BBC Shame

I’ve previously highlighted the blog of the Oxford academic, Simon Wren Lewis.

Although I don’t agree with everything he writes, I have to say it is always impeccably argued…

This time, there is certainly no contest:

Theresa May shows a disregard for people… that I cannot remember in previous Prime Ministers. The current excesses of the Home Office with respect to immigrants who have lived here for decades is a direct result of her ‘hostile environment’ policy… She took the decision to ignore the wishes of the 48%, and she also decided to use EU migrants in this country as bargaining chips in the negotiations.

The second factor is the right wing press. In other countries we have seen the dangers of the state (or head of government) controlling large parts of the media. The same problem arises with Brexit. At its best the press can expose government failure and corruption, but at its worst it just acts in its owners self-interest. When those interests happen to be aligned with the interest of the government then the press acts as the state’s propaganda arm. It has been the right wing’s press that has banged the ‘will of the people’ drum, which is classic populist (as in anti-pluralist) trope. The situation has been made much worse by the BBC’s apparent indifference to negative news about Brexit: its lack of interest in the Cambridge Analytica link to referendum overspending allegations is deeply worrying.

I’m personally horrified, not for the first time, to see somebody – who was a former treasury civil servant – indicate that we might be on the way to becoming a quasi-dictatorship because, in effect, the right wing press has captured the government.

Indeed it seems probable that it is only because even the ‘Daily Mail’ has now decried the plight (16th April 18 – inside page) of the ‘Windrush immigrants’, whose families not only fought for the UK during the second world war but also were in fact all British citizens when they arrived here, that the government has deigned to reverse the policy of querying their status. The original immigration policy was, after all, partly overseen by no less than Enoch Powell who, when, Minister of Health (1960-63) encouraged immigrant doctors and nurses to take jobs in the NHS, especially having been familiar with Indian skills in the second world war.

Simon Wren Lewis continues:

Understanding why we have seen attacks against pluralist democracy in the UK helps answer the question of how permanent these threats might be. Parliament is to some extent fighting back at the attempts by the executive to reduce its [Parliament’s] power. If Brexit is neutralised as an issue, the force behind attacks on pluralistic democracy disappears, unless of course it is replaced by something else. However Theresa May could remain as Prime Minister for a lot longer than people imagined after the election of 2017. The right wing press will still be with us, with their message amplified by the BBC. …cold comfort for a country that often boasts of its democratic heritage.

Quite, we not only need to sort out our voting system, we also need to stop Brexiteers railroading ‘democracy’ on the basis of one marginal vote. After all Walpole is not still Prime Minister, nor even is Tony Blair, though both were ‘democratically’ elected. We need to be aware and highlight the BBC’s prejudice which if not straightforwardly right wing is at least far too supine for a system that is supposed ‘to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain’.

It is no more than simply holding power to account. That is something we are no longer able to rely on our press to do, but it seems that, to our collective shame, nor can we any longer count on the abilities of the broadcaster to which the vast majority of us pay a licence fee.

 

Comments

  1. Sean Danaher -

    Simon Wren-Lewis’s (SWR’s) blog is one that is recommended by Progressive Pulse and indeed is one I personally visit regularly. Whereas I doubt if I agree with anyone 100% of the time SWR has a for me probably a greater than 90% agreement factor.

    I’ve been worried by the BBC for some time with its confusion of relativism with impartiality. Climate change was an early example with Nigel Lawson given an equal platform with eminent climate change scientists, sprouting absolute nonsense.

    The BBC Brexit coverage was and continues to be shameful; indeed I have many friends who have stopped listening to the Today programme and have converted to watching Sky News as the BBC pro Brexit bias has reached staggering proportions.

    The Windrush generation thing is extraordinary. I was horrified by the whole thing from get go. It was so clearly, cruel, inhumane and wrong. I of course welcome the government U turn but agree it is suspicious that it was only after the Daily Mail condemned it that the Government seemed to realise it was a public relations disaster and couldn’t get away with it.

    James O’Brien has written an excellent article on BBC bias here https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/media/2018/03/media-impartiality-problem-when-ignorance-given-same-weight-expertise which I strongly recommend.

