6am. It’s another beautiful day. The sun is out in bonny Dundee and I am stuck on a hospital bed staring out of the window! Time for some reading and some listening. Earphones, an Iphone and Good Morning Scotland from the BBC on the radio. That should pass the time.!
In hospital this time they have been concerned to get my blood pressure to rise – they need worry no more. Listening to the BBC should have had my BP through the roof. This has got me to reflecting this morning on our British Broadcasting Corporation – both negative and positive. In fact so much so that was going to be a short sharp reflective has turned into a half day essay. Not that it will take you half a day to read it, but it is worth taking some consider to consider the impact that MSM (Main Stream Media) have on our culture and thus on the church.. If you are expecting the usual ‘BBC Liberal anti- Christian bias’ forget it – just as if you expect ‘the BBC can do no wrong’? I want to think a little bit more of how the BBC reflects our society and also how it seeks to shape our society.
Lets start with the negative: BBC = Banal, Biased and Corporate
The Banal –
The GMS news this morning was so banal. We had an ‘acid’ lawyer being interviewed about the recent acid attacks in London. Does an acid attack change your life? Another stunning question to their Swiss correspondent. Is Roger Federer regarded by the Swiss as the greatest tennis player? After listening for two hours the banality amongst other facts had almost made me lose the will to live.
And it’s not just GMS. Whilst the BBC does have some brilliant comedy programmes Breaking the News is not one of them. I listened to it when I came in last week and recorded it because it is such a stunning example of the banality and bias of the closed shop that is the BBC.
It’s banal because of the sameness and the dumbed down ‘wink,wink’ chumminess. Of course its going to be the same mockery of Trump, May plus anyone who is ‘on the wrong side of history’ on social issues. Comedians used to think of themselves almost as prophetic radicals – now it seems that with the deterioration of the English language to the extent that you can say anything without shocking (unless it’s perceived to be a homophobic word or you make a pro-Brexit joke – cue stunned silence, anger and snowflakes melting all over the place!)- our comedians have no idea how to be radical. I’ll tell you what would be radical – someone having a different political viewpoint! Mocking people who are not present and challenging those who won’t hear you and you don’t pay your paycheck is not ‘brave’ and ‘radical’. It’s the ultimate virtue signaling in the ultimate comfort zone.
Where are the Journalists?
There is banality in the news areas of the corporation because of the lack of investigative journalism. There is some ,but as in newspaper journalism this has sharply declined. Far too much reliance is placed on press releases, internet news and who knows who.
Investigative journalism is supposed to be replaced by insightful analysis. But that is not what happens. Gossip and social media chatter become a more staple part of the diet. So this morning we were told it was a major controversy that the next Dr Who was to be a
woman. Actually it wasn’t. But the journalists wanted it to be so, so that they could combine a popular TV show, with social justice and the opportunities to have ‘experts’ on to pontificate about sexism. There are millions of people who use Twitter – getting some of them to make negative comments is not difficult. Creating a twitter storm is as easy as creating panic by shouting ‘bomb’ on the Tube. Social media is easy to use. You find or create the news and then you comment on this non-existent news.
In this type of journalism there is constant repetition of the same mantras. It’s a place where far too often the bleeding obvious is repeated as the wisdom of experts and sneering sarcasm and self-righteous mocking replaces any insightful analysis. Journalism will die without real journalists.
The BBC has a duty to provide balance. To be fair it does make an attempt but it is far too often a poor attempt. It’s not so much that they show obvious bias on particular issues – although on some they just can’t help themselves (eg abortion, SSM and Brexit – in this latter area I am fed up of hearing of a hard and soft Brexit both of which are emotive and meaningless terms. The EU Commission doesn’t need its own propaganda station. The BBC can always be relied to pass on their latest spin as holy writ). The BBC (or at least some within it) is absolutely determined that people like me should not be allowed to mention the Christian values of Britain, in case it upsets people, but has no problem with its comedians mocking and blaspheming Christianity and Christ (although not Islam and Mohammed). Or in a more subtle form they discourage regular contributors and more nuanced, thinking, well-rounded personalities who have a different philosophy from their secular humanism, by either restricting them considerably or by choosing the most extreme and eccentric examples they can find. Self-appointed spokespeople like Stephen Green of Christian Voice do as much harm to the cause of Christianity as any atheist comedian.
No the real issue is the underlying cultural bias and prejudice – shown in its structures, journalists and producers. Another great example of this came in this interview.
