Beeb Producers Decide News Programmes’ Slant Before Shootingll

A few days ago I put up a review of Robin Aitken’s Can We Trust the BBC? (London: Continuum 2007). This argues that the Corporation isn’t full of Conservatives and has a right-wing bias, but the opposite: that it is crammed full of left-wingers and has a marked, institutional bias against Conservatives and the monarchy, former British empire and Christianity. While Aitken musters a considerable amount of evidence for this, he also ignores the far greater amount of evidence against his view. The Beeb has nearly always been biased against the Labour party and the trade unions, although I’m prepared to admit that there may have been pockets in the Beeb, like Scotland, where Aitken started his career, that may have been more left-wing. If this changed, it was while the Beeb was under the control of John Birt and Greg Dyke. But while Dyke may have been a member of the Labour Party, he was a New Labour convert to the free market. Which means he definitely wasn’t Old Labour. Since the departure of Dyke, the Beeb has become very blatantly biased against Labour and especially against Jeremy Corbyn. It did as much as the rest of the media to push the anti-Semitism smears.

But there is one part of Aitken’s argument that I believe, and still think remains true today, even after Brit’s departure and the Beeb’s alleged return to the Right. Aitken states that Birt wasn’t satisfied with merely presenting the news. He wanted the Beeb to contextualise and explain it. And this meant that news and documentary producers decided on their programmes’ content and direction before they shot any footage or interviewed anyone. Aitken writes

I saw Birtism close up when I moved to the Money Programme. This long-established show had a loyal audience for its Sunday evening slot, but the old populist format was viewed with disdain by Birt. What he wanted was analysis, and lots of it. The new programme style was uncompromising. A subject would be chosen – say electricity privatisation – and a storyline worked out. A detailed script including putative interviews was worked up before a single word had been uttered by an interviewee, or a frame of film shot. We worked from written sources (previous articles/ analyses by academics) and briefings by individual experts.The fine detail of these scripts was obsessively wrangled over until, finally, filming actually began. The task then was to make sure reality conformed to our preconceptions.

All this accorded with Birt’s philosophy. In his autobiography, The Harder Path, he writes: ‘Directors and reporters were sent off with a clear specification of the story their film should tell … [they] … had lost the freedom of the road; they had forfeited much of their discretion’. Birt had encountered stiff resistance to this methodology at Weekend World, similarly at The Money Programme the producers and reporters resented the new straitjacket but had to embrace the new orthodoxy. (pp. 23-4).

My guess is that this system is still very much in place. It’s why the Beeb has followed the rest of the media in demonising the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic. And it’s particularly responsible for the horrendous bias of the Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This was so extreme that it sparked a storm of complaints and resulted in the production of a documentary film refuting it. A film that inevitably was attacked by the same fanatical Zionist witch hunters responsible for the smears against Labour.

The Corporation’s bias may have changed from Labour to Conservative – if it was ever ‘Labour’ in the first place – but the mindset and methodology behind the biased reporting is exactly the same.

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