Add the BBC to the long list of proud British institutions destroyed by the Tories
During the Second World War BBC radio transmissions, using secret code words, coordinated resistance fighters in their fight against the Nazis. The BBC World Service, broadcast in countless languages across the world has for nearly 100 years provided people everywhere with a free and objective news service, a source of information in their fight against tyrannical leaders. The Taliban tried to ban the BBC but couldn’t – there was uproar because people didn’t want to lose access to their favourite radio soap opera. The Taliban caved, the BBC continued to broadcast.
The BBC is the ultimate soft power tool – worth more than a fleet of aircraft carriers at projecting British values around the world. At making the world safe for democracy. Any other country would pay hundreds of billions for a similar service in its own name.
Sometimes you meet foreigners who mistake the BBC for a state news service – much as you’d find elsewhere in the world, parroting the party line. This is the global norm. But the BBC is, or at least was, not the norm. It was above that. The BBC is no Russia Today. No CGTN. It is exceptional.
The BBC is an independent news organisation – with its own revenue stream (The UK TV Licence) – free from government interference. It has a charter to be free and independent, to report the news objectively and clearly, to educate and inform – simply put, to make the world a better place. It is, along with the concept of the NHS, one of the things Britain can boast about. Up there, top three, of our greatest innovations and contributions to mankind.
As a young student I remember being proud, in the gloom of the disastrous Iraq War, that the BBC was being sued by the government for reporting on the ‘dodgy dossier’ that was being used to justify their actions. There could be no clearer evidence of the BBC’s independence – at the height of a highly controversial issue – the news service continued to report the evidence as it saw it – sticking the knife into the government’s argument and exposing it for the lie that it was. Exceptional stuff. It made me walk a bit taller. That’s how ‘proper’ countries did things, we had built-in self-regulating institutions, free from political pressures – and we all benefit as a result. That’s how things should be done.
Then the Tories came along. Ever since 2010, and especially after 2015 when they lost the stablising influence of their Lib Dem coalition partners. Attack after attack in Tory leaning newspapers, ridiculed by the unreformed older generation for being too ‘Politically Correct’. Attacked and hassled, so much so that in a superb act of self-awareness the BBC even commissioned its own parody show “W1A”. But behind the jokes, it was reeling just as it went into the most important event of the last ten years. Brexit. The zeitgeist was now anti-intellectual, anti-fact, anti-truth, as Michael Gove, former Tory Education expert (yes, Education) put it, “We’ve had enough of experts”. Suddenly vox pop was about as daring as the BBC wanted to be, a 5 second clip of an economics professor, business leader or a senior diplomat expressing the sheer calamity of a ‘leave’ vote was sandwiched, buried and covered up by a chorus of people that former PM Brown would have called “that bigoted woman”. Angry voices from the streets, spitting bile about people with funny accents, about a misdirected fear of school places and hospital beds vanishing before them. It was all those fit and healthy Polish 23 year olds that were simultaneously clogging up hospitals, stealing all our jobs and claiming unemployment benefits. The BBC grossly mistook its responsibilities, indeed it deliberately did so to avoid upsetting the government. Not once did they seriously question the leave voter logic.
Fast forward to today. The slide that began in 2010 has now hit a new low.
First, the World Service had its budget slashed, BBC Arabia was abolished. I mean, come on, the Taliban itself couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Tyrants from Kabul to Pyongyang partied hard that night. Britain’s soft power – squashed by another self-inflicted wound. Then the new boss of the BBC, Tim Davie, not an impartial appointee – but rather chosen by Boris Johnson, the most corrupt PM in living memory. Just as Putin might do – putting his own people in charge of the major outlets. Davies is a former Tory politician, who had expressed a desire to crush the BBC and who the year prior personally organised a loan of 800,000GBP for the Prime Minister. Corruption has rarely been this obvious in Britain.
Under Davie’s influence the rot has continued – deliberately led from the top this time. A captain determined to run the ship into the rocks. BBC Question Time, the flagship debate program, is now led by Fiona Bruce, a not so covert Tory. All data analysis of her tenure as chairwoman of the debates shows she routinely allows right wing speakers more time to air their views than those on the left and challenges them far less often. The show, once a serious theatre for political debate, increasingly has the look and feel of a Fox News segment, or a Stalin show trial, with audience members shouting abuse at anyone daring to criticise the government and a chairperson mocking their attempts to justify their statements above the roar of the mob.
Move on to the most recent debacle involving the sports commentator, Gary Lineker. Forced to stand down after he tweeted that the Home Secretary was using language not unlike that seen in 1930s Germany to describe migrants. Which is, it should be noted, a factually correct statement – the Home Secretary, by far the most right-wing politician to ever hold the post, routinely refers to migrants using dehumanising or deliberately provocative terms. “Swarms”, “Aliens”, “Invasions” … All words routinely used by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Lineker is a sports journalist, not a news presenter, and therefore has signed no agreement to keep quiet in his personal life about political affairs. He had every right to say what he did.
Yet the response was incredible – right wing papers (e.g. almost all of them in Britain, as the Tories continue their Putin style take over of the British media) were up in arms, the so called ‘Common Sense’ group of Tory PMs (of which, shamefully, Ipswich MP Ton Hunt is a member) were calling for the firing of the sports presenter. In the end, thankfully, counter pressure from what remains of the left forced the BBC’s hand – Davies realised that he may have over reached – but he’d already achieved his aim – he’d sowed further doubt about the BBC’s impartiality. Both at home and abroad – the life blood of the institution. The Tory vampire continues to weaken its victim, one bite at a time.
The point is this – Britain doesn’t have much going for it these days. The Tories have seen to that. Brexit, lies, corruption and incompetence have eroded our major global USP – the British sense of fair play. Foreign companies (even foreign dictators) routinely use British courts – or invest in British property – because they know it is a safe place to do so. The rule of law is strong. Nobody will cheat you out of your wealth unfairly in Britain. Or at least, that was the logic. And we benefitted immensely from it, it was one part of our imperial legacy that still allowed us to ‘punch above our weight’. While the Royal Navy no longer ruled the waves, the BBC could rule the airwaves and promote democracy and respect for human rights around the world. It was awesome.
It has now gone. The damage has been done.
The Tories have destroyed one of our finest institutions.
Repairing the damage will take decades.