The BBC : enablers of British nationalist authoritarianism

The BBC has always insisted that it is politically neutral and unbiased, even as it broadcasts a debate programme from the independence supporting predominantly working class city of Dundee with an audience that seemed to be mostly composed of middle class Brexit supporting Conservatives with English accents. Allegations of pro-government and anti-Scottish independence bias in the BBC are even more numerous than the allegations of Conservative sleaze to which the Corporation pays remarkably little attention. To give just one example, the BBC ignored the allegations about the business dealings of Conservative peer Michelle Mone until they were headline news in various newspapers and were dominating the news agenda. Compare and contrast with the BBC’s hounding of the SNP’s Michelle Thomson over allegations of sharp business practices which were later proven to be unfounded.

However in recent weeks the BBC has lost the plot and its claims to political neutrality have been left as credible as Boris Johnson’s protestations of honesty and moral probity. We can begin with the BBC’s claim that there is nothing untoward with the appointment of Richard Sharp, a Conservative party donor and friend of Boris Johnson to the position of chair of its board of directors just days after he allegedly helped to facilitate a personal loan of £800,000 to the former Prime Minister. This positively reeks of cronyism and if it had happened in any other country the press in the UK would have no hesitation of calling it out as corruption. But Sharp appeared before a committee of MPs and pointedly refused to apologise for what the committee described as ‘significant errors of judgement’ and continued to insist he had not ‘facilitated’ any money changing hands in the weeks before his appointment was announced in February 2021, nor had he gained from it, saying he had instead ‘ensured due process was followed’. To which an outside independent observer can only retort that if this is ‘due process’ there is something seriously awry with the process.

Last week it came out that not only did Johnson nominate his pal as the chair of the board of the BBC, he has also decided to give a knighthood to his father Stanley Johnson, who was alleged by his ex-wife, Boris Johnson’s mother, to have assaulted her and broken her nose. If nothing else this proves that Boris Johnson bases his decisions on personal considerations and not on the individual’s appropriateness. When the subject of Johnson giving a knighthood to a wife beater was raised during last week’s edition of BBC Question Time, host Fiona Bruce, who is rapidly gaining a reputation as a shameless apologist for the worst excesses of the Conservative party, replied : “Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen, it was a one off.”

It’s like complaining about being called a cannibal and protesting that you only ate human flesh just the one time. It’s hard to believe that Fiona Bruce or any other prominent BBC presenter be so quick to excuse an alcoholic on benefits living on a council estate who had broken his wife’s nose ‘just that one time’. In fact Stanley Johnson’s ex-wife alleged that Stanley Johnson had a pattern of violent, controlling, and abusive behaviour throughout their marriage.

Last week however, the eagerness of the BBC to placate the worst behaviour of the Conservative party was most clearly illustrated by its response to a tweet by sports presenter Gary Lineker condemning the cruel and inhumane asylum policy of the government which trashes international human rights laws and heaps further misery upon already poor and desperate people, all in order to pander to the worst racist instincts of the right wing press and the frothing British nationalist wing of the Conservative party. Lineker had denounced the policy saying : “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ’30s.” He was not wrong, the language used by Suella Braverman is cruel and dehumanising, but his tweet was immediately followed by the performative outrage we have come to expect from the Conservative party and its apologists as the people who habitually rail against ‘cancel culture’ sought to have Lineker cancelled. In Conservative Britain it’s a far worse sin to call someone out for taking a leaf out of the fascist playbook than it is to actually act like a fascist.

Of course the BBC bowed to Conservative pressure and took action against Lineker. The Corporation notably took no action against The Apprentice presenter Alan Sugar who regularly uses his Twitter account to rail against trade unions and who recently dismissed the majority of people who work from home as ‘lazy gits.’ It’s only Conservative sensibilities which need to be protected and platformed.

An analysis of Laura Kuenssberg’s flagship politics and current affairs show and the guests on BBC Question Time backs this up. In the six months that Kuenssberg’s programme has been broadcast the show has followed the same pattern as BBC Question Time in disproportionately featuring right wing figures. Tory MPs are twice as likely to be invited on as Labour ones and commentators with right-wing connections are also much more likely to feature than those with links to the left. A count of panellists on BBC Question time finds that 29 right-wing media figures compared to 4 left-wing media figures have appeared on the show since the start of last year. There have been 14 employers but only 6 representatives of trades unions. It’s all drearily predictable, and that’s before addressing the issue of audiences seemingly composed of G Beebies viewers.

Last week the Guardian alleged that one episode of the upcoming David Attenborough series on wildlife and nature in the British Isles will only be available online and will not be broadcast on terrestrial television along with the rest of the series because the BBC fears that the episode, which deals with the destruction of nature in Britain will provoke a backlash from the Conservative right. The BBC has denied the report, claiming that only five episodes were ever intended to be broadcast on TV and the sixth was only ever going to be available online, which sounds very like special pleading and the same kind of ‘due process’ that Richard Sharp follows. Why is it that an episode focussing on issues which are likely to attract the ire of Conservatives was, uniquely in the series, ‘never intended’ to be broadcast on BBC1? The BBC doesn’t say.

The truth is that the BBC is an agent of the British state and is too timid to stand up to the political party that governs in Westminster. The Corporation has been on this tajectory for some years, giving Nigel Farage a platform out of all proportion to his importance and creating an Anglo-British nationalist monster which now demands to be regularly fed. The BBC is now a creature of the right wing forces which have captured a British state with few effective democratic checks and balances. Every inch that the BBC concedes to the forces of anti-democratic right wing anglo-British nationalism only emboldens them to push even further. Fascism does not march up on a country proclaiming itself to be fascist. It sneaks in, in smart suits, proclaiming itself to be the friend of the ‘common man’ against a demonised and stigmatised minority which is depicted as a threat to decency and our way of life. It claims like Suella Braverman does, to be decent and law abiding. And the BBC will not only let it tell its lies, it will give it a platform to do so.


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