Home > General Politics, Miscellaneous > Left-wing bias and the British Broadcasting Corporation

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.

  1. August 29, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Oh what a tangled web some weave!

  2. August 29, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Do you mean me or Hitchens?

  3. treborc
    August 29, 2009 at 10:58 am

    I’ve know for a while the BBC is a piss poor broadcaster, Labour first green paper on welfare, the BBC does a program about benefits scroungers, the second green paper the BBC does another one, now we have a green paper on whether it’s better to get rid of DLA, out comes the BBC with Saint or Scrounger, the cheeky bastards asked me to be a saint.

    The BBC works for whom ever is power to ensure the license money goes up. I said make it pay for view, then if you do not want it to do not pay

  4. August 29, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I think you are wrong there: Channel 4 also has programmes about benefits ‘scroungers’ – it’s not simply the BBC. http://harpymarx.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/its-all-about-scroungers/

    On that basis, therefore, I think it’s difficult to attribute the blame for such a programme to trying to ensure they keep the license fee.

    As for the correlation between government green papers and BBC programmes, you’ll find that all broadcasters like to talk about topical issues. Capitalist crash and the BBC ran multiple programmes where they entertained the notion that capitalism was going to have to change radically.

  5. August 29, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Its a Rorschach test isn’t it, all this talk of the BBC. James Murdoch says its throttling the market, nicer people like Sunny say its pro-est/pro-BB (I tend to agree with the latter). But nonetheless its interesting to see that people will see in the BBC their own pet-hates and peculiarities. I suppose if there was such thing as human nature, contrarianism would be it.

  6. August 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Well, I suppose one of the benefits to such a broad-ranging broadcasting remit is that there’s room at the BBC for nearly everything – which allows everyone to pick out what they hate most and get all riled up about it.

    That said, however, I think it should be possible for a nuanced and well-informed observer to work out which ideology or group of ideologies has most influence: I certainly wouldn’t leave it up to Hitchens, who enjoys using the term “cultural Marxist” far too much to know what it actually means.

  7. August 30, 2009 at 2:48 am

    Murdoch junior must be a clone of his father, albeit with a Yank accent. All very well talking of profit as freedom if you’re living off it, I suppose.

    The suicidal move that his father has taken with respect charging for online content will only work if the BBC is taken out. Let’s face it, the profit motive forces companies to shed journalists and resort to “churnalism”.

  8. August 30, 2009 at 7:54 am

    I don’t think churnalism can be put solely down to the profit motive: Nick Davies has some harsh words for the BBC for example – and they aren’t bound by the profit motive.

  9. August 30, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Sure. On the one hand the BBC doesn’t exist as a monopoly and so must compete with for-profit companies for “talent”, imported shows, etc, but in terms of journalists it has far more than ITN or Sky and so can better cover local, national, and international stories with original material.

  1. September 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm
  2. September 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

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