The UK’s publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC, was under fire for its distortion of news and blatant promotion of views in favour of preserving the union during the Scottish independent campaign. It issued the usual denials it was ‘at it’ but then it would say that wouldn’t it. The referendum controversy was happening at the same time the BBC found its reputation taking a hammering over revelations of mismanagement and its institutional cover-up of serious sex crimes involving its personnel.
With the 2015 general election in the offing it is again doing what it does best declaring impartiality and fairness while in fact it is twisting and manipulating arguments in a way that undermine democracy. BBC management and government are inextricably linked so it can be blatant about taking certain actions such as its refusal to host the Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza Appeal when Israel was pulverising that strip of land and its people.
The BBC takes its role as the voice of the state seriously. The links between the BBC and government are strong and effective. When the criminal Andy Coulson was forced out of David Cameron’s office, BBC Global News controller Craig Oliver stepped right in. The Director General of the BBC Lord Hall insisted that when former cabinet minister James Purnell, who served in Gordon Brown’s government, took up his £300 000 job as Director of Strategy and Digital with the BBC he ‘hung his boots up at the door and left politics behind.’ And yes he is that same Purnell, yet another Labour MP up to his neck in scandal having screwed money out of the tax payer, claiming £100 a month for cleaning expenses and £586 for repair etc etc – not forgetting £247 for 3,000 fridge magnets. More damning in my eyes was he was the one who proposed charging interest on crisis loans taken out by people on very low incomes. However he impressed the BBC management and got a plum job.
There was Gordon Brown’s other little helper, Ed Richards, also an adviser to Blair on media, telecoms, internet and e-govt, who helped draft the Act setting up Ofcom. He found his niche at the BBC and as chief executive of Ofcom. Nice piece of symmetry there.
There was Bill Bush, Head of Political Research and Analysis at the BBC, who then worked for Blair and Tessa Jowell whose brief covered the BBC licence fee. His assistant at the BBC, Catherine Rimmer, went with him to Downing Street.
There are so many of them – former Director General John Birt had been member of Labour Party. Former DG Greg Dyke was a Labour donor and activist and once stood as a Labour candidate for the GLC. Oh, and Birt’s former diary secretary, Katie Kay, also worked for Blair.
There was Gavin Davies a former BBC Chairman and Labourite and financial backer, and adviser to two Labour governments, whose wife was Gordon Brown’s private secretary. There was Sir Michael Lyons , one-time Labour councillor, also a BBC Chairman who headed the BBC Trust, and appointed by the then Labour government. Ben Bradshaw BBC Labour – is that a Party? I’m beginning to wonder.
There was Chris Bryant BBC Head of European Affair /Labour MP for Rhondda. Celia Barlow, one-time Labour MP and PPS and BBC reporter and Home News Editor when she was also Secretary of Chelsea Constituency Labour Party. And not to be left out her husband Sam Jaffa and one-time BBC’s man in North America and a Labour wannabe politician coming 3rd in an election in 2001. Better than 4th.
Let’s draw a curtain over Celia’s involvement in the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal. What’s that – she claimed over £28, 000 for her second home and then flipped it. I just hope it was worth it – and the whirlpool bath and the high lustre silver shower screen, nice. Phil Woolas Labour MP and Minister and BBC producer on Newsnight. Denis MacShane Labour MP and Minister and BBC reporter. Tom Kelly former BBC Head of News in Northern Ireland worked for Blair and became Director of Communications at the Northern Ireland Office. His role came under scrutiny in 1998 when ‘plans for an unprecedented PR offensive to secure a Yes vote in the referendum on the Good Friday agreement’ came to light. Denials were put out it was an attempt to manipulate public opinion but the Rev Ian Paisley said at the time it, ‘makes Machiavelli look like a rank amateur.’
Anyone remember Geoff Mulgan BBC reporter and adviser to Brown? No. Well what about Lance Price, BBC journalist who was Alistair Campbell’s assistant? You know Labour’s Director of Communications. Tim Luckhurst goes back a way, once PPO for Donald Dewar, Labour former First Minister of Scotland, and stood as a Labour candidate in the 1987 election. He went on to work on the BBC’s political and current affairs flagship programme Today. He was Editor of News Programmes at BBC Scotland (that fine democratic and professional body). Luckhurst wrote a critical piece for the New Statesman on Scottish devolution entitled, ‘Scotland returns to the Dark Ages.’ With Donald Dewar in mind there was Peter Hyman who worked as a researcher for Labour’s Scottish leader who was also a producer at the BBC.
Charlie Whelan once seldom out of the news was another Brown spinner and BBC presenter. Martin Sixsmith was a BBC foreign correspondent who switched to become Director of Communications with the Labour government. When I say switched it wasn’t much of a switch as most of you will agree. He was Labour’s Director of Communications and Press Secretary to Harriet Harman and Darling Darling. Where is he now? Still works with the BBC – had a 25-part radio series on this year, ‘In Search of Ourselves.’
