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November 30, 2006

Our Impartial National Broadcaster: Alex Deane considers the instinctive bias of Joan Bakewell and what this says about the BBC

Posted by Alex Deane

Alex Deane asks, is bias - when it comes from someone who is meant to be doing an impartial job - something to boast about?

Last Saturday's Telegraph Magazine (25th November 2006) brought us a brief hagiography of Joan Bakewell. The rose-tinted approach taken to such "national institutions" is tedious but generally means that their "interviews" are pretty inoffensive.

But Bakewell's was different. She was asked to nominate a "villain" - to say whom, of all people, she would pick as the villain that comes to her mind. Her answer was:

Mrs Thatcher… she was so callous and ruthless, though in person charming and courteous. Her hand in the miner's strike was vicious. I remember I was at Newsnight at the time. The BBC was meant to be politically neutral, but someone on the team came in selling batches of mugs in support of the miners.

And Bakewell's cherished mug had been preserved by her ever since, and was displayed in a picture beside the piece.

How telling this little article is:

Meant to be politically neutral.
No effort to justify why it in fact was not. Or any suggestion that the Telegraph bothered to ask.
Someone on the team came in selling batches of mugs.
Perfectly clear that it was a BBC person selling such things to other BBC people, rather than an outsider. And it's all thought perfectly normal and fine by the speaker, something one doesn't even need to attempt to defend - we were supposed to do x, but we didn't. I mean, I know we were supposed to, but it was Thatcher…

One might think that the undisguised loathing of an unrepentant leader of the right, above all others, is symptomatic of the blinkered ideological orthodoxy of instinctive leftism that ruled - and rules - the roost at the Beeb. Putting aside the fact that, when asked in this puff piece about her favourite holiday, Bakewell nominates a trip to Communist China in the early 1980s, doesn't it serve to show the extent to which such a star of the Beeb was a soldier in the trenches of ideological conflict, rather than the impartial paragon of even-handedness that the consumers of the license fee handout would have us believe such a person to be?

Perhaps the response would be, "yes, but that was in the 1980s, things are different now". But besides the fact that Bakewell herself carried on as a Beeb employee, one needs only to point to the fact that the current frontline attacker on the Today programme subconsciously - or consciously - aligns himself with the left. Naughtie's "when we win the election" slip, made whilst speaking to a government Minister in an interview last year (and pointed out in Parliament here), demonstrates that Bakewell and her anti-Thatcher bunch were hardly isolated. And as well documented elsewhere, examples go on ad infinitum.

I've made clear elsewhere that I'm all for political and politicised discourse from the Beeb, as long as it's overt about its rampant bias and as long as we on the right are permitted to establish an alternative. But at present we are subsidising our enemies, and get nothing in return. Such a situation cannot carry on.

Alex Deane is a Barrister and is the former Chief of Staff to both Tim Collins and David Cameron MP.


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It might be helpful if a suitably placed person could inform Joan Bakewell of the following. The miners lost much support and sympathy through being led by an (even today) “unreconstructed” Stalinist. And then ask her if she would have preferred “King Arthur” as our leader.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at December 1, 2006 06:56 PM
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Here is a list of the BBC's very own worldview:

+ America is fascinating, but bad
+ George Bush is very bad
+ Israel is bad
+ Business is seedy and bad
+ Science is boring and dangerous
+ Islam is super and not appreciated enough by us infidels
+ British culture is non-existent and also bad at the same time

Its not a conspiracy - its a textbook example of groupthink at work

Posted by: Jack Hughes at December 1, 2006 10:41 PM
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This doesn't really amount to a great deal. 'Political neutrality' in broadcasting means that you are not meant to allow your own political leanings to influence the way you report something. It does not mean that you should not have any political opinions at all. Most BBC people are reasonably intelligent and politically aware, it would be strange if they didn't have any views of their own.

If BBC people were selling each other mugs in support of the miners privately, this does not necessarily amount to a breach of their commitment to neutrality, UNLESS they expressed these views on-air. You might be able to come up with examples of BBC coverage which you feel is biased, but you can hardly complain about who Joan Bakewell talks to in her own time.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2006 02:35 PM
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Jack Hughes is right about groupthink. It goes further than this – to get a job at the BBC you have to conform to the mindset of that intellectual anthill, or else be like one of those insects that manage to send out the right chemical signals and so penetrate the nest. (Putting “English” as one’s nationality is not one of them).

Their bias has been only too evident in regard to Northern Ireland – without even trying, they made no secret of the fact that they regarded the Nationalist-Republicans as the “goodies” and the Unionist-Loyalists as the “baddies”, so much so that they appeared for a while to be the “IRABC”.

Also, I am no great fan of Margaret Thatcher, but she was the right person at the right time. She saw off the enemy without (the Argies) and the enemy within (the Scargies).

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at December 4, 2006 07:14 PM
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I wonder if it was Harold Pinter who dropped off the mugs as he picked her up for their assignation; or was that the wrong time-frame for that particular spate of adultery? As for 'Marks's' observation about 'no matter what her views, where's the evidence of her bias?' Bwahahahaha!

"Nurse, I wonder if you would bring a mop please?"

Posted by: Frank P at December 5, 2006 12:09 PM
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Jack Hughes:

Don't forget:

+ Terrorism is Bush's fault and non-existent at the same time

Posted by: Jonathan Apps at December 5, 2006 03:34 PM
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I wonder why the bbc is so large 1 channel is enough as a public service the commersial world would do as well with the surplus. The left wing politics of the bbc isnt just the odd slip letting their politics out, it is not reporting things, that could be favourable to any right wing group with the far right downright hostility. When Cameron is in the news you can get the impression he isn't up to the job just by word inflections,or the odd word. This has gone on for years. It used to get rough with Mrs Thatcher, though she could more than hold her own.

Posted by: Anthony Hill at December 6, 2006 02:37 AM
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