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October 20, 2004

Why the BBC in its present form should be abolished

Posted by William D. Rubinstein

The BBC is so institutionally biased against conservatism and conservative values, the United States and its allies, and the West in general that the only way of creating an impartial BBC is to abolish the organisation in its current form. The Licence Fee should be scrapped, a proper independent complaints unit should be established and the BBC should be split up. This is the provocative argument of Professor William D. Rubinstein.

There are two great mysteries about the British Broadcasting Corporation: why it was founded and why it continues to exist. Let us start with the second of these. Why on earth the Conservatives, during their long years of political hegemony, did not clean house with the BBC, remains one of the inexplicable wonders of the world.

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that they, and the viewpoints associated with the Conservative party, have suffered as a result. My understanding is that Mrs Thatcher was repeatedly asked - indeed, literally begged - to reform the BBC but, for reasons best known to herself, always declined. Indeed, the last two institutions of note to remain entirely in public hands, the London underground (until recently) and the BBC, should manifestly have been the very first to have been privatised, and their unreformed existence remains a standing reproach to Mrs Thatcher, John Major, and their advisors. (I have no wish to digress unduly, and am well-aware that the tubes are now run by a so-called "public/private consortium", but if one wants to know what the whole of the British industrial scene might well be like today had Mrs Thatcher not won the 1979 general election, one should look no further than the London underground, whose unreconstructed wrecking machine of union bosses seemingly have as their permanent goal causing the maximum inconvenience to the maximum number of ordinary people for the most trivial of reasons.)

The BBC is also a product of its long history. It was founded in 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company and reformulated in its present form, with a charter similar in many respects to that under which it operates today, in 1926 as the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Its charter was premised upon two basic points which have determined its direction ever since: it was to hold a monopoly of all radio (and, later, television) broadcasting without exception, and it was to be paid for not out of commercial revenue or even from a component of general taxation, but from a special, mandatory licensing fee conscripted from everyone in Britain who owned a radio (later, a television), regardless of whether or how often they listened, what their income was, or any other factor.

Both provisions plainly and undeniably border closely on totalitarianism, and, indeed, would not be out of place in a Communist or fascist state. It beggars belief that a right-wing Tory government, such as was in power in 1926 with a large majority, should have enacted a measure of this kind. Its motivation was, it seems, a desire to avoid the alleged vulgarization of the airwaves such as was said to exist in the United States, with its hundreds of privately-owned radio stations churning out a diet of jazz, comedies, and sport.

There was probably also a wish to limit the powers of the press lords like Lord Beaverbrook whom, it feared, would quickly gain control of the broadcast media as well as of the press.

As a result, of course, Britain had no other legal radio or television stations prior to the establishment of ITV in 1954-55. One upshot of this legal monopoly of the airwaves is that Britain failed to develop an effective airwave competition to the BBC until the 1960s at the earliest - in reality, probably not until the 1980s. T

he result of this was the loss of the talents and originality of several generations of independent programmers who were never allowed to exist. Britain is said to have experienced a "golden age" of its local cinema between the late 1930s and about 1960, but this was never paralleled on Britain's radio. Because we take the BBC so much for granted, the grotesque anomalousness of this situation may well be lost on most people: the broadcast monopoly given to the BBC was ipso facto unfair and, to reiterate, virtually totalitarian. In a democracy, no one would dream of giving one particular newspaper or publisher the sole right to legally function, with all competitors legally debarred, but this is precisely the situation which existed in Britain for many decades.

During its first period of operation, the BBC probably more or less fulfilled its Charter requirement to be fair and balanced, as well as to elevate public taste. The BBC did bring to Britain's slums and deprived areas a taste of Shakespeare, classical symphonies, and high level discussions and lectures which would probably have been otherwise inaccessible to most. Its news was more or less balanced, and, during the Second World War, functioned as an international beacon of freedom and hope.

But since the 1960s, and especially since the years that Sir Hugh Greene was its Director-General (1959-68), the BBC has systematically reneged on any such fulfilment of its Charter, except in the most nominal way. Its "dumbing down", particularly under its two last Director-Generals, John Birt and Greg Dyke, has been widely discussed, but cannot really be examined here, since we are concerned with its political bias.

