Forget reform. The BBC is a lame horse that needs to be put down.

The Diana interview and the BBC News logo

“This is clearly a terrible, terrible morning for the BBCsaid Andrew Marr on his show on Sunday 23 May. He was referring to the princess Diana Spencer/Martin Bashir story. But “miserable” is  perhaps an understatement. Because the BBC is now little more than a lame horse that needs to be put out of its misery.

The Bashir scandal

There’s been a media frenzy in recent days over the 1995 Panorama interview with Spencer. The BBC put in place an independent inquiry into the show. This was after Diana’s brother, earl Charles Spencer, accused journalist Bashir of lying to get the interview. Now, head of the inquiry lord John Dyson seemed to agree. As the BBC itself reported, Dyson found that:

  • Bashir seriously breached BBC rules by mocking up fake bank statements to gain access to the princess
  • He showed the fake documents to Earl Spencer, to gain his trust so he would introduce Bashir to Diana
  • By gaining access to Diana in this way, Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview
  • And as media interest in the interview increased, the BBC covered up what it had learnt about how Bashir secured the interview. Lord Dyson said this “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”

The fall out has been seismic – if insipid.

The usual MO

Whistleblowers who tried to expose all this years earlier have slammed the BBC‘s attitude to them. As The Canary previously reported, BBC bosses sacked former Panorama producer Mark Killick within 24 hours when he raised concerns. He called Bashir a “dishonest reporter” who “lied and lied”. Killick also said BBC bosses ran “a smear campaign” against people who spoke out. He explained:

The culture of fear that was established then, it was a long time ago, but they sent a clear message to everyone in the BBC, ‘do not refer up, do not bring the BBC bad news’.

This is hardly new. For example, BBC bosses spent years protecting serial child rapist Jimmy Saville. BBC employees accused senior managers of “still trying to cover their tracks” as recently as 2012. But still, much of the corporate media and the Tory government have had a field day over the Bashir story. A Sun columnist (don’t click the link!) wrote that:

the BBC will carry on slurping at the trough watered by around £4billion a year of licence fee payers’ money, promoting its sneering anti-British agenda, lavishly overpaying its second-rate stars.

But the Corporation has Diana’s blood on its hands.

And if the BBC was a national newspaper, it would be getting closed for ever.

Ironic, from the ‘alleged’ royal family phone-hacking Sun. Meanwhile, the middle class liberal commentariat have rallied to defend the BBC.

Enter the liberal defenders

Guardian columnist Marina Hyde tried to deflect some of the blame to the “great British public”; Guardian-speak for ‘stupid, working class tabloid readers’. She accused us of not ‘owning our own actions’:

Millions bought insatiably into Diana’s pain… The pall of blameless sanctimony [says Hyde, ironically going full-on sanctimonious] that descended after her death was a stunning exercise in mass hypocrisy. People were simply incapable of imagining that they too had been part of the ecosystem

Then, the Observer wrote in an editorial that it thinks the government will use this to:

increase control over the BBC, direct its policy and personnel and influence its reporting. Leading Tories and their commercially self-interested Fleet Street cheerleaders have long claimed, absurdly, that BBC journalism is run by a leftwing cabal. … Now, in a sick reprise of the past, they seek to use Diana and her sons, coupled with Dyson’s findings, as a club to batter down the doors of honest, independent reporting damaged by Bashir.

But the Observer‘s limp yet sanctimonious defence of the BBC is of course nonsense. Because the BBC‘s conduct, and the Tories’ response to it, is actually nothing new.

An arm of government

As I previously wrote, during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic the BBC went onto a war footing. It was a similar MO to the one it had during WWII. It’s also the same one that led it to it being directly involved in espionage during the 1953 Iranian coup. It’s the same MO that led Marr to stand outside Downing Street at the end of the Iraq invasion in 2003 and say:

it would be entirely ungracious, even for [Tony Blair’s] critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.

And it’s the same MO that saw the government fund the BBC to push Western propaganda in North Korea. The point being, the BBC has often worked as a propaganda arm of government; regardless of whether that government is Tory or Labour.

