Some points about the BBC
by Elias Blum
1. No doubt mid-level staff do take issues of ‘fairness and balance’ seriously, but the question of what is considered ‘fairness’ and ‘balance’ depends very much on your perspective, and what you regard as legitimate vs illegitimate criticism. I suspect that there is quite a lot of implicit, unacknowledged group-think in that regard – not least in terms of who is recruited, and the processes of internal socialisation into the institutional culture. Even when it has tried to be impartial between the main UK-wide political parties, it has always seen its role as defending and promoting a ‘British national interest’ which necessarily means drawing a line between what is, and what is not, in that interest – and that means making political decisions. Look at how it fawns and grovels on royal occasions.
2. There is a reputable study of BBC bias on the Scottish independence referendum – showing how timing, framing and other techniques were used to portray independence in a bad light, without being so obvious as to entirely exclude pro-independence voices. For me, this forever and totally destroyed the BBC’s reputation for integrity and impartiality.
3. This is an institution where the directors are appointed by the government (Secretary of State for Culture last time I checked), overseen by a parliament committee in which the government have a majority, which is ultimately dependent on the government for funding (renewal of license fee), and which is structured on the basis of a Royal Charter which the government can change at will – what about that institutional set up makes one for a moment suspect that such an institution could be capable of being ‘fair and balanced’ even if it wanted to be? It has always been a semi-official organ of the British government, and has always been subject to subtle and non-so-subtle political influence.
4. There is a lot of overlap, at the top levels, between the BBC’s news and current affairs staff and the political elite – mostly Tories these days, but also Blairite Labour in the 1990s, following the political patronage of the day. The ‘revolving door’ between party politics and the BBC is very much open. Like when a certain senior former politician whose name I will not mention was put in charge, and he refused to give up his Conservative party membership.
5. This doesn’t detract from its excellent comedy, light entertainment, cultural and educational output – although one could argue that even much of that promotes a certain view of the world which is Anglo-centric and deferential.
6. For-profit, corporately owned media would probably worse. I’m not one of those ‘abolish the BBC’ types. But changes to its governance structures, to fix points 3 and 4, and perhaps to shift the institutional culture to fix point 1, would be very helpful.