An Alternative Proposal for the BBC

BBC archive centre entrance

by Douglas Carter

I want to pay more money for product from the BBC. 

That’s not an intentionally incendiary sentiment. In terms, it’s exactly the correct phrase. I wish to go on paying the licence fee and augment my subscription for additional product the BBC already owns. Product of which, in fact, the BBC has custodianship for decades before I was even born.

In that, I do not wish any reader here to be paying extra for the BBC in an involuntary manner. In fact I’m in full agreement with those who will be reading if they can’t justify to themselves paying for a product they are likely to at least not use. Or very possibly in terms of broadcast product, despise; and to whom the notion an individual can be legally hounded for non-payment for a licence linked to a product they don’t use is an affront.

I’m going to suggest something the BBC will resist with energy. However in principle this should be looked at as ‘difficult’, but not ‘insurmountable’.

The BBC will operate on the principle of ‘insurmountable’. 

I’m talking about the BBC archive.

The BBC has an archive of records which aren’t just pre-broadcast recordings. They have many tens of millions of celluloid stills and unused and unedited materials of all kinds. Nobody can see them. Or use them. Even previously broadcast programmes they retain but cannot release for subsequent access. 

At this stage when I first discussed this with my friend, and Blog custodian, Sam Hooper, I gave him a link to a thirty-five year old YouTube BBC News bulletin. A particularly mundane and unremarkable one. I do not link it here since I feel confident that somebody linked to the BBC, somewhere, will feel under an obligation to strive to have YouTube take it down.

I have no idea why somebody would have uploaded it to YouTube – it was an unexeptional day’s news and of no particular interest to myself. But they obviously cared sufficiently about it to do so. However, the recording in terms is not strictly legal. It’s not really supposed to exist and whilst I can watch it illegally, the BBC would block me attempting to buy a copy of this news bulletin from them.

In context, in your own mind, name yourself a personal enthusiasm – Sam here might choose an orchestral rendition of a piece of which he is immeasurably fond. YouTube it, and see how many pieces are from BBC recordings. It won’t take you long, whether art, sport, news, even weather forecasts. Few of which you can buy from the BBC. Recordings in the archive but forever immune to access by the Licence Fee payer.

The subjects listed were associated with a BBC broadcast will have had BBC photographers in attendance taking reels of celluloid film of the events. These will have been taken in cameras funded by the licence fee payer, the reels of film funded by the same source, and those lucky people also paying for the development of those reels. However, that’s as far as their participation is welcome. No ordinary licence fee payer can access those photos. To reiterate, I don’t know why somebody would wish to access those photos. But if they exist, I see no logical reason the BBC should act to prevent a paying enthusiast securing photographs via this method?

Neither should such an enthusiast nor researcher be under any obligation to give justification or reason for such access.

Under the current terms, these celluloid films will be digitized for future prosperity. So, whilst nobody today can see them, they will be perfectly preserved so in two hundred years time, nobody can see them then either. For the life of me I cannot explain to me the logic of that. (I’m talking about BBC-originated product and staff – not material from contracted-out sources who will usually be quite happy to have people purchase matter from their historic archives).

The restrictions the BBC – and other broadcasters – must follow are subjectively logical and historic. Very frequently they act to protect intellectual property for brief showings of – for example – film clips or music videos, the copyright for which the BBC does not own. However, it’s quite simple to demonstrate those restrictions have been definitively breached. Jericho’s walls are tumbling down. The BBC cannot police the internet to remove recordings – and if they attempted to do so, their efforts would be just a drop in the ocean. It would also be a waste of resources.

Instead I would wish the BBC to be directed, compelled, by Government to recognise the collossal cultural and historic wealth at hand in the Archive and make use of it. I want the government to tell the BBC to sell me what I want, if they already have it. I want the government to tell the BBC to take my money, whether they like it or not. So, not only am I not complaining about paying the licence fee, I want to pay more. I’m not trying to take it illicitly, I’m happy to pay for it. Whilst the BBC makes ‘some’ of its archive available, it’s via very narrow terms of reference. Step outside them, and they will not attempt to assist.

Other restrictions, in a very small and limited example in a vast minefield, relate to royalty payments for programming staff and broadcasters who can no longer be contacted. There is a precedent. Gordon Brown permitted the Treasury to take funds from UK bank accounts which had been inactive for a specified period. I understand those funds can be returned to the legitimate custodian with relevant supporting evidence. I suggest income from accessing the archive be put in trust – say – with the support of ‘Equity’, the performers Union, so the relevant funding can be suitably and fairly accounted for, and disbursed. Just one simplistic aspect of a complex problem.

