Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word … BBC beware

It has been a well worn but largely unsubstantiated mantra in British politics for decades now that the BBC represents a left wing plot designed to foil Britain’s right wing. The ‘Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation’ has long been the bane of the Daily Mail and its similarly progressive bedfellows.

God knows why.

I say this in the full and certain knowledge that the BBC employs people with a variety of political views who represent the epitome of independent, non partisan publicly funded broadcasting, but the corporate reputation of the BBC is one of snobbish elitism accompanied by a corpulent corporate culture.

In the past, too many on the left have leapt to the defence of the BBC, believing it to be a mainstay of British life and society. The basis of this analysis, is the belief that the Beeb acts as the ballast of our liberal democracy, preventing violent political swings this way or that, helping the nation to cohere around a fixed set of values. This analysis tends to blank out John Reith’s refusal to allow the general strike to be covered, or the behavior of the BBC during the battle of Orgreave. It focuses, too, upon news content and not the majority of the BBC’s other output across other platforms.

But, something has changed. The BBC is not the darling of the left it once was. Social media can be a hermetically sealed echo chamber, but even a cursory glance reveals that the left dislikes the BBC as much as the right.

Why? The right dislikes the principle of a public broadcaster – a fair and credible position to hold. The left dislikes a BBC easily bullied by the Tories, easily cowed and threatened, supine in the face of Sky, chasing market share for its news coverage rather than taking the time, as the licence fee enables it to, to explain and inform. In terms of news coverage, tone, balance and scope, BBC News is a daily argument in favour of the abolition of the licence fee.

The welcome demise of BBC3 announced this week – comedy fans are particularly pleased by its passing – has been met with few tears. BBC beware, it is a precursor for much of the likely reaction in the event that the Tories do come for you. The left will not rush to your defence. Why should it?

Having helped to foster a puerile, unquestioning political culture, the BBC should not be surprised if many of the general public respond positively to a tax cut of £145.50 per year. As for the vast libraries of news content and original programming of such alleged worth, how about turning that into a dividend for the licence fee payer?

The BBC has lost its way. Go to the regions to experience the broken broom cupboard studios without monitors and with speakers that do not work – then visit TV Centre to see what a no-expense-spared operation looks like.

In a churning, changing country, the national broadcaster needs to take a long hard look at itself, ask what it is for and why – if it did not exist – it would be needed.


Jamie Reed MP is member of parliament for Copeland. He writes The Last Word column on Progress and tweets @jreedmp


Photo: Tim Loudon

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Jamie Reed MP

is member of parliament for Copeland. He is shadow minister for health and writes The Last Word column on Progress


  • “The right dislikes the principle of a public broadcaster – a fair and credible position to hold” Really? I so look forwards to the Tories vision of broadcasting where the BBC had become a worthy but limited US style PB organisation, where no programme of general interest is uninterrupted by advertising, where masterpieces of music broadcasting like Gilles Peterson on R6 are replaced by MOR pop. Of course I and many more will then rarely watch TV or listen to live and intelligent music broadcasting other than via Netflicks, catch up channels and streaming music services so we can miss out on on the glories of dramas sponsored by a car FFS. And so will we witness the slow death of broadcast TV. At least I will spare myself the £140 per month I currently pay Virgin for hundreds of channels, the quality of most which make BBC 3 seems almost like high culture, just so I can get the odd football match that the BBC lost many moons ago, and their admittedly very fast broadband. If the left hadn’t been so intent on attacking the BBC – witness Ben Bradshaw’s ill-informed and unhelpful comments around the Savile affair – then the BBC might not have become so craven and unimaginative as the writer implies.

  • “I say this in the full and certain knowledge that the BBC employs people with a variety of political views who represent the epitome of independent, non partisan publicly funded broadcasting,” Rubbish! My daughter worked in BBC news for 20 years. I also worked in BBC News at one time. BBC News is riddled with antisemites and Muslim extremists, first among them Jeremy Bowen, Orla Guerin and Lyse Doucet so that reporting of Israel and the Middle East is extremely anti-Israel. As for left-wing, that is another myth. It slavishly supported Ma Thatcher’s selling off the council houses for example. The worst thing about the BBC is that it is a law unto itself its output is unregulated and it really does what it likes, in other words it is a racist dictatorship.

  • The BBC World Service is an amazing beacon of truth out in the wider world for those that can’t trust their own country’s news. It suggests that the UK can be trusted. The BBC website does the same job for a much wider audience. The BBC’s voice, and its archive, can be used to rebut propaganda as it is published. Through it’s reporting it can make the case to the wider world for respect and tolerance, enabling us to win the war for truth in the decades to come. This argument alone makes it a worthwhile investment for the UK.

    As a user I spend endless hours listening to Radio 4, absorbed by its analysis of news and take immense interest in a variety of the items it brings to me. BBC TV also gives me a ton of entertainment which world-wide audiences also find worthwhile, and which helps promote media-UK as a rich cultural source.

    Governments don’t like criticism and so, of course, want to diminish such voices. That wouldn’t matter if they got everything right, but they don’t. Without a plurality of opinions about their activities our democracy will suffer. It’s tempting to say that there are plenty of other voices out there, but many are compromised – such as the Telegraph with its non-reporting of HSBC’s Swiss activities. Many more examples can be found in the “Streets of Shame” shenanigans reported regularly in Private Eye. Is that what we are going to rely on? A non-partisan voice is invaluable to us as a country, and all for just £145.

    I take jobacon’s point that some BBC journalists may have unpleasant views. I really don’t know if this is true, which is a good sign. The fact that their output is unregulated seems to be a good thing. If they step too far out of line it will show and be counter-productive.

    The iPlayer led the way in content delivery, just one of the many innovations brought to us by the BBC. I remember the days when software was broadcast by audio for us to record for our BBC computers. How many budding programmers were encouraged by that single policy? The BBC has advanced the richness of life in the UK in so many ways.

    When we think about who we are as a country, we think automatically of the NHS and BBC. If the government goes ahead and damages the BBC, it seems to me that the electoral price they pay will last generations.

    Since it is hard to charge people that want everything for free, having got used to the benefits that the BBC brought us and which have become embedded in our lives, the solution may be to put advertising on programs delivered on the iPlayer.

  • Couldn’t agree more. Having cable myself, you try channel hoping when the adverts come on. There’s only the BBC available without. Advertising is killing broadcast television, as it is the only way an independent channel gets revenue. A 40 minute program padded out to 1 hour with insipid cringeworthy adverts, that what we pay £140 a month for. I have the package as well for sport and to have a decent broadband connection, but they could cut the standard additional channels as we wouldn’t miss any of them. There are only the BBC channels in my eyes that provide some quality. Freeview is pretty much the same, 80 channels of junk.

    BBC radio is all I have on in the car, be it 2,3 or 4 as well as a bit of local. Can’t abide commercial radio now with their repetitive playlists. Even their traffic reports suck, being hours out of date and vague. . So why folk constantly rant about how biased the BBC and wanting to get rid of it is poppycock in my eyes. If it creates political argument, it’s doing its job.

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