They would say that, wouldn’t they? 

26 October 2008 tbs.pm/958

The main story occupying the attentions of the Westminster village, if

not the wider public, this week was that of George Osborne, and his

escapades on the yacht of a Russian oligarch. Curiously, Lord Mandelson

also features. Dear old Mandy; it didn’t take him long to attract the

wrong kind of headlines, did it?

James MacMillan, giving the Sandford St Martin Lecture, offered an interesting statistic.

In

2005, a YouGov poll asked the question: Would you consider yourself to

be religious? Although 71% of the general public said “yes”, only 21%

of the television industry was as positive. He says, “if this is the

case with the TV industry, you can be sure it is the same for the

metropolitan arts, cultural and media elites. These are people who

speak only to themselves, and have convinced each other that the rest

of the country thinks just like them. They’re wrong,” he asserts.

Religious people feel widespread discomfort in this particular world,

he says. “They confront ignorance and prejudice about their beliefs

because to be religious, according to the new secular liberal

orthodoxy, is to be reactionary, bigoted and narrow. A smug ignorance,

a gross oversimplification and caricature, that serves as an analytical

understanding of religion, is the common intellectual currency.”

Secular “liberals” are increasingly illiberal.

He’s right, if my experience with The Guardian

is anything to go by. I sort of gravitated to that newspaper because I

was increasingly fed up with the political right (and not only because

of their tiresome anti-Europe and anti-BBC rants) and because I naively

believed that my moderate social views, dislike of the wealth gap and

instinctive support for equality of opportunity were consistent with

progressive liberalism.

Someone, I think it was Andrew Bowden,

said that the WHSmiths in Television Centre sells, as a percentage of

all papers sold, a disproportionate number of copies of The Guardian compared with the country overall. This is all too plausible. That paper does have its good points, but, just as the Telegraph irritates me over Europe and the Mail overstates its case in numerous areas (although even the Mail makes good points from time to time) so the Guardian,

or at least its on-line articles on Comment is Free (CiF), irritates me

with its anti-religious obsessions and its inability to measure its

varied arguments on a schmorgasboard of subjects against a consistent

yardstick of progressive liberal principles.

A classic example

concerns Margaret Thatcher. A particular level of vitriol is reserved

for a select group of people against whom it is permissible to launch a

full-frontal broadside. When Harry Phibbs wrote on CiF that a state

funeral would be a fitting tribute to the noble Baroness, the storm of

abuse was a disgrace to the progressive liberal cause many of those

same people purport to uphold. And Liz Forgan, who claims to be a

lifelong feminist, besmirched feminism by saying on Any Questions? she hoped that Sarah Palin would not shatter the glass ceiling against which she’s spent her whole adult life campaigning.

On

CiF, religious articles (usually negative or attack pieces) appear with

a tiresome regularity. They’ve done the usual arguments about Russell’s

Teapot to death, and still have an almost psychotic necessity to be

gratuitously offensive both to religious believers (the “deluded”) and

those who preach live-and-let-live. They will argue X one day and Y the

next if it suits their anti-religious bigotry. As for climate change,

anyone who asks legitimate questions about this or that is branded a

“denier” and compared with “troofers”, whatever they are.

On Front Row recently, Mark Lawson was interviewing the guy behind Burn Up,

an apocalyptic drama about climate change. Several times the guy talked

about “climate change deniers” and “the denial industry”. I wrote to Feedback,

pointing out that I would have expected Mark Lawson to exercise more

professional journalism by not letting a blatant attempt to set the

terms of discourse for partisan ends pass without comment. Predictably,

my critique was spiked. Mark Lawson is a regular columnist for The Guardian.

Some time ago, Beyond Westminster

on Radio 4 talked about faith in public life. The panel was, at first

glance, fairly balanced, until you recall that Andrew Rawnsley, the

presenter, Anthony Grayling (hawk spit), arguing against religion and

the Rev. Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney all write regularly in The Guardian (or, in Mr Rawnsley’s case, The Observer). They might have reasoned that those who don’t read the Guardian wouldn’t know, and those who do wouldn’t care.

More generally, I’ve noticed that a lot of Radio 4’s output tends to reflect the attitudes, mentality and assumptions of the Guardian. Take The News Quiz, for instance. Panellists on that routinely range from the soft progressive left to the likes of Mark Steele. The Now Show is no better; whenever it talks about the Tories, or climate change, or religion, it’s as if I’m listening to Guardian Radio.

