by Tim Gopsill
One of the prevailing sounds of the summer was the call of the BBC news bulletin bearing the daily accusation of Labour Party anti-semitism, delivered in tones of feigned regret that the party seemed unable to bring the story to a halt. Of course the entire national press were at it as well, but wasn’t the BBC supposed to be different? Not any more.
For years research polls found that people had more trust in the BBC than any other news medium. But earlier this year the agency BMG found that only 37 per cent of 1,000 people thought the BBC produced balanced reporting, while 45 per cent thought ITV did so, and 41 per cent Channel 4 News.
This is not just a drift to the right with the political tide, but a matter of policy. Five years ago the BBC Trust commissioned a policy review on the impartiality of its news from former ITV news chief Stuart Prebble.
He concluded that it should “find new voices even if they are contentious … The BBC has been slow to catch up with public opinion on areas such as immigration and the EU”. It had not fully reflected concerns about the effect of immigration to Britain.
The BBC took this to heart, with Helen Boaden, director of news, admitting that the corporation held a “deep liberal bias” that they set out to correct. So, among much else, audiences have had to endure the record-breaking 32 appearances so far of Nigel Farage on Question Time (not the highest overall just yet, but the most frequent).
Writing in The Independent in August, the radical BBC critic Tom Mills offered as incisive an explanation of the mindset as you can get: for the BBC, he wrote, “the political spectrum consists of well-meaning, privileged liberals, and more authentically representative right-wing populists.”
They have steered for the latter but, of course, the BBC’s editorial executives and staff all find themselves in the “privileged liberal” cohort, so the populism process has induced the intense self-loathing revealed in the nauseating insincerity of the Corbyn coverage. They know perfectly well he is not anti-semitic. They know that the dispute is not even about anti-semitism – which every senior person in the Labour Party loathes – but about attitudes to Israel and whether criticism of the state can fairly be taken as racism towards the people who share its religion.
In all this it conforms with the prejudice of the right-wing press, and it has over recent years imported a series of national paper executives into top news and current affairs jobs, such as former editor of The Times James Harding as head of news, to the anger of much of the staff: one journalist told the Press Gazette that Harding had “lost the dressing room”.
Among a number of appointments was the head of the Today programme, Sarah Sands. She arrived with no news broadcast experience from editing the Evening Standard, the stridently Tory monopoly evening paper in London, which had been a raucous cheerleader for Boris Johnson when he was mayor.
The BBC is desperate to ape and appease right-wing governments and commercial media, and what it needs is not more bashing but the confidence to exercise the editorial independence it in theory enjoys.
This article was first published in CPBF’s journal Free Press No 216.