The BBC never tires of reminding us of its bona fides. A recent BBC advert assured us:
“Honesty, integrity – it’s what the BBC stands for.”
During the recent general election, the same source declared:
“The BBC is fighting the election on a single issue: The Truth!”
No surprise, then, that the BBC requires that reporters undergo some demanding, even gruesome, procedures prior to taking up their positions. Political editor Andrew Marr reveals all:
“When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.” (Marr, the Independent, 13 January, 2001)
This is welcome news to anyone who read Marr’s pre-BBC Observer articles, with titles like: “Brave, bold, visionary. Whatever became of Blair the ultra-cautious cynic?” (The Observer, 4.4.99), and, “Hail to the chief. Sorry, Bill, but this time we’re talking about Tony.” (The Observer, 16.5.99) Marr declared himself in awe of Blair’s “moral courage” and wrote: “I am constantly impressed, but also mildly alarmed, by his utter lack of cynicism.”
During the bombing of Serbia, Marr’s Organs of Opinion were very much in place, and inflamed with war fever:
“I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we’re so steeped in bloodr we should go further. If we really believe Milosevic is this bad, dangerous and destabilising figure we must ratchet this up much further. We should now be saying that we intend to put in ground troops.” (Marr, the Observer, 18.4.99)
Marr referred to the “war-hardened people of Serbia” as “beasts”, explaining how the Serbs, “far more callous, seemingly readier to die, are like an alien race.” (Marr, the Observer, 25.4.99)
The Serbs were a kind of “gook”, then, to use the dehumanising jargon of an earlier war. To be sure, the Serbs died readily enough under our bombs, dropped from the safety (for our pilots) of 15,000 feet. Marr is currently reporting Blair and Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism’, but keeping any thoughts of a “Macbeth option” to himself.
Kamal Ahmed of the Observer noted the obvious: “Marr… is close to senior officials in Downing Street and makes no secret of his New Labour credentials. He is well-liked by the Prime Minister and his official spokesman, Alastair Campbell.” (The Observer, 14.5.00)
Journalists are keen to defend the reputation of the BBC as an unbiased, neutral and objective public broadcaster. When challenged on the role of advertisers, parent companies, wealthy owners and business-friendly governments in filtering news “fit to print”, hacks commonly refer to the counter-balancing influence of the BBC. Thus Jon Snow, the Channel 4 newsreader, said in an interview:
“Your big problem is that you’re dealing with a multi-media activity in Britain, in which there is a huge non-corporate involvement… I’ll give you the BBC as an example.”
But at a time when business domination of global society, and Seattle-style mass resistance to that domination, are the big issues of the day, how “non-corporate” is the BBC, in fact?
Consider that the BBC’s new chairman, Gavyn Davies, was touted as the next Governor of the Bank of England in 1997. Prior to joining the BBC, Davies, who is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of £150 million, was chief economist of the powerful global bank Goldman Sachs. The outgoing and equally “non-corporate” chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, left the BBC to become chairman of British Telecom. Sarah Ryle of the Observer, notes of Davies’s “non-corporate” agenda:
“…those at the BBC prepared to comment only off the record say the Davies appointment is a good one. Broadcasting is as much about business as it is about content, today more than ever before.” (Quoted, Sarah Ryle, the Observer, 23.9.01)
Steve Barnett of the Observer expresses mock-surprise at the appointment:
“Who would have believed it? A Labour government appoints a millionaire banker with little public-sector experience as chairman of the BBC, while a Conservative Opposition complains bitterly that the job didn’t go to an experienced and dedicated public service broadcaster. The tide of twentieth-century politics has truly turned.” (Steve Barnett, the Observer, 23.9.01)
As a result, both the director-general, Greg Dyke, and the chairman of the BBC, are not just Labour supporters but have both given money to the party. In Davies’s case, the links are even more intimate – Davies’s wife runs Gordon Brown’s office. His children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding and Tony Blair has stayed at his holiday home. “In other words”, Richard Ingrams writes in the Observer, “it would be hard to find a better example of a Tony crony.” (Ingrams, the Observer, 23.9.01)
Media commentators have been quick to point out that the communal door linking BBC, government and business executives has been turning for a very long time. Steve Barnett describes a few of the earlier revolutions:
“… back in 1980, George Howard, the hunting, shooting and fishing aristocratic pal of Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, was appointed [BBC chairman] because Margaret Thatcher couldn’t abide the thought of distinguished Liberal Mark Bonham-Carter being promoted vice-chairman.
Then there was Stuart Young, accountant and brother of one of Thatcher’s staunchest cabinet allies, who succeeded Howard in 1983. He was followed in 1986 by Marmaduke Hussey, brother-in-law of another Cabinet Minister who was plucked from the obscurity of a directorship at Rupert Murdoch’s Times Newspapers. According to the then-Tory chairman, Norman Tebbit, Hussey was appointed ‘to get in there and sort the place out, and in days not months.’ Those were the days of nods and winks, of unbridled political collusion – not so much Tony’s cronies as Maggie’s baggage.” (Barnett, ibid)
This is the farce of a British media system utterly dominated by business interests and business-friendly government; that is, by the establishment.
The idea that the BBC is independent of such influences is quickly exposed by even a casual glance through the historical record.
The BBC was founded by Lord Reith in 1922 and immediately used as a propaganda weapon for the Baldwin government during the General Strike, when it became known by workers as the “British Falsehood Corporation”. During the strike, no representative of organized labour was allowed to broadcast on the BBC; the Leader of the Opposition, Ramsay McDonald, was also banned. Reith said it was wrong but that he could do nothing about it.
At the start of the Second World War, an official wrote that the Ministry of Information “recognized that for the purpose of war activities the BBC is to be regarded as a Government Department.” He added: “I wouldn’t put it quite like this in any public statement.” For forty years, from an office in Bush House in London, home of the BBC World Service, a brigadier passed on the names of applicants for editorial jobs in the BBC to MI5 for ‘vetting’. John Pilger reports that “Journalists with a reputation for independence were refused BBC posts because they were not considered ‘safe’.”
In the leaked minutes of one of the BBC’s weekly Review Board meetings during the Falklands war, BBC executives directed that the weight of their news coverage should be concerned “primarily with government statements of policy”. An impartial style was felt to be “an unnecessary irritation”. Prior to the opening of hostilities, a Peruvian plan for a negotiated settlement came close to success. On 13th May 1982 Edward Heath told ITN that the Argentinians had requested three minor amendments to the peace plan. According to Heath these were so trivial that they could not possibly be rejected, yet Prime Minister Thatcher rejected them out of hand. The interview with Heath was the only time on British television that mention was made of the peace plan; the story was allowed to die.
The idea that the “non-corporate” BBC somehow counterbalances the corporate media is made absurd by the fact that, on issue after issue – global warming, sanctions against Iraq, the bombing of Serbia, Western support of Indonesia, inaction over East Timor, the history of US and British support of Third World tyrants – all promote near-identical establishment views.
Beyond all the propaganda and wishful thinking, the truth of the BBC’s relationship with the establishment was revealed long ago, and with admirable honesty, by the BBC’s own founder, Lord Reith, in his diary:
“They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.”
CONTACT: The BBC
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Andrew Marr, BBC’s political editor: [email protected]
BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme: [email protected]
BBC Radio 4 ‘PM’ programme: [email protected]
BBC news website: http://news.bbc.co.uk