February 16, 2009

Carol Thatcher

Carol Thatcher

On 3rd February, it was announced that Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol would no longer be used to present reports on BBC television’s weekday magazine programme, “€œThe One Show.”€

The decision was made because of a remark she made off-air, when she referred to Franco-Congolese tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as a “€œgolliwog frog.”€ Her remark was made in a BBC hospitality suite used by presenters and guests before and after recording. There has long been a tradition that remarks made in this “€œGreen Room”€ are private. But on this occasion, someone complained to an official.

In the frame is “€œOne Show”€ presenter and football commentator

Adrian Chiles, the self-described “€œodd-looking bloke”€ who is the most watched man on British television. He has a reputation for racial angst (he once wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph expressing his concern that no blacks had been present at his wedding, which makes the title of his book”€”We Don’t Know What We”€™re Doing “€”oddly appropriate. Another possible informant is comedienne Jo Brand, who has a reputation for leftwing views; she is presently under police investigation after she advocated posting excrement to BNP members.

Be this as it may, Thatcher was annoyed by the betrayal of confidence. She said it had been a jocular remark, and refused to make the “€œunconditional apology”€ demanded by BBC 1 Controller Jay Hunt. She was accordingly dropped from the programme”€”although theoretically not from the BBC as a whole.

Thatcher’s agent later said she believed her client had been dropped because of her mother’s political allegiances.

The story has reinforced the deeply-held conservative conviction that the BBC is politically biased, despite its public funding and frequently repeated claims to objectivity. For example, the Corporation’s Royal Charter says “€œThe BBC shall be independent in all matters concerning the content of its output, the times and manner in which this is supplied, and in the management of its affairs”€, while the Editorial Guidelines are unambiguous: “€œWe strive to be fair and open minded and reflect all significant strands of opinion by exploring the range and conflict of views. We will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject”€.

Examining some earlier instances of how controversial remarks were dealt with by the BBC is interesting but inconclusive. Just last month, presenter Jonathan Ross (previously best known for having asked David Cameron if he had ever “€œhad a wack”€ when thinking about Margaret Thatcher) returned to work after an enforced hiatus. This was in the wake of a series of obscene “€˜phone calls he and Russell Brand made to the elderly actor Andrew Sachs (AKA Manuel in “€œFawlty Towers”€) that were broadcast on Radio 2. In the calls, Ross and Brand joked about masturbation and “€œfucking”€ Sachs”€™ granddaughter. There were some 10,000 complaints from the public, which made it the second-most complained-about program in recent BBC history. Brand resigned, as did Radio 2 Controller Lesley Douglas, while Ross (the BBC’s highest paid presenter, earning over £16,000 per day) was suspended unpaid for 12 weeks. The BBC apologized, saying the calls had been “€œgrossly offensive”€ and a “€œserious breach of editorial standards.”€ It is difficult to see how the program contributed to the BBC’s stated Public Purposes of “€œ(a) sustaining citizenship and civil society (b) promoting education and learning (c) stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”€”€”but the Corporation’s response was at least prompt.

Other BBC employees and contributors have been luckier”€”such as the poet and sometime BBC Newsnight guest Tom Paulin, who in 2001 gave an interview to an Egyptian newspaper in which he said that American Jewish settlers in Israel for whom he felt “€œnothing but hatred”€ should “€œbe shot dead.”€

Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles has successfully fended off allegations of “€˜sexism”€™ (he said that some female listeners were “€œdirty whores”€), “€˜homophobia”€™ (for saying that a ringtone was “€œgay”€) and “€˜anti-Semitism”€™ for saying that when researching his family tree for the BBC’s popular genealogy program, Who Do You Think You Are? “€””€œunlike a lot of the … shows I didn”€™t go to Auschwitz. Pretty much everyone goes there whether or not they”€™re Jewish. They just seem to pass through there on their way to Florida.”€ Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has made a career out of offending all sorts of people, most recently when he asked (in allusion to the multiple murders of prostitutes by a Suffolk truck driver) “€œWhat matters to lorry drivers? Murdering prostitutes? Fuel economy?”€ and just last week when he apologized for calling Gordon Brown a “€œone-eyed Scottish idiot”€ (he apologized for the “€œone-eyed”€ part).

