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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)

13/6/9 UPDATED

‘Can We Trust the BBC?’ Robin Aitken and Peter Whittle discuss the issue in the form of Q & A

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 United Kingdom. The question is quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – who watches the watchmen. The public rely on the BBC and yet it is not examined and analysed in the manner of other institutions. At the root of this issue is the BBC’s bargain with the British people. We pay for it through a compulsory tax and in return we should expect fairness. The BBC is failing to uphold its side of the bargain.

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 US model of a free market broadcasting model. Similarly, the presumption of the BBC is that public spending is automatically a good thing. It does not challenge that idea. Why not?

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 Northern Ireland peace process. This was assumed to be a good thing and the Unionists were treated as being ‘anti-peace’ and obstructionist. Even though Sinn Fein’s arguments were undermined by change in legislation etc in Northern Ireland, the BBC suppressed relevant information because it was considered to be unhelpful to the peace process. The BBC may well have a responsibility not to encourage conflict, but it is required to be bias free, no matter how ‘good’ an agenda it seeks to advance.

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 Moscow traffic policeman when he discovered I worked for the BBC… The BBC is convinced it is on the side of right and has a cast iron sense of its own worth, and complainers are seen as being mad, bad or deluded. It is not good at engaging with critics.

PW: Looking at Islamism, Lebanon, Iraq etc, do you see the coverage as being distorted?

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'.
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Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 5:01 pm

'Issues on that agenda are deemed not to be open to discussion'

He is so right,whoever he is.I get sick and tired of paying for the left wing propaganda that is Al BBCs output.

Worse still,because of their not needing to satisfy shareholders,tehy can go into any genre thay like,burn money and it's ok.Take digital radio.How much have they wasted on paying phil jupitus et al to play records to tiny audiences.Johnaton Ross---don't start me on that unfunny twat.

Mrs Mortice defends his being paid the millions he is and has the downright cheek to say ITV would pay him the same 'if his conscience would allow him to leave the BBC' .No they fucking wouldn't.Not with shareholders like me.If they were a business they'd have run out of cash years ago.

Mrs Mortice is a dear creature but I wouldn't give her money to invest and I certainly wouldn't let her make any payroll decisions.  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 5:06 pm

great post BTW,wish I'd been there,I'd have been holding a lighter up at the end shouting 'more'!!

Forgot to mention,the license fee is the most regressive and unfair tax in the country,that's it you left wing fuckers get the penniless old ladies to subsidise yer pension/yer taxi bills/yer inflated salaries.....

I will stop C,

chris moyles,fat, unfunny and laughing his tits off at the license fee payer.and what a pair they are  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 5:07 pm

andrew fucking marr,don't start me  

Blogger The Hitch said... 7:01 pm

Mr Mortice Jonathan Ross isn't a twat
He is a Cunt!
I had the misfortune to catch part of his saturday program (this saturday) on radio 2, unlike him I am at a loss for words, it was like being bombarded with infantile opinions by a lunatic on the tube or an aircraft, you want to get away from him, you don't want to hit him as he is trying to be nice, but basically you wish the fucker would just drop dead and shut the fuck up.
As to Mrs mortice, well women are just peculiar, and thank god, if they weren't odd they would all be Lesbians (not that Lesbians aren't odd)  

Blogger The Daily Pundit said... 7:26 pm

MI5, MI6, BBC, they're all connected. Left wing on the outside, right wing on the inside. That doesn't excuse the undemocratic BBC poll tax but that's the way it is. And presumably the left wing facade suits the security services.  

Blogger The Hitch said... 7:57 pm

I was rather under the impression that the situation was the reverse, they appear to be Conservative but are in fact lefties,
I have had dealings with two of those organisations in NI. I and everybody else tended to walk away from briefings scratching our heads wondering if they really did know the difference between the MK1 elbow and the Mk2 arse, this is nearly 20 years ago and they had some very peculiar priorities even then.  

Blogger Praguetory said... 9:42 pm

I believe that Jonathan Ross is paid more than the whole payroll at some successful commercial stations here in Central/Eastern Europe, but that is a tangent - although a shocking one. I remember a Today programme with four BBC-types discussing voting intentions before the 2005 election. They basically all professed to voting Labour at the 1997/2001 elections. As only about one in five adults voted Labour at those elections, I calculated the odds of assembling such a group at random was 1 in 625, but nobody seemed to think that the round-table discussion was unusual.  

Blogger dearieme said... 9:52 pm

Bin the Beeb. Beeb, Beeb, Beeb; Out, Out, Out.  

Blogger Rigger Mortice said... 9:18 am

whilst I appreciate the fact there is not the political will to finish off Al Beeb,the fact is that they are in the process of building an even bigger machine.the digital revolution has given them the chance to hike the License fee way beyond inflation.

Is this the behaviour of an organisation seeking to serve thye people,or one gearing up to extend it's near monopoly of free to air TV?They are worse than fucking communists.  

Anonymous Anonymous said... 4:40 pm

Al-Beeb is the root of all evil in the world. They are responsible for starting all the wars in history and I have evidence they were also to blame for the spread of AIDS.
No, not really but I thought I'd join in with the dillusional rants here.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 8:44 pm

Anon - care to raise your game? Disagreement is more than welcome, but sarcasm and accusations that those with whom you don't agree are delusional ranters does not exactly constitute a rebuttal, does it?  

Blogger Praguetory said... 8:54 am

*Element of sarcasm* Re anon's assertion that they were responsible for the spread of AIDS, I wander if he was specifically referring to Nigel Wrench*element of sarcasm*. Unlike anon's it looks like Robin Aitken's will be a powerful contribution to this debate.  

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