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The BBC – a failed public broadcaster

Written By: - Date published: 11:36 am, February 3rd, 2020 - 26 comments
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The real disappointment of the 2019 UK General Election was the BBC. Once regarded as the bastion of quality media and the envy of much of the world, the BCC’s reputation is diminished greatly in recent years. From the historic cover up of Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse, to having to pay compensation to female journalists in equal pay claims the BBC is no longer viewed in as positive light by the British public.

At the 2019 election the BBC had an opportunity to show the world what quality political journalism looks like in the 21st century. It failed. The consequences for this could be dire for the Beeb.

Last week it was announced that the BBC are cutting 450 staff, which will result in fewer stories and greater centralisation in London. The very things that critics believe caused problems with the BBC in recent years are set to get even worse. Is the BBC now in its death throes? And how did it get to this point?

One widely held criticism of the BBC is that it is run by upper middle class predominately white and well educated people. Also that the BBC is heavily London centric. While similar criticisms can be made of other media outlets, it matters more what people say about the BBC. It matters because it’s funded through the broadcasting fee and public funds. It matters because its raison d’être is to set the standard for journalism in the UK and abroad. If its quality is in question, this call into question what its purpose really is.

The first example I recall while living in London of the BBC not hitting the mark was back in 2018 when there were major protests in support of the NHS, and the BBC failed to report on them. As mentioned in my previous blog post it is difficult for the media to report on everything happening. But these weren’t small protests, and NHS funding and the threat of privatisation is and remains one of the major issues in UK politics.

There were two events during the election where I thought the BBC fell short of what the public should expect of a public broadcaster.

The first was the Andrew Neil interviews with Party leaders. Both Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson were interviewed by Andrew Neil and it would be fair to say took a grilling. Both agreed to the interview believing that Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson would also be interviewed by Neil. The BBC had lead both leaders to believe this was the case, where in fact Johnson had never agreed to do and interview with Neil. Andrew Neil ended up doing an ’empty chair’ speech criticising Johnson for not doing the interview. Yes Boris shouldn’t have refused and interview with a tough journalist. Equally, The Conservatives had never agreed to do an interview with Neil. The empty chair stunt felt like the BBC saving face having mislead other party leaders in claims that Johnson would do an interview with Neil.

The second was BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg’s reporting the day before the election that postal ballot results painted a grim picture for Labour. The UK Electoral Commission issued a warning that these comments were a breach of electoral law. The day before the election postal ballots were still arriving by post, and had not been counted. So the statement being reported by Kuenssberg was not only breaching the law, but at the time it was being made lacked substance to back it up. It’s unlikely Laura’s comments had that much impact on the December 2019 election result. But they do make the BBC look unprofessional.

BBC Political Editor Laura Keunssberg came under fire for reporting on Postal ballot results before the polls had closed.

The BBC get accused of bias often, and this is nothing new. In recent years there have been criticisms that the BBC are too pro EU/anti Brexit and have been too critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. In both cases, there have been accusations that reporting on both these things has not been balanced or honest at times. Balance in the media is tough, and journalists and people working in news rooms will often have unconscious (sometimes conscious) bias. Given the generally middle class and urban nature of BBC reporters and its leadership, it is likely this would come through in its reporting.

A public broadcaster has a duty to be challenging and critical. And on Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership it is right that the BBC asked hard questions. In both cases there were plenty of hard questions to ask. But did the public broadcaster allow its middle class, urban and privileged perspective to cloud its reporting?

My view in watching the BBC reporting on Brexit, Corbyn, UK politics and global news is that it as a public broadcaster still operates like its the 1990s. In that context Brexit, Trump and the 2017 election didn’t make sense. Had the BBC really tried to understand why Brexit happened? Did the proponents of a second referendum really deserve as much air time as the BBC gave them? Did the BBC ever really try to understand why Corbyn won two Labour leadership elections? And why Labour’s vote increased significantly in 2017? The BBC took the view that the world had gone a bit mad, but if they just kept on saying and doing what they’d always done normal 1990s service would resume soon.