There seems to be little consistency in these decisions. A lot of different variables will come into play”€”numbers of complaints received, who the complainants, the popularity of the presenter, the relative power of different lobby groups, the relative strength of different ideological preoccupations, the views of the government, short-term political concerns, the personalities of the BBC staff handling the complaint, and so forth. It is therefore slightly simplistic to say that the BBC is invariably biased against Conservatives”€”there are genuinely objective reporters, there are still many excellent programz, there are some Conservatives in senior positions within the Corporation, and the Beeb has had some serious disagreements with the Labour government.

When Margaret Thatcher was PM and thinking about abolishing the TV license it was probably true that the BBC was instinctively hostile to her party. Trace elements from that period may have affected the decision to sack her daughter. But now that both parties have virtually identical policies, and because the BBC is tired of Labour, whatever historical prejudice there has been against the Conservative Party is starting to erode.  David Cameron receives much better press than any of his predecessors.

But even if that old hatchet is becoming buried, there is little sign that BBC prejudice against conservative causes will end soon. Such concepts as “€œanti-racism”€ and “€œanti-sexism”€ long ago migrated from the wildest fringes of the Left into the political centre ground, to the extent that campaigning against “€˜racism”€™ or “€œsexism”€ are no longer seen as political or ideological causes, but as purely moral ones to which all people of goodwill are assumed to subscribe.

Although the BBC may have cooled on Gordon Brown, their critique of his party is always more procedural than philosophical, such as the bitter disagreement over the “€œdodgy dossier”€ used to catapult Britain into Iraq in 2003.

When dealing with “€˜rightwing”€™ causes, however, the Corporation more often than not starts from different moral premises, and unthinkingly repeats the insulting terminology invented by the ultra-Left. For example, on 12th February, when reporting on the abortive visit of Dutch MP Geert Wilders to Britain to screen his Fitna film, the Beeb’s Mark Easton referred unthinkingly to Wilders’s Party for Freedom as “€œan extreme right-wing party”€ without explaining why he said this, and probably not even noticing what he had said. Likewise, when then Director-General Greg Dyke said in 2001 that the BBC was “€œhideously white,”€ it was a totally thoughtless remark”€” although he would never have said, for example, that something was “€œhideously Asian.”€ 

Like the politicians they are paid to hold to account, BBC executives have internalized today’s neurotic Zeitgeist so thoroughly that they do not even notice their partiality.

When it comes to racism, sexism and all the rest of the things we are told we should worry about, the BBC has become a victim of its own propaganda”€”and that means we have all in turn become victims of BBC propaganda. (The BBC’s until recently entirely uncritical embrace of mass immigration has meant that it is living up to another one of its Public Purposes”€””€œbringing the world to the UK”€.)

An internal 2007 BBC report, From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, noted candidly that there was “€œan inbuilt liberal bias”€ at the BBC, and “€œa tendency to “€˜group think”€™ with too many staff inhabiting a shared space and comfort zone.”€ The BBC had been “€œtoo closed to a wide range of views and we”€™ve had too narrow an agenda.”€ The report asked when, for example, the BBC had last had a full debate about capital punishment. It also noted that employees were reflexively anti-American and pro-Islamic.

But there is little evidence that this report, or the detailed and critical surveys carried out by Eurosceptical or business organizations, are yet being taken seriously by senior BBC executives. Programs (not just current affairs ones, but also such favorites as Doctor Who) are still being commissioned or not commissioned, edited or not edited, according to an almost unconscious list of “€˜acceptable”€™ qualities”€””€œgender balance,”€ moral non-judgementalism, “€œdiversity,”€ “€œinclusivity.”€ This deep-seated predilection will continue as long as the BBC’s contributors, producers and controllers are predominantly leftwing true believers.

Conservative-minded people have traditionally tended not to work in the media, preferring instead more immediately remunerative but culturally less important fields such as business. But if they want to slow down or stop the agitprop from Portland Place or White City, it is up to them to embed themselves gradually in the media at all levels so that, over time, they can alter the underlying assumptions and the poor programming decisions that have turned the world’s most-trusted broadcaster into just another mouthpiece for foolish fashionability.

Derek Turner is the editor of the Quarterly Review.


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