But the BBC can take a lead on this. It has, as a corporation, as a brand, taken long-pride in describing itself as a ‘world leader’ in its fields. It can, it should, recognise the internationally-agreed rules can no longer sustain with the existence of the internet and open a dialogue to have all broadcasters – state and private – internationally, to open their archives fully. The release of this material will add incalculably to cultural and historic resource and to continue to deny this material to paying customers defies logic, is already subject to widespread breach, and continued application to failing legislation is dogmatic folly. This is a wealth belonging to the licence fee payer, effectively the UK taxpayer. If the BBC can’t work out how to make money from it then they should not be its custodian. But to continue to hoard all this material unseen and unused is simply and morally insupportable.

A proposal. That a voluntary ‘Upper-Standard’ Licence fee be made available, at a cost of £350 per annum total. That the licence fee holder be permitted to download, permanently, an additional two hundred hours of BBC archive footage of any and every kind, and up to, and including, one thousand still images of any and every subject, from the entire archive held.

As a very limited ‘for example’, I’d buy every broadcast edition of ‘Newsnight’ across the period of the 1982 Falklands War, with associated unedited and unbroadcast material, and access to all celluloid film reels taken in-theatre and in the buildup of logistical forces in the UK prior to deployment. Doubtless somebody else would wish the same access to footage of their favoured football team.

I don’t want to steal it, I want to pay for it. If the BBC won’t let me buy it, give it to somebody else and let them sell it to me.

I don’t use what the BBC is churning out today, and have not for some years now. It’s not good enough, I don’t watch it or listen to it. I do believe its output has become very heavily biased in political and social senses. That’s academic. But I continue to pay the licence fee and I want what the BBC is custodian of, to pay extra for it. And I want the government to recognise the discontinuity and compel the BBC to assist in unwinding this Gordian Knot. 

It will be very difficult. I’m not pretending this is a simple proposal by any means. But as I’ve already established, ‘difficult’ is not ‘insurmountable’. It will depend on the sincerity of the BBC in recognising a balance between its charter obligations and acknowledging the incalculable unrealised value of the Archive it resides upon. It will also depend on an approach by those above it to smell the coffee. 

Last but not least, a recognition that the status-quo is demonstrably broken on the matter. But if the BBC holds out on this, pretending the problem is too immense to assault, then their Archive is a folly. Its reason to exist will become existence in its own right, and for no other purpose. 

 

Very many thanks to Sam Hooper for permitting me space on his Semi-Partisan Politics weblog to air this view.
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I Watched The Mash Report So You Don’t Have To

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The world of comedy is almost uniformly left-wing and progressive, especially on British television. But will new satirical show The Mash Report be brave enough to confound expectations and take potshots at everyone, not just conservatives?

When a friend first introduced me to British satirical news website The Daily Mash back in 2010, I lost two full days of productive work time, ravenously reading back through their archives and laughing until it hurt. At its best, the Mash is a very funny publication, and a worthy and uniquely British answer to the great American satirical newspaper The Onion.

After the Tories (kind of) won the 2010 general election it was inevitable that the Mash’s unforgiving gaze would fall more heavily on conservatism than it did in the dying days of Gordon Brown’s tragicomic administration, and that we on the Right would be subject to a lot more ribbing than before. That is as it should be – good satire should devote much of its energy to mocking and belittling those in power, and taking them down a peg or two. And Lord knows that the Cameron/Osborne/Clegg trio – and now Theresa May’s clown show of an administration – have given the Mash more than enough prime material.

Sure, if one surveys the overall output of the Mash in recent years one gets the clear sense that their “normal” – the political reference point from which any departure triggers satirical mockery – sits somewhere on the centre-left. But I never really had an issue with their output until the EU referendum, where the Mash firmly planted its flag with the Remain camp on the side of the powerful establishment, subjecting Brexiteers to every lazy insult in the book while making it clear that only Remainers could be deemed “normal” and allowed to be in on the joke.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, in exasperation:

The worn-out old stereotype of Brexiteers as scarlet-faced, tweed-bedecked retired colonels hankering after a bygone age is self-evidently false. It fails the common sense test – over 17 million voters opted for Brexit, and there just aren’t enough retired colonels out there to deliver that kind of result.

But rather than actually take the time to understand Brexiteers and work out what makes them tick so as to better lampoon them (humour, after all, is always better when it is closely observational), publications like The Daily Mash sit back smugly and fall back on the familiar narrative of grumpy old men hankering for empire.

And that, of course, is their right. Nobody has to read The Daily Mash, and despite Britain’s increasingly tenuous commitment to free speech they can mock and lampoon whoever they like, as should be the case.

But how much better would their comedy be – how much wryer and punchier their humour – if the Mash writers actually took the time to really get to know a few more Brexiteers (so as to at least make fun of them for the right reasons), or even (heaven forfend) turn that caustic wit back on their own side once in a while?

