BBC Bias?

This afternoon, just after the one o’clock news on Radio 4 (the Home Service as was), there was a programme about bias on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky Television. Mostly, and quite rightly, since we all have to fund the BBC on pain of being sent to prison, it was about the BBC. I regret my mind was elsewhere when the programme started (we do, after all, celebrate the Holy Trinity today). But something said by someone caught my attention after a few minutes and I began to concentrate.

Once I realised what the programme was about my immediate assumption was that it was just going to be the BBC denying the obvious (that it is generally biased in favour of the centre-left). But that was unfair of me. The presenter was extraordinarily open minded and quite prepared to accept that many of his colleagues were not. Indeed, as the discussion continued, it became apparent that the existence of the bias was not being seriously disputed. But the point was made, and it is one with which I entirely agree, that the bias is just as much a problem for Mr Corbyn’s hard left as it is for moderate Conservatives. BBC employees, even those who perform on the Today programme, find it just as difficult to accept that Momentum is a good thing as they find it to accept that a mainstream Conservative is not appallingly evil. The exceptionally silly defence frequently put forward by the BBC, that it can’t be biased because both Tories and hard left Labour complain in equal measures, was not being advanced in the programme. It was the first time I had heard any BBC employee accepting the obvious, that it was possible to be biased in favour of the centre-left and to be opposed by both the hard left and the right.

As I have mentioned, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky were also discussed. It is no doubt quite wrong of me, but I don’t much mind the fact, as I gather it is, that they, in varying degrees, are also biased in favour of what one might call Blairism. Our television can’t receive Sky because we don’t have one of those awful dishes on the outside of our house. I do sometimes watch the ITV news, but not all that often. I never watch Channel 4 news because everyone knows that its presenter, Jon Snow, is rabidly opposed to the Conservative Party. To be frank, I don’t think bias on ITV, Channel 4 and Sky is something about which we need to be terribly worried. Some viewers and listeners may well think the BBC always tell the truth, but I doubt whether many think the same of the other lot.

There was one part of the programme to which I would have liked to listen but couldn’t. My delightful 90 year-old mother-in-law arrived for lunch and I had to turn the wireless off. So I didn’t hear how all those panel and allegedly comic programmes were treated. My guess is, so intelligent did the presenter seem to be, that the bias in those programmes was accepted. But I don’t know whether it was also accepted that the bias was something which should not happen.

That is not a silly question. The idea that comedians should tell right, left and centre jokes in equal measure is plainly barmy. I really, for instance, didn’t mind Jo Brand’s slightly unfunny joke about using battery acid rather than milk shakes when attacking 81 year-old men telling for the Brexit Party outside polling stations. The reactions of Mr Farage and Mrs May to that joke were rather more dangerous than the joke itself. Both, plainly, thought the joke should have been censored. Mr Farage went further and said Ms Brand should be prosecuted for one of these modern “hate” crimes. But Mrs May can’t be excused for her appalling use of the murder of Jo Cox to castigate Ms Brand. The woman made what was obviously, without a doubt, a joke. She plainly wasn’t seeking to encourage others to throw acid over mildly right wing people. Of course, she despises those mildly right wing people. But we can surely take that without getting in a state about it.

No, I make no complaint about individual BBC comedians (other than when they are horribly unfunny – which most of them are). Jo Brand is, sometimes, when she is not being over political, quite amusing. I would be appalled if Mr Farage and Mrs May succeeded in removing her from the air waves. But, of course, I know they could never succeed in doing that. The complaint made against Ms Brand is that she upset someone on the right in politics. That is not a complaint that the BBC would ever take seriously. Those on the right (and I would add the hard left) deserve everything they get, according to most BBC employees. But I stress that that doesn’t concern me. It would be dreadful if Ms Brand were to be prevented from making her sometimes rather silly left wing jokes just because the BBC is meant to be unbiased. Politics can’t be removed from comedy. She has every right to churn out her rather dreary establishment opinions masquerading as jokes, and, occasionally, she can be quite funny when doing so.

But should every BBC panel and comedy programme be populated only by those whose political opinions are centre-left establishment? Many in the BBC think it is impossible for Conservatives or hard left Labour people to be remotely amusing. Every intelligent person, the standard BBC chap thinks, hates right and hard left politicians and therefore all the jokes can be aimed at them. Only establishment people have correct opinions (Ian Hislop – whose Private Eye magazine doesn’t suffer from his cringing adoration of the centre-left on the BBC – is a prime example of someone who can never accept, when on the BBC, that the establishment could possibly be wrong about anything).

My guess is that the presenter of the Radio 4 programme would have seen how unsatisfactory is the BBC’s insistence that only mildly left wing comedians and panelists should appear on the air waves. But perhaps others heard the programme and can tell me.

Charles

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