Friday 8 January 2016

A Note on Laura Kuenssberg and the BBC

Bloody BBC, or Bastards Broadcasting Conservatism as they shall henceforth be known. They're biased against the Labour Party and will do anything to wreck Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, and derail the radical hopes his election has unleashed. That anything includes colluding/orchestrating the on-air resignation of Stephen Doughty (who?) from his shadow ministerial post moments before Prime Minister's Questions this Wednesday lunch time. According to the BBC's own (now withdrawn) Daily Politics blog post,
Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?

The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.

Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.
What a shitty thing to do, eh? So shitty that after inflaming Jeremy supporters all over social media, Seumas Milne has decided to go to war with the BBC over the matter and lodged an official complaint. Apparently Laura Kuenssberg, in her capacity as chief political correspondent, should confine herself to reporting the news rather than striving to create it, and this in some way contravenes the BBC's much-cherished "impartiality". In my view, while it was a tawdry little episode that gave Stephen his five minutes before returning to the shadow of backbench obscurity and makes politics look a thoroughly unedifying business, I don't think Laura did anything wrong. She had the potential to make a scoop and, lo, did what any journalist would in her position. I am certain it would have happened in exactly the same way had a Tory junior minister muttered down her phone about resigning, and, because the BBC is formally separated from the state and has its editorial independence guaranteed by the Royal Charter, the Daily Politics is perfectly entitled to act like any other news organisation.

I can understand why a lot of Labour people are riled about this affair, though. Actions are never innocent, even if the intentions behind them are. It's a matter of record that Jeremy has received the worst media coverage of any leader of a mainstream party in modern British political history. Matters aren't helped when this is compounded by missteps and blunders that invite further negative coverage. It is also true that opponents inside the party are happy to use the media to undermine him, whether it's constant moaning or plain old smearing. Into this context comes Wednesday's stunt by Stephen and, surprise surprise, it's read by leftwingers who feel embattled by negative headline after negative headline and therefore receive it as yet another assault.

As argued on this blog previously, the BBC is a biased institution: one that consistently tilts not toward the left or the right, but the establishment. Its common sense is the common sense of London-based financial, political, media, and cultural elites. Market capitalism is sacrosanct. Racism, homophobia, and sexism are passe. Long may the Queen reign over us. And politics, well, that just so much managerialism, isn't it? The BBC is the guardian of this supposedly natural order of things and will happily follow the political lead given from their friends and colleagues in Fleet Street. Jeremy and, for want of a better word, the revolution overturning the Labour Party's status quo is entirely outside the BBC's experience and runs against the received wisdom about "the left" imbibed from the New Labour days. And other politics outside that narrow range gets less-than-favourable coverage. Their reporting of the BNP and UKIP is/was broadly of the same character too.

Should the BBC be independent from the state? Yes. Should it be independent of these sorts of interests? Absolutely. Banging on about bias is only the beginning of a thoroughgoing critique of the BBC. It's not a matter of attitude or personnel, though this has a role; more fundamental is its political economy which, ultimately, is dependent on government largesse. If this kind of perspective remains very much a minority pursuit, time and again too many angry lefts will resort to conspiracy theorising, and the consequences of cynicism and passivity that follows.


jim mclean said...

I think one main lesson is that those openly opposing JC are quite low quality, naive perhaps,did Stephen Doughty not understand that this would become public and that his political career would be dead in the water from that moment. It is my opinion that Doughty, by his actions, did not attack JC, but the Labour Party members who voted for Corbyn, Doughty is what Major would have described as one of the "Bastards". I would rather Doughty was suspended from Labour than Simon Danczuk, a few drinks and the Black Dog by my side, god knows what I would do If I knew how to handle predictive text. I was angry though,more so because he is a Co-op MP and I come from a Co-op family, the fourth and probably the last generation.

Phil said...

Well, that was confused. Laura K didn't do anything wrong - even the BBC collectively didnt do anything they shouldn't - but the BBC is structurally biased against the Left? Some of the people getting up in arms about this episode may seem a bit self-righteous and shouty, but I think their analysis is basically correct: the BBC's impartiality shouldn't let its reporters engage in this kind of thing. And if impartiality is a myth and open debate is a sham, then we make a fuss about that - in part by appealing to those very values.

FWIW my theory (which is mine) is that @bbclaurak and many now defending her would quite genuinely, sincerely deny anti-Labour partisanship. The problem is that anti-Corbyn partisanship is so deep, so unquestioned that it's not even seen as such.

Phil said...

No Phil, the BBC is structurally biased against anything outside the established mainstream. A subtle but crucial difference.

