Independence from the establishment is what we should expect from a media service which each of us pays for in a modern democracy like ours, but certainly that is not the case now based on analyses of BBC reports on a number of issues, and most likely it never has been to much of an extent.
The easy ride given to the spin of this current Cameron government by the BBC, for example, has had disastrous consequences for us all.
On the economy, it has not objected to the spin doctors’ moving of the finger of blame for our national debt promptly away from banks to … us the public (in the form of all public services and the welfare state), and now the rewriting of history in people’s minds in this regard is largely complete.
The privatisation of the NHS has been strongly opposed by huge majorities of staff and professional bodies connected with the service from top to bottom as well as the public, but this has in no way been reflected in news and documentaries on the issue; rather we have been given a staple diet of the Tories’ ‘vision’ on the needs for and purported benefits of what they, uniquely, refuse to call privatisation, peppered with snippets of often very weedy and poorly explained opposition to the changes.
On the wars we and our NATO allies are involved in, we have been hearing exactly the same type of unpackaged stories that were used on Iraq – now fully discredited even in the mainstream – being used against Iran, with increasing looseness in the use of descriptions of its ‘nuclear threat’ to the world; we hear predominantly just about the apparent successes of our unquestionably honourable role in Afghanistan, despite the evidence of so many wasted civilian and military lives; and on Israel-Palestine we hear the most blatant one-sided pro-Israeli reporting, as is historically the case with the BBC, (see studies by Glasgow Media Group, for example, over many years)
The editorial decisions that lead to all of these broadcast outcomes are out of sight from the public and no doubt from most of the newsroom.
To consider the consequences of this bias on an issue close to home, let’s imagine for a moment that the BBC had actually given a representative amount of airtime to the two sides re NHS changes: those opposed to the Government’s changes to the NHS, consisting of the vast majority of those working in it, of related professional bodies, and of the general public; and to those in favour of the changes, made up of a much smaller minority of staff and general public, including many Tory MPs who are directly profiting from it.
If the reporting had actually been representative in this way, the balance of TV debate would have been overwhelmingly against the government, and the public confidence to stand up and stop the changes in their tracks, if MPs continued to fail to represent us and wave it through, would have been vastly different. In fact, had reporting truly reflected the balance of opinion, the truth is that the government would not have even been able to contemplate the privatisation route, so worried would it have been of completely destroying its image as public servant.
But as it was, the minority pushing for change was reassured it would have a more placid citizenry because it was given such a nod of assent by our media, with the majority view against the privatisation diluted right down, the BBC being first and foremost in that process in terms of numbers of viewers and influence. The changes have gone through, done and dusted, against the majority’s wishes, and events roll on.
Some recent events – as mentioned at the War and Media conference at Goldsmiths by one of the speakers – can give us some confidence: the Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday victories – if a generation late – have won complete apologies. And though the child abuse cover-up scandal at the BBC hasn’t yet led to any positive changes, it is a crack in the foundations that shows that effecting change in our state media is possible with the right energy, persistence and a mountain of undeniable evidence thrust in the public eye.
Many people believe the BBC is completely unsalvageable from its pro-establishment spin, and that the best hope we have is to create more and better non-corporate alternative media; I would argue that without altering the main purveyor of reality in this country, other admirable smaller news ventures will always have only limited impact and never reach the majority as the BBC does.
It is OUR public service broadcaster. WE pay for it and it exists (or it should exist) for OUR NATIONAL PUBLIC BENEFIT, so WE DEMAND A FAIR BBC that is NOT AN ESTABLISHMENT MOUTHPIECE.