New Culture Forum 11/9/6
(As promised earlier. There are further notes to transcribe, and my own take on it yet to come. I have worked up my rough notes into a dialogue, so nothing written should be taken as beiung a verbatim quote from Robin)
‘Can We Trust the BBC?’ Robin Aitken and
PW: Should we need to trust the BBC, or could we be more distant?
RT: No, as the BBC is not just another media outlet and is quite possibly unique. Its raison d’être is its supposed trustworthiness and its reputation is based on that. It cannot be allowed to let that rest as it is bigger, more powerful and has a greater reach than any other media outlet in the
PW: You coined the phrase ‘institutional leftism’ to describe the BBC. What do you mean by that?
RA: I felt that the BBC was showing a consistent bias and had reported that to senior figures in the BBC, up to and including the governors. The McPherson Inquiry termed the Metropolitan Police ‘institutionally racist’, meaning that the Met is not explicitly racist, but was inadvertently so owing to its institutions and culture. Likewise, I believe the BBC and its people act in good faith, but they cannot see the elephant in the living room. The institutional leftism shows up in its instinctive mistrust of capitalism, and it should be remembered that it is a pre-war corporation set up along with similar institutions like the Forestry Commission. The BBC model was not the only possibility, and it can be compared to the
The natural instincts and values of ‘BBC Man’ are protean – he or she will probably be an arts graduate and will be fully signed up to the progressive agenda: anti-racist, internationalist, sceptical of moral conservatism and religion - particularly the American religious right, in favour of increased public spending and multiculturalism. Issues on that agenda are deemed not to be open to discussion, and at programme planning meetings that would be wholly evident. There are questions on British contemporary morality that cannot be asked, and the issue of multiculturalism only became an area for ‘legitimate’ debate when the Left started discussing it. In a programme planning session there would be no conservatives, or at best one in twenty. With age, one could become a ‘mad right winger’ and be treated as something like a court jester.
PW: How does the BBC react to criticism? Does it think it has to enlighten people?
RA: Consider the
BBC people have a supreme self-confidence, and this can be seen in credibility of reporters when they are door stepping. I was once let off by a
PW: Looking at Islamism,
RA: The phrase ‘Islamic Terrorism’ was banned by the BBC… The BBC thinks or assumes it is right and wants to avoid giving offence or inflaming community tensions. However, there is no escaping that there are home grown terrorists. The BBC pulls its punches for the best reasons, but it is nevertheless wrong headed to do so. Consider the hoo-hah it would make over the annual stop and search figures released by the police, showing a high number of young black men were being stopped. Some 80% of street crime is committed by young black men, but those figures that would have contextualised the data were never mentioned. The BBC does not want to make trouble, but it is tailoring the news. The BBC, is it the best? Maybe, but it could be better, as it isn’t perfect.-----------------------------------------
I found Robin's thesis highly persuasive, and he gains an immense amountof credibility from having been on the inside for so may years and being a highly respected journalist. He clearly has an immense amount of fondness for the organisation and his criticism is very much that of an insider who is a candid friend who wishes to save it from itself, rather than being an ideologue who seeks a Year Zero approach to reforming the corporation. His own politics appear to be soft right / mainstream, and despite the monstering I expect him to receive from the BBC and its amen corner in the left wing press, attempts to smear him as being (take your pick) as a failure, an opportunist hack, a puppet of a 'vast right wing conspiracy etc are unlikely to have much credibility with any other than the wholly credulous. Likewise, I suspect that we on the right will be in error if we attempt to portray him too much as one of us when the book hits the book shops, and would risk undermining him as a fair minded critic.Like many of my readers, I find much of the BBC's news coverage (let alone some of the other dreck they pump out) induces teeth grinding and I'm glad I have a digibox so I could watch Sky News coverage of the Israel / Lebanon action as the BBC's reporting was so utterly infuriating. While I day dream about scrapping the licence fee and making it a subscription channel, I do not think that there is anything like the political will, whoever forms the next government, to take the organisation on. What I do think has possibilities is licence fee top slicing (whereby funds from the licence fee go to any broadcaster broadcasting public service programmes - whatever they might be deemed to be), and I know from some consultancy work I have done that this prospect terrifies the corporation. Given that Channel 4 broadcasts some programmes that are at least as worthy of public funding as the average day's schedule on BBC1, I think the idea has legs.
Heading away from the serious, while discussing the BBC with sundry folk ahead of the Q&A session I mentioned the way PBS is funded in the US. This is federally funded in part, but also by telethons, and we tossed around the idea of something similar for the BBC. Imagine if you will the likes of Toynbee, Alibhai Brown, Livingstone etc emoting on camera for the BBC and explaining how 'only your money can help us make us programmes on ennui among Bulgarian turnip pickers'. Someone whose name escapes me suggested calling it 'Lefties in Need'.