THE illusion of impartiality which the BBC assiduously promotes is itself the clearest expression of its ruling class bias.
Behind the social liberalism and notional balance lies a long tradition of patrician privilege shot through with rank hypocrisy.
Founded as a private company with shareholders from the wireless industry the BBC was rapidly transformed into a public corporation with a Royal Charter. Its first director-general established a tradition which continues today. John (later Baron) Reith went from a top Conservative Party job to become boss of the new enterprise.
A measure of his politics can be gauged when, during the Munich betrayal of Czechoslovakia, he commented: “Hitler continues his magnificent efficiency.”
The early formation and growth of the BBC as an instrument of establishment propaganda took place following the first world war when working-class men and older women acquired the vote and throughout Europe an insurrectionary working class was in revolt.
This, and the triumphant Russian Revolution, gave new urgency to the principles laid down by the British constitutional authority Walter Bagehot at the time of an earlier extension of the franchise.
Describing the responsibilities of “our statesman” Bagehot wrote: “They have to guide the new voters in the exercise of the franchise; to guide them quietly, and without saying what they are doing, but still to guide them. The leading statesmen in a free country have great momentary power. They settle the conversation of mankind.”
There is no clearer description of the role the broadcast media performs and the BBC gives institutional support to the principle of government which decrees that the direction of the economy and the state can only be entrusted to those trusted to maintain things as they are.
Liberal opinion routinely gives the BBC a free pass because the corporation has something of a tradition for avoiding the worst excesses of the commercial broadcast media — and the very many skilled workers and talented professionals working there have an unparalleled reputation for quality programme-making.
This gives the BBC a special status, and there is much to protect from market excesses, but at the same time the BBC has an unsavoury entanglement with the monopoly print media that sees capitalist media giants bunged up to £3 million.
The BBC may have abandoned its long established personnel management policy of checking job applicants for Communist views with an in-house serving MI5 officer, but a combination of highly selective recruitment into management positions and the dispersal of programme making to contracted-out private enterprises means that a very limited range of political opinion is to be found.
This structural bias was particularly acute with the Brexit coverage, when left-wing approaches to the question which have a wide currency in the working class were systematically excluded and racist and reactionary voices privileged.
Working class accents and experiences feature in drama and entertainment — but all too rarely in politics and current affairs.
The BBC’s routine anti-Labour bias is a running joke, but Ofcom’s annual report breaks new ground in its concerns “over aspects of the approach the BBC takes to due impartiality in its news and current affairs coverage.”
This is not just because the Morning Star is excluded from coverage, but because a whole tranche of left-wing opinion — including the views of people who may form the next government — are suppressed, alongside a more systematic exclusion of working-class concerns and a privileging of upper class voices that diminishes the importance of the experiences and viewpoints of millions of working people.
For the credibility of the BBC, and a renewal of trust in its public service role, this needs to change.
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