Two truisms have come into the fore today which are interesting to look at in juxtaposition …..
The first is Jeremy Hunt’s statement on the BBC Radio 4 Media Show that many MPs are not happy with the impartiality of the BBC. No surprises there. For decades the right have accused the BBC of being too left wing and Mr Hunt doubtless has his Tory colleagues in mind. And, yes, the left has also criticized the corporation for bias, in droves last weekend for excessive coverage of the violence at the cuts protest.
What is impartiality? Is your impartiality my impartiality? Where is the middle ground from which to be impartial, even within the mores of contemporary society? The question becomes almost too philosophical for its own good and perhaps there is no answer to it. But the ability to disseminate news and information in a responsible, truthful fashion is no easy accomplishment and, in the humble opinion of this blogger, the BBC, considering its enormous size and scope, is hugely responsible.
At DemocracyFail we’ve become even more aware of this through our own teeny-weeny experiences of blogging and, more frequently, tweeting. Given that we’re a small, partisan campaign with no claim to neutrality, we still find ourselves faced with dozens of judgements each time we “speak”. We have to consider authenticity, selectivity, campaign significance, political slant, social bias, balance, emphasis, timing, vocabulary, grammar, tone, references, links, etc, etc. (Yes, “editorial decisions” are made for every 140 character tweet – although their quality will vary according to the time of day, competing pressures and, technical considerations!) Multiply these processes a squillion, squillion ,squillion times, and one begins to have new found respect for professional news organizations and, most particularly, for the BBC with its worldwide tentacles and its unsurpassed reputation as a trusted and reliable source.
The other truism reported today is a further claim about the growing influence of Rupert Murdoch over the present government. It comes from former Downing Street adviser, Lance Price, in an Independent article preceding tomorrow’s publication of his updated book, “Where Power Lies – Prime Ministers v The Media”. In the article Price also describes how Gordon Brown’s fear of Murdoch led him to the 10p tax band catastrophe. Such behaviour followed the noble tradition, previously exemplified by Price in a sentence.:
“Murdoch was one of only three men – the others were Gordon Brown and John Prescott – whose views Blair took into account.”
This degree of undemocratic power is very shocking and it’s more shocking still that we’re not really surprised it goes on. In the same way, we become less and less surprised at the stream of phone-hacking allegations. As they get seedier on the seediness graph, our shockability levels decline and, if we’re not careful, our complacency levels with them. This is a dangerous place to be and requires extra vigilance.
Returning to Jeremy Hunt, if he is genuinely looking for impartiality and undue influence, he should remove his sights from the BBC and focus them firmly on News Corporation. Fat chance, specially if we’re soothed by his reassurances and sympathetic noises on media plurality. By weakening the BBC while allowing Murdoch to take full control of BSkyB, he either has no understanding of the true meaning of plurality- or thinks we don’t!
Mr Hunt, you are very charming and persuasive and you are bending over backwards to demonstrate your” impartiality” but, if it has no relation to democracy, your “impartiality” is complete and utter nonsense.
The Media Show, BBC Radio 4, Jeremy Hunt’s plans for the media http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/zsjyq/
Lance Price in The Independent http://ind.pn/fCjbn2