As the crisis of the British establishment deepens, no institution remains immune - including the BBC.
The public broadcaster was once proclaimed by the liberal establishment to be the envy of the rest of the world for its ‘balanced’ coverage. But now ‘Auntie’ has come under renewed scrutiny from all sections of society: be it from Labour supporters angered at its shamefully biased coverage of the last election; or from Boris Johnson’s Tory government, who spy a chance to change things for their own benefit.
Tony Hall, the current director general of the BBC, recently announced that he is standing down. This is to take place just before negotiations begin with the government over the BBC’s licence fee and the renewal of its royal charter (the current agreement ends in 2022).
Already, Tory culture secretary Nicky Morgan has suggested a massive shake up of the BBC: abolishing the licence fee and switching the BBC’s funding to a subscription model.
The Tory leadership has also stated that they will be looking for a say in who replaces Hall as director general. It is worth remembering that Hall sold himself to the Tory government on the grounds of promoting a ‘competition revolution’ - i.e. privatisation. The results can be seen in the large number of BBC programmes that are no longer produced in-house.
Some commentators claim the BBC is yet another victim of Tory austerity, forced to open up to commercial competition. There is a grain of truth to this. It is no surprise that the Tories are backing proposals that will benefit private media corporations. The current licence fee arrangement - enforced by law - certainly gives the BBC a privileged position: one that media moguls such as Murdoch and his billionaire buddies would be pleased to do away with.
Like all institutions of the British state, the BBC is certainly not a friend of the working class. This fact has become increasingly obvious to workers and young people in recent years.
For many, it was the pernicious role of the BBC during the last election. Their slanted coverage of the Corbyn-led Labour Party has shattered illusions in the broadcaster’s so-called ‘impartiality’.
We saw the BBC gerrymandering audience opinion; a consistent exaggeration of Labour’s alleged antisemitism ‘problem’ (also seen with the clearly biased Panorama programme last summer); and the constant misreporting and hostility towards Labour's policies from Tory journalists such as Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil.
At the same time, the BBC’s coverage of Johnson was filled with praise and adulation. In fact, research by Loughborough University confirmed that their coverage of the Labour campaign was overwhelmingly hostile in comparison to that of the Tories.
Judge the BBC & other outlets on facts not opinion.— Alex (@oneworld2gether) December 16, 2019
Here is one analysis by the University of Loughborough which includes BBC coverage & illustrates the clear bias in the media (& BBC) against Labour. @OborneTweets https://t.co/sKHhvrrzxt https://t.co/SEv8jCwFXG
BBC editors purposefully cut out the Question Time audience laughing at Johnson’s shambolic performance. Elsewhere, they ‘accidentally’ chose to broadcast footage from 2016’s Remembrance Sunday wreath-laying, in order to hide Johnson’s visibly hungover performance in 2019.
Whilst they ravaged Corbyn at every opportunity, BBC presenters and producers were happy to show Johnson eating a scone, painting him as a patriotic pal of the people rather than the private school prat he is. They praised the PM’s bravery and direct manner of dealing with opposition, while keeping quiet about the fact that he was the only party leader allowed to get away with dodging an interview with Andrew Neil.
Ruling class propaganda
Rather than seeing the clear propagandistic intent of the BBC - with its revolving door between Tory HQ and the City of London - many liberal commentators have put the Beeb’s misgivings down to simple ‘human mistakes’. But these are not just mistakes; they are clear editorial choices from the very top.
In reality, the BBC is the PR wing of the British ruling class, staffed by public-school educated establishment types. Isn’t it funny that these ‘honest mistakes’ always tend to benefit the representatives of their class, whether that be the Tory party or the Blairites in the Labour Party?
Subsequent well-founded criticism of the BBC’s blatant Tory bias were shrugged off as ‘conspiracy theories’ by Tony Hall. The director general maintains that, “In an era of fake news, [the BBC] remains the gold standard of impartiality and truth”. But it is evident that Hall’s assertion could be further from the truth.
Representing the view of the British state is not an impartial one - and never can be. As Marx and Engels explained, the state is not a neutral observer sitting above society, but a set of institutions that exist to enforce the rule of one class over another.
In our capitalist society, the BBC ultimately represents the interests of British capitalism. The BBC claims to be an ‘impartial’ public service. But increasingly it is becoming a state broadcasting service, staffed by and answerable to the establishment.
Any opposition within the BBC from its workforce, meanwhile, is suppressed by the fear of what the government will do to the Beeb’s funding should it not toe the line.
Bosses Broadcasting Corporation
Ironically, the BBC has in recent years been attacked by the likes of the Daily Mail, the Express and the Telegraph - as well as more than the odd right-wing politician - for supposedly being too left-wing. These reactionary rags declare the BBC to be the ‘Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation’.
Yet even before the recent kowtowing to the Tory Party, evidence compiled by researchers at Cardiff University showed that the BBC’s news reporting and programmes tended to favour the Tories over Labour - and big business and City types over trade unionists.
For example, during the height of the 2008-09 financial crisis, virtually the only voices to be heard commenting on the situation were from the finance sector and the political establishment.
The same can be seen during any strike or demonstration, when it is always the bosses and Tory politicians who are approached for comment, and never workers or activists - if such protests are covered at all!
Tory cruelty swept under the carpet. BBC Panorama cancels programme on Universal Credit. @BBCPolitics can no longer sweep their innate bias against Labour under the carpet. #BrokenMedia pic.twitter.com/i8aDD7e6dp— (((Neil Turner #RenationaliseTheNHS))) (@chezzy51) December 4, 2019
For a workers’ media!
The working class cannot rely on the BBC to report on their struggles and conditions. The BBC is supposed to be a public asset - owned by and for the people (who pay for it after all). We say it must act like that.
The creeping privatisation inside the BBC must be stopped and reversed. Its public funding must be preserved and protected. But this shouldn’t mean unfairly penalising the old and the poor.
The money is there to pay for it - without resorting to what is essentially a regressive tax in the form of the licence fee. The wealth needed for a properly funded, publicly-owned broadcaster is right there, sitting in the vaults of the big banks and multinationals.
More than that, the BBC must be taken out of the hands of the rich elite who currently dominate the upper echelons of the Corporation. Control must instead be put into the hands of ordinary people and workers, so that all views and opinions are reflected fairly. This means democratising the service, and opening it up to input from the people who do the actual work there.
Attention in recent days has focussed on Downing Street’s attempts to cherry pick which news outlets are able to report on government announcements. No doubt the Tories would like to silence any critical voices in the media, in order to create a more pliant press.
But this only raises the wider question of the domination of the whole media - TV, radio, press, etc. - by a handful of billionaires and global corporations. Two individuals - Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere - have a dominant stake in the national press, which is used to shape public opinion in the interests of British capitalism. Indeed, just three companies between them control 83% of the national newspaper market.
Nationalisation, workers’ control, and the opening up of the major media giants for the use and benefit of all of us therefore remains a key issue. The slow death of the BBC must serve to remind us of why we need to fight for a media of our own - run by workers, for workers!