude has become an urgent problem. Thanks to this week’s uprising on the Tory benches, and the financial catastrophe now facing the 17 eurozone countries, it now looks very likely indeed that a further euro-referendum can be expected in due course. Given the abysmal record of BBC partisanship, and the unashamed pro-European bias of the corporation’s board, there is no hope that the debate when it comes will be treated in an even-handed way.
This problem is made much worse by the fact that bias is not the only problem. A further difficulty is lack of standards. It is not simply the opinions of BBC producers and reporters that are suspect. So are the facts they put in front of the public.
One notorious recent case concerns the documentary produced by the flagship BBC current affairs programme, Panorama, about Primark. Screened in June 2008, it made a series of very serious and damaging claims, of which the most troubling was the assertion that the clothing company employed child labour in Bangalore.
There is ample evidence that Panorama’s “undercover” footage showing three boys in a Bangalore clothing workshop was actually an elaborately constructed fake – and this evidence became available almost at once. But the corporation was unbelievably slow to admit this. Only three years later, in June this year, did the BBC come up with a grudging apology. By comparison, when the columnist Johann Hari was caught out in a comparable (though not identical) act of fabrication, his newspaper suspended him within days.
Even before the discredited Primark documentary was screened, the BBC was caught out in another act of fabrication. This one, because it involved the Queen, gained massive publicity. The BBC showed the monarch, in full garter regalia, angrily leaving a photographic sitting after being asked to remove her tiara. It made compelling television, and at first was accepted as true. In fact, the scene was a fake, the result of misleading editing.
It cannot be stressed enough that the BBC makes a great deal of excellent television and radio, while employing many admirable journalists. But there is a pattern forming here. It now emerges that the corporation has fabricated yet another story, this one involving the Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie.
Three weeks ago, Mr Tyrie was the subject of a mocking BBC report at an otherwise dull Conservative Party conference. He was shown preparing to give a televised response to George Osborne’s party conference speech, then being led away by some Downing Street heavies, only to return full of praise for the Chancellor. The inference made was that Mr Tyrie had been nobbled.
Nothing of the sort had occurred, as the BBC reporter involved, James Landale, has since to his very great credit made clear (though unfortunately only in a little-read blog written some time afterwards). It was ingenious television editing which made it appear that Mr Tyrie had been got at by No 10’s heavy mob. The crucial point is that Mr Tyrie had already told the BBC exactly what he was going to say about the Osborne speech before he talked to Downing Street officials – and not one word had changed after.
The BBC has been trying to brush this affair off as a matter of no consequence, a cunning tactic. For Mr Tyrie is a man of few political friends, and none at the top of the Government, where his discomfort has been openly relished. I have followed his career for many years, and he is the very model of what a backbencher ought to be: independent and unbribable by office or money, dedicated only to a high-minded vision of public service.
Now chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, he has been unafraid to take on George Osborne – for instance, using investigative powers to find out the ugly truth about the state-owned RBS bank. For the past six years, he has waged another lonely battle to find out the truth about the controversial and unethical practice of extraordinary rendition (the dispatch of terrorist suspects to foreign countries, where they can be tortured). He is now involved in a challenge to the CIA in the American courts. Thanks to the inaccurate BBC story there is now a real danger that Mr Tyrie’s quest for the truth may be hampered. The American intelligence agency could claim that he is simply the easily exploited pawn of a foreign government.
The truth could not be more different. Mr Tyrie has no official friends. All he has is his integrity, a commodity the BBC was disgracefully ready to trash for the sake of an eye-catching television package. It is time he was given a generous public apology.
I am one of those who love the BBC. I wake up in the morning listening to Radio 4, and it is often the last thing I hear before I go to bed. I believe that it represents something civilised and inspiring which sets Britain apart from other countries.
But there are forces – led by Rupert Murdoch – that want to annihilate the BBC and destroy what remains such an essential and unifying part of our public domain. In recent years, its senior management seem to have bent over backwards to give legitimacy to enemies, abusing its unique public trust by pursuing a factional agenda and rubbishing its own magnificent values. The character assassination of Andrew Tyrie, at heart an act of empty nihilism, is just the latest example. It is time the BBC woke up.