Tuesday 27 May 2014

Why the BBC Loves UKIP

All that was missing from the BBC's coverage of the local and European election results was Nick Robinson giving Nigel Farage a wet, sloppy congratulations kiss. Seldom have the BBC elections team been more starstruck, more craven in its uncritical promotion of a political party. Is it yet another instantiation of a putative BBC bias? Maybe. Sure, there is an overall tendency to go soft on the government of the day. Since 2003's "dodgy dossier" and the fall out of the Gilligan/Kelly affair, the BBC have self-interestedly tiptoed around those who have the power to scrap or change its Royal Charter. But why has coverage been skewed toward UKIP? Why go completely ga-ga for Farage and co and ignore the Greens, Left Unity/TUSC, Elvis, and the melange of other xenophobic, petty English nationalists? Here are three theories.

1. Let's grub around in the guts of the political economy of news. The BBC News have a rolling 24 hours channel and a high traffic website. Both are Sarlacc pits of eternal hunger, eager to grasp anything that passes by. So when a story comes along on slow news days - which is nearly every day - it is properly done over. Every conceivable angle is scrutinised, pundits are drafted in for new perspectives, employees are sent to the scene, and there are endless hours of reporters interviewing reporters about what they are reporting. UKIP is one of these news stories that has near infinite potential to generate more news. Recently-elected MEP makes dodgy comments = more news. UKIP responding to mainstream parties promising to solemnly listen = more news. Car crash interviews with journalists = more news. On and on it goes. Soon enough, the coverage itself because a topic worthy of coverage, filling those crucial broadcast slots and column inches. And the BBC think it can get away with it because UKIP are new. They are a novelty. That brings me to my next point.

2. Politics is boring, there's no point pretending otherwise. For most people the awarding of points in Eurovision is more exciting than your elections coverage. And if you think it's bad for the general viewer, try reporting on it. Consider coverage from the start of the television age up until, say, the 2009 European elections. The winner was either going to be Labour or the Conservatives. Your heart might miss a beat when a minister is unexpectedly knocked out, or that the outcome is by no means certain, but the results were always going to be one or the other. UKIP changes all that. It's the cat among the anoraked pigeons, the wild card that has proved politics need not alternate between red and blue. And for hacks like Nick Robinson and Dimbles, it has brought some excitement to their lives. It has made their jobs more interesting. So of course they're going to chase the sexy and the new like a lovestruck teenager, even if it means tremendous overexposure. Besides, no one wants coverage of the stodgy old grey parties anyway.

3. UKIP are an uncouth lot. They refuse to abide by the niceties of received political discourse, have no policy as such to scrutinise, and has lots of members who can be relied on to say sexist, racist and homophobic things. They are a rabble, an uneducated cadre of oafishness no self-respecting BBC journalist would ever consider voting for. Yet what fascinates them is not so much the story of a bigoted party getting traction, but how the figurehead of this party/movement came to be a privately educated city slicker. This is Farage's appeal for the BBC. Not his blokey pub bore charm or worryingly expansive smile, but how one of them, a man as every bit as establishment as leading politicians and media personalities has been able to vault the chasm of disconnect and engaged "authentic", "real" people to the point he's looked upon as the repository of desperate hopes. This is why BBC journalists interview him with a mix of appalled fascination and unabashed admiration. To their minds he has cracked the problem of disengagement. However, to allow the real world to intrude, he certainly hasn't - UKIP did little to boost turn out for both sets of elections.


Alex Dawson said...

Spot on.

UKIP are the gift that keep giving. Another gaffe, another scandal, oh here's Neil Hamilton, do you remember him and his wife from I'm a Celebtrity, and Nigel's having another pint and a fag!! naughty, naughty, oh Roger's said women who wear skirts above the knee deserve to be raped and should be forced to keep the baby, oh Godfrey's defended slavery....and so it goes on.

The issue here is the "anti political correctness" reaction. UKIP have really got control of the Clarksonesque chauvinist "right to offend" movement so prevalent in the over 50s.

In total, this means the more offensive and racist UKIP are, the more their vote will rise. The more the media egg it on, the more people will vote for them too.

asquith said...

I agree with Loz, and this explains the seeming paradox of why as their vote rises opposition to them also rises. They can never hope to comand the support of more than about 20% of the electorate as in all honesty everyone else hates them.

