Labour’s Clive Lewis MP skewered the BBC in the heart of parliament on 15 July. Lewis, who was once the BBC‘s chief political reporter in the eastern region, effectively suggested that the BBC peddles “disinformation emanating from the Conservative party and its allies in the press”.
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Labour's Clive Lewis MP skewers the BBC and its "disinformation" in the heart of parliament:
— James Wright (@wrightismight) July 16, 2019
During his speech to the committee, Lewis took down a common defence of the BBC:
‘If we are attacked from both sides,’ the argument goes, ‘then we must be doing something right.’ However, when faced with conflicting claims, we cannot just dismiss them all and assume that everything is fine; we must assess which are accurate—or which are more accurate.
And it turns out, as Lewis went on to say, there is a weight of evidence suggesting the BBC is “dominated by elite sources”:
- A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and conservative-leaning in its coverage.
- Analysis from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck found the BBC gave double the airtime to Jeremy Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the 2016 coup against him.
- 49% of BBC executives went to a private or grammar school, according to a 2019 Sutton Trust study.
Pro-establishment bias, not pro or anti Brexit bias
Lewis also pointed to studies that found strong right-wing bias from the BBC during the EU referendum:
During the EU referendum, that ‘impartiality as balance’ paradigm, which seems always to lean to the right, was scrupulously applied to the two sides of the referendum campaign, but with the right dominating both. Research by Loughborough University found that Conservative and UK Independence Party representatives accounted for 74% of all party political appearances on television news. Cardiff University found an even higher level of prominence, with Conservatives and UKIP together accounting for almost 80% of politicians.
Press agenda harms BBC‘s remit
The striking domination of our political debate by the right is exacerbated by the influence of right-wing newspapers. One of the key functions of the BBC should be to act as a bulwark against misinformation and the abuses of private power, but how can it perform that function if its news agenda is set by an often unscrupulous, partisan press, owned by a handful of billionaires, which has spent decades misinforming people on every important issue of the day?
The Canary contacted the BBC for comment, but had received none by the time of publication.
A brighter future
Lewis rounded off by calling for people not to give up on the BBC:
some on the left are so disillusioned with the BBC that they have given up on it altogether. That is a mistake. There are serious problems with the BBC that cannot be ignored, but they can be resolved by making it genuinely independent of Governments—of the left and the right—and accountable not to a narrow elite but to its own staff and to the communities it should represent.
Outlining proposals for BBC reform, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said:
the BBC should be freed of government control, democratised and made representative of the country it serves to help it do that.
The BBC is meant to be independent, but its charter grants governments the power to appoint the chair and four directors of the board and set the level of the licence fee.
One proposal would simultaneously reduce government political influence on the BBC while empowering its workforce and the licence fee payers who fund it. That would see the election of some BBC Board members, for example of executive directors by staff and non-executive directors by licence fee payers.
To help decentralise the BBC, national and regional boards could also be expanded, with elections by BBC staff and local licence fee payers. All boards should be representative of the country, with a minimum representation for women and minority groups.
We must end the BBC‘s government appointee system and make the broadcaster truly accountable to the people. Then the BBC can actually fulfill its stated purpose to educate and inform people free from vested interest. Because, as Lewis hammered home in the heart of parliament, it’s currently doing the opposite.
Featured image via YouTube – UK Parliament
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