PEOPLE who can’t stand the Radio 4 Today programme missed a rare flash of insight yesterday when Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge was telling Martha Kearney about the anti-semitic hate messages she was receiving from social media, some of it through pro-Corbyn Facebook pages.
Kearney, who is an honest journalist, remarked: “But you can’t be sure they are [from] Labour Party members.” Hodge conceded: “No, I can’t be sure.”
A pretty important point you might think, considering how much is being made of this vile traffic, but the conversation proceeded as normal. Jeremy Corbyn is a racist and anti-semite and Hodge is being unfairly disciplined by the Labour Party for saying so.
Neither of these is true. The complaint against her is not official but from an individual member. The party can’t stop that, any more than it can control social media.
And it seems the BBC can’t stop reporting the case dishonestly by presenting it as an argument over anti-semitism when it is not.
There is no disagreement about anti-semitism, everyone wants to stamp it out. The dispute is over attitudes to Israel and how much criticism of the state can be taken to impugn people who share its religion.
The reason it insists on reporting a Labour Party that nobody on the party left recognises has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, nor even with Israel or Jewish people themselves. It is pro-Israel because it is pro-security, militaristic, pro-Western and above all pro-US and, in such considerations, Israel is a major concern.
The BBC mission is to defend Britain’s centre-right national consensus from extremism. It is constantly on the verge of lapsing into a wartime “Ministry of Information” role of deciding what is safe to inform the populace.
This is deep within the BBC gut microbes. They know Corbyn isn’t a racist, but to acknowledge that would encourage the dangerous elements around him.
The BBC is fervently militaristic as self-appointed leader of the crusade to increase defence spending. It is totally pro-business, wholly committed to “austerity” and neoliberal economics.
It is in fact behaving more and more like the right-wing populist press. It was quite a departure in 2014 when it launched the news helicopter to take not-very-informative aerial footage of the home of ageing pop idol Cliff Richard during a raid by South Yorkshire police chasing allegations of child abuse.
Richard was never charged. It was a disastrous misjudgement and the BBC was caned in the High Court last week for invasion of the pop star’s privacy.
The main wrongdoer in the case was not the BBC but the police, desperate for good PR since their involvement in two of the worst recent policing scandals over the Hillsborough disaster and the Orgreave attack on striking miners. They should never have leaked such a tenuous link to a serious criminal allegation to the press, but the BBC should have known better.
The coverage was not an impulsive decision but the outcome of intense discussion among executives. And it was not an anomaly because right-wing populist is what the BBC seems determined to become, partly to chase viewers down-market but more importantly to curry favour in government.
To the anger of staff over recent years it imported a series of national paper editors into top news and current affairs jobs, commanded by former editor of The Times James Harding as head of news. One journalist told the Press Gazette, in footballing terms, that Harding had “lost the dressing room.”
Among his appointments was the head of the Today programme, Sarah Sands. She arrived with no news broadcast experience from editing of the Evening Standard, the stridently pro-Tory monopoly evening paper in London, which had been a raucous cheerleader for Boris Johnson when he was mayor.
Other imports include two senior colleagues from The Times and influential business correspondents from the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph. The BBC no longer has Labour or industrial correspondents.
The BBC does have reason to be frightened of governments and commercial media. It is a constant niggle to them that, for all the profusion of TV channels and the rapid growth of streaming sites, BBC TV channels still account for more than 30 per cent of all viewing.
Just think of the profit that could be made from that! That’s why the Murdoch press and the Mail miss no opportunity to bash it on the slightest of pretexts.
Large chunks of the corporation’s apparatus have been outsourced, and its production is internally marketised like the NHS.
But privatising the corporation as a whole is still politically untenable, in part thanks to campaigning by the left and do they appreciate it? Well, do they?
Though still a public institution, the BBC is not owned by the government but by the licence fee payers, by you and me, in theory. In practice most of its top stratum is still appointed by government, which also has complete control over the licence fee, rendering the whole BBC function vulnerable to political pressure.
The licence fee has been punitively reduced in recent years, with extra non-broadcast obligations added to BBC costs, as an incentive not to make trouble.
So why not make the theory real? Last year the Media Reform Coalition produced a report from a progressive standpoint that confronted BBC faults and presented reforms to make its independence more genuine.
These included making the bosses accountable by direct election and removing the licence fee from state control, replacing it with a digital viewing fee based on internet access rather than possession of a TV set, payable by all households via their internet service provider.
The BBC needs this reform to give it the confidence to stand up for its independence and provide the fair and accurate reporting it is supposed to, even if ministers and generals and the right-wing press and Labour MPs don’t like it.