It seems that Sunny provoked a bit of a row over at CiF with 'Liberals: abandon the BBC', sparking a couple of comment thread tear ups under the piece, over at Pickled Politics and at Iain Dale's reaction. Obsolete and Unity have offered their thoughts, which are more than worth a look, and I think it's probably time for me to offer my tuppence worth.
This is new territory for me, since this is a single issue blog about the excesses of the right wing press rather than having much to do with the wider media and political arena. Yes, I know the issue of whether the BBC have a left or right wing bias does come close to what I talk about here, but it's a comfortable cell I live in, padded as it is with copies of the Sun, Express and Daily Mail. Any change of scenery is daunting. Bear with me.
To start with the most obvious point - the BBC doesn't have a left wing bias. Don't be so chuffing silly. Seriously, stop it. The cherrypicking of stories that Biased BBC does often makes me cackle and knock the back of my head against the padding on the cell wall behind me. A great recent example is the furore over the BBC Newsround's explanation of 9/11 on the website, which was originally pretty darn close to the 9/11 Commission's own coverage.
What those who attack the BBC for being left wing are often doing is attacking it for not having a right wing bias - or a bias far enough to the right for their liking. The situation now isn't that different from the one back in 1982 when the BBC was attacked for being a bunch of lefties when it refused to refer to 'our' soldiers in the Falklands war. The Conservative government's real problem then was that the BBC wasn't pumping out sufficient propaganda for it.
The BBC isn't left-wing - it's just not as far to the right as some right wingers would like. Its political coverage, as has been pointed out, tends to range from New Labour to Conservative to back again. This may shock some people, so hold onto your hats - but New Labour isn't particularly left wing itself. No, really. I find it funny that one commentator on Sunny's original CiF piece thought that giving Alastair Campbell coverage was evidence of a left wing bias. Especially as the BBC also included Campbell getting a mauling from John Humphreys. Does that mean there's a right wing bias then? Ooh, brainaches!
Politics in this country has been towed rightward by New Labour. The arguments we hear from politicians don't range so much from right to left anymore as from right to, well, a bit less right. The party that used to be the centrist party is now the furthest major party to the left, and not because it has moved. Labour Ministers can get thanked by the BNP for the help they've given to their campaigning, for flip's sake. It's not exactly the DPRK here. The BBC reflects that rightward shift to a degree.
But I like the BBC. I think it does provide a useful antidote to the right wing rubbish in the press. The rightwinger's strawman, as displayed nicely by Iain Dale in response to Sunny's piece, would say that this is evidence that the BBC is left wing. But it isn't. It's really not hard to be to the left of most of the press in this country - because most of it is so far to the right that it actively distorts, misrepresents and lies to make its points, as I cover here until even I'm bored of it. Anything short of pretending reports have said things they haven't, or reporting that people have done things they haven't to push a right wing agenda would be to the left of the bulk of the tabloid press. I think the BBC on the whole does a good job of producing a balanced view not because it agrees with my position, because it doesn't, but because it doesn't agree with the position of those further to the right of it, and it at least tries to be impartial and to correctly report events.
Unity's point about the BBC providing a bullshit detector, already quoted by Sunny, is a very important one. Part of the reason Sky News isn't Fox is that it would look incredibly stupid next to the BBC if it were. If that's true (and I think it is), lord knows where the tabloids would be.
Recently though, that has been changing. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that the BBC have been following the media herd to a greater degree. An example, as Obsolete points out, is the pointless blanket coverage of the Madeline McCann story. Another reason is the success of the likes of Biased BBC in getting things changed, which is what Sunny points out at CiF. Both of these things lead to things like the BBC giving coverage to MigrationWatch when they really don't deserve it. MigrationWatch's reaction to all things immigration are included across the media as if they're worth listening to when, as they proved in January, they're not. Somehow, the views of a bunch of anti-immigration blowhards with a fax who don't even bother to check if the figures they use measure what they say they do have been given national importance. The BBC are complicit in this, even if their reaction is sometimes sceptical.
