Written by David Keighley
This article was first published in Briefings for Brexit and we re-publish it here with ther kind permission.
The Bashir affair has brought into sharp focus again that BBC journalism is not fair and impartial, as its Charter requires. But after decades of bias in BBC reporting of the EU, what are the chances of genuine change?
Much has been written about the Lord Dyson report into the 1995 BBC Panorama interview of Princess Diana. Columnists and politicians galore are clamouring for urgent action to mend the Corporation’s broken ways. According to Lord Dyson these primarily included lying in pursuit of a story, coupled with massive brick-walling by senior management against any suggestion of wrongdoing.
And it seems that steps to reform and rein in the excesses of BBC bias and rank bad journalism might now be under consideration as part of the Corporation’s mid-term Charter review, due in 2022. Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, has suggested that structural governance reform will be on the agenda.
But don’t hold your breath. Much in a similar vein was written in 2012 when the BBC was caught entirely wrong-footed over its handling of Jimmy Saville. Or when the corporation in 2019 was landed with a £2 million+ legal bill for its cruel, vastly over-the-top coverage of baseless claims of sexual misconduct against Cliff Richard. Once again, with the latter, senior management disgracefully claimed no wrongdoing in their hounding of the singer. The High Court Judge in the case very strongly disagreed.
Through it all, the BBC has so far survived intact, a bloated, £3.5 billion-a-year protected state relic from an age when broadcast frequencies were a scarce resource. The danger is that despite the evidence of incompetence, almost unlimited arrogance and moral turpitude, the Corporation carries on regardless because no-one has the political guts or will tackle a massive overhaul.
The core problem is that the BBC will never admit misconduct, and has been immune to outside complaints for most of its history because it is its own judge and jury in that domain in most respects.
No government from those of Margaret Thatcher onward has dared grasp the nettle of genuine root-and-branch reform.
Under the new Charter operational from 2017, Ofcom assumed a regulatory role over some BBC matters including the conduct of BBC journalism. But this was too little, too late, and the Ofcom scrutiny has so far proved totally ineffectual, not least because most of its content board appointees are former BBC advisors or employees and have the same mindset as the Corporation itself.
So how can this problem be solved? Over the past 40 years – arguably since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 – the BBC has become increasingly opinionated and left-wing to the extent now that no part of its output is unaffected. Even the BBC1 programme Antiques Roadshow is larded with lectures by presenter Fiona Bruce on topics such as the evils of Britain’s colonial past.
In this vein, my organisation News-watch recently conducted a thorough survey of BBC Ideas, a catalogue of 600 or so and five-minute videos ‘for the curious minded’ (link).
This is a project launched by former Labour culture secretary James Purnell at vast expense when he was BBC director of radio and education. The findings? of the titles, the majority (around 350) have controversial or political content in subject areas such as history, race, capitalism, climate change and feminism. Only 25 of them have points which could be regarded as ‘conservative’. The rest could have been taken from a manual on how to construct ‘woke’ propaganda based on post-modern critical theory.
News-watch has also thoroughly scrutinised the Corporation’s EU coverage for more than two decades, and – as readers of this blog are painfully aware – this is the domain in which the most crass corporation bias has operated. The 40 or so News-watch reports since 1999 summarised here show a massive weighting towards pro-EU opinion up to and including the Brexit referendum and then continuing through the Brexit process itself to the present day. When has the BBC constructed a programme which shows the problems of the EU, and revealing that it is ultimately a huge anti-democratic project?
The BBC’s response to those News-watch reports? It has been characterised throughout by the same arrogance and stonewalling identified by Lord Dyson in his report on Bashir. Corporation senior management – including many of those involved in the Prince Diana interview – chose to ignore them all. Without providing a shred of evidence, they claimed that they were worthless.
An easy and respectful way of testing their veracity would have been to appoint an independent panel to assess the quality of the News-watch work. But that possibility was never even on the BBC’s agenda. They preferred instead to launch ad hominem attacks against me and eminent Eurosceptic Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who partially funded the News-watch work.
(To be continued tomorrow with Part 2)