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Should we really be slamming the Beeb?


4:21 pm - October 15th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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Sunny draws attention to the latest risible claims of right-wing loon tank Migration Watch.

Apparently, the UK loses £4.6bn educating the children of migrants. Except that figure looks rather shaky when you learn it includes as immigrants anybody who happened to have a foreign-born parent. (So despite having British citizenship, because my mum is French MW count my vast and on-going British education as a pay-out to immigrant families!) As if that method wasn’t bad enough, the Office of National Statistics claims not to know how MW obtained any figures on parent birth place to begin with. Further demolition can be found here.

I admit: different day, same risible nonsense from MW. What actually animates me this morning is Sunny’s gunning for the BBC over its failures to report the MW nonsense as such.

Certainly, the BBC’s reporting in this instance is lamentable. And Sunny has long been drawing attention to its failures over climate change denial and its tendency to give equal space to “sceptics” when the evidence is all one way traffic in the other direction.

But I feel Sunny is too one-dimensional in his condemnation of the BBC, and picks poor strategy in response.

I’m not denying that the BBC should do better when reporting on nonsense from MW and their ilk. But let’s think about why the Beeb might fail to properly scrutinize right-wing immigration gibberish in particular. Namely, that it is currently having the squeeze put on it by the Tory party, and the threat of that squeeze has been on-going for several years. Indeed it arguably started under Labour, when accusations that Blair and Alistair Campbell had “sexed up” the Iraq War dossier landed the Beeb in serious hot water with Number 10, with the temperature turned up by the Mail and News International.

With a ferocious Murdoch clamouring for privatisation, and a Tory party whose MPs and grass-roots broadly believe the BBC is a base-camp of socialist revolution, you can see why the news wing of the BBC might be predisposed to attempt to appease its opponents by sometimes channelling their political agendas, even if only by laziness.

Now, I think this is a bad idea. The agenda against the BBC is so deep-running that nothing will ever be good enough to halt it except full-scale demolition. My point is that the real blame lies not only, or simply, with poor journalism and poor editorial oversight, but with the entire situation in which the BBC finds itself.

Correspondingly, I find Sunny’s outraged condemnations – “The BBC’s reporting has become a joke”; “you wouldn’t get the BBC report pointing that out either, because they can’t actually be bothered to ask some basic questions.” – frustrating. All the blame is laid at the BBC’s door, and they are correspondingly slammed from the left as well as the right. (I won’t even get into Sunny’s long-running claim that the BBC is a “right wing” media institution, a claim I find to be based on the mirror-image cognitive bias which motivates right-wing criticism that the Beeb is a communist bastion).

I just can’t see this strategy of slamming the Beeb as incompetent being helpful. When institutions – like people – come under attack, they tend to hunker down, take cover and put up the defences. Reform often does not follow, because self-protection takes priority.

Whatever its failings, the BBC is still a far better news and broadcast institution than anything that will replace it should the free-market Murdochites get their way.

It would be much better if leftists put their energy into exposing the hypocrisies of other far more scurrilous media outlets, and of the risible “think” tanks like MW (and puppet campaign groups like The Tax Payers’ Alliance) than slamming the BBC, without thinking about why the BBC ends up making the bad calls it sometimes does.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Reader comments


I’d say actually the approach is needed. If it just the right slamming the BBC then the BBC will move to the right to appease its critics. If they get flack from “the left” as well, then the editorial approach will be “we get criticised from both sides – we must be doing something right! and then the pressure is to ensure balance”. Its like being part of a game of tug of war between evenly matched sides- ultimately pointless as you will never pull the middle over to your side, but if you let go the middle go it goes flying in the opposite direction.

Its just this also needs to be combined with some practical suggestions rather than calling for its demolition. There are a few things that it can definately do; (1) force all stories based upon press releases/journalist getting drunk with his mate in PR to declare themselves as such, (2) greater balance in stories based upon partisan pressure groups – i.e. Migration watch don’t get coverage without opposing quote from someone/group in favour of migration, (3) Greater use of academics to give context to stories and explaining what consensus exists within the field, (4) specific remit to investigate and report on stories not covered elsewhere.

2. Chaise Guevara

“I won’t even get into Sunny’s long-running claim that the BBC is a “right wing” media institution, a claim I find to be based on the mirror-image cognitive bias which motivates right-wing criticism that the Beeb is a communist bastion.”

Hear hear!

I agree with planetshift @1.

Those of us who think that the BBC is generally pretty outstanding in general (one only has to look at the US media to see wonderful it is by comparison, particularly in news and current affairs) shouldn’t feel we have to pull our punches where we feel it has fallen down on the job.