Don’t have to search too far to discover the hand of a Labour apparatchik on the rudder of news and current affairs at the BBC. Where were we – ah, yes – someone called Joy Johnson worked as a Political Editor with the BBC – curious how these people are all interested in politics isn’t it, not many hanging up their proverbial boots at the proverbial door as far as I can make out. Joy was a Campaigns Director for Brown – Brown again – he’s a guy with lots of links or is that strings? Joy went on to work for Ken Livingstone – I believe he was in charge of some parochial wee town in the far south of the UK. And staying with Brown, did you know that at his wedding his bridesmaids were the offspring of Gavyn Davies the former BBC Chairman? No reason why you should – except there is every reason you should be aware that the UK political establishment is riddled with former BBC employees and visa versa. All of which is a long-winded way of saying when the BBC insists it is an honest broker in the world of British politics it is anything but. What is the point of a state-run broadcaster if the state cannot use it for its own ends?
In 1940 Sir John Reith, Mr BBC, was appointed Minister of Information with the Chamberlain government. During the 1950s the DG of the BBC, Sir Ian Jacob, was seconded to the Ministry of Defence where he was criticised by Churchill for failing to be his propaganda bitch. To his credit Jacob believed that the BBC should not be used in such a way by government. It is a pity his opinion has not been shared by all who take up influential posts within the BBC. Sir Hugh Greene was DG in the sixties. He had been involved with the Political Warfare Executive during WW2, a covert propaganda organisation that had been set up in 1921. This shadowy body included others from the BBC – Robert Bruce Lockhart, a later DG, Ivone Kirkpatrick, an adviser to the BBC. The information spinning machine run by this group was partly housed at BBC HQ. Many of you will recall the bizarre period when the government wanted to stifle the voice of the IRA and so we were subject to the likes of now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, being voiced-over by actors although curiously the BBC did not subject the UDA to the silence treatment. Not that there was anything political in this decision.
All this is a long way of saying when the BBC maintains it is pursuing a ‘fair and realistic formula’ in its coverage of the 2015 general election we can take that with a pinch of salt. When it presents us with what it swears is an objective presentation of the current state of UK politics we can be sure it is anything but. When the BBC says it uses levels of past and current electoral support to determine how much it promotes political parties we can be sure it is ignoring that bloody great elephant in the room. When the BBC hold up its hands in horror at the suggestion that UKIP’s success is partly down to the amount of coverage this party gets on the BBC we know it is being deceitful. When the BBC attempts to justify its unjustifiable intention to include UKIP in the 2015 leader debates it is dissembling – BBC – ‘Although UKIP did not win a seat in the 2010 general election, they polled more than three times as many votes as the Green Party, which did win a seat. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP topped the poll, beating all the Westminster parties in terms of seats (24) and share of the vote (more than 27% – up more than 10% on 2009). The Greens won three seats in the European election, with just under 8% of the vote (a small drop since 2009).’
When the BBC attempts to justify the unjustifiable decision to exclude the SNP from these debates through a cobbled together argument that the SNP is not a UK-wide party we are witnessing direct political interference in democracy in the UK by the BBC. The last time the BBC were actively campaigning it was to keep Scotland in the UK so either Scotland is in it or it isn’t and as it clearly is still a member of the UK its interests should be aired during these debates, across the UK, not those confined to Scotland. If the BBC can argue a case for UKIP to appear on grounds that it, ‘…performed strongly in local government elections in England for the past two years’ then the strong performance of the SNP in Scotland should be also germane. If England is highlighted as relevant in a UK-wide context then so too should Scotland.
Where the BBC argues it takes ‘account of opinion polls, when there is a robust and consistent trend’ then it should open its eyes farther than the shires of England to the political hinterland of Scotland and see what the polls are saying here about the biggest party in this country (still part of the UK) and the third largest party in the UK.
When the BBC shrugs its collective shoulders and insists it is acceptable that the whole of the UK see political leaders arguing their case for issues which affect Scotland as part of the UK without the leader of the third biggest party in the UK it is returning to the days of gagging certain political voices and promoting others.
The BBC website carries a page called Manifesto watch: Where parties stand on key issues the pictures on this page are taken from it. Couching it as views from ‘The main UK-wide political parties’ is a ruse to prevent exploration of matters relevant to the whole populations of Scotland and Wales. And the BBC gets even this completely wrong because while it maintains it is presenting only UK-wide concerns it includes law and order, education, jobs, housing which are devolved issues to Scotland. So even under its own strangulated logic it fails to present its licence fee payers in Scotland (and Wales) with a breakdown of policies by party on these vital issues. One of the problems with the BBC it is up to its neck in politics and is furiously promoting a reactionary agenda that fails to reflect the changed political landscape here in Scotland (still part of the UK). The BBC is being dishonest . It should remove this page immediately and replace it with one which includes references to devolved matters in Scotland on which the UK citizens in Scotland will be voting in 2015.
It should immediately discard its plans to have any TV debates that include the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Labour and/or UKIP, (and the Greens) without representation of the SNP. Having secondary debates in Scotland allows multiple opportunities for the first four parties to present their opinions while wilfully restricting the voice of the SNP.
We do not expect the BBC to reform itself. It is clearly so mired in party politics it does not even recognise the absurdity and anti-democratic nature of its output. All we can do it expose the corruption of this nasty and deceitful organsiation.