Today on Radio 4…
Stuart Millson briefly forsakes the Third Programme and tunes in to a day of left-leaning bias on BBC Radio 4
Famous for programmes which have become “national treasures” such as The Archers, Desert Island Discs, Any Questions, Today and PM, BBC Radio 4 is conventionally seen as an influence for civilised, open debate, intellectual curiosity and the sort of listening which readers of broadsheet newspapers would regard as their cherished, familiar choice of network.
The BBC in general has long been criticised for left-leaning bias – by Tory backbenchers in rabble-rousing conference speeches and by media-bias vigilantes, who are often able to compare the number of broadcast hours given to (for example) “Remainers”, Labour spokespeople or the heads of “progressive” charities, as opposed to Vote Leave supporters, Christian fundamentalists or climate-change sceptics. However, despite the BBC’s duty to provide impartial political coverage, and Radio 4’s pride in its own editorial integrity, a day’s listening to the network – despite the quality of its programmes – shows how our national broadcaster now reflects the in-built cultural and political prejudices of its leading personnel; confirming, not necessarily a party-political bias, but a predisposition to a liberal-left view of the world which – in this age of resurgent “Corbynism” – could easily be taken for a broadcasters’ version of political activism.
What proof is there for this statement? Perhaps it might be worth returning to the BBC iplayer, and listening again to the news reports and (supposed) “analysis” of Labour’s conference during the PM Programme on the 27th September. Forsaking their usual nit picking and newsgatherers’ cynicism, the presenter and political editor (the usually incisive Norman Smith) seemed almost to reflect, rather than dissect, the new Corbyn-set agenda, which states that Labour occupies a new consensus in British politics: the financial crash of 2008 and the Grenfell Tower disaster having turned the voters against the banks, against institutions and what they are told by politicians etc. Intriguingly – and worryingly – Norman Smith then informed listeners that Corbyn’s aides had even berated him for representing “the old media”, the old ways of doing things and no longer spoke to or for the new generation of voters. Naturally, I could have misread this: so much of the argument is about interpretation, and I, too, have my own in-built bias. But there seemed in Smith’s commentary an acceptance of Labour’s position, a willingness not to argue too much against it – the BBC’s editor choosing to talk about Mr. Corbyn’s electoral “gamble” with an undiluted Socialist message, rather than picking up on the party’s apparent hijacking by the Left.
Assessing Labour’s political shift the next morning on the Today programme, presenter Nick Robinson observed that: “The guys with beards, who used to hand out the leaflets outside the party conference, are now in there leading it.” A true statement, but Robinson seemed almost to soften and sentimentalise the “guys with beards” – failing to observe that many of them are former Trotskyites, and that in so much of the Labour Party now, Marxism has replaced Methodism – often using determined, some might say, ruthless, tactics. During their time in Brighton, some sections of the party were accused of making anti-Israeli, or even anti-Semitic statements – and yet no word of this appeared on the Today coverage. Can you imagine if a Tory conference fringe meeting had harboured such views? The BBC News would be brimming over with condemnation: “the rotten heart of the Tories”, “the racism which lurks just beneath the surface”, “Theresa May must step down!” – not to mention the ensuing Guardian editorials which would ram the message home and discredit the “intolerant” and “out-of-date” Conservatives.
Yet it is not just in its news coverage that we find disproportionate amounts of favouritism or acceptance. During the early part of September, cultural historian and “Guardianista”, Patrick Wright took to the airwaves in a series entitled ‘The English Fix’ devoted to various famous figures from the past – Sir John Betjeman, George Orwell, but also living exponents of Englishness, such as Professor Sir Roger Scruton.
Wright interviewed Scruton about “why” he thought our country was being encroached upon, and could he (Scruton) offer some real, tangible examples of how or why England was in decline? Sir Roger duly obliged, citing the replacement of English Common Law by EU diktat, and making the point to his interviewer that the many other cultural threats to our country since the end of the Second World War were no less real than the possibility of a physical invasion of the Realm in 1940. The programme, though, began to niggle: why was Patrick Wright given the paid job of asking the questions? Why did Scruton have to account for himself – to explain what, for most of us, is a self-evident truth that much of traditional England, or Britain, has been eroded? Why was Wright not being asked why he thought what he did – why he was content with society as it is today, and why “diversity” or the European Union are seen as innately desirable? The programme would have been much improved by Sir Roger Scruton’s quest to find what makes modern liberals tick. How about a working title for such a series: The liberal fix…?
The reality is that the majority of broadcasters are drawn from a certain metropolitan class. The personnel seem an interchangeable network, speaking the same language, disapproving of the same things (usually Brexit, or Donald Trump), finding “disarray” in the EU withdrawal talks, but “new-found purpose” in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Such views might not be so difficult to contend with, were they part of a wide-ranging political debate – with right-wingers having as much a crack of the whip as the Patrick Wrights and others. Disappointingly, the national broadcaster – supported by the compulsory TV licence fee and supposedly “belonging to us all” – is now the preserve of the socially-liberal Left. It is an employment service for them, and a wonderful opportunity to influence the outcome of elections and the thoughts of an entire population. Fortunately, the incessant Remain message from the airwaves missed its target in June 2016, proving that we may not hang on the media’s every word. Ironically, Jeremy Corbyn and his followers could just be right: perhaps it is the case that the people have seen through the “old institutions” and no longer trust the mainstream media or politicians? If this is the case, Mr. Corbyn should be as worried as anyone else holding high office in our political system…
STUART MILLSON is QR’s music critic