Sunday, February 27, 2005
The Stupid Party
The Stupid Party is living up to its name. The latest Tory wheeze is to have another go at the BBC for 'left-wing bias'.
Today's Observer reports that the drama Faith, set in the 1984 miners' strike and due to be broadcast on BBC1 on Monday evening, is the focus of this attack. Tory spokesman John Whittingdale alleges that this play is "the latest in a long line of left-wing dramas screened by the BBC without any attempt to provide balance or the alternative view".
I would have thought that any drama depicting Arthur Scargill in a sympathetic light would work wonders for the Tories. Moreover, Whittingdale's idea that each play should be counterbalanced by its dramatic alter ego raises some intriguing possibilities. To balance Judge John Deed, we could have an historical drama depicting Judge Jeffries and the Bloody Assizes in a more sympathetic light. Or perhaps the Kenneth Branagh play Conspiracy, about the planning of the holocaust, should have been balanced by a visit to Berchtesgaden by the Ground Force team to give a makeover to Eva Braun's herbaceous borders.
Whittingdale has also again raised the ridiculous complaint about BBC jobs being advertised in the Guardian, when it is common knowledge that this is only because the Guardian's Monday media supplement has cornered the market in media job ads. One might just as well accuse the business world of bias for advertising executive positions in the Telegraph.
You may recall that it was Whittingdale who, in 2003, made the idiotic suggestion that all the BBC's websites should be shut down, a position he was quickly forced to retract.
It is easy to dismiss Whittingdale as an idiot but we should note that his technique has been borrowed from the successful strategy of the US Republicans, who repeatedly attacked America's three main TV networks' news programmes for alleged 'liberal' bias.
The objective of this technique is to create more fertile ground for one's views by moving the 'centre' and thus changing the terms of the debate. The BBC is very sensitive about its reputation for impartiality, especially in the run-up to a general election when every political party is watching it like a hawk. Specifically, the Tories' goal is to make the BBC so nervous of bias allegations that it will bend over backwards to accommodate right-wing opinion and subject it to less scrutiny.
It occurred to me that one could just as easily construct a case for right-wing bias at the BBC. Consider these examples:
- Jeremy Clarkson's assaults on environmentalism every week on Top Gear.
The tabloid agenda of BBC1's six o'clock news.
The materialistic ethic implicit in the numerous TV lifestyle shows.
Hollywood blockbusters that glorify violence, domestic conformity or both.
Brian Aldridge in The Archers.
Curiously, there is a bias at the BBC but it is cultural, not party political, and both the Tory and Labour criticisms are wide of the mark.
Jobs at the BBC are highly coveted and the BBC has its pick of graduate recruits. Furthermore, most BBC people either work in London or are 'doing time' in a provincial studio, hoping to earn a position in London. The consequence is that too many BBC staffers are Oxbridge-educated high-flyers with a tendency to exude a smug metropolitan air. In news coverage, this superior attitude can sometimes descend into a destructive cynicism about the motives of others. This is the BBC at its worst.
But there is also the BBC at its best. A BBC that treats its audience like adults, subjecting news events to analysis and providing explanation rather than mere description. A BBC that offers a nuanced view of the world rather than one of finger-stabbing certainties. A BBC that asks the questions its viewers would like answering, rather than give automatic deference to powerful people.
One suspects that it is these qualities that are the Tories' real target.