The BBC has come under heavy fire in recent years, particularly after it covered the 2019 general election in a manner which many on the left saw as heavily biased. Yet, it would still be a major mistake to support privatisation.
There can be no doubt that, the BBC coverage of the 2019 general election was nothing short of a disgrace, despite their protestations. Heavily biased in favour of the ruling Conservative Party, many have concluded that the image of “Auntie” is now damaged beyond repair. Not only were BBC impartiality rules breached on numerous occasions, but the corporation also failed in its undefined duty to the British public when it was faced with the coming of the hard-right Johnson government.
While the BBC could not have forseen the onset of COVID-19, the fact remains that the election of the Tory government in 2019 cripped the nation’s response to the crisis. Those under socialist governments have benefitted from a much stronger battle against the contagon, being uninfluenced by the concerns of their finincial centres. The Johnson administration has done real damage to Britain and many must take their share of blame.
Many are rightfully outraged at the conduct of the BBC, levelling that blame in their direction and refusing tostand with them. Some have even called for the state broadcaster to be broken-up and sold-off. However, it would be a monumental mistake for the left to support privatisation from a position of anger.
It’s easy to believe that there are those on the right, both inside the BBC and government, that deliberately wish to undermine and destroy the left’s support for the corporation. The Conservative Party have been angling for complete British privatisation for years, with the BBC and NHS being two of the last state bodies not in private hands.
The solidarity of the left has stood as a bulwark against the advance of capitalism. It must remain so.
We cannot change our principles simply because we don’t like the victim. Standing alongside Boris Johnson and the Tories against the BBC and supporting privatisation destroys any moral arguments against the future privatisation of the NHS and would seriously damage the debates surrounding the need for the renationalisation of the railways and utility services. It is not socialist.
We must not fall into the trap that is being laid by the right. The BBC must remain in the hands of the state, even if Boris Johnson controls that state. Imagine for a moment the alternative, a BBC in the hands of Rupert Murdoch.
Instead, we must campaign for extensive reforms.
BBC News and current affairs must become representative of British public opinion and diversity, recognising that neoliberal centrists do not represent the opinions of Labour Party supporters, even if they are members of the PLP. Left-wing socialist voices must be prominent and featured just as favourably as right-wingers and centrists.
Absurdly, the current Director General Tim Davie seems to believe that the BBC is too left-wing, aiming for “left wing comedy” and BBC contracted celebrities giving their opinions on Twitter. This is a veiled reference to football pundit Gary Lineker. Both Lineker and the BBC’s overtly centerist comedy output have been regular targets for attacks by far-right commentators such as Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins.
In 2014, Owen Jones tore down the illusion of “liberal bias” at the BBC, stating that such claims “allows the right to police the BBC: to make the corporation fearful of crossing certain lines and to ensure that the right sets the political agenda. Leftwingers are reluctant to return fire for fear they will help to fatally undermine the BBC.” It was Jones’ opinion that the anti-Labour bias at the BBC was a hangover of the Iraq war when “director-general and journalist Andrew Gilligan [was] driven from the corporation. The episode left the BBC supine and fearful. Its news output is deeply reactive, rather than agenda-setting, structured along the lines of government announcements.”
Jones would highlight the fact that the BBC is almost entirely staffed with Tories, including the likes of Nick Robinson who was once chairman of the Young Conservatives and Andrew Neil who is chairman of the racist and conservative Spectator magazine. At the time of Owen’s article Chris Patten, former Tory minister and governor of Hong Kong was head of the BBC Trust, he would be replaced by Rona Fairhead who went on to be a minister at the Department for International Trade. Likewise, the former head of BBC Westminster Robbie Gibb would go on to be Theresa May’s director of communications and be accused of being “a hard Brexiteer who wants to destroy the PM’s new search for a cross-party compromise” by Nick Boles. Working at the BBC and working for the Conservative Party seem almost interchangeable.
In 2019, journalist Peter Oborne, a former chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph, revealed that he been told by a source that it was now BBC policy to not expose the lies of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. The BBC were said to believe would undermine public trust in politics.
“Senior BBC executives… tell me they personally think it’s wrong to expose lies told by a British prime minister because it undermines trust in British politics… Is that a reason for giving Johnson free reign to make any false claim he wants?”
Oborne has previously accused journalists of failing in their duties and regurgitating “propaganda… smears, lies, fake news”, aiming Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston as having “become effectively press spokesmen for Boris Johnson and… Dominic Cummings”
A Diverse Newsroom
The lack of journalists from BAME, LGBT, disabled and working-class backgrounds is a disgrace across the profession, with those who are privately and Oxbridge educated frequently seen rising to the top. We must support endeavours such as PressPad who seek to “open the door to diversity in the media through mentorship & hosting”.
The far-right must be no-platformed and boycotted. The likes of Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, Rod Liddle, Katie Hopkins and other assorted racists are regularly given platforms across the media. Misguided liberals have advocated that we hear their arguments and beat them in a war of ideas, a misguided concept as theirs is not a war of ideas but an appeal to base instincts. Platforming and embarrassing them has not worked. The far-right supply of media oxygen must be cut off.
Encouraging Liverpool style boycotts and backing campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate are essential. Anti-racist organisations must work to end these voices being given a platform on the BBC and throughout the media.
A Diverse Boardroom
The BBC must democratise their boardroom.
In 2018, the Media Reform Coalition proposed “an end to cuts and commercialisation, and argue[d] for a radically reformed BBC that can positively shape a broader media ecology.”
Alongside increased diversification of voices, the MRC proposed that the corporation “be managed by a board consisting of executive directors elected by staff and non-executive directors elected by licence fee payers”.
While the licence fee has had its time, an elected board is essential.
Please support the work of the Media Reform Coalition via their website: https://www.mediareform.org.uk
Scrap the TV Licence
The television license fee is in Boris Johnson’s sights as the first stage of privatisation as he seeks to decriminalise non-payment. Yet, it should not be opposed by Labour, the fee being a burden to working families and hugely unpopular. Instead, Labour must advocate that the license be scrapped with the cost of the BBC being paid for through existing taxation.
In Australia, the government abolished all licence fees in 1974 and ABC has since been funded by government grants totalling $1.13 billion a year with additional money generated through merchandising and licensing. The BBC has an extensive portfolio of shows and back catalogue of content that it is already exploiting through the paid on-demand service BritBox.
In terms of news, Russia Today, Press TV, TeleSUR and Al Jazeera, all state-funded stations, are not funded by a television license, and many would recognise them as far superior in terms of output.
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