The BBC as a public broadcaster is owned by the government. The Government set the rules, and most importantly set the funding. After the election the Conservative Government announced that it would consider decriminalising non payment of the licence fee. They announced this at a time when people from across the political spectrum believed the BBC has underperformed as a reliable source of news. There is always a tension between the BBC and government, especially with centre right governments who don’t necessarily believe having a public broadcaster is necessary.

At a time of uncertainty, the BBC finds itself with fewer supporters than at any other time in its history. While still a much loved British institution which still produces a number of popular shows, many now question whether it’s achieving what it needs to as a public broadcaster.

26 comments on “The BBC – a failed public broadcaster ”

  1. Kevin 1

    Just. Report. The. Facts.

    You would think this would be simple to do. Instead we get 'opinion' after opinion from people we are supposed to respect?

    The BBC is no different to the rest of the media worldwide. Caught in this trap of having to be 'first', which results in inferior reporting and misleading the consumer.

    • Gosman 1.1

      Are you able to give me an example of how this desire to be 'first' has lead to the BBC making massively factually inaccurate reports?

  2. Gosman 2

    The UK is overwhelmingly (>85%) white so it is no surprise the BBC reflects this fact

  3. Gosman 3

    "The BBC took the view that the world had gone a bit mad, but if they just kept on saying and doing what they’d always done normal 1990s service would resume soon."

    In what way did this view come across? What would you have expected them to do differently? Please give me examples of something they should have done in a different way.

    • Gosman 4.1

      John Pilger?!? LOL!!!!!!

      Oh that is so very, very funny.

      Thank you for the laugh.

      • Drowsy M. Kram 4.1.1

        Pilger has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of 'Journalist of the Year'. Gossie recently grizzled about being berated by Thunberg, and now he's LOLing about Pilger, who, like Thunberg, will remain untroubled by the sneering of someone he doesn't know exists.

        "Martha Gellhorn, the American novelist, journalist and war correspondent, said that "[John Pilger] has taken on the great theme of justice and injustice… He documents and proclaims the official lies that we are told and that most people accept or don't bother to think about. [He] belongs to an old and unending worldwide company, the men and women of conscience."
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pilger

        Gossie probably doesn't have much time for Martha either – LOL!

  4. Dennis Frank 5

    Perhaps the model is broken. It was constructed on the basis of public as monolith. Back in the day when conformance with orthodoxy was the prevalent ethos.

    Now, not only are the people all over the place, with the orthodox increasingly out-numbered by the unorthodox, and nutballs in all directions, identifying the public interest must be real hard.

    Professional standards in an era when everyone creates their own cv qualifications at whim? When exam cheating has trended past popular into normal, heading for universal? You really must be kidding.

    Impartiality? Hey c'mon. Most young folk wouldn't even know the word, let alone how to spell it.

    But I suspect what really killed it was the dress code. Nobody in their right mind would expect suit-wearers to be competent. Robotic is all they know.

  5. Wayne 6

    Dennis Frank,

    Presumably it is irony that you say only robotic aka stupid people wear suits. Since all newscasters in the world do that, as do politicians, judges and other such people.

    But then perhaps in your view, they are all examples of stupidity and roboticism.

    [Corrected error in user handle]

    • Dennis Frank 6.1

      Correct. It is a view I have held since I was a teenager in the sixties. Back then it was widely held. Some humans like to dehumanise themselves by wearing uniforms. I acknowledge their freedom of choice in doing so. But they do have a moral responsibility for the consequent actions they take.

      Equating robotic with stupid is probably over-generalising most of the time. Wearing a suit seems to incline the wearer towards conformity. Naturally, as typical sixties non-conformists in a sick, death-oriented society, we could see they were trying to maintain their establishment into the future ad nauseum.

      This view applied to the leftist suit-wearers as much as the rightist ones, of course. Diagnosis of the problem transcended the antique binary frame.

      • OnceWasTim 6.1.1

        There's always been uniforms @DF, and those bloody radicals always trying to challenge them. From the walk shorts and long socks, to the banker's/IBM blue suit, to the jeans with suit jacket currently in vogue. If your really radical, you'll be buying over-lenght jeans and turning them up at the bottom It won't be long before the return of the double breast and trouser cuffs. (Just you mark my words!!!!)

