Monday, December 09, 2019

It's been a tough few weeks for supporters of the BBC...

I am, on the whole, a glass half-full sort of person. I have a worrying tendency to assume that people are acting for the best of motives unless there is evidence to the contrary. Most people are, after all, broadly honest, kind to animals and want the best for those around them.

But, and let's be honest here, this election campaign has been to truth what Attila the Hun was to good neighbour schemes. And it's not just politicians who should carry the blame - the media have their share of responsibility too.

Today's incident when Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that one of Matt Hancock's team was punched by a Labour activist turned out not to be even vaguely accurate was perhaps the nadir of the campaign. She claimed to have two sources, neither of whom she is even now willing to name, despite the fact that the video was out there, demonstrating that her report was untrue - and no, I can't give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that it was a simple mistake.

I don't know who her two sources were, and she is within her rights not to tell, but it appears that she took their word at face value, and is happy to protect them from the consequences of their lies. In other words, she accepted the word of people who clearly had an interest in a particular slant to the story, and broadcast that to 1.1 million people without even a basic fact check. That isn't journalism, it's propaganda, and even if she didn't mean to promote the views of one or other party, that's exactly what she achieved. A lie, propagated by a notional credible, neutral source, was off around the world, and she is to blame.

She wasn't alone, of course, as Robert Peston was equally quick to point the finger. And yes, they have both subsequently apologised but the basic premise of journalism seems to have been lost by both of them.

And the sad thing is that, at a time when the BBC should be striving to be as neutral as a state broadcaster should be, and in the face of calls for it to be stripped of its state funding via the licence fee, such "mistakes" drive its natural supporters to shrug their shoulders and countenance a world without its key public sector broadcaster.

I would consider myself to be, in principle, a defender of a public broadcasting service, dedicated to entertaining and informing in equal measure. But what do you do if said institution turns out to be, in all honesty, as much part of the problem as it is the solution to media bias? Can politicians and political activists really defend the BBC against the charge that the licence fee is anti-competitive and, in an age of mass media, a subsidy from Sky TV viewers to those who watch BBC1 or BBC2? And, more importantly, will it be defended with any great enthusiasm?

And yet, there has to be an alternative to privately-owned media, free to pursue their own political agenda. For private media are, in the main, owned by the wealthy, whose interests tend not to be those of the general public. Most of our broadsheets are owned by people who prefer not to pay their tax here (or anywhere else, come to that), and thus have little interest in the quality of public services except as a stick to beat politicians with. They also tend to be less favourable towards redistribution, equality and diversity - all of which tend to work against their personal interests. And it is their right as private citizens to hold such views. It's just that they seek to persuade other people, whose interests might not be quite the same, to vote in a particular way, and have the means to do so. Not exactly an level playing field for political campaigners and perhaps worthy of scrutiny.

Today, the Leader of the Conservative Party brought into question the future of the licence fee, and there wasn't exactly a rush to defend it. In such ways do our institutions crumble and die...

1 comment:

nigel hunter said...

Are you going to put this on LDV for Lib Dem members to discuss?