A reasonable request, I think, but one which the Mash did not heed. Since I wrote those words in early March, the Mash has doubled down on its Brexit mockery, letting numerous establishment cretins off the hook for their mistakes, evasions and foibles as its wittiest writers spend their time skewering the good-hearted but sometimes inarticulate people who dare to express their support for Brexit.

And now the BBC is launching a new satirical television programme fronted by comedian Nish Kumar, entitled The Mash Report. The idea was partly to transpose the successful Mash format from internet to television, but it is also a very conscious effort to introduce the late-night, US-style satirical show made so popular in America by The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.

The British Comedy Guide trumpeted before the launch:

Nish Kumar will host the 10-part series, described as “an up to the minute, satirical news show”. Overseen by Princess Productions, it is being produced in conjunction with satirical website The Daily Mash, dubbed “Britain’s most popular original comedy website”.

Kumar has experience at hosting topical comedy, having previously helmed Radio 4 Extra sketch show Newsjack. He now presents Spotlight Tonight With Nish Kumar, a Radio 4 topical comedy which will end its current series next week.

Continuing:

BBC Two boss Patrick Holland says: “I am delighted that we are announcing this new topical comedy entertainment series from Princess. It is whip-smart, hugely timely and driven by some great new talent. I’d like to thank all the teams who contributed to the different pilots. The standard was exceptionally high, but we were drawn to The Mash Report’s blend of great satire allied with the surreal. It feels really innovative.”

It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the BBC’s Patrick Holland means when he says that The Mash Report is “hugely timely”. This is basically code for “Oh my god, what a dystopian age we live in now that Brexit is upon us, the Evil Tories are still in government and Donald Trump is president of the United States! Now more than ever we need a condescending new establishment-approved comedy show to fight back against the populist menace on behalf of the elites and put those Leave-voting troglodytes in their place”.

I hoped against hope that it would not be so. I did not want to be proven right – which is partly why I refrained from writing about the show until a couple of episodes had aired. But I can now officially say, having watched The Mash Report so you don’t have to, that it lives down to the very lowest of expectations.

The first anti-Brexit joke occurred three minutes and forty seconds into the show, after the opening pleasantries by host Nish Kumar (who channels John Oliver rather than Jon Stewart in overall tone). Now, one can’t be too angry about this one, aimed as it was at Boris Johnson, a man who is deserving of endless mockery. But still, this first jab confirmed some early suspicions and set the tone for what was to come.

The first identity politics joke – “I’m the first Asian comedian hosting a prime time comedy show, and now we’re coming for all your jobs! This is PC gone mad” (cue inexplicable delirious screaming from the audience) – occurred four minutes and fifty seconds into the show.

There then came a joke about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the context of Brexit, pleading for director Danny Boyle to come and take over the Brexit negotiations. As footage of the ceremony played, Kumar intoned “This is the last time any of you will be happy!”. Yes of course, because watching North Korean-style propagandists prance around in nurses’ uniforms deifying a failed socialised healthcare system is deliriously fantastic, while seeking to reclaim democracy and self-determination, and make political leaders properly accountable to the UK electorate again, is just awful beyond measure.

There was then a short interlude while The Mash Report made fun of David Davis’ name, while Boris Johnson was implausibly described as having the “political outlook of a Victorian man”. Seriously? Have the Mash Report writers ever seen Boris Johnson? Clearly not – but they are in no short supply of lazy, sixth form-style anti-conservative put-downs.

In the same week – particularly given that much of the show is given over to quickfire, Have I Got News For You-style picture caption jokes – the Mash Report could have spent thirty seconds making fun of this hilarious cover of The Green Parent magazine:

The Green Parent cover

God help that baby, particularly because the socially conscious father seems to be preparing to attempt to breastfeed (#SomeMenLactate). But no. The Mash Report – and the BBC in general – know exactly who their core audience are, and which demographics must be coddled and protected from offence at all times (yes, trendy green types very much make the list). The Mash Report already knows exactly who to flatter and who to insult mercilessly without fear of blowback for the naked bias on display.

Later in the show we are introduced to the show’s “religious affairs correspondent”. Already you know exactly where this is going – and indeed, precious minutes were spent laughing at the most unhinged of US evangelical Trump supporters and interviewing a rather loopy-looking Church of England minister who claimed that Jesus would have voted to Make America Great Again.

But perhaps I am being unfair. Even though this first outing was spent skewering Donald Trump and the American religious right, I’m fully confident that in future episodes we can expect all faiths (and none) to come in for equally barbed and scornful criticism. Right? Naturally if Hillary Clinton were currently president, the Mash Report would be mocking the Left’s overenthusiastic zeal for abortion and eagerness to make incursions on religious freedom.