The BBC is institutionally biased against conservatism and conservative values, against the United States and its allies, and against the West in general. In many respects, its virtual wall-to-wall leftism serves as a form of "outdoor relief" for otherwise probably unemployable radicals. Having some experience of equivalent broadcasters overseas, I might note that in this the BBC is uncannily like non-commercial broadcasters elsewhere: post-1960, such bodies are almost invariably hijacked by the left, whether here, in Australia, where the ABC (their equivalent of the BBC) is demonstrably biased in the same way, or on America's public broadcasting stations - although there, strong and sometimes effective pressures exist by conservative bodies to provide some balance.

The BBC is pro-Muslim, anti-Bush, and anti-Israel in a way which thoroughly reflects the bizarre alliance which now permeates the contemporary Western world between the political left and Islamic fundamentalism, seemingly its polar opposite in everything except a shared hatred of America, Britain, their allies, and Western pluralism.

The BBC's reportage on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict is biased from a to z, as has been repeatedly pointed out by both the Jewish community and many neutral observers. (The BBC has grudgingly admitted its bias by appointing an internal ombudsman specifically to monitor their Arab-Israeli coverage, but, needless to say, this has not made the slightest difference.) Its chief television reporter on the conflict, Orla Guerin, is probably the single most biased reporter I have ever seen in a lifetime of watching television. She seems to exude a venomous, fanatical hatred for Israel in everything she says. Although valuable in some ways, the on-line edition of BBC News consists, in its Middle Eastern reportage, of what seems to me virtual PLO propaganda, with virtually nothing reflecting the views of the Israeli government or people - if you think that this is an exaggeration please have a look.

The BBC's reportage during the Iraq war, widely condemned at the time, led, as everyone knows, to Greg Dyke's resignation. Recently the BBC has advanced plans to broadcast a ten-hour animated series of what can only be described as anti-Catholic bigotry, which, among other things, would have depicted the Pope on a pogo stick. It was prevented from putting this on air only by the personal intervention of its new Director-General, Michael Grade (who, despite much criticism of his appointment, appears to be more sensible than his recent predecessors.) Try to imagine the BBC presenting a ten-hour animated series depicting the Prophet Mohammed on a pogo stick - impossible, of course, both because of the BBC's inherent biases and political correctness, and also of the violence sure to follow.

If the BBC wants to know of one group it almost certainly discriminates against in its hiring practices, I can name it real quick: political conservatives (and Conservatives). I would be willing to bet anyone 20 that an accurate survey would find that (at most) no more than 10 per cent of BBC senior managers and decision-makers voted Tory at the last election, a fraction of the 32 per cent of the population who supported the Conservative party in 2001.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the BBC to correct this particular bias: the vast majority of BBC newspaper advertising for employment is published in The Guardian. The BBC is, indeed, a law unto itself and is virtually out of control.

Anyone who has had the displeasure of making a formal complaint to the BBC about any alleged bias, meets with the personage of the head of its Programme Complaints Unit, Mr Fraser Steel, who - in the even-handed way of the BBC - is employed by them, and thus has to pass judgment on his own employer. The predictable results, as anyone who has tried it knows, are, normally, roughly similar to complaining to Radio Bucharest in 1952, the only notable difference being that one is still alive and free, if a glutton for punishment, to try again.

The BBC is not even particularly good any more at basic news reportage, at least on television. Strictly from the viewpoint of telling the viewer "who-what-where-when", its television news is manifestly worse than that on ITV or the often excellent Sky News.

Of course the BBC does some things well - its classical music, for instance - although these are almost always the remainders of its pre-1960 existence which have not yet been ruined by political correctness. Of course, too, such a vast institution as the BBC is Byzantine and complex, but I am fairly describing its public face. The bottom line is that at present the BBC stands somewhere between a Luxury We Cannot Afford and public enemy number one. It must simply be reformed; there is no excuse not to clean out this augean stables.

