Monday, February 19, 2007

The BBC - 'Institutionally Leftist'

Robin Aitken has been a journalist with the BBC for 25 years. He resigned in 2004 following the Hutton enquiry. He is about to publish a book exposing the "institutional biasedness" of the corporation.

Aitken is not the first senior journalist to accuse the BBC of biased reporting. Former business editor, Jeff Randall, quoted Orwell when describing the BBC,

"the BBC was full of intellectuals who 'would rather steal from a poor box than stand to attention during God Save The King'. "

Aitken writes,

'In 1984 I returned to BBC Scotland after covering the Tory conference in Brighton. The IRA had come close to assassinating Margaret Thatcher with a bomb and the country was in shock.
Apart, that is, from some of my BBC colleagues. "Pity they missed the bitch," one confided to me.

For three decades I was that rare breed - a Conservative at the BBC. In my time working on programmes such as Today and Breakfast News I couldn't have formed a cricket team from Tory sympathisers. As one producer put it, you feel almost part of an ethnic minority.

The BBC is biased,and it is a bias that seriously distorts public debate. In the past 30 years, 'Auntie' has transformed from the staid upholder of the status quo to a champion of progressive causes. In the process, the ideal at the heart of the corporation - that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan - has all but disappeared.

On Election night (in 1992 when Labour lost to the Conservatives), the atmosphere in the newsroom was one of palpable deflation. A young female producer was in tears. '

Aitken first raised his concerns within the BBC in 1998. He was ignored.

'In 1999 the news was dominated by Nato's war against Serbia. The BBC was supportive, in contrast to its sceptical attitude to the Falklands and the first Gulf wars. Why the difference? At the time Tony Blair enjoyed uncritical support within the BBC, as did President Bill Clinton.

At a Forum meeting in December 2000, I suggested to Greg Dyke, the new director-general, that there should be an internal inquiry into bias. Dyke, a Labour Party donor and member along with BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, mumbled a muddled reply. As he left the meeting, I overheard him demand angrily of his PA: "Who was that fucker?"

In 2001 I was hired by Rod Liddle, then editor of Radio 4's Today, to report on politics and economics. With an audience of six million, the programme is arguably the most influential in Britain. But I soon began noticing bias in the subjects chosen, the people interviewed and the tone of voice.

I wrote to Phil Harding, the BBC's director of editorial policy, using the Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence as an analogy. If the Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist", I wrote, the BBC was "institutionally Leftist".

He was reluctant to engage and eventually told me he could devote no more time to my views, while Mark Damazer, deputy head of news, accused me of feeling frustrated about my career progress and attacked me for impugning the integrity of my colleagues. Both allegations were false; I enjoyed my career and never doubted the integrity of my colleagues - they truly believed they were acting impartially, they just didn't recognise their bias.

'Neutral' for BBC journalists is left of centre for everyone else; everything is seen through the distorting prism of the progressive agenda. As one senior news presenter told me:

"Anybody who attacks the Labour Government is always coming from the Left, and the Tories are written off as insane or - if there's the slightest chance of them getting anywhere - evil."

But Damazer wasn't interested in my views. If I was so "disaffected", he suggested I consider leaving the BBC.

Within the BBC, opinion ran strongly against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Most staff felt war was unjustified; feelings intensified by their contempt for President George Bush. On Today we occasionally allowed the case for war to be made, but the prevailing tone was doom-laden. Arguing for a better balance was a thankless task: at one meeting I said our coverage was too anti-war; the editor's response was brusque.

"That's a very dangerous view," Kevin Marsh, who took over as Today's editor in 2002, told me. Dangerous to whom? I wondered.

Aitken concludes

'The erstwhile young rebels who changed the BBC in the Sixties and Seventies are now the Establishment, and their views, once so radical, have become an ossified consensus - just like the ones they replaced. However, there is a big difference: the old Establishment was undermined by media scrutiny; the new Establishment is the media. Who can debunk it?'

The BBC currently recieves $5.8 billion a year of taxpayers money.

It's Charter directs it to be

free from both political and commercial influence and answers only to its viewers and listeners.