Left-wing bias and the British Broadcasting Corporation
Sunny highlights an interesting article in the recent New Statesman, by Mehdi Hasan, which argues that far from being biased towards the Left, the BBC is pro-Establishment. What Sunny doesn’t highligh is the ‘twin’ of this article, written by Peter Hitchens, which attempts to refute the contentions of Hassan, asserting instead that of course the BBC is left-wing, though BBC bigwigs are unlikely to notice it, having never questioned their own assumptions in their journey from Oxbridge junior common rooms to White City.
Because the Oxbridge universities are such a bastion of socialism. Beyond such absurdities, however, I think the Hitchens article is much more instructive than its Hasan counterpart. The Hitchens article is mostly waffle, rarely reaching for examples which can be said to encompass the whole of BBC political, social and cultural coverage – whereas the previous allegiances of people like Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson probably do have an effect on coverage – but to dismiss Hitchens is to miss an incisive and important point.
“What troubles the BBC is not a party bias. (…) It is a set of potent cultural, moral, social, sexual and religious assumptions, which touch on all topics from cannabis to the EU, and which affect everything from the plot-lines of The Archers to the use of the metric system on nature programmes.”
A set of potent cultural, moral, social, sexual and religious assumptions. Hitchens is absolutely correct – but then the same is true about every individual and every organisation. It’s not a big deal that Hitchens is correct; it is his choice of words to describe the nature of BBC assumptions. I can feel the hairs on my neck rise as I wonder what he means by ‘sexual assumptions’. I can almost see the accumulated and vengeful anger of social conservatism reaching out from dead years gone by to strangle all the social change feared and resented by white, Anglican, men.
To some extent, I think, here is the key to the “BBC-is-biased” meme. Amongst the wider population and probably even amongst the Conservative Party, social conservatism is in a minority. Not to say even those who describe themselves as social liberals won’t voice respect for the Anglican church and other touchstones of the Establishment – but it is generally accepted that women should be equal to men, that gay relationships deserve parity with ‘straight’ relationships and that Christianity will just have to coexist with Islam, atheism and a majority who aren’t bothered.
Hitchens’ views on gender equality I can’t speak for – though his moralising over how women who are raped while drunk deserve less compensation surely speaks volumes. On the rest though, Hitchens definitely is a dinosaur – so much so that he has openly stated that he thinks most of Cameron’s policies are indistinguishable from New Labour and that a new political party needs to be set up. I recite all of this in the hope of proving incontrovertibly that Hitchens is in a very small minority, and to correct BBC ‘bias’ in his favour would be unacceptable.
If the rest of the population has pretty much come to terms with gay marriage and doesn’t really care about organised religion anymore, beyond a vague belief in god, surely these are the core assumptions which the BBC should reflect? What Hitchens calls the ‘permissive society’, most people call a Saturday night. And that may be deplorable or not, it may be harmful to society or not, but you can’t attack the BBC for being the preserve of one political strand in the hope that it will simply become the mouthpiece for another, even less representative, one.
The small group of social conservatives in the media who regularly whinge from their bully-pulpits that the BBC is left-wing have absolutely zero chance of ever rolling back the calendar. They are screaming nutters – Hitchens on Blair’s ‘slow motion coup d’etat’, Phillips calling Barack Obama a ‘revolutionary Marxist’, Littlejohn on gay people going door to door ‘like Jehovah’s witnesses’ – they aren’t in any way in touch with what passes for truth (or reality) for most of the population and even large swathes of the politicized Right.
Of course the BBC will seem biased to such people. Speaking as a revolutionary Marxist, I think the BBC seems biased towards a parliamentarist approach, or biased towards the government (any government) against trades unions or biased in a plethora of other ways – but at least I can recognize that I’m in a tiny minority of people and don’t expect the BBC to conform to my views of the world as of right. I do wish Radio 4 wouldn’t give Melanie Phillips an airing, because she’s a moron – but then the same goes for most journalists, especially the thousand anodyne CiFers.
All that said, it’s entirely possible that the New Statesman chose Peter Hitchens to write the counterpart to Mehdi Hasan’s piece because they knew his voice would not be representative of the many, many people who seem to have this bugbear about BBC “left-liberal” bias and could easily be attacked. So while I rest my case here, I anticipate expanding on this topic either in the comments section or should there be a glut of comments made at Sunny’s place.