ROUGHLY 26 years ago, a BBC reporter lied to someone to persuade her to give him an interview. Corporation management knew about the deception not long after the programme was aired but turned a blind eye, which enabled the interviewer to have a long and successful journalistic career, as did the executives involved. But that’s old news, right? The woman who was interviewed is now dead, the reporter who deceived her no longer works at the BBC and nor do any of the executives who did nothing about the deception.
There are many problems for the BBC arising from Lord Dyson’s report into Martin Bashir’s dodgy dealings with Princess Diana, the most obvious and dangerous of which is Prince William’s public slamming of it. Its status as a national institution is under serious threat when the second in line to the throne makes clear his contempt for it. But the BBC’s conduct in this matter is one example of a long pattern of behaviour.
Take the recent coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It’s no surprise that pro-Palestinian marches were given more coverage and sympathetic coverage than others (as noted on TCW here). The BBC has long made misleading analogies between the behaviour of Palestinian terrorists and Israeli security forces, as a former BBC Director General has pointed out. And just as with Martin Bashir, it has covered up its sins. In 2004, the BBC commissioned a report from senior broadcast journalist Michael Balen on its coverage of Israel following a number of complaints from the public and the Israeli government. The Balen report has never been published. The BBC has successfully resisted attempts to have it disclosed under Freedom of Information legislation. One can therefore only guess how damning its content must be. Even in the wake of this hidden report, lessons were barely learned. In 2005, complaints about BBC Jerusalem correspondent Barbara Plett admitting in a broadcast that she wept when Yasser Arafat, long-standing leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, left the West Bank shortly before his death were dismissed by the BBC head of editorial. The Board of Governors took a different view and ruled that Plett’s comments ‘breached the requirements of due impartiality’. Ms Plett was moved to Pakistan and remains employed by the BBC.
And then there’s Jimmy Savile, reported on by David Keighley for TCW here, and the BBC’s treatment of Sir Cliff Richard. It is a legacy of shame for Lord Hall and, as with the treatment of Princess Diana and Israel, it is the cover-up that is most damning for the organisation. A Newsnight investigation into Savile’s abuse was pulled shortly before it was due to air. Meirion Jones, one of the two reporters who put together the report, said those who sought to bring to light Savile’s behaviour or criticise the BBC’s handling of allegations were treated as traitors. Jones and his colleague, Liz MacKean, left the BBC as did executives behind a Panorama investigation into what the BBC knew about Savile. Those who had ignored Savile’s crimes continued their careers at the corporation.
The BBC has continually tried to convince the public that its mistakes were all in the past. In 2010, then Director General Mark Thompson stated that the BBC was guilty of a ‘massive bias to the Left’ when he had joined the Corporation 30 years previously, but he insisted that had changed. If any conservative ever believed that, they certainly ceased to do so after the coverage of Brexit.
It’s tempting to psychoanalyse the BBC mindset. It seems that having told itself that it is fair and unbiased, the corporation cannot believe it makes mistakes because a fair and unbiased organisation wouldn’t do that sort of thing. And with a guaranteed income from the TV licence, the BBC does not face the commercial pressures that would force an entity to mend its ways or cease to exist. But analysis is less important than action to put a stop to this fake impartiality and integrity.
Worryingly, the corporation’s royal charter is not due for renewal until 2027, thanks to the 2017 Conservative Government and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who should have known better. We cannot wait until then while it continues its damage. The only way to cut short the BBC’s arrogance is to stop its main source of revenue, the £159 TV licence which brings in more than £3.5billion a year. Only when it has a financial incentive to pay attention to its viewers is there any hope that it will listen and be prepared to change.
The Defund the BBC campaign needs all of our support – it is not impossible for it to work. Last year saw a dramatic drop in licence-fee sales of 250,000 plus plummeting viewing figures. On the back of Prince William’s damning statement the Government should be put under every pressure (through MPS and otherwise) to bring forward its plans to decriminalise licence fee non-payers and give the corporation notice that it will be left to wither and die unless it adapts to becoming a subscription service – one that viewers want enough to pay for.