‘The BBC is failing in its obligation to be fair’

Veteran BBC journalist Robin Aitkin on BBC bias.


Topics Brexit Culture Free Speech Politics UK

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The BBC, our national broadcaster, has a duty to be balanced, fair and impartial. But complaints of bias abound, coming from both ends of the political spectrum. Robin Aitken spent 25 years as a BBC journalist. Since leaving, he has written a number of books examining political bias at the BBC. His latest is The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda. spiked caught up with him to find out more.

spiked: How does bias work at the BBC?

Robin Aitken: It is down to the people in the editorial ranks of the BBC, the people who inhabit the newsrooms and the programme-making departments. They are very nice people, very highly educated and very pleasant to work with – I know this from my own time at the BBC. Most of them are inclined to the liberal left and – almost to a woman – they sign up to liberal orthodoxies.

On Brexit, polling evidence shows quite clearly that the higher the educational level you attain, the more likely it is that you voted to remain in the EU. What you’ve got in BBC newsrooms are clusters of very highly educated folk who take a virtually unanimous view of Brexit, which is that it’s a thoroughly bad thing and Britain should have voted to remain in the EU.

That’s the starting point. One of the things that’s very noticeable to me is that the selection of stories about Brexit is very heavily weighted towards the negative. So we’ve had an absolute deluge of information, all of it condemning Brexit as foolish, unwise and harmful to economic health.

A point I often make is that journalism can be completely accurate and yet still unfair. How so? Because if you choose stories which only show a person, entity or institution in a negative light and you disregard any stories that are positive, you can still be accurate but you are being unfair. And that’s what the BBC is on Brexit. It is thoroughly in the Remain camp, it hates the idea of Brexit, it runs against its core principles – or the core principles of the people that work in it. Therefore, it cannot help itself from being anti-Brexit and it shows very clearly, I think.

spiked: You say the BBC has a liberal bias, but how do you account for its disinterest in free speech – once a core liberal value?

Aitken: l think we’ve got to a rather worrying point in our history as regards to free speech. Speech is now heavily patrolled and there are no-go areas. You can only say what you want within certain limits that are very tightly drawn. It’s quite Stalinist. If you step outside the reservation and you make points which are not on the official playlist, then heaven help you because the mob will come down on you like a ton of bricks. You will be thoroughly vilified and life will be made very unpleasant for you. At least, that is, if you are in an official position.

People are bullied into going along with whatever the liberal orthodoxy is on a whole range of matters. So, the idea that we have ‘free speech’ is really I think a little out of date. We are only allowed to say the things that organisations like the BBC license us to say.

spiked: Is something similar at work in the denunciation of certain views as Islamophobic, xenophobic or transphobic?

Aitken: A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. The classic phobia is a fear of spiders: arachnophobia. If you have well-founded, thought-through and perfectly rational misgivings about, say, the political-religious system which is Islam, you immediately get labelled an ‘Islamophobe’. But it’s got nothing to do with a true phobia, that’s just a made-up word which is designed to shut down discussion of Islam. There is actually quite a well-attested link from that word back to the Muslim Brotherhood, who used it to curtail criticism of Islam.

Homophobia is the same. If you express any moral misgivings about homosexual lifestyles you are automatically a ‘homophobe’ in the view of the liberal left. What that word is doing is saying, ‘You are a bad person because you do not sign up to the liberal orthodoxy about homosexuality’. It is impossible under these circumstances, in the view of the people that use that word, to have any legitimate criticism of homosexuality, any legitimate criticism of Islam, any legitimate criticism of racial matters. These words are just weapons of war in the culture war.

spiked: What is your view on the diversity agenda?

Aitken: The diversity agenda at the BBC is like a sort of skin-colour chart. The BBC thinks that it is fulfilling its obligations under the diversity agenda if it has everything from ebony black to albino white represented on screen and in its newsrooms. It’s all to do with skin colour. Well, that is one particular kind of diversity, I suppose, but it’s not the kind of diversity which is in any sense meaningful. What is really required at the BBC is diversity of opinion.

It’s a few years since I worked at the Beeb, but when I was there, I was a self-confessed small-c conservative. That marked me out as a very odd fish among my colleagues. There were very, very few people I knew in my long career there who I could say were conservatives. I could think of maybe three. Admitting to being conservative was like having an unmentionable disease, like a nasty case of herpes.

spiked: How has the BBC responded to your criticisms – if at all?

Aitken: The BBC has been extremely cowardly about addressing my criticisms. I have now published three books about the BBC, and they have blanked them all. You might say, ‘Well it serves you right… you criticise them, of course, they aren’t going to engage with you’. But the BBC is paid for by us all. The BBC has solemn obligations under its royal charter. That includes an obligation to fairly represent all people.

In my latest book, The Nobel Liar, what I’m particularly exercised about is the way that social conservatives, who take a different view on things like divorce, homosexuality and the secularisation agenda are excluded from BBC discussion programmes and their points are not taken up. The BBC is the gatekeeper of the national debate – it’s a very important role they play.

I’ve made a complaint through Ofcom, which is currently examining the BBC’s news and current affairs output. I confidently expect that Ofcom will ignore my complaint as well. But I go through the motions because I still think it is worthwhile. The BBC is owned and paid for by the public. This should imply the BBC is rigorously fair about the way different opinions are presented on its programmes. But it fails day after day and it has done for decades now. It has failed to live up to its obligations. That is really my main complaint.

Robin Aitken was talking to Fraser Myers.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Brexit Culture Free Speech Politics UK


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