More pressure on the BBC over Newsbeat BNP feature

Newsbeat BNP grabNewsbeat’s dereliction of editorial responsibility in reporting the BNP has become a story in its own right. Both Welsh secretary Peter Hain and shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt have criticised the BBC, and the Mail On Sunday made it their front page yesterday. (Roy Greenslade gives more background on the development of the story on his blog.)

So far, the BBC has failed totally to offer an acceptable response to this lapse. Both the editor of Newsbeat and the BBC’s chief politics adviser have defended a piece of journalism so weak it amounted to little more than handing the airwaves to senior BNP members for them to expound fallacious and hateful opinions. Clearly, this is inadequate journalism, and it demonstrates a serious flaw in the way BBC News has interpreted its commitment to truth and accuracy.

The BBC Trust has just opened a public consultation on the corporation’s editorial guidelines. That means the Trust is waiting to hear from viewers and listeners about issues like Newsbeat’s lousy interviewing – if you fill out the questionnaire, I’d recommend paying special attention to section one on “Accuracy and Impartiality”. If you love the Beeb like Charlie Brooker and would do “anything to keep it running”, this is probably better than mass murder as a way of addressing one of those “dumb things” the corporation sometimes does.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

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