This article was updated at 5:45pm on Thursday 30 March. A paragraph on the organisation Population Matters was removed at its request.
The BBC’s racism wasn’t only on display in its decision to suspend Gary Lineker from Match Of The Day last week. The broadcaster’s pledge to impartiality came into question again when the Guardian revealed that they had chosen not to air an episode of the new Attenborough series that began on 12 March.
The Canary has regularly pointed out that the BBC has a track record of pandering to the right. Of course, that’s hardly surprising when a Conservative party donor is its chair. There’s clear hypocrisy censoring both Lineker and Attenborough while platforming the likes of Andrew Marr.
The BBC said that it had never intended to air the sixth episode of Attenborough’s Wild Isles. It claimed it was a standalone project by charity partners World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). However, the Guardian highlighted that this episode’s content addressed the woeful state of nature in the UK.
In fact, the choice not to air this episode – despite giving the green light to some of Attenborough’s previous documentaries – brings BBC bias into even sharper relief. It also shows that the broadcaster is happy to engage in climate and biodiversity ‘whataboutism’ to shield the rich and powerful. It will readily platform Attenborough when he points the finger of blame at overpopulation in Global South communities for global biodiversity loss. Meanwhile, the BBC doesn’t dare hint at the Tories’ complicity in the ecological emergency at home.
Attenborough isn’t even that political…
Attenborough documentaries haven’t exactly been known for holding powerful corporate and political actors to account. In 2018, Guardian journalist George Monbiot criticised both the Blue Planet 2 and Dynasties documentary series for failing to highlight the causes of wildlife destruction and those responsible: corporations.
The Conversation remarked in 2019 that, following this criticism, Attenborough ramped up efforts to platform these issues. He spoke damningly of the potential collapse of civilisation to world leaders at the UN climate summit and at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At the summit, he called on world leaders to act, saying:
Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.
But the problem is that Attenborough’s documentaries often fall short of calling out the true culprits of ecological collapse. In the UK’s case, the Tories have time and again given corporate profiteers the license to continue wreaking destruction.
The government is to blame for the biodiversity crisis
It’s just a few months into 2023, and already the Tories are failing the nature of these ‘wild isles’. In January, the government’s own environment watchdog highlighted that it had made no progress on preventing the decline of UK wildlife, as set out by its 25-year plan in 2018.
Meanwhile, at the end of February, environment groups were disappointed when the government announced just three new Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) for UK seas. HPMAs are a type of Marine Protected Area (MPA) in which the law prohibits all forms of destructive and extractive activities. For example, the designation prevents fishing and oil and gas projects in these areas.
Given that the Tories currently permit extremely destructive activities like bottom-trawling in the vast majority of MPAs in UK waters, the UK badly needs HPMA designations here. In 2020, a Greenpeace investigation found that supertrawlers had been fishing for nearly 3,000 hours in UK MPAs throughout 2019. Supertrawlers are vessels over 100m long, capable of catching vast quantities of fish. They cause significant damage to populations of critical marine life.
Worse still is the government’s plans to rip up crucial EU environment laws through its Retained EU Laws Bill. This could drop key laws that protect both people’s health and the natural world. For example, it could drop the EU Water Framework and the Bathing Waters directives. This would put the state of UK waterways at even greater risk. That is no mean feat, given that UK rivers and seas are already in dire ecological condition due to rampant pollution. There are also no rivers or lakes that are considered ‘safe’ for bathing.
Population isn’t the problem, racism and the rich are
In this context, it’s not surprising to see a Tory-captured BBC reticent to air this episode on primetime TV. The programme reportedly exposes the dismal state of UK nature. The decision to drop it suggests that the BBC may have considered it a failure of its supposed impartiality. Yet they have previously aired Attenborough series that promote right-wing racist overpopulation tropes.
In his 2020 documentary A Life on Our Planet, Attenborough highlighted the changes he’s seen in his lifetime. Prominent in his message was the idea that humans had ‘overrun’ the Earth. Attenborough contended that curbing population growth is key to solving the climate and biodiversity crisis. The BBC will platform this type of racism without issue.
Only, population growth here and abroad isn’t the problem – billionaires are. A report by Oxfam in 2022 found that just one among the 125 richest billionaires has a million times the average carbon footprint of a person in the world’s bottom 90%. They, of course, make this obscene wealth through the industries at the forefront of ecological destruction.
Racism gets the greenlight, Tory accountability the red card
Sewage pollution could be at the crux of why the Tories wouldn’t want the episode to air. In 2020, they voted down an important amendment to the Environment Bill. The amendment would have placed a duty on water companies to reduce the amount of sewage they were dumping into rivers. This runaway sewage dumping has had terrible effects on UK wildlife.
The move sparked outrage on social media at the time. Opposition parties now view the ‘sewage scandal’ as a potential wedge issue at the next election in certain constituencies. The public reaction to this scandal might have reminded them that protecting the local environment is an important issue, even for their voter base.
The nation’s public broadcaster calling the Tories out on their shit is not a good look. Ironically enough, in August 2022, the BBC home and foreign news editor accused Gary Lineker of breaching ‘impartiality’ after he tweeted his MP about the sewage scandal.
When it comes to the climate and ecological emergency on our doorstep, the Tories know that racist scapegoating won’t fly. After over a decade of Tories in office, the state of nature in the UK continues its decline. Cutting the Attenborough episode can’t hide this. But it does reveal that the BBC has more than just an impartiality problem.
Attenborough calling for population control to solve the climate and ecological crisis is deemed impartial. But exposing the shameful state of UK biodiversity and wild places? A step too far to the left. The BBC couldn’t possibly be seen to be holding the rich and powerful to account now, could it?
Featured image via Nick.Thirteen/Wikimedia and Hannah Sharland, cropped and superimposed, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0