Auntie Behaving Badly

Yesterday I read an article in The Spectator. It was by Douglas Murray. Yes, I’ll wait until you’ve finished vomiting in fury.

Better now? Then I’ll continue.

The article concerned his visit to OccupyLSX at St Pauls and was the usual ill researched and specious ‘opinion’ piece which denigrated a worldwide movement based on appearance and the author’s own festering prejudice. Below the line the Thatcherite monkeys hooted agreement and threw their shit at each other but one comment stood out for me:

“Who needs the echo in St Pauls when you have a national Marxist echo chamber in the BBC?”

I know, laughable isn’t it? As with Murray’s own assertion that the SWP are seeking to bring about ‘Stalinism’ and another commenter worrying about the noise from anti war protester Brian Haw’s megaphone in Parliament Square (Haw died earlier this year), it’s just another example of how ludicrously detached the Spectator and its readership are from reality.

My snorts of derision were hollow ones, though, as the BBC does seem to be an echo chamber at the moment, but for the neo-liberal discourse spouted by the government, and in all honesty Labour, although perhaps to a slightly lesser degree than under Blairism.

Back in March I wrote a piece on on the huge march and rally against the cuts. Unable to attend I instead sat in front of my PC and BBC News 24 and watched events unfold. It was an inspiring occasion with half a million people taking to the streets to protest the ideological chainsaw the government is taking to public services, but one of those very services was doing its best to hold the government line. First up on the BBC we had a representative of the Taxpayers Alliance (whose leader lives in France, I believe) who actually uttered those three nonsensical words: “gold plated pensions”. Then there was Francis Maude, tieless and chummy, declaring his sympathies with the protesters, but, you know, it was all Gordon Brown’s fault. These two interviews went unchallenged despite there being plenty of evidence available to do so.

I am but a mere citizen who sometimes spews his thoughts on to the interweb and yet I was aware of the counter arguments out there, and not just from lefty ‘anarchists’ like me, but from major unions and Nobel Prize winning economists. There was an interview with an anti cuts campaigner, but this was conducted via a link to the heart of the march, not in a comfortable studio, and the answers given were openly challenged and implicitly derided by the BBC journo on duty. Meanwhile, the comments of the Taxpayers Alliance and Francis Maude were repeated every half hour or so, hammering home the ‘necessity’ of the cuts and how it was all Brown’s fault. I imagine that in 2019 when a scandal involving a senior Tory is announced, all they’ll need to do is stand up and say “It’s Brown’s fault” and they’ll be off the hook.

I’ve discussed elsewhere how the political discourse has shifted significantly over the last 30 years or so to the extent that what you couldn’t imagine even a Tory MP openly saying, such as increasing tuition fees or privatising healthcare, is now said openly by Labour MPs. Neo-liberalism with its hatred of public services and championing of the ‘individual’ and the markets is now the lingua franca of Western politics, and the main parties in the UK have embraced it. If it is clear to me that the last three decades have seen gradual creep of an ideological project started by Thatcher and her advisers, not even challenged but continued by Blair, and jumped on with gleeful relish by Cameron, then surely the better qualified and placed journalists/commentators of the BBC can see it. And yet there is no acknowledgement of the neo-liberal project’s role in our current predicament, of how lack of regulation and, indeed, blatant pandering to the markets brought about crisis. Meanwhile the IMF, World Bank and WTO merrily chuckle as the strife they have caused is blamed on ‘public spending’ and sharpen their ideological axes.

The meek acceptance and amplification of this discourse by the BBC continues apace with its current programming. Last week we were given John Humphrys’ take on ‘welfare Britain’ wherein we were treated to much anecdotal ‘evidence’ but no hard facts. The BBC and television in general likes these programmes as they can be presented as ‘hard hitting’ factual pieces fulfilling a remit to ‘educate’. In reality they’re a cheap (in all sense of the word) way to fill a prime time slot with a guaranteed audience, cos we all like kicking downwards, don’t we? There was also the series ‘Saints and Scroungers’, and we’re soon to have a ‘special’ on benefit fraud. Ask yourself this, who has taken more out of the economy: benefit ‘cheats’ or tax ‘avoiders’? I wonder if we’ll see a programme where Philip Green is filmed undercover and then when confronted stammers that it was so much harder to live on £250 million than £500 million, and, well, everyone was doing it so why not him?

This spate of implicit attacks by the BBC on the welfare state also suffers from somewhat iniquitous timing, coming as it does when the coalition is feverishly pushing the Welfare Reform Bill thought parliament. Coincidence?

What to do? A boycott of the BBC has been suggested, but the problem there is that it does so much good otherwise: the excellent documentaries on BBC4; Frozen Planet on BBC1; a five part series on words (yes, words!) on BBC2; News Quiz on R4; comedy gems that shine through the dross. A highlight of the week for me is Monday evenings where University Challenge is followed by Only Connect, two erudite and challenging quizzes that test me and give an inordinate sense of well being when I get a question right (bloody hell, am I middle class?).

Perhaps another tack would be to ask those sympathetic to the cause to withdraw their services, such as the wonderful likes of Josie Long, Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel etc.?

It’s a true dilemma because I genuinely love the BBC and fervently believe that it offers something for everyone at what is a very reasonable price, especially when you consider what people pay for the likes of Sky and Virgin, and the built in costs of advertising we all pay for goods and services that tout their wares on commercial television.

In its attempts to ‘rationalise’ the cuts it is making, the government has embarked on a campaign to demonise ALL who claim any sort of ‘benefit’, aided by comments about the deserving and undeserving poor from Ed Miliband. It is to be expected that the explicitly right wing media would join in, but the BBC as well? The shame is that of all the hundreds of journalists and commentators currently employed by the BBC I only really have respect for one, that being Paul Mason. That can’t be right, surely? Perhaps the death of Jimmy Saville is being mourned by a BBC commissioner this week as that idea of bringing back ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ has to be shelved. In the new incarnation Jim would grant benefits and council houses to his correspondents, but only to those who deserve them.

See below some links relevant to this piece:

Letter to the Guardian on BBC anti welfare bias

Sue Marsh’s excellent blog

Left Foot Forward on why John Humphrys is wrong

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  1. October 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Both BBC1 (Panorama) and Channel 4 *have* also covered tax avoidance. So I don’t accept the suggestion that this is all one-way traffic in favour of capitalism.
    And it’s a bit silly to suggest that questioning whether the welfare state has succeeded in slaying one of the five great evils (idleness) constitutes an ‘attack’ on it. Surely that’s a very important question? Even if, having surveyed the evidence, you conclude that it has.

    • October 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      They haven’t covered it in the same sensationalist manner or given it a prime time 9pm slot on BBC1 – it just doesn’t have the same ‘sexiness’ as programmes where we can shout at the telly as someone in Burnley or Peckham rips ‘us’ off. I accept that there is a complacency and culture of expectancy, I’ve worked in housing for 15 years. But the dominant narrative presented by the government and parroted by the media is that of a country rife with such, when the reality is otherwise – 99% of benefits are paid correctly, something which in this age of targets and performance would surely be trumpeted by any government. Yes, we must work on the societal problems but they are being used as an excuse to further an agenda which seeks to end all public services if it can, and we become an even more venal and divided society. The ‘idle’ are being used as a Trojan horse and the BBC is implicitly supporting this.

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