One of the frustrations of being The World’s Slowest BloggerTM is that stories have quite often moved on considerably while I still have my post half-written. This is a good case in point – I’ve been working on this post since Saturday, when this was current, but now the leaked proposals I talk about here have become announced proposals. It’s particularly frustrating as about two-thirds of this was done and dusted in 30 minutes or so, and it’s just the last third – the trying desperately to draw some kind of conclusion out of the mess bit – that I’ve been blocked on: I’ve known what I wanted to say, but haven’t been able to say it, and have kept being distracted down side alleys that I’ve then had to delete. Anyway, the point of this hasn’t been to give you a fascinating deathly dull insight into how crap I am at blogging, but to explain why this post looks so weirdly outdated. The main thrust, though, is valid, and hasn’t particularly dated, which is why I’m still posting this.
You know, I still have this naïve belief that The Times is a clever newspaper for clever people. A little disdainful of the internet age, perhaps – it’s astonishing how long it took them to figure out stable URLs – but, with the possible exception of The Independent, it has the reputation for being the most intellectual of the daily newspapers. Not self-consciously highbrow in the way The Guardian is, but sober, and considered, and thoughtful. Maybe a little staid, certainly the voice of the establishment, and therefore coming from a small-c conservative, even a big-C Conservative, perspective, but still not a natural habitat for the reactionary loons who call to each other across the wastes of The Daily Mail, or The Daily Express. A paper engaged, still, with old-fashioned ideas like rationality, and pursuit of the truth, and accuracy in reporting – all those old, journalistic hallmarks of which the UK newspaper industry used to be occasionally capable.
Then I went to read this story. Nothing so particularly wrong with the story itself. It’s a little breathless in its excitement at having a scoop, but that’s forgivable. The story is about the possibility of cuts at the BBC, specifically the possibility of closing two digital radio stations – 6 Music and Asian Network – and closing certain websites. I don’t have a huge amount of opinion on the decisions. I’ve never listened to the Asian Network, and my experience of 6 Music is slight, though, from what I can tell when I flick through the nether channels on my Freeview box, it’s almost always broadcasting a 17-hour-long show called ‘BBC Introducing with Tom Robinson’. But the comments left on the article are…dispiriting, and rather undermine my quaint belief that The Times is a different sort of newspaper appealing to different sorts of readers.
This is, at the time of writing, the most recommended comment on the article:
“Everyone agrees that the BBC is a great institution…”
No – it WAS a great institution. For the past 40 years it has been an anti-British, left-wing cheerleader for the multi-culti society in which Labour has decreed we must live.
It should be scrapped forthwith – it is no longer fit for purpose.
243 people thought it was worth recommending that little drizzle of thought. This is, as I say, …dispiriting.
The BBC is anti-British? Really? Ever since 1970 the BBC’s been showing an anti-British, leftwing agenda? Is that right? I mean, that would mean Antiques Roadshow is anti-British and leftwing? And is it? I mean, really? A programme that celebrates tradition, and familial inheritance, and careful preservation of the glories of the past – and that’s leftwing and anti-British? Really? By that standard, The National Trust’s leftwing and anti-British too.
What about Songs of Praise? Or Gardener’s Question Time? Last of the Summer Wine? The Daily Service? Countryfile? The Queen’s Castle? The yearly coverage of Trooping the Colour, and the Lord Mayor’s Show, and the Chelsea Flower Show, and Royal Ascot, and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo? The coverage of the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1976? Her golden jubilee in 2001? One Man and His Dog? All Creatures Great and Small? An Island Parish? The shipping forecast? The Morecambe and Wise christmas specials? The Two Ronnies? It Ain’t Half Hot Mum? Alf Garnett? Hi-de-Hi? Delia Smith? Call My Bluff? The Vicar of Dibley? Are You Being Served? Mastermind? Brain of Britain? Empire of the Seas? This Sceptred Isle? A Picture of Britain? How We Built Britain? The Seven Ages of Britain? Britain: A Natural History? Gloria Hunniford? Alistair Cooke? Bagpuss? Jackanory? The Barchester Chronicles? Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple? Yes, Minister (Margaret Thatcher’s favourite TV show)? The Thick of It (a vicious satire of the Labour spin machine)? Any programme presented by Fred Dibnah? Any programme presented by Sister Wendy Beckett? Any programme presented by David Attenborough? Two Fat Ladies? The Sky at Night? The Week in Politics (the BBC’s flagship political commentary show, hosted by well-known Conservative sympathiser (and former Sunday Times editor) Andrew Neill)? Only Fools and Horses? Springwatch? Desert Island Discs? Any programme featuring Nick Robinson (the BBC’s political editor, and the former national chairman of the youth wing of the Conservative party)?
All of these (and this is just a bare sampling of the corporation’s output over the last 40 years, the programmes that popped naturally into my mind* as I sat here trying to think of BBC programmes) are anti-British and leftwing? Really? I mean, really? Are you sure?
What about Dinner with Portillo, then? You know, Dinner with Portillo, that show in which Michael Portillo, erstwhile candidate for leader of the Conservative party (and Margaret Thatcher’s preferred choice), gets to talk to whoever he wants, about whatever he wants? Where’s the BBC’s leftwing bias there? I’ve never noticed Dinner with Roy Hattersley or Dinner with Shirley Williams in the listings, have you? If not, what does that say about the idea that the BBC is leftwing and anti-British? Does it perhaps suggest that some presenters come from a rightwing background, others from a leftwing background? Does it suggest that, yes, the BBC gives airtime to people who are not flag-waving Little Englanders, but it balances it (more accurately: overwhelms it) with airtime given to people who are patriotic to the tips of their Union Flag socks?
