Jeremy Hunt and the BBC: your ballot or your job

Jeremy Hunt

The BBC should be more right-wing, says shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. And to counter what he sees as the organisation’s “innate liberal bias” he wants the BBC to start actively recruiting Tories:

“I wish they would go and actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their newsgathering team, because they have acknowledged that one of their problems is that people who want to work at the BBC tend to be from the centre-left.

“That’s why they have this issue with what Andrew Marr called an innate liberal bias. I think the important thing with the BBC is that it belongs to all of us.”

Press Gazette, “Jeremy Hunt: BBC News needs more Tories”

Let’s skip over the obviously questionable assumptions in Hunt’s comments – like, what constitutes a “liberal bias”, and how does he know the BBC has one? (Personally, I think there’s merit in Medhi Hassan’s contention of right-wing bias in the corporation, while Greg Philo’s statistical analysis of the BBC’s Israel-Palestine coverage has shown the Beeb to be strikingly distant from any supposed liberal consensus on the Middle East. But then, perhaps any interest in or adherence to external evidence would be interpreted as a genuflection to reality’s well-known liberal bias.)

Leaving all that aside, we can look directly to what Hunt is asking for – a quota system based, not on externally visible risk factors for discrimination like gender and race, but on the internal and private quality of political affiliation. When Cameron moved to introduce the priority list system, with the intention of engineering an increase in the number of female Conservative MPs, the grass-roots party was hostile; presumably, Hunt has calculated that positive discrimination in favour of media Tories will be welcomed more sympathetically.

There are some cases where membership of a particular political party is genuinely counter to someone’s suitability for a job. I’m supportive of the ban on police and prison officers joining the BNP, because the BNP is a party with openly racist beliefs that would plausibly compromise an individual’s fitness for those roles.

But Hunt is suggesting something else: he’s asking for a cobbled-together parody of proportional representation, in which the publicly-funded broadcaster is forced to become a constitutional mirror of a parliament which is itself a grossly distorted representation of the electorate. It’s absurd, it’s impractical (what if an employee was recruited as a Conservative only to become a late-blooming advocate of Marx?) and – what should make the Toriest of Tories despise it – it’s a supremely state-meddling approach.

But logical failings probably can’t hold back ascendant political will: choose the bits of the BBC you love, and get ready to fight for them when the next government comes in.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

Conserving ignorance

Is it ever worth responding to a Peter Hitchens piece? The New Statesman invited him to provide the counterpoint to Medhi Hassan’s “actually, the BBC is right-wing” argument. Hassan’s feature is – I think – a tightly argued piece of journalism, drawing on verifiable details about the careers of high-profile BBC personnel and analysis of the corporation’s new content. It strongly makes the case that the BBC has no case to answer in terms of left-wing bias.

How does Hitchens reply? By saying that party bias is not the issue (even though the Hassan piece focused more on policy bias) and arguing cultural bias instead. Quantifiable cultural bias, no less – although Hitchens, as ever, has trouble telling the difference between something that is capable of being quantified, and something that already has been:

Were I a multibillionaire, I could commission the proper research into nuance, tone of voice, who gets the last word, presenters’ backgrounds, running order, drama, soap operas and cultural coverage, that would demonstrate beyond any doubt that the BBC is on the side of the cultural and social revolution that I and many other licence-fee payers oppose with all our hearts.

New Statesman, “They hoped I’d be pro-torture”

Actually, you don’t have to be a multibillionaire to commission this sort of study. You could be jobbing journalist like Nick Davies, or even (at the time) a jobbing comedian like Al Franken, and recruit a group of research students to your project. Hitchens could access the sort of information he is hoping for, but his interest in knowledge ends long before it could have any influence over his opinions – his feelings about the BBC (like his feelings about drugs, families and the monarchy) come from his gut, and he emits them with the same thoughtfulness you’d give to any other stomach contents.

Abort the antichrist! (BBC drama does pro-life)
They’re coming to stick pins in your children (more of P Hitchens failing with numbers)

© Sarah Ditum, 2009