    The worry is that the UK will become more like the US with no shared version of the truth and the left and right becoming more polarized. It does not help that this government seems to be shredding constitutional norms and acting like an unelected right wing coup.

    The government is also only functioning because of the support of the 10 DUP MPs. It must be remembered on the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech that after he was persona non grata in the Tory Party the Northern Ireland Unionists welcomed him with open arms. The NI Unionists at the time were the UUP and the DUP is even more right wing!

    1. Ian Stevenson -

      I think the whole point of Brexit IS to make us more like America.
      I do have a worry about Sky News. It is owned by Murdoch and could switch.

  2. Peter May -

    Thanks for the link to the New Statesman article – that’s good. I quite agree when he says “The presenter.. becomes a referee rather than a tribune for the viewers and listeners.”
    But until that enters the mindset of every BBC producer I’ve little confidence we’ll see much improvement.
    At the moment they always seem to be referees and ones who have normally lost their glasses.

  3. Robin Stafford -

    Agree 100% – Simon’s blog is up there with Tax Research as mandatory reading. As you say, his pieces are always impeccably, calmly argued even if he might be a little on the economically conservative side for some.

    Im also one of those who stopped listening to BBC News, let alone the Today programme a while ago though Eddie Maier seems to be a bit different. Channel 4 News is a beacon, prepared to challenge all sides. I never thought Id replace BBC news on my iPad by SkyNews. Also worth trying France24 to get a European perspective

  4. Kevin O'Connell -

    Yes, I like France24. I also tend to use Channel4 & Sky now in preference to Auntie. In addition, I use RTE, RT (more or less propaganda than our Western media ?!) & Al Jazeera (but draw the line at Fox & CNN!) in order to try and get a balanced picture.

  5. Samuel Johnson -

    The question is, why is the BBC so supine (exactly the word I have used). Just listen to the last Remainiacs podcast or the last Cakewat.ch podcast (both recommended) for some interesting discussion, essentially skeptical of any conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, it is inarguably prone and apparently spineless and living in fear. That’s not all, however. It’s been astonishing to listen to the ineptitude of Humphrys and Robinson on the Today programme as they reveal themselves incapable of challenging Tory Brexiteers on arrant nonsense.

    Take for example the claim of Ian Duncan Smith that “Varadkar is only making difficulties about the Irish border because of an upcoming presidential election” (and, it was implied, a need to compete for nationalist votes with Sinn Féin). The stupidity of this is on a par with that of the man who theorised after cutting a frog’s legs off and it’s subsequent failure to jump on command “that frog’s go deaf when you cut their legs off.”

    There’s no upcoming election. The position is not political. The entire Irish parliament supports the govt’s position, which is based on the practical effects of regulatory divergence (as described in papers that should readily have been available to him, or even in Tony Connelly’s book “Brexit and Ireland”).

    Pushback from the Today programme whose presenters are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a year and who have research staff: zero.

    The moronic stupidity continues day after day and gets a pass almost without fail on the BBC. In my book this suggests they are overpaid and so accustomed to not working, they are going through the motions, with blinkers on. Robinson in Berlin the other day discussing German “arrogance” over Brexit, in English, without the slightest hint of humility or acknowledgment of the extent to which the British are tin-eared on one hand and whose internal dialogue is perfectly intelligible to non-British onlookers, was excruciating.

    As has been pointed out, the BBC is alienating its natural constituency, who voted remain. Leavers won’t protest if a future Tory govt wants to privatise it or make the licence fee optional, effectively gutting it. It’s cowardice, overpaid and clueless staff, or whatever combination of factors that explains its inability to hold lying and moronic politicians to account at a moment of existential importance will be its undoing as the UK is itself undone.

    It’s not entirely inappropriate. National institutions no longer work as they should. It would be anomalous if the BBC were an exception to that. The complacency is very, very deep.

    I no longer watch News at 10pm on BBC1 and have switched to Channel 4 instead, which is far better, features real journalism, and is minus the dumb, clichéd animations.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Samuel

      Agreed. I am a big fan of Remaniacs and especially CakeWatch. I subscribe to both podcasts and listen every week.

      Both Chris Kendall and Steve Bullock of CakeWatch regularly visit Progressive Pulse and retweet links to some of our posts. Thanks if you are reading!

