Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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From watchdogs to lapdogs: Covid may kill media who cosy up to Whitehall

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OF late, the BBC has – entirely of its own doing – found itself in an increasingly precarious position.  

Abandoning any attempt at neutrality, it has been editorially partisan, allowed moral grandstanding to destroy flagship series (Dr Who) and permitted presenters such as Emily Maitlis and Gary Lineker to antagonise swathes of its viewership with political diatribes.  

Few younger viewers watch it, and the drive for political correctness has alienated many older consumers. Its funding via the television licence fee is widely unpopular. With its Royal Charter coming up for renewal, the corporation was looking to find favour with the Conservative government.  

So it decided that unquestioningly backing the Government/Civil Service on Covid-19 restrictions would be mutually beneficial. Both the BBC and the Civil Service are staffed by the managerial elite: authoritarian-leaning, top-down, safety-first, publicly-funded, furlough-protected technocrats suspicious of the British people.  

Nanny State and Auntie Beeb agreed on their shared moral stewardship of the plebs. Frightening the population became a common purpose.  

BBC news editors – knowingly or otherwise – followed the (now leaked) Sage plans to spread alarm: ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’  

So the BBC backed the Government (chiding it for not being harsh enough) and in return the Government retracted support for decriminalising failure to pay the licence fee.    

But could the corporation’s Faustian pact end up eroding public trust? Consider the disjuncture between your first-hand experience and what you read and hear on mainstream media. My experience has been that in my home city people are breaking lockdown daily.  

Even those grudgingly in favour of lockdown are bending rules in multiple ways. Small shops and takeaways admit customers without masks; non-essential businesses have found work-arounds that allow them to keep serving the public; parks are full at weekends; people go out multiple times per day (are you sticking to the rule that we should still only leave our houses for essential journeys?).  

The police do not enforce lockdown, except in egregious cases. January’s attempted revival of public clapping fizzled out instantly. Authorities (government, police and NHS) have long since exhausted the patience and goodwill of even affluent, Leftie suburbs like mine.  

Holding back the vaccinated elderly is no longer justifiable or enforceable. This may be anecdotal evidence, but it reflects a formerly lockdown-observant district.  

In short, the lockdown has collapsed, with only restrictions on non-essential shops and hospitality businesses, schools and international travel being widely operative. Yet you will not hear that from the BBC or newspapers.  

Officials and journalists must know this, but anyone breaking ranks is portrayed as ‘spreading complacency’ or ‘circulating dangerous misinformation’ and by doing so will ‘have blood on their hands’. Yet reflecting the situation on the ground is essential to honest journalism, whether or not it accords with official guidance.   

As a publicly-funded broadcaster committed to truthfulness, BBC News (the country’s largest news service) has three duties: To report the facts, to engage in investigative journalism and to reflect the public mood.  

In relation to Covid, the BBC has failed on all counts. Worse still, political advisers and civil servants get their steer on public opinion from the BBC. BBC reporting seems real to them because BBC staff have exactly the same mindset and socio-political background as the advisers and civil servants. They are caught in a feedback loop, increasingly detached from reality.  

An excellent piece here on TCW, by Frederick Edward, explains how government-funded ‘public safety’ advertising now makes up a major part of every newspaper’s income. Agencies working on behalf of government, NHS and other public bodies pay full rates for notices and advertisements stressing the necessity of precautionary measures and continued lockdown.  

This applies also to a degree to commercial radio and television. It is therefore unsurprising that editorial policy at every broadcaster (except TalkRadio) and at every publication (except the Salisbury Review, the Critic and a couple of other monthlies and quarterlies) has been broadly pro-lockdown.  

TalkRadio recently lost (then regained) its YouTube channel, presumably for allowing criticism of official handling of Covid and questioning the danger the virus presents.  

Millions of formerly loyal consumers are abandoning the BBC, along with other mainstream broadcasters and newspapers, because they do not see their outlooks represented in these outlets. They are suspicious of the way news organisations are uncritical – even unquestioning – of official proclamations that bear increasingly little relation to their lives.  

It leads to a dawning revelation: Could the BBC be just as untrustworthy on environmental issues, gender inequality, race relations, mass immigration and other contentious matters?  

If the BBC refuses to be neutral, fact-based and critical, why not turn to YouTube commentary videos and internet forums? If the BBC surrenders its neutrality, reflection of public opinion and commitment to truth, it has no claim to special status or to public funding.  

The mainstream media have forgotten that authorities – and the media itself – are servants of the people, appointed by the people to serve the people.  

If journalistic media do not realise that their functions are to accurately report, investigate and reflect public opinion, then they are doomed to justified irrelevance and deserved extinction.    

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Alexander Adams
Alexander Adams is an artist, art critic and author. His book Iconoclasm, Identity Politics and the Erasure of History is published by Societas.

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