Bryony Clarke argues that maintaining the BBC is essential in the face of right-wing pressures.
In the wake of Grant Shapps’ sulphurous denunciation of the BBC last weekend, a new ICM poll of 2,000 people for the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday revealed worrying levels of public hostility to our national broadcaster.
49% of those polled favoured the complete abolition of the £145.50 licence fee, while a further 21% wanted to see it reduced. There was widespread support, from almost two thirds of those questioned, for the BBC to seek funding from advertising and other sources instead. Meanwhile, an Opinium/Observer poll on Saturday found that 41% of viewers believed the corporation displays bias in its reporting, with 27% believing it invariably adopts a left-wing perspective.
These findings make it acutely clear how pervasive and effective the right-wing fallacy of the ‘Bolshevik Broadcaster’ has become, and how little viewers value an editorially independent, public service broadcaster. It is a smear that has attached itself to the BBC for decades and has now been irrevocably absorbed into the public consciousness.
The argument that the BBC is an inherently ‘leftist institution’ is a calculated and cynical attempt of the right to undermine its reporting and compel it into compliance. It is language greatly echoed in America with the specious notion of the ‘liberal establishment’. In both cases, the myth of bias ultimately serves to warp the public’s view of what ‘balance’ really is.
While complete neutrality in news reporting is admittedly a near impossible feat, the fact is that few news corporations strive more assiduously towards impartiality than the BBC. The BBC remains one of our most neutral sources of information – it is legally obligated by a Royal Charter to be so. Claiming the BBC has a profound left wing bias reveals far more about how your own views measure up against the balanced middle ground than it does about the BBC.
Claiming the BBC has a profound left wing bias reveals far more about how your own views measure up against the balanced middle ground than it does about the BBC.
In an age where ‘freedom of the press’ is taken to mean allowing a megalomaniac media mogul to seize almost all the avenues of mass communication and use them to propagate his own hyper partisan beliefs, the BBC is an essential means of restoring the balance in our national debate. It could potentially be a space for the real exchange of ideas, free from the controlling hand of a multi-millionaire newspaper proprietor.
What is also mystifying about the weekend’s polls is why those questioned cleaved to advertising as a preferable, alternative source of funding. It is as though the removal of the licence fee would absolve the viewer of having to pay for the BBC, or at least give them a choice in paying for it.
Yet obviously the British public funds ITV and Channel 4 just as much as it does the BBC, through hidden advertising taxes. We pay Jeremy Kyle’s salary as much as we do Graham Norton’s, the only difference is we pay it every time we buy a loaf of bread, every time we top up our phones, or every time we change a tyre on our car. Even if we don’t watch ITV, even if we don’t own a television, we’ll still be paying it. And for those who do turn on ITV, every 15 minutes of programming will be interrupted by two to three minutes of mind-numbing adverts. It’s hardly a superior system or a better deal for the viewer.
…the British public funds ITV and Channel 4 just as much as it does the BBC, through hidden advertising taxes.
Instead of demanding total conformity in the way our news corporations are run and funded, we should celebrate the diversity of our media and the superiority of our news broadcasting (have you ever watched CNN?).
The widespread disparagement of the BBC is symptomatic of the attempt by the New Right to establish full spectrum dominance, to assert in every sphere the only truth – an extreme right wing ideology – and to eliminate or denigrate any voice of dissent. Against Murdoch’s twenty year monopoly over our media, the BBC has been our strength and our salvation, a venerable institution and a national treasure. We must not allow it to be the last domino to fall.
Bryony is a recent literature graduate and news junkie who has previously written for the Cambridge Student, the New Political Centre and the Independent.