Change is in the air at the BBC. The new director general has signalled that measures to reducing the apparent bias of the BBC are on the horizon. Tim Davie, the seventeenth head of the corporation, is cracking down on presenters airing their own often (but not exclusively) left-leaning opinions.
Introductions like the one Emily Maitliss wrote for Newsnight about Dominic Cummings’ fateful trip to Castle Barnard will become a thing of the past, and presenters will be told to subdue their desire to tweet their opinions every hour of the day.
These moves have been welcomed by many commentators and politicians on the right, who see the BBC as an organisation saturated with people who all think the same leftie-liberal way. The soundings from the new DG suggest that something may just be done to address this problem. And it is a problem.
The BBC’s presenters must refrain from articulating their views if the BBC as a whole wants to uphold its credibility as an impartial broadcaster, a requirement of its royal charter. This is not just an issue for the presenters on the left: Andrew Neil, after something of an extended break from our TV screens, has been told to reign in his tweeting if he wants to have a show back.
Although these commentators pose a problem for the BBC’s impartiality, it is not the biggest one. The biggest problem facing the BBC is not Emily Maitliss, rather, it is itself. More specifically, it is its monopoly on opinion.
The BBC is everywhere. It has its fingers in many pies. Its documentaries and baking shows are watched by millions. Its News at 6 attracts over 4 million viewers every night, almost 30% more than its equivalent at ITV. Its website is the most popular news website globally, surpassing the second place CNN by 36%. In April of this year alone, the BBC News website had 158 million unique visitors.
The BBC is a state-funded indoctrination machine. It teaches us, subliminally, what to think. Its single-mindedness on so many progressive issues (LGBT, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion to name the three most prominent) means that we are given a distorted view of what British people actually think.
Apparently the BBC executives are unaware that there are lots of people outside London who don’t use a free afternoon to protest about a non-existent climate emergency, nor that there are many people beyond the M25 who happen to think that the whole LGBT movement may have gone too far in its utter conquest of the public domain. But this thought never occurs to the BBC, which features these topics on its front page nearly every day.
Take the issue of Black Lives Matter. There was the well-documented backlash against the reporting of the BLM protests as ‘mostly peaceful’; protests which saw policemen injured, public monuments defaced, and flares fired into Downing Street, yet the BBC has remained resolute in its support.
Another dubious feature on the BBC News website was about a ‘black people only’ cycling club. Does no one in the BBC consider that such a story is, firstly, of little interest to the public, and second, appears to endorse what is a profoundly racist concept?
Sadly, the BBC is pretty much all there is, and its rivals in the UK are hardly any better. Londoners never get out of London, and don’t realise the extent to which they are in a middle-class, university educated, quinoa-munching, metro-liberal bubble. As such, the problem perpetuates itself and fuels the perception that this sort of thinking (quinoa-munching, metro-liberalism) is held everywhere.
The problem is so deep rooted and ingrained within the BBC’s DNA that the superficial actions of Tim Davie won’t go far enough. The BBC will never change — it has gone too far in its march towards this single-minded thinking. The chance for reform from within passed long ago. What follows are my suggestions for combatting the further penetration of the BBC into political discourse.
First, I suggest a personal break from the BBC. I for one have begun a BBC-fast. I have removed the website from my bookmarks, don’t watch its news anymore, and certainly don’t subscribe to its emails. The reach of the BBC is so pervasive that I no longer watch anything on iPlayer, most of which seems to be about drag queens and prostitutes these days, so I’m not missing much.
I am not suggesting a boycott of the BBC — more of a personal reduction of influence the BBC has in your life. In my own life, I’m hoping that it will work wonders. Already I am beginning to feel its force on me seep away, like a terrible plague being drawn out of my veins. Try it for a week, and see what you think.
Second, the BBC’s charter must not be renewed. The BBC has quite obviously broken the terms of the agreement made between Her Majesty and the Corporation. It has failed on every level to fulfil its mission statement, which requires it to “act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.”
The BBC has so spectacularly neglected to do any of these things that it has de facto broken the royal charter. It must be defunded and denounced by the government immediately.
Finally, it needs a rival. And on this there is a glimmer of hope for the TV industry yet. Robbie Gibb, who was head of the BBC’s political programs until 2017, is toying with the idea of setting up a right-of-centre TV channel to counter the BBC, and in fact all the other major channels.
The task will not be easy for ‘GB News’, or anyone who takes on the unenviable task of starting from scratch with a new TV channel. Such free-thinking projects have failed before (primarily ‘18 Doughty Street’, founded by Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale amongst others, which had a short but spritely lifespan of just over a year).
The Spectator has recently launched a weekly show with Andrew Neil, a rather rudimentary, but noble, attempt to increase interaction with readers. One can’t help but think that Neil and co have high ambitions of being the much needed antidote to the BBC on our TVs. But it’s got a long way to go, and Fraser Nelson is keeping expectations low.
Step out of London, and the appetite is there for something different. Some recent polling suggests 63% of northern viewers think the BBC license fee doesn’t offer good value for money, while the number is even higher, 77%, for those who voted to leave the EU.
Northern Brexit voters see the BBC as the definition of The Establishment, caught up in the Blairite wing of the left. They see it as out of touch and profoundly London-centric. Any new rival will have lots going against them, but there is one thing which will play in their favour: numbers. A mass of viewers, craving something which doesn’t force the same leftie world view down their throats. With a bit of a nudge, these viewers could conceivably come in their millions.
The ideas represented in this article are not reflective of the values held by UCL Conservatives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely representative of the author.