One might have thought that a brand new satirical current affairs show could have something to say about the way that politicians and misguided apologists dither and prevaricate while Islamist extremists mercilessly butcher and wound innocent people going about their daily lives. But no – tumbleweeds. Let’s just bash a few crazy evangelical Christians and call it a job well done. That’s surely the only job of a religious affairs correspondent on a national late night comedy show.

And yet despite these many failings there were a few genuinely funny moments in the Mash Report. The recurring feature parodying the way that 24-hour news networks are desperate to broadcast viewers’ observations sent in via social media was accurate and very well done. The show generally worked best when riffing on non-political stories, like the Love Island reality TV phenomenon. It was also good to see some of the familiar recurring Mash vox-pop names crop up – hi, Tom Booker.

But the format often felt awkward and strained, an uncomfortable hybrid between the whip-smart Daily Show-style interactions between host and correspondent in one moment and much more clipped, Have I Got News For You-style dry witticisms and fake headlines the next. Though the blend was new, ultimately there was nothing original in either style or content – particularly not the near-constant left-wing preachiness.

The closest that The Mash Report came from escaping the gravity of bien-pensant leftist groupthink was a segment entitled “Bursting the Bubble”, featuring rare conservative comedian Geoff Norcott. For a moment my heart filled with hope – titling the segment “bursting the bubble” suggested an acknowledgement that all that had come before was rather one-sided, and that maybe now things would change. But no. The mere fact that the bubble is left-wing while the exterior is right-wing says it all about the show’s deep-rooted bias. The country may be divided nearly 50/50 but the BBC and the Mash Report see fit to ghettoise conservatives into a four-minute slot at the end of the episode, much like Maybelle Stubbs’ monthly Negro Day on the Corny Collins Show in Hairspray.

And even Geoff Norcott proved to be something of a turncoat, choosing to play the role of performing seal for the ogling leftist audience rather than attempting to hit back and mock any progressive, left-wing shibboleths. For example, when discussing Our Blessed NHS, Norcott cited the fact that “people live” (rather than dying before old age) as a problem which vexes Evil Conservatives like him.

“The elderly, Nish – they should be dead by now. Just sitting it out, hanging on in there…” Norcott moaned to the show’s host, while the bovine leftist audience clapped gleefully as every single one of their anti-conservative prejudices were confirmed before their very eyes. How exactly is this “bursting the bubble”? If anything Norcott’s role in the Mash Report was more like Samuel L Jackson’s in Django Unchained, the obedient slave performing for Leonardo DiCaprio and hamming up the servile stereotypes as much as possible. The Guardian approves of his comedy act because he is willing to debase himself and play the Evil Tory stereotype. But any real conservative who watched Norcott’s first cringe-inducing segment on the Mash Report must despise the man. I certainly do.

What didn’t we see in the show? Well, there was nothing substantive about the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP or the Green Party for a start. Nothing about how so many of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner court have fallen over themselves to praise Venezuela in recent years, even as socialist policies pushed that country toward its current precipice. And you can be sure that all of these people will be largely protected from satirical scrutiny as the series progresses. If they are ever criticised it will be in the context of their ineptitude in thwarting the conservative agenda (whatever that may be) rather than because of the nature of their own beliefs.

But the show did go out with a bang, with a field report about a traumatised middle class family who – gasp! – had to ride the Megabus coach to London rather than travelling in the style to which they were accustomed. Again, nothing wrong with the individual joke – and to be fair, the Mash makes fun of Waitrose shoppers as much as they do people who buy their lunch at Gregg’s. But place it in the context of the overall show and the Mash Report’s emerging worldview is quite clear.

And so is the message about who this new comedy show is designed to amuse. Basically, if you are conservative, working class, a Brexiteer, a Christian, a social conservative, a traditionalist or (heaven forfend) a Ukipper then don’t bother tuning in unless you want to be the butt of every joke for twenty-six minutes, the only respite being the other four minutes where a two-dimensional cartoon parody of you cavorts in the guest seat, pastiching your sincerely-held views for the amusement of host Nish Kumar and his bovine left-wing audience.

In short The Mash Report is exactly as bad as I feared, and as you probably expected. What a letdown. What a squandering of comedic potential. What a great pity.

 

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Should Journalists Have To Declare Their Political Biases And Donations?

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Belief that the media is biased is one thing that unites conservatives and leftists in America and Britain. So why not demand that journalists reveal any political affiliations upfront, to give us better context for their reporting and commentary?

Should online, print and television journalists declare their political leanings (and donations) upfront, in the name of transparency? Jonah Goldberg thinks so, and makes a persuasive case.

