Friday, 22 October 2010

The BBC's 'DNA' - bloggers, genes, censorship and vandalism

First they ridicule you, then they patronise you, then they censor you, then they break your placards.

And that's not to mention all the evasive responses and hierarchical dismissals in between.

Who might we be speaking of here? School bullies? Smug politicians? High court judges? Thug police? Think, rather, the BBC.

First up, on the ridicule variant, the BBC's Andrew Marr on bloggers:

"A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother's basements and ranting. They are very angry people."

One might reasonably assume that 'professional' journalists would be a little more diligent in their remarks. After all, Marr is, supposedly, one of the BBC's most 'respected' interviewers, renowned for his 'forensic, analytical skills'.

Besides his biased output, such ill-informed stereotyping of the blogosphere says much about the practice of lazy journalism within the mainstream media itself.

As the BBC's interviewer of choice over Blair's recent book launch, such comments illustrate Marr's true establishment loyalties and journalistic capabilities.

Marr will, of course, be ever-identified with this grand homage to Blair as Baghdad fell:

“I don't think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he’s somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.” (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003)

Next, as if to reassure us of the BBC's authority as a fount of reliable reporting - unlike the 'seedy' blogosphere - we have Director of News, Helen Boaden, dispensing some patronising homilies about BBC objectivity and a correction to those who believe otherwise.

"Impartiality is in the BBC genes", Boaden instructs us:

"I always think that impartiality is in our DNA - it's part of the BBC's genetic make-up.

Anyone who thinks differently doesn't really understand how the organisation works and how seriously we take issues around balance and impartiality.

That's why, for example, we've planned our coverage of the spending cuts so carefully - to make the choices facing the government clear to our audiences and ensuring we cover the "whys and wherefores" of the spending review. It's how we always approach our reporting - whatever the subject.

The licence fee is the public's money so people are clearly fully entitled to their opinion on our coverage. And if they want to criticise it, of course they can and indeed will do so."

Well, that should all be clear to us lowly licence-paying, cuts-affected citizens. Perhaps Boaden will do a Horizon special to help us lay-persons better understand the BBC's place in the great Genome Map.

In truth, the BBC have slavishly followed the elite agenda on who is to blame for the economic crisis and what public service areas should be presented for cuts.

There's no inclusion in any of the BBC poll options asking if bankers and their neoliberal practices are to blame. Nor, for example, in BBC Scotland's options listing 'preferred' areas for cuts is there one specifically asking the wealthy to pay.

That's the carefully-limited extent of the BBC's 'genetically impartial' coverage of such issues.

Next up, the increasing resort to outright censoring of those public opinions.*

The BBC Online Editor, Steve Herrmann, has, apparently, been courting views about the new BBC guidelines on external website links. It's all part of that noble 'consultation' thing the BBC prides itself on upholding.

Except when it gets down to actually allowing real criticism on the BBC Editors blog, or the prospect of featuring serious external sites, like Media Lens, that really do take the BBC apart.

Again, complementing Boaden's wordy outpourings on fairness, this mock consultation and purging of dissent on BBC blogs points to the BBC's growing fear of rational criticism.

Finally, when all else fails, there's always the option of just smashing-up the props of those annoying dissenters. Thus, the BBC's chief political editor Nick Robinson has revealed what he truly thinks of open political argument by seizing and destroying the placard of a demonstrator holding up an anti-war message during his live piece to camera.

Robinson later expressed "regret" over his actions. But not without rebuking such protesters for invading the BBC's apparently inviolable space:

"I am a great believer in free speech but I also care passionately about being able to do my job reporting and analysing one of the most important political stories for years."

Again, all very noble. Yet, here's Robinson, on another crucial story, defending those all-important reporting duties:

"In the run-up to the conflict, I and many of my colleagues, were bombarded with complaints that we were acting as mouthpieces for Mr Blair. Why, the complainants demanded to know, did we report without question his warning that Saddam was a threat? Hadn't we read what Scott Ritter had said or Hans Blix? I always replied in the same way. It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking... That is all someone in my sort of job can do. We are not investigative reporters."

An apologetic admission of just what's expected of the 'responsible' BBC journalist.

In practice, from Marr to Robinson, Boaden to Herrmann, BBC journalists and editors display a remarkably similar tendency towards intolerance and control over serious public dissent.

Maybe there is something 'double-helix-like' in the BBC's establishment make-up, after all.


* Update on further censoring of comments at the BBC Editors blog.


Anonymous said...

I think you'd have to be blind, or brain-dead, not to realise that the comment below was so wildly off-topic it's a wonder it ever got posted in the first place:

"Or, as George Orwell noted in his originally unpublished preface to Animal Farm, "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban." Editors and journalists know, consciously or otherwise, not to stray too far from the permissible range of opinions or "facts"; Nothing too controversial, like the basic illegality of the crime of aggression, the supreme war crime, committed by the Western powers against Iraq: "`it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." "

As for the general topic of bloggers, Andrew Marr's jibe is actually quite amusing, and I speak as a blogger myself, of course - sans basement....


John Hilley said...

Not so 'off-topic', Mike, when you consider the very false exercise in 'public consultation' going on here. Contributors to a thread on 'linking policy' should be at liberty to cite the core problem of BBC impartiality and how that affects what appears as 'further information' at a BBC web page. It's all crucially contextual.

The removal of such 'off-topic' comments is really rearguard BBC evasion, an effort to control the narrative and narrow the permissable output. It's all so typical of how the establishment media seek to police the boundaries of debate.

It's also worth noting that this posting was closed without Steve Herrmann answering my very 'on-topic' question #15 about whether the BBC would ever include a link to the Media Lens site.