Phil said...

I was typing on an iPad & omitted a few nuances; I also didn't want to get sidetracked into a comparative discussion of the BBC's treatment of (e.g.) anti-establishment Farage and anti-establishment Corbyn, which I think would have necessitated a few qualifications to your argument.

But fair enough, your position is that the BBC is structurally biased against the Left inasmuch as the Left is outside the mainstream. I can agree with that; it certainly explains the extraordinary insouciance of the commentariat when it comes to attacks on Corbyn. As I said, it's as if anti-Corbyn partisanship wasn't seen as partisanship at all.

But it's a distinction that makes no difference in this case. If impartiality means anything, the BBC should not get involved in news management which has a direct effect on a major political party, and we should hold it to account. And if our historical materialism tells us that impartiality doesn't mean anything, we should hold the BBC to account just the same, in the name of the values it claims to uphold.

David Timoney said...

Obviously the BBC has a pro-establishment bias - it is part of the establishment. And clearly impartiality is no more real than unicorns. I'm not fussed by Beeb bias; I just can't stand Kuennsberg's archness.

PS: Like your idea that the resignation of a nobody is a scoop. How very droll.

DB said...

I fully agree with your general analysis of the BBC and its commitment to upholding consensus thinking, but I think there is another issue here which people are right to raise concerns about (though whether it's wise for the party leadership to do so is another matter).

In the deleted BBC blog Andrew Alexander said "we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact.” I know this can be interpreted in different ways but what I find irritating is that the BBC didn't just report the news; they actively helped to create it by inviting Doughter to resign at a moment chosen to cause maximum political damage to the party in question, thereby creating "drama", and, as they acknowlwdge, "political impact". It smacks of sensationalist, tabloid journalism, though obviously Doughter should not have played along.

Speedy said...

Can't argue with your analysis, but as DB said:

"its commitment to upholding consensus thinking"

as a news organisation, there has to be a measure of what is news. It seems reasonable for a national news organisation to measure as "new"(s) that which is outside the norm.

The Left takeover of Labour represent views outside the norm, so it is normal for their ups and downs to reported as news.

What else could they do? The BBC is not Indiemedia or Breitbart - indeed, one can look at the coverage of these to see coverage that represents non-norm reporting.

Jim Gallacher said...

Put your big boy pants on and get on with it, we in Scottish YES campaign have had this for at least three years. The BBC is aBiased and Corrupt organisation who tell lies for fun and sneer anyone who goes against there narrow idea of a status quo..

Jim Monaghan said...

Getting the scoop, persuading him to do it live are both OK in my opinion. But the difference here was the desire to time it ahead of PMQs in order to create a "political impact". Should the BBC be sending Cameron a cue card for PMQs and is creating a " political" impact something they should be aiming for?

jim mclean said...

What a strange but revealing post by me. Highlights that strange confusing moment when the rum starts to interact with the antidepressants turning a solemn evening into a mellow event when I realise this is the best it is going to get until the sun starts to shine, so put on some vinyl, relax, and stop posting for the night. So I have some sympathy for the Simon Danczuk for the place he is at mentality but none for Comrade Doughty. As for the beeb, well a little bit out of order but we now have a chance for a little fun.

hercules satinov said...

Does anyone remember Laura's "interview" with Harriet Harman, in which she fumed at her over accusations that weren't even true, but gave her no chance to defend herself and gave a totally biased view to the punters?

I haven't trusted her since, neocon hack that she is.

BCFG said...

The BBC is just a typical state broadcaster and always has been. It is up to those that pay for it to change matters. It is staffed full of middle and upper middle class individuals, with a world outlook to match. I think they probably take speedy's view that Labour has been taken over by the hard left, when in reality it has simply been reclaimed from the Blairite Tories who stole the party. Of course the Blairite Tories still have considerable power and these middle class elements may yet steal the party back. Corbyn has been incredibly, gobsmackingly generous to the Tory Blairites who do not represent the party, and yet they still complain that Corbyn is being mean to them! Corbyn needs to realise that whatever he does these Tory Blairites will never accept his politics. He should get tough with these people and look to get them out at the earliest opportunity. Blair would never have put up such circumstances!

I think the concept of false consciousness is most striking when it comes to the media. The Sun newspaper, for example, is purchased overwhelmingly by working class people, yet the Sun is rabidly anti working class.

The struggle to change and progress society surely involves a struggle to change and progress the unfree media. We need a movement that doesn't equate freedom of the press with freedom of the Middle Classes to spout what they like, while other voices go unheard. The struggle for a free press should be a struggle against the professional commentariat.