Goldberg writes in the National Review:

One of the reasons I like good opinion journalism, particularly in long-form magazine articles, is that it doesn’t hide from the fact it is making an argument. You know where the author is coming from, and you can take that into account as he or she marshals facts and evidence for his or her case. We know opposing lawyers in a courtroom are biased, but if they don’t make strong arguments, they lose.

I understand bans on reporters giving to campaigns, but we should understand what those bans are: a means of hiding the political leanings of reporters from readers and viewers.

This has become a particularly hot topic after a report issued by the Center for Public Integrity confirmed the unsurprising fact that American journalists and media personalities give vastly more in campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party than to Donald Trump and the Republicans.

And given this vast discrepancy – with $382,000 given by hundreds of media personalities to Clinton and just $14,000 by a handful of people to Trump – Goldberg points out that hiding behind the fig leaf of impartiality or being a political “independent” is no longer fooling anyone:

Anyone who has spent a moment around elite reporters or studied their output knows that they tend to be left of center. In 1981, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman surveyed 240 leading journalists and found that 94 percent of them voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, 81 percent voted for George McGovern in 1972, and 81 percent voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only 19 percent placed themselves on the right side of the political spectrum. Does anyone think the media have become less liberal since then?

None of this means liberals — or conservatives — can’t be good reporters, but the idea that media bias is nonexistent is ludicrous. Judges have far greater incentives to be neutral and objective, yet we know that Democrat-appointed judges tend to issue liberal decisions, and Republican-appointed judges tend to issue conservative decisions.

The Obama administration and campaigns have hired dozens of prominent, supposedly nonpartisan journalists, including former White House press secretary and Time magazine reporter Jay Carney, former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, the Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray, and ABC’s Linda Douglass.

Was it just a coincidence that they were all ideologically simpatico with the Obama agenda? How did the Obama team even figure out they were liberals in the first place?

Of course, exactly the same revolving door between the media and political worlds can be found in Britain, with well-known television journalists from BBC and ITV news suddenly shedding the white robes of virtuous objectivity to mysteriously shack up in Downing Street in a political communications role. This transcends party politics, and the Conservatives are by no means the only ones at fault – in the case of Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological henchman Seumas Milne, we have seen a Guardian polemicist not even leaving his job but merely take a leave of absence to become head of communications for the opposition Labour Party.

You can’t stop this from happening, and nor should anyone necessarily try. But the public do have a moral right to know the political leanings and affiliations of those who report and interpret the news. We expect MPs and Lords to declare their financial interests so that we can monitor their behaviour and ensure that they are not unduly influenced by their commercial connections. But a well-functioning press is every bit as vital to our democracy, so why should we not understand the motivations of reporters, commentators and editors.

Consider the case of Jasmine Lawrence, editor of the BBC’s 24-hour news channel. Lawrence was caught posting virulently hostile (and ignorant) thoughts about UKIP on social media prior to the 2014 European Parliament elections, and received only the mildest of cautions from her bosses.

As this blog noted at the time:

What the BBC fail to address in their response is the fact that the remainder of the BBC’s election coverage is not the problem. The problem is the fact that Jasmine Lawrence will remain the editor of the BBC News Channel, presumably resuming full duties as soon as the election coverage is completed on Sunday.

Yes, it is certainly likely that she caused editorial harm and biased coverage in the weeks leading up to the election before her ill-advised tweet saw her stripped of her duties, but how much more damage can she now do in the coming year leading up to the general election?

We all have political preferences, and that’s fine. But the Jasmine Lawrence tweet doesn’t just reveal a tendency to lean one way or the other along the political spectrum. The editor of the BBC News Channel clearly has a deeply ingrained, long held antipathy toward UKIP and the people who support that party or agree with its policies.

Are we really supposed to believe that when she walks into the BBC offices in the morning, Jasmine Lawrence takes off her scornful, UKIP-denigrating hat and puts on her cap of unblemished impartiality, and that the decisions she makes regarding story selection, focusing of time and resources, determining which guests to interview, lines of questioning and other matters will not be influenced by the same sentiments that prompted her to call UKIP supporters white, middle aged sexists and racists?

At present, we are deluding ourselves that the people who report the news – and worse still, the people who get to decide what even counts as news in the first place – are uniformly honest and committed to impartiality, and that the possibility of subconscious bias simply doesn’t exist. And this is holding human beings to a standard of behaviour which cannot possibly be met.

Far better that we more fully embrace the free market in our journalism, and equip news consumers (i.e. ordinary voters) with more perfect information – not just about our politicians, but also about the people who report on them. That way, television and print journalists can continue to strive for objectivity where appropriate, but we will have the backup of knowing about any political memberships, donations or affiliations that may influence their reporting, either consciously or subconsciously.