The African lady was superb (so good that I doubt she would be allowed on again – at least not on the UK BBC). But it is the arrogance, ignorance and smugness of the journalist that sticks out. She stated her opinions and pre-suppositions as though they were obvious facts. In most BBC shows – especially if it had involved a UK politician or senior clergyman – that is where it would have ended. But this sister had the intelligence and the courage to challenge the presuppositions of the journalist.
In its defence the BBC can easily point out that everyone complains about BBC bias – the Tories, the SNP, Corbynistas etc. When it comes to Christianity they will point out that they have complaints from secular groups about how biased they are towards Christianity. Now I have to say that there is truth in the charge that some Christians are far too quick to cry bias, discrimination and even persecution.
The BBC is a corporation, but it is a public corporation, paid for by the British taxpayer and therefore it is also supposed to be a public service – serving the whole public. It is not a commercial organisation chasing the almighty dollar/euro. However it has become an increasingly commercial organisation with the fascination on viewer figures and stars and executive salaries. This inevitably leads to a dumbing down. This is combined with the notion that as well as making money the BBC is there to make and shape society. Money and power are a dangerous combination.
The trouble is that entertainment, news, sport and commerce are all merging into the One. Instead of reporting the news, the BBC (and others) are in danger of thinking it is the news. Instead of informing the public the BBC sometimes looks as though it is on a mission to engage in its own social engineering and indoctrination. For example anyone with two eyes will note that the BBC has really been pushing women’s football and cricket as as important as mens. Why? Is it because it is, or because they think it should be? What are the attendances at womens football and cricket compared with mens? Are the BBC showing us what we want to see, or what they think we should want to see? This is to say nothing about the merit or otherwise of women’s football or cricket (if you want my personal view I think its a good thing to encourage) but it is to question the attempt to remake reality in order to suit the social/political ideologies of those who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what to think! If I was given the choice of watching men’s or womens tennis – it’s a no-brainer. I would wish the mens. Likewise football and cricket. I have no objection whose preference is otherwise. My objection is to the BBC trying to artificially create interest in something which isn’t there and then demonising, shaming and mocking those who just don’t have the interest.
Some are more Equal than Others
The BBC is obsessed with ‘diversity’ but only in some areas. Their latest strategy on diversity makes fascinating reading with its emphasis on quotas. It’s full of problems and hypocrisy – which of course no-one will challenge. Let me illustrate a couple. There is a target of 8% LGBT staff and 8% onscreen portrayal. On what is this based? The government research has the percentage of LGBT in the whole in the UK as 1.6 and Scotland 1.3 (See the Public Health for Scotland). So why does the BBC have an 8% target figure? Indeed why is the whole government, civic society and media obsessed with this 1.6% of the population? Because the impression that most people have is that there are a lot more and that they are an oppressed minority struggling to come out from under the jackboot of hetrosexist oppression. That is an impression which has been partially created by the BBC, which in turn fuels the demand for the BBC to be even more gay friendly/promoting/ which in turn continues to fuel the impression and so the circle goes on.
But we know that the gay issue is really dead and buried with only a few dinosaurs like the DUP or yours truly left – along with the 30% of the population who can be written of as the great unwashed/elderly/religious. So our social justice warriors needed a new cause which they can campaign on, blame others, bash religion , shame their colleagues, plead a victim narrative and virtue signal to their heart’s content. They found one – bring to the fore the new cause celebre of the chattering classes, Transgender. Apparently Britain is full of people who were misassigned gender at birth and need to be freed from their chains by our social justice warriors. Admittedly ‘full’ might be a bit of an exaggeration given the fact that only 0.1% of the population are actually transgender.
But the post-truth alternative fact society which the BBC both despises (when Trumps uses it) and uses, provides a way out of that inconvenient truth. Its easy, you just get an ‘expert’ campaigner (who ‘cares’) to be interviewed and tell you that these figures are false given that Transgender people won’t admit it because of the dreadful transphobia. Lo and behold – suddenly you are transphobic if you dare cite any facts that don’t fit the pre-determined agenda. This is the way that the BBC is going and once again it is something that I have personally experienced. I was booked to appear several times on Radio 5 Live to discuss the newspapers. After the first one I was de facto banned because most of the programme ended up being about Trans – not because I wanted it (indeed the very opposite – I had been told the subjects up for discussion and Trans was not on the list) but because a rather smarmy Tory MP who thought he was a bit of a wit thought he would mock me as a Christian and used Trans to do so. It ended up a good programme and I ended up being banned (without being told) because there were several complaints from the LGBT thought police who wondered if the BBC were beginning to defect from their assigned mission. You can read some reflections about this Here
But there is another problem here. What if it turns out that the 8% figure has already been exceeded? Well it has. At least 10% of BBC staff are LGBT. Does this mean that in order to meet their quota the BBC will reduce the number of LGBT staff in the interests of diversity and equality?! As if! How dare I have such a homophobic thought!