I’m almost bored of saying that the BBC is not impartial. As I wrote for the CommonSpace around five years ago, it:

is essentially held to financial ransom by governments of every political persuasion, with the media moguls at the top in their publicly-funded ivory towers obviously wanting to keep themselves in the lifestyles that they have become accustomed to.

Boring

But here we are, having the same conversations again. Therefore, the fuss about the Tory government sticking its nose in to ‘reform’ the BBC rings hollow. It rings even more hollow when the chair of the BBC Richard Sharp is a half-million pound Tory donor. And it’s hollow when the BBC‘s director-general is Tory-supporting Tim Davie. So the Tory government getting involved in how the BBC operates is hardly a threat.

Its journalists are from the Marr school of bias: entrenched so deeply into the system they barely even realise the narrow, establishment-defined parameters within which they operate. The BBC‘s editorial team frames everything through a Western, imperialist lens: compare and contrast the BBC‘s coverage of Israel’s apartheid-led atrocities in Gaza to Sky News’s.

Of course, what’s interesting about the Bashir interview is that it went against the establishment at the time. The then-tory PM John Major reportedly made a concerted effort to protect the royal family. But the Panorama interview did tie in with the soon-to-be incoming PM Blair’s broader views and relationship with Spencer. He had been having “secret meetings” with her before the 1997 general election on tactics to win it. So, was it that the BBC was acting with a tabloid hat on when it decided to do the interview? Or did it detect the winds of change coming in government and therefore set out its stall accordingly?

Either way, there is no reforming of the BBC.

The most noxious of media outlets

The BBC always has been, and always will be (to paraphrase Hyde) part of the establishment “ecosystem” in the UK, and globally. This makes it the most noxious of media outlets.

The Daily Mail and the Sun proudly wear their right-wing, racist, xenophobic hearts on their sleeves. They don’t hide their political bias. They’re private entities; therefore in our corporate capitalist system their bias is entirely up to them. But the BBC is meant to be a public service broadcaster. It’s supposed to be the bastion of impartiality: free and fair, presenting all sides of the argument. The problem we have with the BBC is that it’s none of those things.

But the biggest problem is that the BBC is still the most used news source in the UK. Overall, it has dominance and therefore is actually more dangerous than the Sun and the Daily Mail. People still believe that it’s a bastion of impartiality. They believe what they’re reading and watching is accurate, and a fair reflection of the situation.

So the Bashir furore is really the thin end of the wedge. The BBC doesn’t need reform – because it has never really changed. Its job is to serve the establishment. Therefore, much like the people it serves, it needs razing to the ground. And until there is proper recognition of that fact, anything else is just lip service.

Featured image via Channel 4 News – YouTube and pixy

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  • Show Comments
    1. Whilst the BBC is blatantly corrupt and biased. It is better than what is coming. The new Murdoch right wing channels coming soon. This current attack on the beeb has the dirty digger written all over it.

    2. The BBC is very racist, with a culture of institutional racism. Even Greg Dyke, when Director General in 2001, called it ‘hideously white’ and with race relations as bad as in some police forces. Jonathan Ross pointed out the racism in having very few black faces in senior BBC positions. Norrwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, referenced a BBC journalist in his manifesto, and the Finsbury Park mosque bomber, Darren Osborne, was radicalised by a BBC program. The BBC was, along with the Guardian, the worst media culprits in the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.

      https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/bbc-institutionally-racist_uk_5f3f9c78c5b697824f977779
      https://www.theguardian.com/media/2007/mar/04/raceintheuk.bbc

    3. So what you’re saying is that there are no genuine left wing broadcasters or publications that reach a mass audience, and that, by implication, this is a Bad Thing. I think anyone who reads the Canary (apart from the occasional troll, whose views need not trouble us) would agree with that; but you would have to be, and I’m sorry to be so personal here, A COMPLETE FUCKWIT to imagine that closing down the BBC (the constitution of which at least requires it to attempt impartiality, and whose Oxford educated staff are more likely to have been members of Friends of the Earth than the Bullingdon Club), and leaving the field free for the Sun and the Daily Mail (and others) who are even now closing in on the Right’s long term project to lock in the Tories as the permanent party of government, is going to to be anything other than doing Johnson’s work for him. Don’t forget; he can’t wait to turn the BBC into Netflix for the Tories. Don’t be stupid enough to fall into that trap, it’s the last thing we’ve got they haven’t yet destroyed.