This doesn’t need to be an official thing. Indeed, nothing would be worse or more totalitarian than keeping a centralised state register of journalists’ political affiliations – that would be Orwellian in the extreme. Rather, the culture should be changed so that declaring one’s political allegiances upfront comes to be seen as a matter of honour and journalistic best practice.

Only earlier this week, a BBC television journalist named Danny Carpenter was suspended from his job for describing Theresa May’s new Conservative government as “the new Nazis” on his personal Facebook page.

The Daily Mail reports:

A BBC news presenter has been suspended for allegedly calling the Tory government ‘the new Nazis’ in an online social media rant.

BBC Look North’s Danny Carpenter reportedly accused the government of being ‘cynical, vicious, racist and xenophobic’ in a Facebook rant and has now been suspended by the corporation as they carry out an investigation.

Mr Carpenter is also said to have called for the Brexit to be ‘voted out’ by Parliament because of a ‘combination of dishonest fear-mongering and lies about the economy’.

This is clearly a partisan zealot of the highest order, someone with political beliefs even more pungent than those of this blog – and clearly very ideologically different. But just as I would never expect to be allowed to stand in front of a television camera reporting the news with a straight face, so Danny Carpenter should never have been allowed within 5 miles of a BBC studio except as a paid opinion contributor (like my star turn on the BBC Daily Politics earlier this year).

Jonah Goldberg is quite right to point out that the pretence of journalistic impartiality is a fraud which we all perpetrate on ourselves. Pretending that we are being served a conscientiously-curated stream of objective, unbiased reporting at all times lulls those of us credulous enough to believe it into a false sense of security, meaning that people do not apply their own scepticism or challenge what they are told.

And the rest of us, fully aware that what is being sold to us as objective coverage is in fact ideologically skewed, are increasingly spurning the mainstream media. More and more of us are taking refuge in new independent media sources, curated for us by algorithms and presented through social media, some of which are diligent and honourable but many of which can trap us in an ideological bubble of bias confirmation.

Goldberg concludes:

This lack of transparency benefits news organizations, but it really doesn’t fool anybody — except maybe the reporters themselves.

I agree. And playing along with the deception by furiously pretending that we have an impartial media only fuels the atmosphere of distrust and resentment in our politics. Having prominent journalists declare any strong political allegiances upfront would not solve all of our problems by magic. But it certainly wouldn’t do any harm.

 

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Remainers Are Trying To Rewrite History, Claiming Media Coverage Favoured The Leave Campaign

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Yes, the BBC let the public down with their spineless, uninquisitive EU referendum coverage. But this only benefited the Remain campaign, not the Brexiteers, and to suggest otherwise is absurd

Disappointed Remain activist Hugo Dixon takes to the pages of InFacts with with a sullen litany of the many ways in which the (ahem) notoriously eurosceptic television news media supposedly hindered the pro-EU camp’s chances and aided the fact-free Brexiteers at every turn.

Dixon writes:

The BBC has rightly been criticised for its weak referendum coverage. If the broadcaster had done a better job of challenging interviewees, informing the public and making room for a variety of viewpoints, voters would have had a better chance of sifting fact from fiction. The BBC, after all, dominates our news coverage: 77% of the public use it as a news source, according to Ofcom.

The most common criticism aired against the BBC is one of phoney balance – namely that it gave equal airtime to experts and their opponents’ unsubstantiated bluster. But this is probably not the most serious charge. After all, it would not have been fair to deny the two sides of the referendum equal airtime or to keep off the air campaigners who were telling fibs or spinning fantasy.

However, what the BBC could and should have done was grill its guests more vigorously – and make more space for coverage that didn’t fit into the tired Punch-and-Judy style battle between spokespeople put up by the two official campaigns.

There is a kernel of a sensible point in here. This blog has written numerous times that sensationalist or craven news coverage which merely allows two opposing talking heads to scream at each other without any effort to arbitrate or discern truth is a pox on our journalism – whether it is infecting the US presidential election or the EU referendum in Britain.

Dixon is also admirably on-point when he criticises the media’s reliance on the sanitised, focus-group approved  media grids of the two opposing lead campaign groups, effectively suggesting to their viewers that these incompetents and nepotism beneficiaries represented the full spectrum of eurosceptic and pro-European thought:

This wasn’t the BBC’s only failing. It also allowed too much of its coverage to become a Punch-and-Judy style battle between the official campaigns. The broadcaster, of course, had to give a lot of airtime to Vote Leave and Stronger In. But it allowed its coverage to be virtually dictated by their agendas.

I know the Remain side of the story better. Stronger In had a “grid”, on which it set out what stories it wanted to push on particular days and which people it wanted to push those messages. It coordinated this grid closely with Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s director of communications. Indeed, Stronger In was effectively in Number 10’s pocket. It rarely put forward people who weren’t on message with its Project Fear strategy.

