The BBC’s Director General Tim Davie has always been clear that reporters and presenters must avoid what he once termed the “sizzle of partiality” in their social media offerings.
On taking office in 2020, he swiftly identified the need to “reaffirm our vows around social media being just one outlet for our impartial journalism”.
Clearly there is at least one exemption he never told us about and that is when the role and financing of the BBC is up for debate.
Groupthink is bound to take hold
When the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries this week announced a freeze in the BBC’s licence fee for two years and dropped heavy hints that the Government is minded to replace the levy with a different funding model in 2027, the Labour opposition criticised her on both counts. Here was a textbook example of a contested political issue.
But rather than stay neutral or air both points of view evenly, the BBC rolled into action parroting a single opinion: that the licence fee was amazing value for money.
Soon after the BBC’s own press office had put out an infographic telling us “it’s good to be reminded of what you get for the licence fee” and BBC News had broken a story telling us “money raised from the licence fee pays for BBC shows and services” (some scoop, that), the corporation’s cavalry of household names arrived over the hill to push the message.
As if by magic, most of them specified “43 pence per day” as the bargain price of their wraparound broadcasting offer. BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker, who is paid £295,000 from licence fee revenue, gets the prize for least original thinker after cutting and pasting the press office’s graphic of 25 BBC platforms and simply adding “43p per day”.
Saturday Live presenter Richard Coles (known in our house as “The Revenant Richard Coles”) deployed a little more imagination when characterising the sum as “about an eighth of the cost of a cappuccino at Costa” and adding: “I think that’s good value.”
Zoe Kleinman, the BBC News technology editor, opted for a punchier twist, telling us: “You wouldn’t get all this on a Sky subscription for £150 per year.” She’s right about that. Sky is hugely overpriced, which is just one of the reasons I choose not to subscribe to it.
Given his enormous BBC pay-packet of £1.36m one would expect a little more from Gary Lineker and he did not disappoint. The middlebrow man who combines in one cheeky package the epic self-regard of a former football star and delusions of intellectual adequacy smugly tweeted: “Yes the BBC brings you the best in news, in sport, in drama, in music, in children’s, in science, in history, in entertainment, in current affairs and Sir David bloody Attenborough…but apart from that what has the BBC ever done for us?”
These are just a few examples of BBC stars all joining in on one side of what was a live political issue – there are dozens more.
And they have a point. Economies of scale and its long-held dominant market position, certainly mean that the BBC delivers a lot of platforms on television, on radio and online for an annual sum that can be characterised as not particularly large if one divides it by the number of days in the year.
Whether it produces sufficient output to fill those platforms with worthwhile content is another matter. For instance, I couldn’t help noticing that its flagship offering on BBC1 at 9pm on Monday night was an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”, first broadcast in October 2020, but not flagged up by the announcer as a repeat. And given that the corporation has farmed out most of its best old shows to the Britbox subscription service, even its stock of high-quality repeats is greatly denuded these days.
What does not seem to have occurred to any of those on the licence fee coin is that it is not self-evidently desirable for a single broadcaster to be in receipt of billions of pounds of revenues deriving from a compulsory poll tax or to seek to use that financial firepower to saturate every market, including online news.
For a start, such a broadcaster would surely have to relentlessly pursue “Caesar’s wife” status on objectivity, being beyond suspicion of bias to sustain support for its uniquely privileged position in an increasingly polarised era.
BBC bias is easily discernible
And yet the “cultural liberal bias” of the corporation that Andrew Marr once owned-up to has become ever-more noticeable in recent years. Its output is shaped overwhelmingly by youngish graduates in big cities, especially London, and unsurprisingly reflects their prejudices.
Individual journalists may, as the BBC supposes, be able to leave what they identify as their own peculiar political views at the door. But when those views are shared by almost every colleague they encounter a groupthink is bound to take hold.
For example, for years before the Brexit referendum, those arguing Britain should leave the European Union were depicted as fringe extremists. I remember fondly the countenances of all the BBC journalists I saw on June 24, 2016 while wandering around Westminster in the aftermath of the referendum result – more long faces than you would find at a Newmarket stables.
More recently, the racially-divisive BLM agenda has been wholly incorporated into coverage: From those “largely peaceful” riots in which we were told a police woman had “knocked herself off her horse”, to the notion that it was necessarily racist to oppose footballers importing the knee-taking gesture from America.
BBC coverage of climate change is also heavily skewed towards alarmism and the need to adopt radical measures to abate it, no matter their cost. Whenever Greta Thunberg is interviewed, hard questions are not posed, but instead gushing admiration is expressed.
On almost every major political issue, from mass immigration to penal policy, a BBC bias is easily discernible; usually underpinned by a soft-left, metropolitan, globalist outlook. The mindset of social and cultural conservatism is almost entirely absent.
You cannot expect to compel, by force of the criminal law, millions of people to pay for a broadcaster that systematically insults and marginalises their beliefs and values, especially not in a market that has been blown wide open by streaming and catch-up services.
Offering us 25 channels of the same stuff, where it once offered only half a dozen, hardly counts as progress.
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