      Sorry about that long sentence the middle there.

      1. Also, (sorry to come back to this – it’s just so exasperating), to let the tabloids off the hook because they are unapologetic mouthpieces of the far right, but to attack the BBC because it isn’t, is the sort of maskirovka nonsense that Putin would come up with. The Corporation’s dilemma is that all governments have it in for it because Government ultimately controls the money, and the programme makers have to compete with less scrupulous chancers like Murdoch and Harmsworth in the same bear pit. That could be fixed if the will was there (it isn’t), but in the meantime this is just a distraction, which suits the purposes of Johnson and his thugs, because there are bigger fish to fry.

        For example, if you are looking to have a go at a publicly funded organisation that ruins people’s lives, and is transparently racist to boot, try the Home Office.

        1. Just cancel the TV Tax. The State should pay for its own propaganda outlet. Making us pay it is just taking the piss – just like the milk-snatcher’s crew and the Poll Tax. People choose their right-wing rags and are happy to pay for simplistic stories that harmonise with their existing prejudices. It helps if an eight year old can understand it of course!
          Maybe the old girl (Aunty Beeb) should be run as a Cooperative and as for it being either ‘left’ or ‘right’: it doesn’t matter, the current Convid narrative has shown us how standardised the ‘media’ phenomenon is. It may be that the ‘investigative journalism’ of the Nixon years and Vietnam were more illusory than I once thought… It’s all a little bit depressing. Still, if the TV Tax was abolished we would at least be sure about the bias of the BBC.

    4. Going to have to agree with the Deluge above.

      Will we see Canary articles in the years to come hammering the NHS because of its failing care to the working and poorer members of society? We all know this is baked into the Plan A. Naturally the BBC should primarily be seen as the propaganda arm of the UK Establishment, that is literally what it IS. However, the quality and national inclusiveness of the propaganda can change – even by simply the voters deciding they’ve had enough of neoliberal and centrist-Neocon corporate parties.

      Far easier than attempting to change the corruption and ethical quagmire of the corporate media, which is all we would be left with.

      When NHS hospitals are rejecting the poor unless they have insurance, or can pay “The minimum fee”, do we blame the concept of ‘Socialised HealthCare’, or the Tories for forcing them to behave in that way, and parachuting in managers who will look the other way?

      TBF, I haven’t watched the BBC in a long time now, and would happily save the money on the licence. But unless we give up hope for ANY possible better futures, having a State broadcaster that is not controlled by offshored oligarch billionaires is a positive for the country.

      One last thing: NO-ONE believes the BBC anymore, except foolish Americans.

      And that is also exactly as the Tories intended. Join the dots.

    5. There is much to criticize the BBC for, but there are positive things about it as well. Of course their news is biased, but not as biased as the right wing rags that want it closed down.
      While their news is biased, they do many documentaries on science which help with environmental awareness, and their history shows often shed light on our imperialists past.
      They also make a genuine attempt at being inclusive and diverse with it’s presenters, and characters in it’s dramas. I don’t even own a television but pay my license fee as I appreciate the programs I watch on the I player.

    6. On the 11th of September 2001 the BBC, live broadcasting from new York with the crippled towers in the background reported that building No.seven had collapsed whilst it was clearly onscreen over the shoulder of the reporter and still standing. 23 mins later it did indeed collapse in freefall for two thirds of its descent.
      As it had not suffered impact damage it became the first and only time a steel framed high rise structure had apparently collapsed due to “office fires”
      Much obfuscation and spin later the BBC claimed to have ‘exonerated’ themselves on charges of deceit.
      Subsequently the University of Alaska was charged with the task of modeling its collapse. The peer reviewed paper issued by the UoA , the most meticulously detailed analysis ever undertaken of a building collapse, concluded that it was demolished using phased charge demolition.
      The BBC along with every other purportedly dependable news organisation have as yet failed to report this.
      So for this example alone I can support the notion that the BBC is a lame horse that needs to be put down.

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