Tuesday 11 July 2023

The BBC: A Qualified Defence

It hasn't been long since The Sun last overreached itself. On that occasion, they allowed Jeremy Clarkson to go into print with a typically disgusting attack on Meghan Markle. This time, it's a salacious story on a so far unnamed BBC presenter that is, at best, shoddy work, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Let's recap what we know. On Saturday The Sun splashed its exclusive claiming a household name had paid over thousands of pounds to a young person for explicit photos. It also claimed they were under 18 at the time, had a crack habit apparently brought about by their interaction with our unknown celebrity, and was still in receipt of money from them. The paper further reported that the family had complained to the BBC but no action had been taken. Indeed, this celebrity was seen hobnobbing with BBC bosses recently, suggesting that yet again the corporation's management were looking the other way while questions hung over one of their biggest names. But then in an about-turn yesterday, a lawyer acting for the "victim" said this was all a tissue of lies ("rubbish" as the statement put it) and was more a case of their family disapproving of their lifestyle. I.e. They were on OnlyFans and all the presenter had done was pay them for explicit content.

Earlier today a second story came out, claiming that our presenter had contacted a guy in his early 20s, asked to meet up, didn't, and then sent him a slew of abusive messages when he threatened to go to the press. The latter has been confirmed by the BBC as coming from the celebrity's phone, but for the speculators following this on social media there is no way of knowing if these are actionable from a police point of view until The Met says something. There is now the allegation he tried meeting a third person in contravention of the lockdown rules in force at the time.

For The Sun, jumping on and spinning the story to suggest there was something inappropriate and underage going on was designed to undermine the BBC's legitimacy. It's likely to be a very costly gambit for which they'll end up grovelling again. Nevertheless, The Sun's anti-BBC vendetta isn't something worthwhile cheering on, despite the broadcaster having massive problems from our point of view. There's the obvious commercial argument. The BBC still has massive resources and can potentially out-compete most media organisations. It's a non-commercial rival to Murdoch's operations, and he has an economic interest in seeing the BBC brought low and/or transformed into a commercially-funded operation. And as we know, regardless of how distorted the institution or public good, for hyper class conscious right wingers anything that isn't about straightforward commodity production or challenges their power a smidgen is an enemy.

And there is the politics. The claims of BBC neutrality and impartiality are easily disproved, but despite that the ideology it secretes combines certain values with its pro-establishment positioning. The Sun and Murdoch want to see the BBC disestablished because, for millions of people, it embodies integrity and fairness in news. It has a certain standing against which News Corp's output is shown to be outright partial and bent to the sectional agendas of the right, and that makes their propaganda less effective than it might be. Think of it as the BBC providing a yardstick. With its disappearance from the news gathering and reporting scene, standards would inevitably tumble, or become appendages to the politics of commercial broadcasters. This is a recipe for segmenting the audience along political lines as per the United States, making divide and conquer easier, and the development of a common ground more difficult. Only oligarchical interests and grifters are served by this scenario. Presently, the BBC is an obstacle to this happening to broadcast news because it is an institution that is valued by millions across political divides.

This is reflected in the right wing and left wing critiques of the BBC. The left often criticises its low key pro-establishment editorialising and its using right wing frames to construct its reporting because it falls short of the values its committed to. The right criticises the BBC when it does approximate impartiality and even-handedness, such as when it allows left wingers onto its politics shows or critically reports on government policy and activity. Accuracy and evidence counts more for the left simply because right wing politics is structurally dishonest. Its purpose is to present the minority interest as the universal interest, and that means lying and obfuscating as a matter of routine. Or being economical with the truth when the indiscretions of a BBC presenter are used a lever for pushing a highly sectional political and commercial agenda.


Ken said...

As an apologist once commented, it prevents TV news resembling Fox News. With GB news, we have a view of the future news landscape.
And on “balance” the Sunday politics show attacked Reeves for offering Tory austerity. Goodness me.

Anonymous said...

For all its flaws, the BBC is indeed one of the few things still standing between us and the final outright debasement of journalism.

And now Murdoch's minions have got their scalp. Huw Edwards' career is totalled, even if he's never charged with any crime. Even if the Sun winds up paying for it, right wing moral sewer-dwellers will be overjoyed with this, because they've succeeded in showing that they can still wield the "cancellation" cudgel. A weapon that they basically had sole use of for centuries - hence their great uproar when control of it was recently wrested from them.