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Sherlock Holmes and the BBC bias

Eamonn Holmes will get to the bottom of the mystery of what happened to his career

“How much of a problem, in your view, is Gary Lineker?” Were we discussing Spurs forwards in the early Nineties? Of course not. We were watching GB News in the hour before dawn, and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer was taking questions about the BBC.

It wasn’t clear why she was there. She kept explaining that she didn’t want to discuss her own view about anything, something she could have achieved much more effectively by simply staying in bed. She certainly didn’t want to get into a chat about Lineker’s tweets. “The BBC is operationally and editorially independent,” she explained, several times. 

Frazer is the kind of minister you get in the final days of a government, someone who has never known opposition, who has risen by being insipid enough to stay in favour with all of the different factions, and who will be the impossible question in a political pub quiz five years from now. Watching her struggle to work out why she was touring studios on a January morning, one sensed that the siècle had very much hit the fin.

Helpfully for her, Eamonn Holmes wasn’t especially interested in anything she had to say

Helpfully for her, Eamonn Holmes wasn’t especially interested in anything she had to say. He has bigger problems. You might remember Eamonn from the days when he was on ITV and the BBC. You might even remember that he disappeared from ITV after saying, mid-pandemic, that no one knew if Covid was linked to 5G masts. Though if you checked his Wikipedia page, you’d find it surprisingly unforthcoming on this topic. 

Anyway, Eamonn has now landed at GB News, where linking phone masts to airborne viruses doesn’t even qualify you as eccentric: one of his fellow presenters this month suggested that the Covid vaccine was giving people “turbo cancer”.

And Eamonn has views about what’s wrong with the Beeb. “Dull, bland, increasingly boring  broadcasting presented by people who’ve been dipped in disinfectant,” he told Frazer. “It’s dull beyond belief.” Did he have anyone in mind who could lift their line-up? He was too modest to say. 

Frazer suggested that the BBC might have an impartiality problem, but Eamonn was having none of it. “Surely it’s up to broadcasters to say this is the way we’re reporting it, now swallow it,” he said. What could he possibly have been referring to? It was very early in the morning to be dealing with this level of unprocessed grief.

The Culture Secretary, possibly sensing that the man interviewing her was on the brink of announcing that he was mad as hell and not going to take it any more, tried to steer the subject back to safer ground. “What we’re talking about today is the BBC,” she reminded him. 

But so was Eamonn. “Do you see, as a viewer, as a listener, that it has a problem?” he asked. Perhaps it lacks a mature presenter, one with an Ulster accent, one who isn’t afraid to read out ideas he’s read on the internet. By now Frazer had escaped, but back in the studio he was still complaining that BBC presenters are all “pro-climate change” and “bland”. Some news presenters use subtext. Eamonn thinks they’re all cowards.

The Culture Secretary had a tougher time on Sky News, where presenter Kay Burley can sense weakness in the same way sharks pick up on blood in the water. After a tour of the issues of the day — wind (Frazer said if was “very concerning”); childcare (“it will be fixed”); child abuse (“terrible”); and postal deliveries (“that’s an issue”) — we got to the meat. Frazer had come to tell us what was wrong with the BBC. “Some people think it’s biased,” she said, doing her best concerned face. 

“Do you think it is?” Burley asked. Frazer wasn’t going to fall into an obvious trap like that, though. Not when she could dig an even more obvious trap and fall into that instead. “What I’ve looked at is the evidence,” she said. “There is a perception amongst audiences…” she began. “Perceptions aren’t necessarily reality,” Burley countered. Frazer smiled. “There are only perceptions,” she replied, like a Jedi master explaining that pain is an illusion.

Finally, she was interviewed by the focus of all this perception, the BBC itself. On Radio 4, Frazer was asked what she thought of GB News. “I’m in favour of media plurality,” she said, “so that audiences can find the views they want to hear.” Unless, presumably, those views are shared by Gary Lineker. 

It was a mistake, she said, to focus on the channel’s large presenting roster of current and former Conservative MPs. “A broadcaster has to be impartial over the spectrum of what it broadcasts,” she said. 

What does that mean? Let’s take a worked example. Some presenters at GB News think phone masts cause Covid, and some think vaccines cause turbo-cancer: a full range of medical opinion. Some think that Boris Johnson should be prime minister, and some think that Laurence Fox should be prime minister: a complete spectrum of political opinion. And some (well, one) simply think that Eamonn Holmes should be presenting Strictly.

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