Friday, 25 August 2017

BBC naval gazing and coverage of British militarism: a further exchange

A reply (24 August 2017) from the BBC concerning my complaint over its coverage of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its arrival in Portsmouth.

Dear Mr Hilley
Reference CAS-4529010-T2T6CD 
Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC News Website coverage of HMS Queen Elizabeth's arrival in Portsmouth. 
I understand you feel the coverage was both excessive and biased, failing to feature the views of those who opposed the commissioning of the ship. 
While I appreciate how strongly you feel about the points you raise, we would explain that the intention in our live coverage of this event was simply to report on the ship's arrival in her home port. As part of this we spoke with members of the crowd who turned out to watch the carrier's approach, discussed its construction, and featured speeches from senior naval personnel and Theresa May. 
However we would point out that across our wider news coverage we did discuss some of the criticism the vessel has faced. In his report on BBC One's 'Breakfast' programme on 16 August Duncan Kennedy acknowledged that it was also "a controversial day" owing to the "cost of the carrier"; he explained, "critics say the carrier has cost more than £3 billion and doesn't have a clearly defined role". 
Please be assured, the BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times. Indeed, our News editors ensure that over a reasonable period of time we reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends on particular issues, but it's important to add here that our published Editorial Guidelines explain that not every issue or viewpoint necessarily has to be included in each individual report. 
Account needs to be taken of the way a subject is covered over a period of time; perfect balance is difficult to achieve on every single individual occasion, while overall it is a more achievable goal taking into account our coverage as a whole. 
The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon - our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences. 
Nonetheless, I am sorry to read you feel we are failing to meet our objectives.
Please be assured, we appreciate your feedback on this issue and I have passed your comments forward on a report which will be read by senior BBC management and the BBC News team.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. 
Kind regards
Emma Duff
BBC Complaints Team
My further response to the BBC

Dear Emma Duff

Thanks for responding to my letter of complaint.

As anticipated, it's a lamentable copy-piece of BBC mitigation, evasion and denial.

Predictably, you insist that the "BBC is committed to impartial reporting at all times". That's a claim no serious analysis of these propaganda-loaded reports could sustain.

You mention "how strongly" you think I feel about these matters. Let's explore that for a moment. The important point here is not the 'strength' of feeling, it's how we seek to define it. I do not write or speak in an objective way. I have an openly subjective view. All of our thoughts, feelings and expressions are subjective, in one form or another, overtly or otherwise stated.

And that includes the BBC, whose directors, editors and journalists also take subjective positions, rooted in approval of 'BBC values' and strong, supportive feelings about 'what BBC journalism stands for'. It suggests a strong endorsement of the BBC's establishment status, together with a strongly selective 'understanding' of the permissible boundaries of journalistic expression.

It is a matter of contention how able we are to make 'objective' assessments of any subjective output, particularly that specifically claiming to be 'impartial'. Here, again, our own subjective interpretations cannot be removed from any supposed 'objective' examination.

Yet, any rational reading of these reports would acknowledge that the BBC has taken an obviously strong and partisan position in upholding, praising and celebrating the HMS Queen Elizabeth and other such displays of British state militarism.

Again, that's my view. The point of concern here is not just that the BBC takes an opposite view (which it clearly does), but that - as you contend - it claims to take "no view" at all.

This kind of reportage might, at least, be deemed 'honest', were the BBC to accept that their output is, indeed, subjectively made; that they do, indeed, take a position, just like most other media. Yet you insist that, unlike my "strong" position, the BBC are still making impartial editorial decisions and reporting in a balanced, objective way.

You mention the requirements for impartiality, as set out in the BBC Charter. Again, we have to look at this document and its principal terms as both subjectively constructed by elite interests and subject to privileged interpretation by BBC directors.

At every level, from the commissioning of output to the handling of complaints, it's the subjective judgement of those same BBC figures who, in practice, determine what constitutes "due impartiality", and what's considered "due weight." You have simply reiterated those 'guiding' biases in your letter.

As with the compliance of senior editors and journalists, this suggests a level of indoctrination so deeply-rooted that those proclaiming notions of BBC 'impartiality' either can't see this filtering process, or, in daily acts of prudent self-restraint, simply avoid any career-threatening gaze.    

A determining factor here, as you note, is not just what's contained in a report, or set of reports, but "the way a subject is covered over a period of time." Thus, you point to the inclusion in a Breakfast News report of apparent 'concern' over the 'controversial cost' of this vessel. Do you consider this ample questioning of Britain's vast, wasteful and immoral military spending? Where, one may reasonably ask, are all those other 'balancing' pieces? Where is the 'due weight' of anti-war/weaponry sentiment duly represented?

As we've seen, such token and tepid mentions are dwarfed by the sheer scale and tone of reports lauding the ship and what it supposedly represents to 'the nation'. And, just like that task force, the BBC's subjectively-determined mission here is not just about 'reflecting' public feeling, but leading on, and feeding, dominant ideas and interests, ever careful to omit and circumvent that which casts British militarism in a negative light.  

In the same dutiful way, your reply completely ignores my questions on the BBC's reporting and quoting of senior military figures. Where, I repeat, are the counterpoints to Admiral Philip Jones's provocative assertions of Britain as a major maritime power? Why was he permitted to enunciate, unchallenged, such imperialist-sounding claims of military superiority? Where is the critical scrutiny, either in this set of reports, or in wider terms, of the UK state's war posturing and weapons prowess?

You also ignored, in this same, vital context, my question about the extent of Britain's dark involvement in weapons procurement and supplies to Saudi  Arabia and other regimes, with notable reference to the human catastrophe of Yemen. Why was this key context not duly mentioned in these reports, and why hasn't that state-corporate arms nexus been given due, critical attention over the longer period?

This set of reports show quite clearly that the BBC are not only openly supportive of HMS Queen Elizabeth, but are strongly promoting the entire culture of UK militarism.

Just as the BBC have failed to engage these core issues, your letter has avoided answering the specific points of my initial letter. Please be informed that I'd like them raised to the next level of the complaints procedure for serious consideration.

Kind regards
John  Hilley


David Halpin FRCS said...

Dear John,

On target and via superb writing. I have not written to the State Broadcaster about the coverage it has given these two 60,000 tonne attack weapons but I have followed the outrageous detail, including this -
"The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and has been much criticized inside and outside government, in the U.S. and in allied countries.[17] Critics argue that the plane is "plagued with design flaws, ......" Wiki!
But the propaganda for killing pumped out by the BBC which you write of so eloquently is the main thing.
You probably feel like many of us that the power of the Broadcaster and the State is unstoppable in their evil. (Johnson and the execrable Burt have just been posted on my web site, but untidily.)
I have complained to the black sponge of the BBC/ZBC at least 100 times. Given up now. All who respond have been given the voltage in the funny farm. Had a go at unseating my Lord Patten. Was on Bridgepoint - invested in private health care. On my web site.

Thank you John for keeping the flame aloft in the deepest darkness.

John Hilley said...

Many thanks, David. Enduring appreciations for all your fine work on behalf of oppressed humanity.