The tension is now between the globalists such as Farage, who are libertarian (with or without a socially conservative and nationalist streak) and those who actually are nationalists in the vein of the BNP or Front Nationale.

So many people thought they were voting for something akin to Marine or even Jean-Marie Le Pen. It will become clear to them that they have done no such thing. A writer who belongs to a school calling themselves "culturists", who appear to think along the lines that Marine Le Pen says she is on, formed an opposition to UKIP on this grounds:


Politics shouldn't be a game or a spectator sport, but UKIP's future will be just that and I will enjoy the analysis of it.

Speedy said...

You get more comments when you discuss ukip too.... ;-)

Dave said...

I think all of those are true, but don't explain the sheer Farage frenzy. I can't help think that the ostensibly correct nature of what you've said gives perfect cover for an equally important facto, namely that the BBC has an interest in UKIP doing well enough to deprive the Tories a majority, as the next government gets a go at Charter Renewal, which is the main thing that obsesses BBC high ups.

It's the strategy that led to some in the French PS to encourage/enable/tolerate the rise of the FN as they saw a split on the right as helping them, until it turned out they'd created a monster that knocked Jospin out of the run-off against Chirac.

UKIP's success meets some great BBC strategy points perfectly - it counters the charge that they're biased against the right (always more worrying, as the right have the animus to do something about the BBC) and by making it more likely that the Tories won't have their own run of government - or be in it at all - they serve their longest term goal they're allowed to have.

Of course, we all get to live in a UKIP-framed world, but that doesn't immediately seem like a problem in BBC management land, or least one not nearly so pressing as the thought of Tory majority in control of the renewal process.

Boffy said...


"So when a story comes along on slow news days - which is nearly every day - it is properly done over. Every conceivable angle is scrutinised,..."

If only that were true. Part of the problem is that no news stories are dealt with in any kind of depth, or meaningful detail, because its perceived that in a 140 character world, and 20 second sound bites, that would kill the audience.

Rather what we get with 24 hour news, is the same ephemera and fluff simply repeated over and over every 15 minutes, filled in with the breaking off of any interviews that might have been interesting to go to a live shot of nothing happening, because its perceived that live film is always more exciting than discussion, and the fact that you have broken away to it means that it MUST be something important and exciting that you have had to cover, mustn't it.

The talking heads discussions with other reporters is an alternative to any kind of in depth analysis not a means of achieving it. It is just part of the process of making the reporter, or more frequently simply the presenter into a celebrity, along with their required appearance on "Children in Need", assorted panel shows and so on. Its what justifies the massive salaries for people who require two of them to keep each other company on set whilst they read the same news from an autocue, over and over again throughout the day, whereas Reginald Bosanquet managed to do it all on his own in the 1960's!

Even the programmes that previously did provide more in depth analysis have either gone or been dumbed down to the same kind of level in which the need to use the technology you have to produce fancy graphics and so on, has become more important than the content of what you are presenting - a bit like some films today are less bothered about having a good story etc., so long as the 3-D graphics etc. are stunning.

In a world where format and platform trumps content, and the need to catch audiences with very short attention spans dominates, you get the kind of news we have, and the willingness to distort the truth not particularly for ideological reasons, but simply for short term commercial reasons.

In fact, it could be argued that a great deal of media coverage for UKIP and the Euroseptic, nationalistic right can only be explained on that basis, because the interests of at least the dominant section of big British capital, as with its European counterparts, is for a further development of the EU, not its break-up, and for the ability to access labour as and when and where it needs it, not to restrict that via Immigration Controls.

The same is true in the US, after a period where something similar happened that fermented the growth of the Tea Party, US Big Business and the political establishment have had to rein them in, and the Tea Party is now on the back foot. They have been less able to get their candidates selected.

It is no coincidence that the discussion in the EU in recent days has been about the need to ditch austerity, and that we have seen a big conference of big business, and its state officials from central banks and the IMF in London, over the last couple of days on the topic of "Inclusive Capitalism", and the need to address growing inequality within it. Not because these people have had some kind of Damascean moral epiphany, but merely that they have started to recognise that their economic interests are being hurt by the political drive of the petit-bourgeois and its political representatives in conservative and nationalist parties to a more backward form of capitalism, symbolised by austerity.

