The problem with the BBC director-general Lord Hall’s admission that the corporation has been slow to recognise how much of its output is “biased” is that those who inhabit the BBC are the last people who could recognise how deeply in its culture that bias has become engrained.
Many of us could instantly jot down a list of issues on which the BBC has a clear “party line”, which distorts its coverage to the point where its audience is consistently manipulated and misinformed. Wind farms, for instance, it is for; Israel against; public spending for; “government cuts” against (and don’t mention the deficit); “brave” social workers and gay marriage it is for; US Republicans against. In its sentimental but hopelessly uninformed view of the EU, it is for; private enterprise — against; Tories (unless, like Lord Patten, the BBC Trust’s chairman, they are rabid Europhiles) it is against. The Guardian – for; the Mail and the Telegraph – against. And so forth.
Thirty years ago, Alasdair Milne, Lord Hall’s predecessor, told me that the one issue on which the BBC was proud to ignore its Charter obligation to be “impartial” was apartheid. But since then, its flouting of this statutory duty has become so routine — both in what it tells us and what it leaves out, in who it has on the air and who it excludes — that its coverage is, in many respects, as predictably one-sided as that of Radio Moscow in the days of the Soviet Union.
We may, for instance, recall those far-off days when the BBC would almost daily wheel on the likes of Lord Patten and Michael Heseltine to tell us how vital it was that Britain join the euro. I once wrote, at that time, about five separate occasions when the BBC led its news by reporting that major international companies, such as Nissan, had threatened to leave Britain unless we signed up to the euro — only for the companies in each case to protest that they had said nothing of the kind. Not once did the BBC correct its story.
In 2011, I produced, for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a report showing how comprehensively the BBC had misinformed its audience on climate change, following that “secret seminar” in 2006 when its top executives met a room full of climate activists to agree that the BBC should push the warming scare for all it was worth.
After chronicling the years of one-sided propaganda that ensued, I ended by analysing a report on the BBC’s science coverage that its Trust had commissioned from Prof Steve Jones. As an expert on snails, he demonstrated that he knew less than nothing about climate science before calling for the BBC to show not less bias on this issue, but more.
Climate “deniers”, Jones advised, should be kept off the airwaves. When Radio 4’s Feedback recently discussed a programme in which Prof Bob Carter, the well-known Australian geologist, was briefly heard putting a sceptical view, who did it wheel on to agree with various green activists that such a man should never have been allowed on the air? Mr Jones, of course. As I say, the idea that “Radio Moscow” could ever recognise the extent to which its party line might be “biased” is as far-fetched as the thought that the BBC’s staff might stop reading The Guardian.