What is to be done? First and foremost, the license fee must go at once, and the BBC will have to sink or swim without it. Obviously, its present Charter must not be renewed in anything like its present form. My preference would be then to divide the BBC into four separate, institutionally discrete units, responsible for broadcasting news and current affairs, entertainment, sport, and, fourthly, bona-fide cultural and documentary programming. The first three would be paid for by commercial sponsorship, and this includes, most certainly, its news and current affairs unit. Its cultural broadcasting - provided that is what it really is - would remain non-commercial and paid for by a levy on the other three. Each of the four would be forbidden to have an official or unofficial connection with the others, and there would no longer be a centralised BBC as such. An absolutely independent complaints unit, with wide powers, should also be established at once. Such a reform package is at least twenty-five years overdue.

William D. Rubinstein is Professor of Modern History at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

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How refreshing - the BBC or the Blatantly Biased Corporation must be sorted out. I cannot bear to hear J Humpreys biased opinion on war in Iraq every morning. Why was he not called to give evidence to the Hutton inquiry? Clearly he has a large amount of editorial control of the Today programme.

Posted by: Mark at October 21, 2004 01:23 AM

I think that Prof. Rubinstein overstates his case - sure the BBC has an institutional leftist bias. But what we should not forget is that the BBC remains one of the world's greatest broadcastors. Anyone who has had to watch the pure idiocy of Italian TV broadcast - thanks to Berlusconi's Private channels - cannot faill to think the BBC is a breath of fresh air. Or - if one is concerned with the bias of the BBC - why not the clear conservative of Murdoch's Fox News in the USA?

Posted by: Jim Matthews at October 21, 2004 01:29 AM

Whatever its faults, the BBC remains the finest broadcasting organisation anywhere in the world.

To destroy it on the grounds that it 's 'anti-American' would be juvenile, as is the whole tenor of William D (note the D, suggesting an American) Rubinstein's diatribe.

If we are happy to tolerate an anti-American BBC, then we'll jolly well have one.

Posted by: GH at October 21, 2004 10:15 AM

GH accuses William D. Rubinstein of being juvenile - and then makes the point that the D. in Rubinstein's name shows that he is an American. What is that point if not juvenile? Prof. Rubinstein's argument is either true or false. His nationality is irrelevant. I do not know if Prof. Rubinstein is American - in fact author's often do use middle initials, whether English or American, to distinguish themselves from other authors. But this has no bearing on his argument. As it so happens I do think that his argument is wrong - the BBC for all its faults is a brilliant national institution and should not be lightly destroyed.

Posted by: John at October 21, 2004 12:10 PM

John writes "His nationality is irrelevant".

It is absolutely not irrelevant if the author whose principal argument that the BBC should be destroyed because of its incipient ant-Amercianism, is himself an American.

It's called special pleading.

Posted by: GH at October 21, 2004 12:58 PM

Is Mr. Rubinstein American or not? What a petty argument!

FWIW - not much - he is either American, or has lived there for some years. His English usage shows it. For example, he says, "... I can name it real quick" and spells "licence" as "license". What next? is someone going to follow the link on his name given by the SAU above, find Mr. Rubinstein is an expert on Jewish history, and announce that therefore he's obviously Jewish and so may not criticize the BBC for favouring the PLO?

Mr. Rubinstein actually said, "The BBC is so institutionally biased against conservatism and conservative values, the United States and its allies, and the West in general." The U.S. is only *one* item in a list of biases he notes - biases that are all too familiar to regular BBC watchers and listeners.

He is spot on with the "bizarre alliance" that he discerns between "the political left and Islamic fundamentalism". This is an important phenomenon in our civilization and still too rarely commented on or understood. I think he comes close with "seemingly its polar opposite in everything except a shared hatred of America, Britain, their allies, and Western pluralism".

All too many on the left - there are honourable exceptions (Christopher Hitchens springs to mind) - are now allying themselves with Islamism. For example, have we forgotten whom Ken Livingston shared a platform with? The truth is the left will never forgive the West, and the U.S. in particular, for the defeat of communism in the Cold War, the coming down of the Berlin Wall and the freeing of Eastern Europe. Some people had just too much emotional energy invested in communist ideology. They now can't forget their hatred and will back any enemy of the U.S.'s and ours.