        Google Sam Moore's artistic stereotyping of the conformist. And there's always been gorgeous people trying to challenge it all – even Wayne (who I happen to think would look great in a leisure suit). Or one of his former colleagues that loved to mix stars and stripes with the old gingham table cloth his missus ran up a a shirt on the Elna.

        Not sure if this will work but:

        https://www.google.com/search?q=sam+moore+nz+artworks&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=Huqg7o7aXl1vgM%253A%252Cku3TCsB9vXE96M%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kSwpo20a7Kympu8Iehz0lytjp-l2w&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwijnbmD1LTnAhUPH7cAHbTdAAYQ9QEwB3oECAoQBQ#imgrc=Huqg7o7aXl1vgM:

        • OnceWasTim 6.1.1.1

          (Pardon the grammar. I was preoccupied with trying to bring back grunge and darning me socks with bright coloured wool – besides, me fingers are getting really phat and these interweb devices seem to be getting smaller and smaller).

          But since this is a thread on the grand old Auntie, as I watch 1 PLUS 1, I notice Max Headroom on One News (YOUR news with OUR Wendy), Max is looking gorgeous in that mauve tie. Given the possible future turmoil in broadcasting, no doubt he'll have a reel to show the Beeb if and when he has to go begging. Sure as shit Aljaz will be out

          • Dennis Frank 6.1.1.1.1

            I was extremely disappointed that Max Headroom turned out to be a passing fad. It seemed so obvious he was the perfect prototype, and newsrooms all over the world would soon be presenting their own customised version thereof.

            Sadly, that never happened. You obviously feel Simon is a simulacrum nonetheless. Having worked with him somewhat back in the nineties & exchanged various friendly opinions, I can assure you he's real enough. Sorry, I mean genuinely human. Tom Bradley, on the other hand, always seemed a contender.

            I recall Simon mentioning that he was studying for a law degree. I assumed he would use it as a stepping stone into politics and have remained puzzled that he is still a presenter.

            I did suspect that the powers that be retired the Ruth Richardson model in defeat, realising that androids (cyborgs?) could never really come across as human. They ought to have advised her not to say "there is no alternative" as though it was capitalised, at every available opportunity.

            Having always been an extremely alternative kinda guy, I tended to feel that she was trying to deny that I existed. Without even knowing about me. Extremely irrational behaviour from someone who kept trying to present herself as being rational, seemed to me…

            • OnceWasTim 6.1.1.1.1.1

              "Sadly, that never happened. You obviously feel Simon is a simulacrum nonetheless. Having worked with him somewhat back in the nineties & exchanged various friendly opinions, I can assure you he's real enough."

              Yep @ DF. I'm pretty sure Simon is real enough. Merely the victim of a system he's been a party to creating, or at least maintaining, and probably played along with out of necessity.

              Sometimes I wonder why Jesus Christ (who I also know is a decent sort of fella) would want to go back to the problem that is today's television.

              Mid-life crisis? Bills to pay? Lifestyle to maintain? Whatever, more power to him, but please don't let him moan if and when it all goes tits up and play victim.

              I have to admit tho' that when I try to follow Jesus Christ, in between flicking from Morning Report and Breakfast, I seem to strike advertisements shouting at me. And that is an immediate turnoff – especially when only a short time ago, I seem to remember broadcasters undertook to have advertisements NOT shout at us – how long did that last!

              I might have to wait till both Max Headroom and Jesus Christ end up on "The Panel" till I'm next able to partake of their wisdom.

              Funny 'ole life eh?

  6. Wayne 7

    Hmm, someone has hacked into my name, just noticed it in the previous post, which I could not change.

    • Incognito 7.1

      That’s because you accidentally typed something else in the field for the User Name and that’s now stored as a cookie in your browser and device. Clear the cookies, close the browser, and re-open it and you should be fine (again) 😉

    • Please! Wayne!. There are very few people that would want to steal your persona – online or otherwise. (Although, I admit there are still a few journalists around willing to embrace you as being a sage and potential talking head on some current fears programme)

      But if you're not too busy, I'm wondering if you could go through your wardrobe and let me know and give an account of the suits you've not worn in a while. I'm looking to get the jump on the next fashion tip.