Then there’s the assertion that the BBC has been ‘cheerleading’ for a multicultural society (or, at least, I assume that’s what a ‘multi-culti’ society is). Has it really? I mean, really? Sure, it acknowledges that there are people from different ethnic backgrounds living in the UK, but then again, it’s not just Labour who are fans of that. So are the Conservatives. So are the BNP, if you’re naïve enough to believe what Nick Griffin says. But has the BBC been cheerleading for it? I guess there was that sitcom set in a black community in London, Desmond’s. Maybe that’s a perfect example of the kind of ‘multi-culti’ cheerleading that’s being deplored here. Oh, but wait a minute – that was on Channel 4.
Hmmm, thinking about this, I wonder what percentage of the BBC’s output actually reflects multiculturalism? Do British people with different skin colours present, say, The One Show, or is that two white people? What about Question Time – is David Dimbleby black? The Wimbledon coverage, then – Sue Barker must be from an asian background, surely? What about the weather reporters – it can’t be only one of them who has a different skin colour, surely? Or maybe on the radio, where people can be sneakily multicultural without listeners realising. Perhaps Jenni Murray from Woman’s Hour is black and proud? What’s that, she’s not? Chris Moyles, then? Chris Evans? No to both? Oh well, given all the non-white people who’ve played football down the years, the presenter of the BBC’s football coverage must be ethnic – ooh, yes, Gary Lineker’s from Leicester, so his parents were from Pakistan, I’ll bet. Or, well, actually, no – he’s pretty white. But there’s that other footballer chap, Ian Wright, he gets to host his very own daily discussion show, and he’s black. Maybe that’s what Mr Whitney had in mind. Oh, except – that’s on Five.
You know, thinking about it, maybe Gok Wan is the problem. He’s half-Chinese (his immigrant dad married a good English girl, imagine the horror), and he’s gay as well, so he’s using his TV shows to be ‘multi-culti’ and to be open about ‘alternative lifestyles’ into the bargain. Maybe that’s the sort of cheerleading the BBC shouldn’t funding. Oh, except – it’s really weird how this keeps happening – Gok Wan’s shows aren’t on the BBC, they’re on Channel 4, and are paid for by advertising. It’s almost as though the BBC are actually dragging their feet on representing ethnic diversity, isn’t it? And, actually, the fact that one of the most successful presenters on a commercial channel is non-white suggests that – guess what? – the bulk of the overwhelmingly white UK population don’t share this fear and loathing of people who look different.
Sorry, I know I’ve been facetious, but, seriously, how often do you see a non-white face on the BBC? There’s George Alagiah on the news; Manish Bhasin presents something connected with football (sorry, sport isn’t one of my strong points); there’s Dianne Abbott as a permanent guest on The Week in Politics; Nihal Arthanayake is quite a big noise on Radio 1 (I think – I don’t really listen to the station); Gina Yashere and Reginald D Hunter crop up fairly often as guests on various comedy panel shows; and Kwame Kweih-armah and Ekow Eshun feature quite prominently in the BBC’s arts coverage – but apart from those few, I’m really struggling to think of any. Certainly I think you’d have to acknowledge that, in terms of onscreen talent at least, the BBC is disproportionately white. And while that’s …dispiriting, it’s not really a surprise. For all its supposed radical left-wing bias, the BBC is an arm of the establishment, and the establishment in the UK is overwhelmingly white.
It’s really quite easy to understand what lies behind the criticism of the BBC for being too leftwing and multicultural. It’s the same thing that lay behind the criticisms made by some social liberals and gay people when the World Service ran its ‘Should homosexuals be executed?’ website debate about the proposed legislative changes in Uganda. In both cases, what people are actually objecting to is the fact that the BBC aren’t uncritically reflecting their own prejudices and preconceptions back to them. To people who rail against multiculturalism, it’s absolutely obvious and incontrovertible that immigration is the biggest threat to Britain since the V2 rocket, so when the BBC fail to report it in those terms, the only possible reason is that they are politically motivated propagandists. To the gay people who objected to the Uganda debate, it’s absolutely obvious and incontrovertible that homophobia is wrong, so when the BBC provide an opportunity for people to express a contrary view, it can only be because they’re directly endorsing murder and hatred.
Its commitment to impartiality means that – for all of us, wherever we stand on the political spectrum – the BBC will sometimes report without condemning them ideas and opinions with which we disagree. Sometimes those ideas and opinions will run contrary to values we hold so deeply that they don’t seem like values anymore, but self-evident truths, matters of incontrovertible fact. When that happens, we may find ourselves inclined to think that the BBC is acting underhandedly, maybe even maliciously, that they are deliberately distorting the ‘facts’ for propaganda purposes. Of course, the BBC is a flawed human organisation, staffed and overseen by flawed and imperfect human beings, and sometimes it will fall short of flawless, perfect impartiality. But, nine times out of ten, when it seems that the BBC are doing something dreadful and awful and malicious, what they’re actually doing is reporting and reflecting values and opinions which contradict our own.
That’s certainly what’s going on with regards to the complaint above – half a moment’s thought would have shown that the BBC’s output overwhelmingly has nothing to say about multiculturalism, and pushes a cosy, backward-looking small-c conservatism that’s not really party political at all, and can’t conceivably be called anti-British.
* – In the interests of full disclosure: I did make use of Google in the process of naming these programmes so that, for example, ‘Dan Snow’s programme about the Royal Navy’ became Empire of the Seas. But the actual programmes listed occurred to me naturally, even when I couldn’t remember the titles.