But to return to the subject of the article, we don't just get this type of bias in the Guardian, where it is acceptable - if contemptible - but on what is supposed to be public service television. Why are we paying a compulsory licence fee for this?

Posted by: Michael at October 21, 2004 10:03 PM

Prof. Rubinstein's analysis is generally spot-on. But the fear of the BBC that permeates through politics in the UK means that no government, left right or centre will ever have the courage to do anything about it, regardless of the litany of justified complaints listed by Mr Rubenstein. The inexorable implementation of a leftist cultural hegemony is the aim of most of the BBC's movers and shakers and their success is enviable. It is also inevitable, given the lack of resolve within the Conservative Party and among small c conservatives. The BBC seems to be the one British institution that is not in dire danger of annihilation, unfortunately.

Posted by: Frank Pulley at October 22, 2004 02:17 AM

The trouble is not so much in the accuracy of the facts that Prof Rubinstein uses - these would be basically uncontested - it's more to do with whether one thinks there is anything wrong with them. In my experience, those who think I'm howling at the moon talking about BBC bias are thinking tautologically in that they, subliminally, believe that whatever the BBC does is impartial and so use this as a yardstick. That is, if the BBC employs only 10% conservatives then this must be okay as this is the BBC. This is why it is so dangerous and the Prof is right to point out the damage it has done by almost single-handedly warping the political spectrum so much that the Islamofascists and "for the people" lefties have formed the most unlikely alliance in history. This is clearly collective insanity but what can you do? There are only so many silences at the end of sentances one can put up with before the dinner invites stop and I have to stay in on Saturday nights and watch absolute crap on, erm, the BBC.

Posted by: Frank Slade at October 23, 2004 09:11 PM

What strikes me most about the BBC is its abominable self-righteousness. Its correspondents talk as if they know better than any man what is right and wrong, not only in the political sphere, but also in the moral and religious. One incident that sticks in my mind as particularly 'yucky' was when Cliff Michelmore asked a leading rabbi if he could forgive the Germans. To be fair, they are also most discourteous when questioning Arabs. I marvel how people can maintain their composure while being 'prodded' by such smarmy interviewers.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at October 26, 2004 09:50 PM

I always felt that British TV lost much of it's charm after the 70's.But what about the appointment [long ago, I know]of Lord Hill?

Posted by: Steve Burstein at November 28, 2004 08:31 AM

I have never read such a load of badly argued codswallop in my entire life. There are many, many good reasons for reforming the BBC but this load of simplistic, meretricious twaddle can scarcely be deemed to be one of them. A child in primary school could see the holes in the logic that are wide enough to drive the proverbial coach and horses through. This article may hit all the correct emotional buttons but boy-oh-boy is it short on logic and reasoning.

Posted by: J.M. Joyce at March 15, 2006 08:15 PM

The BBC is the finest and most impartial broadcasting organisation in the world - bar none. Compare it to the pap and propaganda that comes out of America each and every day.

Get a grip of reality will you?!

Posted by: Dave at July 7, 2006 11:05 AM

There are in reality ony two significant arguments for the abolition of the BBC.

First is that the days of state broadcasters should be over they have no place in the modern media world. this is hard to argue against but it is imbued with political overtones. if its status as a state broadcaster were removed then the arguments about its political stance would have little more relevance than say those of Sky or Al Jazeera.

Second is that its funding through in effect a compulsory poll tax enforceable by draconian legal sanction is unacceptable. This is the clinching argument against the BBC as it stands, but it is true that a BBC funded by voluntary subscription and/or commercial activity such as advertising and merchandising could continue in some form (though hard to recognise).

All other arguments must be subsumed to the two above.

For me the second is telling and its hard to see a justification for any licence fee when it next comes up, which will de facto abolish the BBC in its current state, whether that means its total annihilation is a different matter.

Posted by: Jonathan at January 30, 2008 01:48 PM
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