Which brings us back to George Osborne. On The News Quiz this

week, they spent about five minutes laying into Mr Osborne and his

Bullingdon days, taking the micky out of him and (inevitably) Mrs

Thatcher, while all they could say about Mandy was that you get a

better class of scandal when he’s around. On Nick Robinson’s blog, one reader commented

that until recently he would not have had Mr Robinson down as a Labour

supporter (see comment 4), while I’m not the only one who’s noted that

so far Mandy seems to have escaped the Corporation’s knives. When the

Corporation can’t even offer legitimate criticisms of George Osborne

(both he and Mandy should have known better than to go near that yacht,

the damn fools) without people pointing the finger and saying, well,

they would say that, wouldn’t they? then there is a problem.

All this is a far cry from the days following the declaration of

hostilities in 1939. Then, the BBC made perhaps the most critical

decision it ever has made, or ever will make. It resolved that it would

stick to the facts, so far as the facts could be ascertained, and that

it would report all news, the bad as well as the good. Considering that

for the first couple of years it was all bad news, when it could report

that Montgomery had started the battle of El Alamein and that the

Allies had captured Tobruk it was unquestioningly believed.

The BBC’s own report, Safeguarding impartiality, seemed to acknowledge that there were some problems with objectivity. When the Daily Telegraph set up its Beebwatch column, Robin Carmody wrote an excellent piece

putting the Daily Telegraph’s anti-BBC campaign into some sort of

context. I’ve just read it before writing this paragraph and there is

much in it that had me nodding in agreement; in particular the notion

that much of what that paper seems to be positioning itself against now

it may well have broadly accepted prior to 1986. However, I can’t avoid

the conclusion that whatever the accuracy of Robin’s observations, that

doesn’t negate the perception that the BBC’s centre of political

gravity is somewhat to the left of that of the population at large.

Bringing its Beebwatch column to an end, the Telegraph said it was not expecting the level of support it would get from BBC journalists, many of them household names.

I’ve

said before the BBC is not institutionally biased, and, for all of

this, I stand by that. On the news front, it lets itself down by not

assigning to news items their true importance; by selecting items to

appear in the running order according to criteria that the wider

population would not altogether agree with, and, in terms of analysis

and the broadcasting of opinion as opposed to fact, by not ensuring

that the range of views and opinions reflect what the public at large

would call a balanced worldview. It is not controversial to say the

BBC’s news output reflects an anti-Zionist, pro-Palestianian bias.

It’s

also been alleged that children’s programming betrays (unconsciously?)

a liberal world-view not shared by the wider public. An example given

on one web site (I haven’t got time to hunt it down now) is that the

baddie is always a stereotypical white with the Union flag or the cross

of St George in the window, and the goodie a politically correct

non-Anglo-Saxon from some ethnic minority.

All this is not part

of some big conspiracy, but it does reflect the undisputable fact that

too much of the Corporation’s workforce is totally unrepresentative of

the wider public.

This puts the licence fee in danger. When the

Corporation is supposed to serve the whole country, but finds itself

palpably out of touch with so many of its audience (by no means all of whom share the political views of the Telegraph or Mail),

how is it supposed to defend its method of funding? It’s as if the

public are being forced to pay for something that is the mirror image

of Fox News. About the only thing you can say in Fox’s defence is that

it doesn’t have the statutory right to take tribute from those whom it

mercilessly lampoons.

As things stand, the BBC is not fit to for purpose. It needs to ensure that its political,

cultural and social outlook, assumptions, worldview and prejudices more

broadly reflects those of the population at large. It needs to address

the many valid criticisms made about its objectivity. It needs to

ensure its comedy (especially topical comedy) output is not sourced

from such a narrow pool of left-leaning comedians. It needs to ensure

that the output of Today and The World Tonight are more

objective. Above all, it needs to ensure that its workforce overall is

a true political, social and cultural microcosm of that of the Union

overall.

Until it addresses these issues, the BBC is not fit to

receive the licence fee, does not deserve to receive the licence fee,

and, if it is not careful, before long will not receive the licence fee.

(Footnote: When the BBC broadcast The Divine Spark of Music, in which Mr MacMillan gave his talk, the title on DAB was Classic Serial: Robinson Crusoe and according to iPlayer I was listening to Brain of Britain.

It’s quite plausible that this was down to nothing more sinister than

the clocks going back, but given the BBC’s recent track record I would

not blame anyone for thinking this was an anti-religious act of spite

on the part of the system programmer.)

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Liverpool, Wednesday 11 May 2022