As I said on the other thread, I listened to the R4 coverage of this story, and it struck me then that it was uncritical in it’s treatment of the MW report, and lacked balance.

Far be it from me to do anything which gave comfort to Murdoch and his ilk, but sometimes even old friends need a bit of a kick up the arse!

Sunny “one-dimensional”? Heaven forfend!

Too kind Mr E 🙂

Paul: I just can’t see this strategy of slamming the Beeb as incompetent being helpful. When institutions – like people – come under attack, they tend to hunker down, take cover and put up the defences. Reform often does not follow, because self-protection takes priority.

Actually, that’s not the case. I can offer you plenty of evidence to show that the BBC listens to outside criticism, and adjusts accordingly despite what internal guidelines say. This has happened most spectacularly in the case of climate change reporting (to the point it is regularly slammed in climate change blogs in the US).

Secondly, you miss the broader point. I’m increasinly unconvinced that we should be funding such a big pro-establishment media organisation that simply regurgitates conservative-establishment values and makes that ‘mainstream opinion’.

Let people get their opinion from what reinforces their prejudices. I’m fine with that. But I don’t want the BBC to be the arbitrator of what is popular opinion unless its journalism gets a lot better. Right now it’s just getting worse.

…… to the latest risible claims of right-wing loon tank Migration Watch.

Doesn’t the left spin just as much as Migration Watch does on these issues?
The population is heading for 70 million, some people think that’s a really bad idea.
So deal with that – which is the major point, instead of crying foul all the time.
Sure they are underhand at Migration Watch. It’s politics.
I think that Migration Watch are closer to the general mood of the country on this issue than the left are.
Which doesn’t particularly please me – but that’s just the way it is.

6

Defeatist much?

It may be the “mood of the country” (I’m not so sure..but let’s assume you are right for the moment…), but that doesn’t make it right.

So what if the population IS heading for 70 million? By all means let’s have an informed debate about the pros and cons, the social and environmental impact… but why should we accept that 70 million = bad, and 65 million = good? The raw numbers are a drop in the bucket in comparison with the rates of growth in the developing world, even accepting that those in the UK have a bigger environmental “footprint”.

We all know that the general unease on the left about the issue is that all too often, if you scratch the surface, those opposing immigration are actually none too keen on coffee coloured folks or people wot talk foreign. They represent the unacceptable face nimby brigade who are not racist, but…..

8. Luis Enrique

I’m increasinly unconvinced that we should be funding such a big pro-establishment media organisation that simply regurgitates conservative-establishment values and makes that ‘mainstream opinion’.

I don’t agree. I think the BBC like all media organizations simply regurgitates what their sources give them, but Sunny because of your inclinations, you notice when they soft-soap some crap from the tax payers alliance, but not when they soft-soap some crap from Greenpeace or the TUC.

It seems obvious to me that if anything the BBC reflects the biases of the kinds of people who work for it, and whilst there is obviously some variety, I’d have thought the median is Guardian World View.

@6

but that doesn’t make it right.

It might make it democratic ….. if as you say, that was the case.

I like living in a far less populated place than south east England where I come from.
Sure the traffic gets a bit congested in Belfast due to the river and the hills – but you only have to go a few miles past the city to be in the countryside. I like it (for now).
It’s also such a culturally different place than London’s most diverse boroughs.
Here ethnic minority people are a small minority. It would be interesting to know how people here would feel like living in a Brixton or Wembley kind of neighbourhood …. but it’s not the thing you can really ask in polite company.
The 70 million figure means that there will be more Brixton and Wembley type neighbourhoods in England. They are not to everyone’s liking.
But I hope that it’s in a neighbourhood like those that I will spend my final days, because this kind of place where I am now lacks a certain vitality.

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 10

“It might make it democratic ….. if as you say, that was the case.”

Arguable, when you consider that a lot of the ill-feeling towards immigrants is based on lies spread by rich men. Informed consent is the key thing here.

If the big guns are out for the BBC then what have they got to lose? Rather than the pusillanimous response of a slavish right-wing bias in their journalism (which is so lamentably the case) why not take a leaf out of Greg Dyke’s book and fight their corner?

I must say I can’t listen to Today any more. Naughtie and Humphrys, windbag and boore, are less tolerable since the journalism went tabloid. Evan Davis is just a business-loving tit and Robert Peston sounds like he hasn’t turned his iPod off when he’s reporting. You can almost hear Take That, Tss Tss! From being the program that set the political agenda it has become the mouthpiece of government with simplistic soundbites instead of any special insight and endless announcements of what the government are doing today. Dare I say it, it was better under Rod Liddle.

