Whither the BBC as its new Charter comes into effect? From April 2, the much-reviled BBC Trust – which was created by New Labour in 2007 – will be no more. Its regulatory role is being taken over partly by a souped-up management board, and partly – in the policing of impartiality – by the commercial media sector’s watchdog, Ofcom.
In charge of the new management structure as Chairman is former deputy governor of the Bank of England Sir David Clementi. It remains to be seen what his regime will be like, if only because with less than two weeks to go, the names of Clementi’s non-executive colleagues have not yet been announced.
As the handover looms, there are disturbing signs that there is much to do. BBC arrogance is as rampant as ever. James Purnell, the former Labour cabinet minister appointed as director of BBC radio despite his complete lack of broadcasting experience, is now trying to steamroller Parliament into passing legislation that would force listings publications to give priority to programmes from the BBC.
How very Big Brother! Not content with levering £3.5 billion a year in licence fee payments from British pockets, this new Labour apparatchik now wants to rig things even further in the BBC’s favour by ordering commercial operators around. But hey-ho, listings outlets are mainly run by private enterprise so who at the BBC cares?
His patronising, droit de seigneur approach perhaps summarises all that is wrong with the BBC.
Meanwhile, the Ofcom element of the changes has already set alarm bells ringing. A core goal of the reforms in the BBC Charter overseen by John Whittingdale during his stint as Culture Secretary was the creation of genuinely independent scrutiny of the BBC’s output – thereby the ending of corrosive liberal Left bias.
The focus of Ofcom boss Sharon White seems, however, to be elsewhere. At an Oxford media conference earlier this month her main concern was ‘diversity’ and the lack of older women on BBC screens. Another major problem is that the Ofcom Content Board, which will be the final court of appeal in complaints about BBC output, is chock-full of ex-BBC figures.
It seems most unlikely – if not inconceivable – on that basis that they will fight to reform BBC output in ways that are so urgently required.
It is reported that 70 MPs have written to BBC Director General Tony Hall complaining about post-Brexit coverage of the Corporation, claiming that it is reporting ‘too gloomily’ the prospects for the UK. As this report from News-watch about Radio 4’s group of programmes called the Brexit Collection shows, that is an understatement.
The summary states:
‘Overall, there were no attempts in any programme to explore the benefits of leaving the EU, but conversely, Brexit came under sustained negative attack. This was reflected in the balance of contributions and comment contained within the items. Analysis by News-watch shows that only 23% of contributors in the programmes as a whole spoke in favour of Brexit, against 58% in favour of Remain and 19% who gave a neutral or factual commentary.’
The extent of the rot in terms of bias – and thus, the size of the task facing Ofcom – is also sharply illustrated by a hot-off-the-press dying-days ruling by the BBC Trust about a complaint submitted by News-watch. The full paper trail of this saga can be read here.
This dates back to the death last August 31 of a well-liked Polish man, ‘Arek’ Jozwik, after a late night fracas in a pizza parlour in Harlow. This sent the BBC news gathering operation – which then as now was hell-bent on a mission to undermine Brexit – into overdrive.
BBC1 man-on-the spot Daniel Sandford alleged most prominently in his report that the crime – prematurely said by him to be a ‘murder’ – was being investigated as a frenzied attack by a gang of six local youths triggered by race hate stirred up by the referendum vote.
And later that evening, on BBC2’s Newsnight, correspondent John Sweeney’s outro to his feature about the death was a quote from a friend of Mr Jozwik, who declared that Nigel Farage had ‘blood on his hands’.
Fast forward to the present. It has since emerged that Mr Jozwik’s death was not murder at all. Nor, say the police, was race hate involved, and nor was the crime committed by a frenzied gang of race hating youths.
Instead, a sole 15-year-old youth has been charged with manslaughter. He has indicated a plea of ‘not guilty’ at a preliminary hearing and was released on conditional bail until his trial, scheduled for July.
News-watch filed a formal complaint about Sandford’s provocative report. This claimed in essence that the reporting of Harlow was deeply irresponsible journalism which deliberately sensationalised the known facts about the killing, and too readily linked it to race hate – reports about which were in any case much exaggerated. There was supporting evidence showing how very rare killings with a racial motive are in the UK.
This was rejected by the Complaints Unit. They maintained, in essence, that Sandford was merely doing his job within the BBC rules.
News-watch then submitted an appeal to the BBC Trust. Former BBC producer Fran O’Brien, who is now the Trust’s Head of Editorial Standards, responded this week.
Her decision? Surprise, surprise, exactly the same as the Complaints Unit. There was, she ruled, no exaggeration, no inaccuracy, no breach of rules linked to over-emphasising ‘race hate’. Everything was totally tickety-boo and in line with the BBC Editorial Guidelines. And that was that. O’Brien declared there could be no appeal.
This last-gasp ruling underlines yet again that BBC journalism exists in its own bubble, and the Complaints Unit (which keeps under the new Charter its role as the frontline complaints investigator) does nothing to prick it; if anything, the reverse. The Corporation reports on its terms, no matter how inflammatory or at odds with the facts and common sense its output is.
The blunt truth is that the Sandford report of Mr Jozwik’s killing grossly and irresponsibly exaggerated the race hate dimension, wrongly linked it to Brexit, and must be seen in the overall context of the BBC’s determined desire to undermine the referendum result.
What price now Whittingdale’s reforms? The reality is that, until BBC bias is governed by a system that includes genuinely independent scrutiny, the Corporation will remain locked in that skewed journalistic bubble – uncaringly out of touch with vast swathes of the British people. No amount of statist bludgeoning by Purnell will change that.
(Image: David Holt)