Too Few Men?
Likewise with the 50% figure for women. There are already BBC shows and departments where the number of women outnumber the number of men. So will the BBC seek to reduce the number of women in order to give the other 50% of the population a decent chance? A while ago I was asked to take part in a significant BBC programme and prepared to do so. It was both an honour and an opportunity. However, having cancelled a couple of things and set aside a day, I received a phone call from the producer.
“I’m sorry but we are going to have to drop you – we would love to have you and think it would be a great program, but we have to meet a gender quota.”
“You are dropping me because I am a man?!”
“Yes – sorry – we will come back to you” (they havn’t).
I wonder if the BBC have ever said “I’m sorry we can’t have you on the show because you are a woman” ! Gender quotas tend to only work one way.
Mind you there is a problem arising for the BBC and others. If someone felt their career was threatened by their being the wrong gender, why couldn’t the just declare as member of the opposite gender? After all this is what the government are telling us we can do and what the BBC themselves are promoting – with their weekly transgender promotion programmes.
Jobs for the Posh Boys and Girls?
One of the problems is that the BBC sometimes gives the impression of being a public school service rather than a public service. In their diversity quotas done to promote equality they don’t seem to have quotas for employees and staff from State schools. What if they did? I think you would find that those who go to ‘public’ schools (which in the UK means private fee paying) are more likely to end up working for the BBC. The road from the likes of Eton/Harrow to Oxford/Cambridge Footlights to the Edinburgh fringe, is a well trodden one – but not by many peasants! The Edinburgh fringe is about to start and whilst there will be a diverse group of fortune seekers from all over the world, I think I am far more likely amongst the performers to hear a plummy sounding private school voice than I am to hear a Scots. Will the BBC seek to introduce real diversity quotas in this area – after all if they are prepared to do this for the LGBT 1.6%, why can they not do it for the 93% who are not on the Private school fast-track? Only asking! My problem is not that people go to such schools and Universities, that is their choice and right; my problem is when people come from these schools and Universities and then run our public institutions as if by divine right, imposing ‘equality and diversity’ in every area except those which would affect them!
And I get really miffed when the champagne socialists whilst maintaining their own cultural traditions (holidays in the Highlands, sking in Switzerland and weekends in Milan/Paris/Stockholm – isn’t the EU so wonderful and internationalist!) find time to speak up for the poor by hating the Tories and demanding equality for homosexuals – it makes them feel so ‘identified’ with the working class in Liverpool, BIrmingham and Dundee!
I have come across these types increasingly in my life but let me give one example from my student days in Edinburgh Uni. My politics lecturer got in a fight with me. I was a good left-winger but he was a cultural Marxist. In one of his politics seminars he spoke about nationalising land. I suggested it might not be a good idea and that it was one of the reasons that my father as a farmworker would vote Tory. He suggested my father who had lived and worked on the land all his life didn;t know what he was talking about, whereas he, whose experience of farmland was probably what he saw on holiday in Provence, did. When I pointed this out he got very angry at me and shouted: “But I’ve been proletarianised”! You don’t need to work to be working class. You don’t need to have no money to be poor. You just need to ‘identify’ with the poor and lo and behold…you ARE the poor! Not wanting or being able to afford to live in that hypocritical, insane world I gave up my politics course – and was then awarded the prize for second year politics!
This is already too long but it’s now time to consider the good stuff – the really good stuff – that makes paying your licence fee worthwhile. It’s why this matters and why just having a moan fest is pointless.
BBC= Brilliant, Biblical and Creative
I am using the word here in the opposite sense of dumbed down. Yes I know that most of TV is and seem of it even needs to be, the equivalent of mind wallpaper – designed to prevent you thinking and send you to sleep. I went through a period when the 20 minutes of Neighbours on a weekday lunchtime was essential viewing. There was no advantage in it at all (other than sermon illustrations and being able to talk to kids, students and housewives) but it did help me switch off and chill for a while. There was nothing in Neighbours that made me think. Then I discovered Bach and fresh air and Neighbours was no more. I think TV is largely a dumbed down media, radio less so. But when it gets it right it can be extraordinarily brilliant. Especially the BBC.
