Tuesday 4 November 2008

Finally learning from reader feedback

A clearly angry contributor to Voice of the North last week accused me of being, among other things, “a second rate comic”, “a master of crude assertion” and “a pathetic plonker” because I had the nerve to suggest that the BBC might be ever so slightly biased in favour of Barack Obama and against the dynamic duo of McCain and Palin.

Contrary to his own assertion, even I am not so deranged as to have declared my support for the Republican candidate. I merely observed that the joy of upsetting the BBC was the only good reason I could think of for hoping to see Mr McCain pull off a most unlikely (and undeserved) victory.

My challenge now is to produce some convincing evidence to support my belief that the BBC is institutionally biased. Not just against the Republicans in the USA but in favour of the Republicans in Northern Ireland; against capital punishment, but for abortion; and a fan of the Palestinians, immigration, multiculturalism, European integration, metrication and a just about any other “progressive” cause you care to mention.

Let us start with the words of former BBC political editor Andrew Marr (a man known as “Red Andy” in his Cambridge days), who described the BBC as “a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large” all of which “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC”.

Or the great Robert Peston’s predecessor as BBC business editor, Jeff Randall, who described his time there as “a bit like walking into a Sunday meeting of the Flat Earth Society. As they discuss great issues of the day, they discuss them from the point of view that the earth is flat. If someone says, ‘No, no, no, the earth is round!’ they think this person is an extremist. That's what it's like for someone with my right-of-centre views working inside the BBC.”

How could the BBC be anything other than The Guardian of the airwaves when it invariably advertises its job vacancies there rather than in the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph?

Yes, the Corporation is required to be strictly impartial during election campaigns (British, not American) and it faces accusations of bias from some on the left as well as most of those on the right, but the fundamentally left-of-centre inclinations of the vast majority of its staff keep seeping through. I maintain that a visiting Martian watching its US election coverage would be left in little doubt that it always hoped for an Obama victory today, at any rate once Hillary Clinton had pulled out.

But this is not why a great debate about the future of the BBC rages as I type. The complainant was certainly right to castigate my judgement in one respect, in that I led my last column with a story about biased voting on Strictly Come Dancing when I should clearly have focused on the Manuelgate scandal, which has banished the collapse of capitalism from the nation’s front pages ever since.

I was deeply shocked, albeit mainly by the discovery that Radio 2 is no longer just the station for chairbound pensioners who enjoy humming along to Sing Something Simple. I had no idea that it ever attempted any comedy edgier than The News Huddlines. But then, until I did my usual exhaustive research for this piece, I thought that “plonker” was an offensive slang term for the penis. Now I learn that it has been rehabilitated by the BBC’s great Del Boy Trotter to mean simply an individual who is stupid or inept. Reasoning backwards, someone has even justified this by inventing an acronym: Person of Little Or No Knowledge.

So many thanks for the BBC-style abuse, which has at least taught me one useful lesson.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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