Ralph Musgrave said...

Labour supporters’ hypocrisy is a wonder to behold. They never stop referring to UKIP and the BNP’s alleged racism: certainly Phil never stops. But Labour took part in the slaughter of a million Muslims in Iraq, while UKIP and the BNP opposed the Iraq war from day one.

What next: are lefties going to be telling us Mother Theresa was more racist than Adolf Hitler?

Phil said...

Whenever tired old Ralph crops up here, it's to denounce Labour and alibi the BNP and UKIP. Do you have something to declare?

Chris said...

Boffy brings up big capital and what it wants. Well big capital don't vote in elections but if they could maybe they would vote for social democracy and closer ties with the EU.

However, as someone who works for big capital I can reveal something, the consciousness of big capital, namely the management, are almost to a man/woman natural born Tories. Every day they are thinking of ways to cut down on flexi hours, or sick pay or other so called benefits to workers.

And it isn't a big leap from the management structure of big capital to the bosom of UKIP.

Boffy said...

That's why Marx in his class analysis, for example in relation to France, showed the importance of identifying the class interest as separate from the verbally expressed views, and why he showed why in such circumstances its the interests and views of the organ grinders, not their hired monkeys that count.

Speedy said...

"showed the importance of identifying the class interest as separate from the verbally expressed views"

Yeah, that pretty much sums up my view of the Guardian and three quarters of the Left-Liberal "elite".

Ralph Musgrave said...

“Whenever tired old Ralph crops up here, it's to denounce Labour and alibi the BNP..” What sort of dick head argument is that supposed to be? Anyway my answer is: “Whenever tired old Phil crops up here, it's to denounce political right and alibi the political left..”. Brilliant argument, I don't think.

Phil said...

It's a "dickhead argument" that so happens to sum up your ludicrous statements. It may have held some water in, say, 2010, but time has moved on and Labour has a leader that has explicitly said the Iraq War was wrong. Still, I guess we can't blame you for not noticing - your grip on the real world is tenuous at best.

Gary Elsby said...

It's true that Ed Miliband suggests the war with Iraq was wrong but he isn't pressed into giving a good reason why the whole United Nations was wrong.

Ralph should be disabused of the notion that 'Labour' was somehow failing in it's duty to lend support in policing the world and upholding the aims and values of the UN ad its security council.

I find it tiresome to witness the left killing itself over what to do about UKIP.
The NF/EDL/BNP and now UKIP supporters I frequent with, who aim to please me, will undoubtedly be singing their praises this week when I pop over but the argument and statistics don't back them up.
Their travelling support for this weeks political distraction withers away on the vine when all cases are put.

Labour and the Conservatives were turned over and done because they acted like nothing more that political cowards chasing goody points hoping the bogey man would go away.
Clegg was done because he dared.
Miliband and Cameron were found out.
Blair gets it right:
If you believe in what you believe in, take them on.

CityUnslicker said...

The BBC does not love UKIP - your just seeing it that way because it suits you. UKIP had the potential, and were successful in coming first in the euro-elections. They also won hundreds of councillors.

The greens are the only vaguely capable party to compare and I see the BBC gives good airtime to their leader and on MP.

Do you think the BBC loves Alex Salmond too, or Martin McGuiness or Gerry Adams?

If you want to be non-partisan about it, let's face it, the only politician the BBC really LOVE is Obama.

Gary Elsby said...

A very good point City Unslicker.
It's also noted that UKIP have no MPs but then again, neither do the newspapers or CBI....nor lunatic footballers.

The audience have the ability to kill UKIP.

Adam said...

It's also, boringly, because Ofcom said that for the purposes of the European elections, they had to: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/parties2014/statement/Major_Parties_Statement.pdf

Anonymous said...

The BBC and all the other networks do have a love affair with UKIP. UKIP are perceived as 'sexy' and 'a bit of rough' by journalists which explains why they fawn all over Farage. It's telling that others from within the UKIP ranks are kept safely away from the cameras. Only Farage has the media savvy to be trusted to be on telly whilst the rest of the party are oafish reactionaries best kept safely behind closed doors. Our only hope is that overexposure might eventually leave the public cold and unreceptive, or that one of the UKIP party faithful will finally say something so absolutely outrageous that they lose all credibility.