Biased & Botched Coverage
Why the BBC has lost touch with viewers after Jubilee pageant fiasco
By DENNIS SEWELL
IT should have been broadcasting at its very best — but instead the BBC’s coverage of last weekend’s Jubilee celebrations was slammed for being ill-informed, frothy and inane.
The backlash raises questions over what we can expect from the Olympics coverage. And the staggering £30million cost of moving BBC staff to the corporation’s new MediaCity complex in Salford, Gtr Manchester, has further fanned the flames.
It is against this background that Beeb Chairman Lord Pattern this week begins the process of selecting a new director general to replace Mark Thompson.
A searing report on the BBC’s Left-liberal bias commissioned by think-tank The New Culture Forum is due out this week. Here, the author of the report DENNIS SEWELL explains why he believes the misjudged Jubilee coverage was just the latest example of how the BBC has lost touch with ordinary viewers...
TOMORROW, BBC Chairman Lord Patten will start interviewing the shortlisted candidates vying to become the corporation’s next director general.
Whoever is chosen for the top job in British broadcasting will take over in the autumn after the Olympics.
The questions were always going to be tough. But after the fiasco of last Sunday’s Thames Pageant coverage, the hopefuls had better have their answers polished to a shine.
All week, BBC executives have had to stand and watch a grisly post-mortem of the corporation’s Jubilee output. Star presenters such as Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton have been branded “airheads” who have nothing to contribute that wasn’t inane.
Its editorial approach has been damned as patronising. Even the BBC’s cherished reputation for technical excellence has been dragged through the rainy gutter — after botched cut-aways and microphones that couldn’t pick up an orchestra.
But more damaging than any of that has been how critics have zeroed in on the cause of the BBC’s cack-handed approach to the celebrations, identifying a fundamental attitude problem.
Many at the BBC have become totally detached from the values of the British people. Stuck in a media bubble — whether in London or Salford — they have lost any instinctive sympathy with the mood of the nation.
They make the wrong calls because they’re out of touch.They don’t personally share the enthusiasms and emotions that go with royal occasions. In fact, they despise them.
Cheering and waving flags is not for people like them. Displays of patriotism and celebrations of British identity give them the shivers. Occasions like the Jubilee are for a different sort of person they don’t much respect and don’t much like.
So, inevitably, the coverage tends to be condescending and dumbed down. One ex-BBC controller almost admitted as much this week. He said the BBC was “nervous” about the occasion and so tried too hard to be “inclusive”.
That explains why cameras kept cutting away from the toffs and the royals on the boats to the BBC’s idea of ordinary people — Tess Daly cavorting with cross-dressers in Battersea Park.
But the worry is indicative of something deep-rooted. It amounts to a form of bias. Normally when people talk about BBC bias they mention interviewers seeming to favour Labour or the Liberal Democrats against the Tories. People disagree as to whether there is any real, consistent bias there.
But as long ago as 2006, the BBC detected a different kind of bias. Andrew Marr described it as a “cultural bias”. Others have called it a “Left-liberal” bias.
No one back then disputed that this bias existed. The BBC commissioned a report and adopted a new impartiality policy.
So what has happened since? I’ve been looking back at the BBC’s output over the past five years to see if that bias persisted. The answer is the problem hasn’t gone away.
Not even the intervention of the chief of the general staff could stop the BBC airing the 2010 drama Frankie’s Story, which portrayed British soldiers in Afghanistan as thugs and was described by Gulf War veteran Colonel Tim Collins as “a stab in the back”.
The BBC turned down Chris Morris’s comedy about Islamist bombers Four Lions due to political correctness — but aired a documentary that labelled an Islamist a moderate, even though he called for homosexuals to be killed.
Meanwhile, the only two “out Christians” in EastEnders have been the self-righteous Dot Branning and Lucas Johnson, who callously left his wife to die and murdered two other people.
Murderous Christians have become a running theme. Bonekickers had them decapitate a Muslim and Spooks featured anti-abortion terrorists.
The same is true in comedy. You’ve heard 1,000 George Bush jokes on the BBC but have you heard the one about Barack Obama? No, nor have I.
Its cultural bias led the BBC to fail the Jubilee test last week. Next up is the Olympics. Of course the BBC will spend squillions. But will it get the tone right? Or will it let down Team GB and the nation?
London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for the new DG to be a Tory. Fat chance. But whoever is chosen must sort out the cultural bias problem.
The public’s patience is running out.
A Question of Attitude – The BBC and Bias Beyond News by Dennis Sewell is published by The New Culture Forum on June 12.