The BBC is running scared of the government in the run up to the Charter Renewal negotiations. Any criticism of the government has to be ‘balanced’ or, better, as in the case of the ongoing police investigations into Tory over-spending at the last general election, completely ignored. Examples of this ‘balanced’ approach to news management were provided today (9 May) by the interview with Professor Jeffrey Sachs on the Today Programme Professor Sachs, an economic adviser to the UN General Secretary, criticised Britain’s sponsorship of tax havens and predicted that the government would not be pressing for their abolition at the forthcoming inter-government summit on Thursday. The summit will be hosted by David Cameron, but he’s unlikely to use his position to press for abolition as this would not be acceptable to his City backers. The BBC, nervous of upsetting the government, immediately interviewed a City “tax expert” who reassured listeners that tax havens were nothing to do with avoiding tax (and, anyway, were not even called “tax havens”). Their purpose was to provide a neutral legal framework to facilitate international contracting. Needless to say, the respectfully supine interviewer, Sarah Montague, took all this nonsense at face value. Balance restored!
What a shame that the BBC’s commitment to ‘balance’ could not extend to reporting even handedly on the elections last week. Criticism of Jeremy Corbyn was the predominant theme. When, embarrassingly, Labour actually did quite well in England, the focus shifted to Labour’ s poor results in Scotland and the awkward fact that this was due to the previous Blairite leadership and nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn was ignored.
There are, nevertheless, two bright spots to lighten the gloom enveloping broadcasting. One brave BBC reporter, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes (what a brilliant name – surely it must be a spoof?), dared to stand up to government this week (well, not actually ‘stand up to’, it was more a case of disrespect). Unfortunately, the government in question was the government of North Korea and he was duly expelled. Watch out, Rupert – try that at home and it’s your livelihood that will disappear, not your entry visa. The other bright spot is Channel 4 News. It’s currently much less biased than either BBC or ITV news and fully deserving of the award it received at last night’s BAFTAs. It’s hardly surprising then that, in the words of Peter Kosminsky at last night’s BAFTAs, the government intends to “eviscerate” it.