      And if its not to much trouble, you could pass on my thanks to Mrs Wayne for her dedication and loyalty. Over the years, she's been a real trooper!

  7. grumpy 8

    Its simple really. The BBC was perceived as far left thus annoying the Right. It then took the criticism on board and modified it's editorial bent more towards the middle of the road, thus annoying the Left.

    Unfortunately for the BBC, the Centre don't much like the type of programs the BBC produces so it now finds itself having less mates, hence the current predicament.

    • With a left-right pendulum that's swung toward the right as far as it has, ANY notion of a public – let alone public service will always be perceived as "FAR" left.

      There's even a whole language (whatever your lingua fanca is) that goes with it.

      May the natives become restless!

  8. Philg 9

    Lost Faith in the beeb years ago and losing it in RNZ National. RNZ, for copywrite reasons are not permitted to retain Morning Report BBC content for later replay and scrutiny. I've switched off.

  9. In Vino 10

    I think this is all a bit unfair. The BBC got knobbled years ago with the arrival of Margaret Thatcher and neo-liberalism/privatisation. Until then the BBC had a good rep as reasonable news source, and the producer of all the top quality TV shows (I Claudius, etc..)

    Thatcher opened up state funding to private TV, and I believe that ITV were deliberately encouraged to produce one of the greatest TV Series ever: Brideshead Revisited – the one with Jeremy Irons. To prove that State-funded wasn't best – private TV could do just as well if not better! Job done, BBC undermined by govt ever since.

    But what has happened since? BBC funding dropped, BBC reduced to doing good crimes series but nothing much better.. And has private TV continued to produce the quality of Brideshead Revisited? Fat chance.. Private TV tends to chase the lowest common denominator.

    I personally think that HBO next took up the challenge of producing real quality. (Fans of Downton Abbey – sorry.. I think DA is quite good, but nowhere near the level of I Claudius or Brideshead..)

    The BBC was deliberately attacked and weakened by Thatcher's government, and has never been resuscitated by the any of the crappy governments Britain has had since Thatcher. Of course it has had to bow to political pressure, as grumpy said above.

    A good state news/art medium deliberately run down and perverted by pro-privatisation governments.

  10. R.P Mcmurphy 11

    public broadcasting is going down in a blizzard of neo-lib ideology everywhere.

    staffed by barely literate juveniles looking for the main chance and mentored by infantilised grey beards.

    I mean everything everywhere else is turning to shit so why not the beeb.

    furthermore the same whinges are happening time after time and over and over so is this just another endless loop of nothingness?

  11. tc 12

    Last time the BBC were anything decent in the news space was decades ago. As mentioned already in this post it all starts with thatcher.

    The recent election is further evidence the UK's institutions are just that……out of date and ready to be pulled down for something more fit for purpose.

    Im sure boris and his backers have plans

  12. James 13

    The bbc was gone burger as soon as they lost their biggest programs – top gear paid for a lot of those jobs.

  13. Sanctuary 14

    Novara media discuss the BBC.

  14. mosa 15

    " many now question whether it’s achieving what it needs to as a public broadcaster "

    Public broadcaster should mean just that a public service that is not biased in its coverage and its political and other commentators present a neutral presentation of the story being covered.

    The BBC and most other media organisations in the mainstream have been cauterised by the neo liberal corporate approach and the only thing that has saved the public from this censorship is the internet where you have choice in what you want too read.

    The less enlightened amongst us still buy the propaganda fed too them every day which keeps the corporate message relevant.

    The attempt by the then TVNZ political editor Jessica Much too chastise Adern and Kelvin Davis in an interview back in 2017 before the general election about their criticism of the government when she launched a tirade about how unfair it was too the National party that they should be making those comments.

    Who was Much working for here ? and why has a publicly funded broadcaster allowed this type of interview too be conducted in this way.

    I complained but of course my complaint was not upheld with the reply it had not contravened any standards.

    I have never watched anything they have produced with regards too current affairs or political shows like Q + A ever since.

    Also their was no fightback from Adern or Davis.

    The future leader and deputy pm just sat there and allowed Much too dominate the whole interview.

    It is a fact that the National party and its donors have public media in their pocket including its biased presenters and producers.

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