The BBC should not have allowed itself to be manipulated in this way, particularly since it was aware of the potential problem. Its guidelines said: “Where there is a range of views or perspectives, that should be reflected appropriately during the campaign.” They went on to say: “The designated Campaign Groups – whilst offering spokespeople to programme-makers and other content producers – cannot dictate who should or who should not appear on BBC output.”

But the broadcaster didn’t do enough to resist the pressure. As a result, Downing Street and its puppets dominated the Remain camp’s share of airtime, and people who wanted to make a positive case for Britain’s involvement were edged out. Even Gordon Brown – who was trying to argue that we should lead Europe, not leave Europe – found it hard to be heard.

While Hugo Dixon’s heart wells over with sympathy for Gordon Brown’s inability to claim his fair share of the limelight, this blog would point to the many independent and non-aligned voices on the Brexit side who struggled to get a hearing of any kind, despite (in some cases) holding media events in the heart of Westminster under the very nose of the establishment.

So on both of these complaints, Dixon is on solid ground. But to go on and suggest that intellectually lazy journalism which impacted the Leave side every bit as much as the Remain campaign somehow decisively swung the outcome of the referendum is to venture into the realm of fantasy.

Dixon concludes:

For every such example, the BBC could presumably come up with a counter-example. But when its senior figures search their souls, do they really think they fulfilled their mission of informing and educating the public well during the referendum? And, if not, what are they going to do about it? How about an independent, public audit of how the BBC fared during the referendum backed up by recommendations on how to do better in future?

The world is not getting any simpler. Hard, honest thinking about how to cover often very complicated questions could stand the BBC in good stead. Audiences and license fee payers definitely deserve it.

The underlying assertion, carefully left unsaid, is that these various journalistic failures added up to a succession of “microbiases” which somehow cumulatively tipped the referendum result, and that if only BBC and other television news presenters had challenged guests and demanded more “facts” then the British people would have come to their senses and realised just how star-spangled awesome the European Union really is.

And maybe in an alternative universe that was the case – that there simply weren’t enough highly credentialed experts, both hysterical and sober, using abundant media platforms to lecture the British people that seeking freedom from the EU would be an unmitigated disaster.

Why oh why were these noble voices, these latter-day Cassandras so cruelly shut out of the national debate, swamped by a relentlessly pro-Brexit television media amplifying the Leave campaign’s monopoly on falsehoods and scaremongering?

But that’s not how I remember the EU referendum campaign.

Hugo Dixon inhabits an interesting parallel universe, and no doubt a comforting one for disappointed Remain campaigners so deeply invested in their failed euro-federalist dream. But it bears no resemblance to the real world, where the plucky, haphazard, incoherent and almost terminally disorganised Leave campaign triumphed against the arrayed forces of the establishment and a television news media which only amplified rather than diminished their influence in support of the status quo.

 

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Julia Hartley-Brewer Is Wrong To Fear Mandatory Reselection Of MPs

Why are conservatives so concerned that the Labour Party is moving in a more socialist direction?

On last night’s Question Time, journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer – a journalist with whom this blog often agrees – held forth on the state of the Labour Party, and calls by some activists for the implementation of mandatory re-selection of MPs prior to a general election in order to make the Parliamentary Labour Party more representative of the membership.

Huffington Post reports:

Journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer said Britons would “never elect a Socialist Government” on Thursday’s edition of the programme, as Corbyn is expected to be re-elected Labour leader easily on Saturday.

She was speaking after Blairite Labour MP Liz Kendall was the target of an audience member who advocated the mandatory re-selection of MPs before they could defend their seats in a General Election, something Corbyn supporters could use to remove those critical of the Labour Party leader.

“What a depressing conversation, genuinely,” Hartley-Brewer said.

“I’m a great believer in democracy. The thing about democracy is you have a Government but you also have Her Majesty’s Opposition.

“The reality is the Labour Party needs to make a decision about whether it wants to be a serious alternative Government in waiting or a Friday night Marxist book club. It can’t be both.”

This, of course, is a common refrain from conservative types either hoping to have some fun at Labour’s expense or express genuine concern about what they see as an unbalancing of Britain’s political system.

Personally, I don’t understand why so many prominent movement Conservatives – people who would never vote Labour in a million years – are so upset that the Labour Party is once again expressing genuine socialist tendencies, and desperate for it to tack back to the centre and become an electoral threat to the Tories again. Even after the EU referendum have these people learned nothing about the dangers of a stultifying cross-party consensus in the middle of British politics which shuts out whole swathes of people who dare to hold staunchly conservative or socialist (or individualist/authoritarian) beliefs?

