On the day that BritainAndAmerica launches its CAN AMERICA TRUST THE BBC? video ad, Robin Aitken, twenty-five years a BBC journalist, warns Americans that the BBC has a number of serious biases.
I was delighted - as any young journalist would be - when I landed my first job as a reporter with the BBC back in 1978. I felt I was joining the finest broadcasting service in the world, one with a matchless reputation for truth-telling and objectivity.
Twenty five years later, when I walked out of BBC Television Centre in London for the last time, I was a disillusioned man. The BBC turned out to be not the infallible truth-teller of repute but just another player in the media market - just as biased and one-sided as the rest.
But the BBC isn’t like the rest; and what makes it special also makes it more dangerous and insidious than the others.
Let me explain. The problem is that because the BBC is the best-known, best-respected broadcaster in the world people believe what it says – even when it seriously distorts the news according to its own internal biases.
The BBC has a very strong internal political culture – I call it ‘institutional leftism’. In practice this means that arguments made by groups and individuals who come from the right are often ignored, misrepresented and marginalized. In the process, because the BBC is so powerful the political debate itself gets distorted.
Here are some examples of what I mean.
Anti-Americanism: European intellectuals sneer at America for its supposed lack of cultural and political sophistication. Within the BBC the attacks have reached a crescendo since the election of George W Bush. It portrays him as stupid, dangerous and delusional. One correspondent in Washington told me that when dealing with Bush House – home of the BBC’s World Service – they only ever wanted negative stories about Bush: “it was like dealing with the Taliban” he said.
Anti Christian: The BBC is profoundly secular and regards religious belief as mere superstition. It reserves its harshest criticisms for Christianity and is particularly scathing about the ‘religious right’ . In my book there is a chapter which deals with an edition of Panorama – a ‘flagship’ TV documentary programme – which examined the papacy of John Paul II; it was a programme riddled with inaccuracies and malicious value-judgments. It was a disgraceful piece of journalism – neither fair nor objective and it typifies the BBC’s approach to organised religion.
Anti conservative morality and pro the liberal orthodoxy. The BBC is
pro-abortion, pro-gay rights and in favour of single motherhood. Its
news output on these issues faithfully reflects its prejudices. Over
time its assiduous promotion of these values has helped to win British
public opinion round to its own position.
Anti free market capitalism. The BBC is publicly financed; its $6 billion annual revenues come from a tax levied on everyone in Britain who owns a television. This has bred both complacency and antipathy, Complacency towards its audience – who are prosecuted in the courts if they refuse to pay – and antipathy towards the private sector. It is the first to decry ‘cuts’ in the public services; it rarely bothers to highlight tax rises. The BBC has distrust of capitalism in its journalistic DNA.
In short far from being fair and impartial the BBC exhibits a knee-jerk liberalism which falls far short of its own ideals.