Following on from Bad News For Labour: Antisemitism, the party and public belief (Greg Philo et al, Pluto, 2019) ) comes It’s the Media Stupid! The media, the 2019 Election and the Aftermath (ed. Granville Williams, CPBF/North, 2020). Media bias is an old but very contemporary story, and it would be wishful thinking to entertain the notion that serious media reform is ever going to happen in the U.K. The pro-establishment bias of the media exists because most of the media are part of the establishment. Even when some rightwing newspapers supported New Labour, the party’s leadership had to travel half way round the world seeking a probationary period of establishment approval. So whilst these analyses of the anti-Corbyn/Labour media campaigns will always be insightful, one is still forced into a state of weary resignation when the phrase ‘media reform’ is mentioned, no matter that it is a worthy goal. The CPBF stands for Campaign for Press and Broadcast Freedom, originally launched back in the eighties as a national body, but now continuing, thanks to the enthusiasm of Granville and Sue Williams and others in a regional guise.
Your Rothermeres and Murdochs would of course argue that we do have press and broadcasting freedom, indeed they would no doubt argue that if we want more of it then the time has arrived to privatise the BBC. They, post-Levenson will be vigilant and forceful in protecting their mouthpieces from anything which smacks of regulation for the public benefit. If the public don’t like our products, they can stop buying them (and indeed they are with newspaper sales in rapid decline). The internet promised much—a ’democracy of thought’ - but the advent of social media has provided amplification for the trolls and biases with their factoids and prejudices lifted from the toxic waste dump which is much of the British press.
The survey of the BBC’s election coverage in this latest book doesn’t give Auntie much credit for balance. The Beeb’s attitude is ‘we’re criticised from both sides’ so we must be doing alright. Such a simplistic response fails to address the variety of complaints, many of which are substantial. But I am sure that BBC executives will be proud that their Panorama programme attacking Labour for ‘being anti-Semitic’ caused as much grief on the left as did the recent Panorama programme about the government’s failure to deliver PPE to the NHS frontline outraged Tories. The question at the heart of this superficial balance is whether the programmes were true or not, not whether they equally offend both sides. In its pursuit of further breaking up the BBC, the government will listen to its backwoodsmen, some of whom no doubt will want to stick their greasy little fingers in the pie. It will be interesting to learn how the public regards the BBC after the plague has lifted. The letters BBC apparently follow closely behind NHS in public esteem.
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