The Huffington Post continues:

Hartley Brewer then defended [Liz] Kendall, calling her a “very good, very sensible hard-working MP” who “talks about the real issues affecting real people”. She bemoaned the fate of Labour MPs who face either “deselection for speaking sense” or losing their seats at an election.

I can’t help but feel that Julia Hartley-Brewer is failing to consider the upside of mandatory reselection for conservatives. Finally, real small government conservatives would have a mechanism to get rid of statist, pro-European Tory-lite interlopers like the pointless Anna Soubry, and those numerous other MPs who pretended to be staunchly eurosceptic during their initial constituency selection procedures only to come running to the Remain campaign like loyal dogs the moment that David Cameron snapped his fingers. Don’t Conservative Party members deserve a parliamentary party – and a government – which more closely reflects their interests and priorities, too? And what better way to do this than through mandatory reselection?

Yet many people with whom this blog usually finds common cause seem to see this issue differently. They seem aghast at the idea that a party founded on socialist ideals should actually dare to be socialist, which is puzzling to me. Julia Hartley-Brewer will probably never vote Labour for the remainder of her lifetime – so why the concern that Labour avoid becoming a “Marxist book club”? At a time when the Conservative Party is so soul-sappingly centrist in outlook, would she really rather have a battle-ready, equally centrist Labour Party nipping at its heels?

As this blog recently commented:

It is as though it is no longer enough for the party we personally support to reflect our own views and priorities – we now expect opposing parties to reflect them too. This is a politically stultifying and increasingly ludicrous state of affairs. As a small-c conservative I believe strongly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent, a strong military, the NATO alliance, low taxes and small government. But I don’t for a moment expect the leader of the Labour Party to hold these exact positions, too. And while it would be calamitous were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister by some dark miracle and actually enact all of his policies, I trust in the wisdom of the British people to see through his policies and reject Corbynism at the ballot box.

And that’s the difference, I suppose, between this blog and the political and media establishment. I trust the people to look at the political parties and refuse to vote for a party campaigning on a manifesto which is so clearly damaging to our economy and national interests. The establishment do not trust the people, because they do not respect the people. They have no faith that the British people will make rational decisions when presented with a range of political alternatives – therefore they see it as their job to artificially limit our choice beforehand, taking certain options off the table by declaring them “unacceptable” and suppressing their very discussion by mainstream politicians.

Besides, who should be the judge of whether an MP is “sensible” and “hardworking”? Come general election time, surely the best people to pass judgment are those from the local constituency party, who know best whether their MP is adequately representing their values. If they are dissatisfied with their candidate, why should their views be steamrollered by a cliquish Westminster conspiracy to protect the centrist Good Old Boys (and Girls)?

If Labour’s centrist MPs really do speak such “sense”, they will surely have no difficulty in winning the support of thousands of non-aligned voters who do not subscribe to the Jeremy Corbyn agenda. If they are so wise and pragmatic, surely they could not fail to succeed by striking out on their own and forming a new centrist party?

And yet the centrists are going nowhere, because they have no compelling vision of their own to offer the electorate, and many of them would struggle to even win back their deposits if they ran as independent candidates or under the banner of a new centrist party. Therefore their only hope, in the short term, is to cling on to their seats despite often being loathed by their own local parties, in the hope that one of them will come up with an alternative policy agenda which actually commands enthusiasm and respect. And frankly, few Labour centrist MPs have done anything to deserve such an unfair helping hand.

The cold, hard truth is that the Labour Party has shifted decisively to the Left. Julia Hartley-Brewer’s attitude seems to be “to hell with the party members who actually do all of the hard work and unglamorous campaigning – they should be lumbered with a centrist leader they despise, just so that British politics can continue to be fought over a vanishingly small sliver of real estate in the centre ground”. Personally, I find that idea repellent.

In a democracy, decisions are made and influence is wielded by the people who actually bother to show up. And right now, the Corbynite Left are showing up and making their voices heard, while the various centrists (despite their prestige) are able to conjure up all the excitement of a cold bucket of sick. The left-wing have earned the right to be heard, while the centrists have demonstrably not. Hearing what the Corbynites have to say and abiding by their wishes is therefore not only the fair thing for the Labour Party to do, it is the only remotely democratic thing for the Labour Party to do.

And the proper reaction from conservatives is not to brim over with sympathy for the poor Labour centrist MPs who have so grievously lost touch with their own party base – it is to demand a similar rebirth of radicalism on the Right.

Julia Hartley-Brewer is aghast at the idea of mandatory reselection for Labour MPs, but I say bring it on. Let the Tories have their own version of Momentum too, something to put a rocket up the government’s complacent and depressingly un-ideological posterior – and then give Conservative Party members the same opportunity to shape the future of their party, hopefully by dragging it away from the smoking ruins of Cameron-era centrism.

 

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