Obviously, I'd like this rightward drift to be stopped. Like Sunny says, a good way of achieving this would be to shout as loud as Biased BBC when there are examples of right wing buffoonery. When I got to the bottom of the massive blunder in MigrationWatch's 'small Mars bar a week' GDP per head calculations earlier in the year, I did email the BBC but never heard anything back. A greater volume of voices might have managed much more. I'm all for calling the BBC on their more obviously biased right wing output whenever it appears. It would have been nice for one national news outlet to even have bothered to cover that the main figure MigrationWatch used to come up with its 'small Mars bar a week' figure actually measured something completely different to what it claimed, and without that, all that happened is that I eventually managed to get the report quietly changed on the MigrationWatch website, which nobody seems to ever have noticed. Does anybody know that the 4p a week per head figure was complete rubbish?
That said though, like Obsolete, I have to disagree that we should withdraw support for the BBC. The BBC has its very existence attacked enough without me adding my voice to the chorus. As much of the success of Biased BBC shows, the loudest squeak gets the oil and in among the 'The BBC is rubbish' chorus, the loudest squeak would come from those calling for the BBC to be privatised. That would be a disaster.
Here's the thing. Politicians are unscrupulous. All you'd need is an administration fed up with the BBC and a large portion of the public being anti-BBC, and bubbye Beeb as we know it. It wouldn't matter a jot to someone unscrupulous to take a large number of people dissatisfied with the BBC and use it as a reason to privatise it, even if a large chunk of that crowd were explicitly anti-privatisation. This would go double, treble and even further if that unscrupulous person were a right winger, because a privatised BBC would almost definitely shift way off to the right. That's why right wingers like to argue for it. And that would happen not because the public are mostly right wing and like to pay money for right wing news sources, as right wingers like to believe, but because the large corporations that pay large amounts of money for advertising to right wing news sources are mostly right wing. The broadcast media would then drift the same way as the tabloid. So bubbye BBC coverage as we know it and hello 'Bombers are all spongeing asylum seekers' headlines. Where would anyone be able to find an alternative then?
Even subscripton would be a disaster. The alternative voice of the BBC would then only be heard by those willing to pay for it, and everyone else would be spared ever having to have their views challenged. There's a reason left wingers are labeled 'Guardianistas' and 'the PC Brigade'. It's done to remove any need to actually listen to them. The output of the BBC is caricatured by the likes of Biased BBC and Twatface Littlejohn enough as it is without access to what the BBC actually says being restricted only to those prepared to pay for it. The tabloids do very well lying about and distorting what reports by people they don't agree with actually say, safe in the knowledge that their readers will never bother checking. The BBC would become just another organisation its possible to be dishonest about, for both the tabloids and rival media networks.
Now, one final strawman buster before I go and regret publishing this. When I say the BBC is an alternative voice to the right wing media, I'm not arguing that it's left wing, just that it's further to the left than the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun, and that's not hard. I'm saying it's an alternative because it at least tries not only to be impartial, and to actually report facts as they occur. I'd like it to remain available to all because it makes it possible for someone who's read the Express's coverage of, say, an MCB report, to have a chance to see what the MCB actually said, as opposed to what the Express pretended it did. I'd like for people to be able to see Chief Constable Spence's requests for funding for Cambridgeshire police themselves - which they can if they visit the BBC site, which links to it - rather than read a deluge of stories to twist it to say we're being held hostage by Eastern Europeans - like the Mail has devoted several stories and leaders to. If the right wing tabloids (and broadsheets, sometimes) were less cavalier with the truth and more inclined to report in good fath, I might be more critical of the Beeb. They're not, so I'm not. Not because the Beeb is left wing, but because it's more likely to at least attempt to report events in good faith and not distort them, or even make them up in the first place.
Phew. Finished. Off to butt my head against the picture of a swarthy Eastern European immigrant out to cause crime and scrounge off our dole on my padded wall now.