Tuesday 1 September 2020

The Tories and the BBC

A Tory placeman wants to curb criticisms of the Tories? An attitude appropriate to some failing tabloid rag surely, but the Director General of the BBC? The new boss, Tim Davie, has taken umbrage at left comedians telling jokes about racism, Brexit, and the government. How brittle must our betters be if even Mock the Week can bring them out in multiplying fractures?

A throw away comment then to commence his tenure in the big chair which, as it happens, started today? As with all things, this seeming statement of intent has to be seen in context. Of which there are two most immediately relevant to our analytical eye. The attempted striking of a new Tory settlement enabling Johnson and his successors politically dominate the first half of the 21st century in the same manner they shaped the second part of the last and, crucially, the BBC's place within it.

Yet what is being suggested is not the murder of BBC comedy, but a suggestion of more balance. If there's any justice, hopefully Have I Got News For You will get swept up in the dragnet and finally disappear some 20 years after its bin by date. There might be new opportunities too. Shappi Khorsandi ponders how producers might have to think beyond the knackered panel show format. Though TV fans need not worry, the same boring celebs and tax-dodging comedians laughing at each other's jokes will have their safe place over on Channel Four. Is this complacency on my part? Are Davie's comments the thin end of a very thick wedge? Perhaps, but surely this should be seen more as right wing genuflecting to the press gallery - a signal that one of them (Davie, after all, is a former Tory association chair) is ensconced in the top job. Of greater concern is the likelihood of more marketisation at the BBC. With a background in marketing, Davie has long been part of the management cadre who've overseen the neoliberalisation of the national broadcaster and are responsible for dumbing down content and overseeing compliant news coverage - as Tom discusses in his book.

The position the BBC is in cannot be discounted. It is vulnerable thanks to continuous pressure over the licence fee, and the government expects it to make good on the promise the Tories made to the over-75s five years ago. Abolishing the charge for them means swingeing cuts or, some BBC tops hope, a new fudged understanding with the government. Appearing to be reasonable on right wing peccadilloes might enlist wider support from among the Tory coalition for a softer settlement if Davie is seen to get tough on the lefties while gesturing toward value-for-money concerns. And there are competitive pressures too, especially from the streaming services. So far Britbox, the joint BBC-ITV alliance appears to be doing well in North America with over a million subscribers but the pressure is on to provide it more exclusive content to make it a worthwhile proposition for British viewers, which then raises the legitimacy of the licence fee. Tacking right on the rhetoric front might keep the press off Davie's back as these are dealt with.

We have to pay attention to the politics too. For the Tories, the BBC is a crucial institution. The newspapers play a key role in cohering and frightening their coalition of voters, so they cling on to the party all the more tightly. The BBC as the national broadcaster, for its part, remains a trusted source of news programming for many of them, and is therefore strategically important for popular opinion formation. The way the Tories have tried ensuring coverage favourable to them has come via the repeated ideological attacks and threats to break the BBC up or scale back the licence fee, which has, coincidentally, beget some of the most conformist and compliant reporting not normally seen outside of war time. And there's always the threat of introducing new competitors, such as the oft-repeated promise to set up a British Fox News as a means of diluting the BBC's influence and privileging something else more reliable for generating Tory talking points. This is especially the case now as fear and irrationality plays an ever greater role in gluing the Conservative alliance together - there can be no space for criticisms or awkward questions that might upset the apple cart.

Within the Tory imaginary, the role of the BBC is something stripped down and offers little to no critical resources to apprehend the order they wish to build, and have worked and will continue working until this objective is realised. Whether this is Tim Davie's view of the BBC's direction of travel is a moot point. Given his sympathies and record, he's not about to prove himself resistant to reaching this destination.

Image Credit


Boffy said...

The BBC is an always has been a state propaganda organ, no different to RT, other than for the fact that the norms of bourgeois-democracy, including freedom of expression give it more leeway to criticise the actions of governments when they are seen to be contrary to the longer-term interprets of the dominant section of the ruling class.

It shows why socialists should have used those same bourgeois norms, not to misguidedly defend the BBC, but to create their own mass media in opposition to it.

Anonymous said...

'compliant news' link is broken - missing m off .com

Phil said...

No idea how the hell that happened!

BCFG said...

"no different to RT, other than for the fact that the norms of bourgeois-democracy, including freedom of expression give it more leeway to criticise the actions of governments when they are seen to be contrary to the longer-term interprets of the dominant section of the ruling class."

If you watch RT on a day by day basis it is far more reflective of the views you actually see and hear in day to day society. So for example you get both left, right and sometimes centre in all its uncensored glory, unvarnished and not passed through any filters.

You also get great documentaries, when thankfully we don't have to hear 'ordinary' people prattle on about the ignorant shit they have accumulated over the years.

So on RT, at least the UK version, you get far more freedom of expression, i.e. what people actually say and think.

On the BBC you get it all filtered by the 'deceny' police and of course the biggest form of censorship is omission, which the BBC are kings at.

The only time you get unvarnished views in the corporate media is when they go undercover in a Mosque and expose extremist views, You would never ever get the corporate media going into a pub exposing the vile views of the white majority. Oh no, we have an image and appearances to keep up.

Give me RT over the BBC any day of the week. renegage inc would be worth the licence fee alone.

As for the BBC, defund it, or let it be funded by advertising, just don't make me be forced to pay for something that zero reflects my world view and actually zero reflects any sort of world view, other than maybe a privileged layer that came out of oxbridge, and those people like to dress up their prejudice and bigotry in fine adornments.

As a leftist I say get rid of the BBC!

BCFG said...

Just as a follow up,

the extinction rebellion folk gave a great example of what the left should be doing, instead of prattling on about freedom of the press they are actively trying to stop the press printing its junk. That is what the left should do with the BBC, try to stop it broadcasting anything by all means necessary.