It remains, though, that the BBC is still better than anything we are likely to get if Murdoch has his way. I will continue to complain even though I get platitudes in reply because I continue to care. Let’s hope they, like the rest of us, can weather this storm.

@8 Luis Enrique: “I think the BBC like all media organizations simply regurgitates what their sources give them, but Sunny because of your inclinations, you notice when they soft-soap some crap from the tax payers alliance, but not when they soft-soap some crap from Greenpeace or the TUC.”

I largely agree. The BBC twigged on to the Tax Payers Alliance shortly before the general election and now scrutinise their press releases and invite further comment. Prior to that time, the TPA was bombarding media organisations with releases, so inevitably many were reported without proper analysis. I don’t know whether the TPA release as many stories but I am hearing fewer of them.

Regarding Migration Watch, the name of the organisation should trigger an alarm bell in the mind of any journalist. Sunny was correct to observe that MW were given a free ride in the article published online. But they get a much rougher analysis elsewhere at the BBC according to my recollection.

Let’s not forget Spiked. I wouldn’t claim to have worked out their agenda or motivation, but I find the group very scary. Yet they have managed to get their members established as social commentators that the BBC trusts.

13. Shatterface

Good to see a sensible article on the BBC at last.

The constant hysteria about the BBC from both the Right and what passes for the Left gives us a frightening insight into how closely content would be vetted if it didn’t have some measure of independence.

It’s far from a perfect institution but we don’t want it’s content dictated by New Labour’s paranoid bootboys any more than by the current government.

Chaise Guevara @10

Arguable, when you consider that a lot of the ill-feeling towards immigrants is based on lies spread by rich men. Informed consent is the key thing here.

Arguable is the right word. When it comes to this subject though – there is no real argument between the left and those to the right like Migration Watch. Just positions to be defended. As a strong personal anti-racist, I lost respect for the way the broad left delat with this issue years ago. MW and much of the left spin the issue remorselessly just about as bad as each other. ”Bad news” – like unfortunate opinion polls which might undermine ones position, are just ignored and burried.
And to even mention them would be met by a terse frown and annoyed mutterings.
To not get the message to ”drop that particular line” will soon have the miscreant labeled as a troll or worse. I’ve had it plenty of times. It’s what happens if you go against orthodoxies.
”ill-feeling towards immigrants” as you put it can occur for a myriad of reasons – not just because of lies spread by rich men. Some people for example might have become alarmed when neighbourhoods changed and it became clear that there were particular problems that came from ghettoisation, discrimination and alienation that were not going to go away any time soon – and where (for example) in the late 70s, Lambeth in south London became one western Europe’s most difficult policing divisional areas (this is debatable of course). Where there was such resentment against the police in places like Brixton, Moss Side and Toxteth – that these places were soon to descend into violence.

This might be a good issue to explore – but I have found that it can’t be done over the internet. I have yet to find a website where you could discuss such things with good intention, before suspicion and annoyance brought accusations from one side or other.
On a predominantly left and liberal site – accusations of trolling and racism would follow on quite quickly I think. I do conceed though that just confronting the arguments of the right head on is a tatic that has been successful.
The BNP for example is such a discredited brand, that when they went to hand out leaflets outside a football ground in Belfast before a game last week – the club and many of it’s fans complained quite vocally and told the BNP to stay away as they were not wanted.
And this in an area that is covered in union jacks and murals to the loyalist paramilitary groups and the local catholic area of Short Strand is sorrounded by a wall to keep the communities apart.
So that’s good, the BNP is so untouchable that even Loyalists don’t want to be associated with them. Given that loyalism has much in common with the ideals of the BNP that is quite funny. I don’t have a problem with doing the same to the EDL and Migration Watch – because they have nothing positive to offer. But I’d rather just be honest about it.

What Shatterface said at 13.

I think the BBC is an excellent thing on the whole and that the £12 or thereabouts that I pay to them monthly is worth the outlay. There are things that piss me off about it eg being given lectures by comedians and John Humphrys’ style of interviewing, but those are niggles.

Look at those who hate the BBC:-

any British government of the day, left or right
dictatorial foreign governments like Zimbabwe, Iran and China
The Murdoch empire
The Daily Mail

If you’re hated by a bunch of bastards you must be doing something right.

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Damon

Well said, and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I think the media invented anti-immigration attitudes. I just think the facts tend to get skewed in one direction. Could be cognitive bias on my part, of course.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Should we really be slamming the Beeb? http://bit.ly/9h8qEc

  2. Elly M

    RT @libcon: Should we really be slamming the Beeb? http://bit.ly/9h8qEc

  3. Luke Homer

    Should we really be slamming the Beeb? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/2lD5de6 via @libcon <- no, just mildly prodding





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