      The ridiculous IDS statement reminds me of the climate change Golden Horseshoe Award for the greatest number of lies that can be told in a single sentence. Also discussed in another of my favorite blogs The Irish Passport.

      Tony Connelly’s book is one I was thinking about for April book of the month. He is almost too well connected in that in December he may possibly have changed UK policy by alerting the DUP to the no famous para 49 of the 8th of Dec political agreement.

      It is difficult to be hopeful for the UK at present. Another interesting article I read today was https://medium.com/@andybodle/laziness-envy-and-fear-the-handmaidens-of-brexit-3bab9e24659b

      1. Samuel Johnson -

        Haven’t listened to Irish Passport yet. I started one, got interrupted and never got back to it. Slightly got the feeling it was Ireland for Slow Learners but that may be unfair. Found Naomi very easy on the ear. I must get back to it.

        Listened today to Tony’s talk at UCC. Didn’t tell me anything much I didn’t know but an interesting listen all the same. His account of the Gothenburg meeting between Varadkar and May was a little franker than I’d read. There’s a revised edition of the book coming out soon. It takes the narrative up to February.

        I can this book running to multiple editions.Then followed by Ireland After Brexit (unless of course it’s abandoned)

      2. Sean Danaher -

        Samuel
        thanks for the info re a new edition of Tony’s book coming out soon. The current edition is now a bit out of date and I will wait I think.

        I havn’t read the update of Ian Dunt’s book:
        https://www.canburypress.com/canburypress-blog-about-books-and-authors/new-edition-of-ian-dunts-book-on-brexit but I have heard there is not much extra in it.

        I’m putting together a post on “The Irish Passport” – the target audience is people starting from a low knowledge base. I would very much welcome your views then (should be later this week or early next week). Both Naomi and Tim have been informed and are happy to answer any questions etc.

  6. AliB -

    Newsnight has also become excruciating in its anti Corbyn / pro Government bias; most recently over Syria.
    I would also lay considerable blame on the BBC for Brexit. The amount of air time given to UKIP and Nigel Farrage (usually unchallenged) for the years leading up to the referendum I would argue actually helped to reinforce and develop the Brexit constituency. In comparison for example the Green Party had virtually no coverage or air time with a resultant loss of voters support and is now almost completely ignored, whilst Farrage still gets airtime.

  7. Peter May -

    I’m delighted to have all these suggestions – although so far, I find it difficult to get the replay of France 24 news in its enirety.
    Meanwhile have to bear in mind the repeat version for the BBC – I’m told it’s called the BBC LiePlayer.

  8. Graham -

    In Scotland many of us of an Independence inclination have been angry with the blatant bias of the BBC for some years now. Balance consists of having 1 Scottish Government (SNP) person facing 3 Unionists – and they don’t seem to have realised that the Greens have got more msp’s than the LibDems and are rarely invited on. “Good News” is played down, or not reported at all; cups are always half-empty; the Tory leader in Scotland is given a platform for her opinions and never interrogated. And of course, there is the (not so subtle) use of the “usual suspects” as so-called “independent” commentators. As for holding the BBC to account……

    None of this should be a surprise. Yes, many of the interviewers and journalists are incompetent second-raters long past their sell-by date. But fundamentally the BBC is closely aligned with the Establishment, as Tom Mills argues convincingly in his book: “The BBC – Myth of a Public Service”. He says: “It has scarcely been independent of governments, let alone the state”.

    More and more its political and current affairs output seems to reflect the opinions of those in power, whether politicians or wealth and refrains from enquiring too deeply into issues that may cause embarrassment to those powerful interests.

    1. Peter May -

      Agree entirely. As Tony Benn would say ‘journalists are courtiers’ – and that is the problem.
      Maybe a solution is to contract journalists only for a limited period?

      1. Graham -

        Now that would concentrate a few minds.

        Another insidious feature is the “Review of the Papers” slot. Just a few days ago the Herald (a Glasgow based newspaper) published some fake news about the First Minister on its front page. BBC in Scotland reported this on radio and online. The following day the Herald had to issue an apology and correction. Naturally, the BBC didn’t issue any correction. The fake news, ably supported by the BBC had done its work.

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