The annual focus of the television industry immediately before every August Bank Holiday weekend is the Edinburgh Television Festival, a lavish £2,000-a-head talkfest, the main goal of which now seems increasingly to enforce ‘diversity’ in all its many forms.
Its recurring centrepiece is the McTaggart lecture, delivered by an industry luminary and named after the BBC executive whose main claim to fame is that in 1966 he brought Ken Loach’s play Cathy Come Home to the screens.
So who, in this year when Donald Trump was inaugurated and Brexit assumed centre stage, was chosen to deliver the lecture? Someone perhaps from Breitbart, with an alternative view about why television news showed itself to be so out of touch with public opinion and was resolutely biased in favour of the Remain perspective?
No. The man of the moment was the veteran Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, who in June distinguished himself at Glastonbury (where else?) with an allegedly drunken f-word tirade against the Tories.
Once, such immoderate behaviour by a 69-year-old man might have brought him up before the magistrates on a drunk and disorderly charge. But Snow’s reported inebriated chanting in the mass festival adulation of Jeremy Corbyn earned from his Channel 4 bosses only a mild rebuke and a warning about impartiality.
He himself said only that he had ‘no recollection’ of what had happened.
From his peers in the media establishment his incontinence made him a hero. Zoe Williams in The Guardian, for example, spoke in adulatory tones about his impeccable track record in upholding impartiality – especially in his reporting of Gaza. Of course.
And so it was in Edinburgh. Predictably, he earned a standing ovation from his industry audience.
At the core of his speech, Snow projected himself as an impassioned, reasoned defender of public service broadcasting against the tax-avoiding, truth-bending twin evils of Google and Facebook. A beacon of light against the Gog and Magog forces of nasty, unbridled capitalism – and all those on the internet who have different views from those he routinely expresses on Channel 4.
In his media world, he – and, presumably, his fellow public service travellers at the BBC – are upholders of the truth and light and social justice; those out there on the web are unregulated and out-of-control purveyors and manipulators of darkness.
Snow’s analysis focused on the Grenfell Tower fire, and was qualified by a mea culpa. Public service broadcasting had been too obsessed by reporting the ‘flatulence’ (his word) of Brexit and the ‘air-time sapping antics of Trump’. As a result, it had missed that tens of thousands of ‘the left behind’ in North Kensington and in social housing across Britain were in dire need and dangerously at risk because of austerity and a country that did not care.
His solution? Going out to find out why 52 per cent of the country voted for Brexit? No, the exact opposite. That was mere ‘flatulence’. The problem was a lack of diversity in the media. He commented: ‘We the media report the lack of diversity in other walks of life – but our own record is nothing like good enough . . . just under 80 per cent of top editors were educated at private or grammar schools. Compare that with the 88 per cent of the British public now at comprehensives.”
Thereafter, he gradually, in effect, revealed why he had joined the Corbyn mob at Glastonbury. His solution to society’s ills was more diversity, more ‘equality’, an end to capitalism – exactly in line with Labour. Snow revealed during his speech that in the 1960s he had been expelled from Liverpool University for taking part in a sit-in against investment in South Africa.
The more he spoke, the more it became clear he was still locked in that same simplistic worldview of 1960s protest. Just like Corbyn.
Another speaker at the Edinburgh Festival was Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the Commons Media Committee. His mission? To find ways of making sure public service broadcasters were properly impartial in their reporting?
No. He was still on the warpath about the pay of BBC stars and wanted those not directly on the BBC’s books such as David Dimbleby – working for ‘independent’ companies – also to be forced to disclose their earnings. A step in the right direction in BBC accountability, perhaps, though the previous round of disclosures led only to a major protest by the feministas at the corporation, and pressure for female pay rates to be upgraded.
Collins and his committee colleagues should surely be focusing instead on a much more serious problem: the rooting out of the deep, comic-book bias shown by Snow. As the broadcaster illustrated with every word he spoke, it now saturates all elements of our public service news.