The Last Broadcast

by Quinn

There have been a couple of fine posts at Third Avenue over the past few weeks on a subject I have covered here previously (for example) namely the BBC; in particular this post which includes a good debate on the subject in the comments section. Now, I think I have written enough about the BBC previously and I don’t particularly want to go over old ground (although that has never stopped me before) so I hope this will be my final post on the matter, but reading Third Avenue did make me question just why it is that I have felt the need to defend the corporation a number of times. I think there are two main reasons.

First, there are the criticisms of leftist bias that to me seem unfair. These allegations are not new – I remember there being complaints of their coverage of the Falklands War, because, for example, they wouldn’t refer to British troops as “our forces” – but since the Hutton Report this seems to have been stepped up a notch. It is quite common to read some totally misleading accounts of the whole Gilligan/Kelly affair (see this Fox News comment for example, via Bloggerheads), and particularly across some of the (for want of a better phrase) Right Wing blogs it is taken as given that the BBC is a nest of leftist vipers.

Now, some criticisms may be in order. Blimpish says of the BBC (in the comments section on Third Avenue) “primarily liberal people work there (no conspiracy behind this, it’s partly down to the type of people who get drawn into TV-media)” and I reckon that this may be true of the BBC. The result could be that there is some sort of “institutional leftism” at the organisation, and I can just about entertain this as a possibility. However, the criticisms usually levelled at the BBC go further than talk of some slight unconscious bias. Like Third Avenue I am horribly drawn to the car crash blogging at Biased BBC; there and elsewhere it is not uncommon for commentators to speak matter-of-factly of the BBC being a Marxist organisation with a unified political agenda. This goes way beyond any talk of a vague soft leftish / liberal leaning for the broadcaster; it is also complete and utter bollocks. I should be able to ignore the insane ravings coming from Biased BBC, but I appear unable to do so.

Secondly, though, I reckon that just 10 years ago I wouldn’t have been a flag waver for the corporation at all. I remember an early Alan Partridge radio programme where he “interviews” Tony Hayers, the “BBC’s commissioning editor”. Partridge reels off a list of his favourite BBC programmes that fit the ethos of “quality, originality and excellence”; except the examples he names (let’s say “Morse”, “Wexford” and “World in Action”) were all made by ITV. The only good BBC programme he can think of is “Noel’s House Party”. It was a funny joke at the time, but just a few years later it seems terribly dated; it is only with great difficulty that I can think of any half decent ITV programmes at all.

This is another reason that I feel such affection for the BBC. Multi channel television has enlightened me, opened my eyes to all sorts of new possibilities; I really never knew just how crap some television could be before. ITV, and to some extent Channel 4 have reacted by producing some absolute shite in response. The BBC has not been immune – I rarely ever watch BBC1 nowadays – but they still have a knack of generally making the better programmes (I am not totally slagging off the TV landscape since Sky appeared, in fact arguably TV overall has never been better; it’s just that there seems so much more dross nowadays as a percentage of the whole). Even critics of BBC News often accept that the BBC does still make some top quality programmes, among the best on television.

Ultimately then, what better reason to defend the BBC than to simply say that I think they are the best broadcaster in the country, and that consequently it seems bizarre that they appear to receive more criticism than anyone else. Similarly, while I have some issues with the TV licence (that it is a regressive tax, and that non-payment is a criminal rather than a civil offence) my overriding feeling is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and that all the other suggestions for funding the BBC look to me as if they would compromise what we already have.

But finally, yes; I am aware of the irony that my post last week slagged off a BBC television programme!