Saturday, January 22, 2011

Peter Sissons on the BBC mindset

Much of the output of the British Broadcasting Corporation is wonderful. But I have increasing doubts about their News and Current Affairs operation.

Sometimes they still produce brilliant work - witness the Panarama programme I linked to less than a week ago. But it has been obvious to many people outside the corporation for years that they have a strong cultural mindset and that it is often difficult for views outside that mindset to get a fair hearing on the BBC.

You don't often hear the same view expressed by BBC insiders, but Peter Sissons, who was for many years a top rank news presenter whose career included ITN, the BBC, and Channel four news, has written an autobiography, "When One Door Closes" which will be available on Amazon from 1st February, and which contains some trenchant views on the BBC, some of which are reported by the Daily Mail here.

His view is that, while the word "bias" is too blunt to describe the way the BBC collectively thinks,

"At the core of the BBC, in its very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left."

He goes on

"the one thing guaranteed to damage your career prospects at the BBC is letting it be known that you are at odds with the prevailing and deep-rooted BBC attitude towards Life, the Universe, and Everything.

"At any given time there is a BBC line on everything of importance, a line usually adopted in the light of which way its senior echelons believe the political wind is ­blowing. This line is rarely spelled out explicitly, but percolates subtly throughout the organisation.

"Whatever the United Nations is associated with is good — it is heresy to question any of its activities. The EU is also a good thing, but not quite as good as the UN. Soaking the rich is good, despite well-founded economic arguments that the more you tax, the less you get. And Government spending is a good thing, although most BBC ­people prefer to call it investment, in line with New Labour’s terminology.

"All green and environmental groups are very good things. Al Gore is a saint. George Bush was a bad thing, and thick into the bargain."


One comment he makes which I regret I can confirm from personal experience is that

"Complaints from viewers may invariably be met with the BBC’s stock response, ‘We don’t accept that, so get lost’."

The language is vastly more polite, but the meaning of the responses to complaints I have sent in was exactly that. It was transparently obvious that the (anonymous) BBC functionary who "replied" to my most recent complaint had not bothered to read it properly. He or she merely sent me a exactly the same reply which had been sent to a slightly different complaint about the same programme from Dan Hannan MEP, - Dan had published their reply on his blog and the two responses were word for word identical- which in my case included a defence of something which I had specifically made clear I was not complaining about, with no sign of any attention whatsoever paid to what I was.

I would hate to see the good parts of the BBC damaged. But for all viewers and listeners to be forced through the license fee to pay for a body which consistently promotes certain attitudes is neither reasonable not, in the long run, tenable.

Perhaps a very long-term solution is to ban the BBC from doing all its' recruitment advertising through the Guardian. But more effective safeguards against bias are also needed.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Could I recommend a visit to the MediaLens website ? They regularly take the BBC to task over a multitude of issues.

I cannot accept the accusation that the BBC is firmly rooted on the left. The BBC would only give 2% of its airtime to people opposed to the 2003 Iraq war, whilst 98% went to those in favour. Its pro-Israel stance is shocking - remember how they wouldn't broadcast an appeal for Gaza. Their pro-American reporters such as Gavin Esler, Matt Frei and others are an affront to decent journalism. How is a pro-EU stance left wing ? I remember the likes of Tony Benn and Michael Foot being very anti.