I spoke of dumbed down news and whilst I have given up on some aspects, I don’t want to give the impression that the BBC is the worst at this (have you been to the USA?!) nor that they have no excellent news programmes. Radio 4’s Today programme (with Eddie Mair), the Daily Politics with Andrew Neill and the journalist Andrew Marr are well worth the licence fee. I note in passing that I doubt that either Marr or Neill would get major jobs in BBC Scotland because I suspect their faces would not fit. Interesting also that Eddie Mair is Scottish – a good Dundonian! He is also homosexual which is for me an irrelevant fact as long as he does his job as a broadcaster and interviewer well – which he does brilliantly. In fact I know of none finer in the UK.
Whether it is fascinating broadcasters like Melvyn Bragg or must listen programmes like The Moral Maze the BBC excels in producing intellectually stimulating and informative programmes. Indeed there are so many that half my podcast-feed is from the BBC.
The BBC excels at creativity, although for some reason the US seems to have more quality dramas and Netflix is beginning to set the pace. But will anything ever beat the six part drama of Pride and Prejudice. In the US I loved National Public Radio, laughed at the majority of Talk Radio and got depressed at most (though not all) Christian radio stations – but I have never in the world come across anything quite like the BBC for producing quality, creative programmes (maybe ABC in Australia comes closest?). Think of the Planet Earth series .
The BBC is usually good at sport (my life would be a lot poorer without the wonders of Test cricket for example. As a national public broadcaster the BBC should automatically have the rights to all major national sporting events).
And in case you thought I was having a go at all BBC comedy – that is not the case – even if much does fall into the cringe/predictable category. If you ever want to listen to a programme that deserves the LOL response, its got to be – I’m Sorry I Havn’t a Clue. I challenge you to listen and not smile or even laugh if you want to be an extremist!
I have left the most important until last. The BBC charter says it’s aim is “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.” Much of that is achieved – although I think there is a danger that much is being lost.
The BBC’s crest and motto contains the biblical quote “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”.
Sometimes the BBC does Christianity very well – for example yesterday in hospital I woke up and put on Radio Scotland at 6:30am where to my surprise I had the pleasure of hearing Rev Colin Dow and Glasgow City Free Church. Wonderful. Another time I was a bit discouraged and although I never normally watch Songs of Praise I switched on and found this beauty:
On the other hand, and I won’t put any examples, there have been some appalling misrepresentations and what amounts to a non-deliberate caricature of Christianity. Who needs secular comedians to caricature us, when we are so good at doing it ourselves?!
But the issue here is not so much the portrayal of good or bad religion done well or badly. The far bigger issue is the question of the values and ethos on which the BBC is based. We know on what it used to be based. Lord Reith its founder was the son of a Scottish Presbyterian Minister and in many ways a deeply flawed man as well as a deeply principled and good man! His faith is often mocked today but it was the foundation of the modern BBC. He argued that without a broadcasting monopoly…
‘…The Christian religion and the Sabbath might not have had the place and protection they had; the place and protection which it was right to give them…. One day in the week clear of jazz and variety and such like…Almost everything might have been different. The BBC might have had to play for safety; prosecute the obviously popular lines; count its clients; study and meet their reactions; curry favour; subordinate itself to the vote…’
The principles that the BBC should be a national broadcaster, but not run by the government, that it should not contain advertising, that it should not be determined by money nor by ‘cheap popularity’ were foundational. The aim was straightforward. To broadcast – “All that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavor and achievement…. The preservation of a high moral tone is obviously of paramount importance.”
In 1934 a new BBC official motto was adopted for 15 years before reverting to the original – this time the motto was, “Quaecunque”, the Latin word for “whatsoever”. This came from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
How times have changed! Maybe we need to wake up, strengthen what remains good in our national broadcaster or accept that it is about to die.
Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
The BBC may aim to be those three things but it is highly questionable if it is any of them – and certainly not the middle one. The BBC does reflect the state of our society good and bad – but unlike the former Christian ethos which sought to preserve what was good in a mixed society, my fear is that many of those in the upper echelons of todays Corporation really do think they have the power, the responsibility and the ability to shape society – into the image which they and all ‘right thinking’ people (ie. people who think their thoughts after them) would desire.
Some of us are not just prepared to let that happen. We will praise what is good and seek to challenge what is evil. Some of us work within the BBC, seeking to be salt and light and bring a Christian influence on this great influencer of the nation. May God help us to see the BBC restored to its Christian roots.