Is Britain’s national broadcaster corrupting democracy? Allegations against it include bias during the Scottish referendum and trying to rig the 2015 British general election.
The BBC promotes "impartial" news coverage as part of its global branding strategy. But there is growing anger across the U.K. that the broadcaster is pedaling British establishment propaganda.
Rigging the Next Election?
The BBC, along with Sky, ITV and Channel 4, have invited UKIP, Britain's anti-Europe and anti-immigration party, to take part in televised election debates next spring despite the party having fewer representatives at local, national and European levels than the Greens, Scotland National Party (SNP), and parties from Wales and Northern Ireland, none of whom got the invitation.
Writing on Realfare, Ranjan Kumaran asserts: “Two years after the LIBOR scandal no-one has been jailed and more markets are shown to be rigged. Now the political marketplace has shown to be fixed by the national TV broadcasters.”
In reaction, an online petition demanding an end to the BBC’s blackout against the Green Party is nearing 100,000 signatures. The petition clarifies that UKIP enjoys far more air time on BBC discussion programs than the Greens, including regular appearances on BBC1’s Question Time.
The BBC, in giving an undeserved platform to UKIP, reflects a broader corporate media campaign that is portraying UKIP as the "only Westminster alternative." More accurately, UKIP’s ideological position fits well into the main parties’ neoliberal austerity message: blaming minorities and the vulnerable for Britain’s economic crises. UKIP members frequently air racist, sexist, homophobic and other politics of hate.
By excluding the Greens from next year's high-profile televised debate, the BBC is in its own way excluding political alternatives to the status quo. The Greens are the only U.K.-wide party that calls for free university education, universal healthcare and an aggressive shift to renewable energy. The Greens also stand against austerity, TTIP and fracking.
The parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also complained about their exclusion from the election debates. All are larger than UKIP, and the SNP have the third largest membership of any U.K. party since its surge of popularity during the Scottish independence campaign.
Detailed media analysis by Dr. David Patrick suggests corporate media, including the BBC, was largely biased against Scottish independence. Reacting to the anti-independence bias, protests took place outside BBC Scotland in Glasgow during the referendum process.
Rigging the Scottish Referendum?
An incident involving BBC News editor Nick Robinson illustrates why the BBC has been accused of doing the No campaign’s "dirty work." Robinson leaked Treasury claims that RBS Bank would leave Scotland, and falsely reported that Scottish First Minster Alex Salmond refused to answer questions on the subject.
The Westminster-led campaign against independence described itself as Project Fear. Its New Labour chief strategist, Blair McDougall, admitted after the vote that it was the fear factor that led to a No.
In a similar manner to pushing UKIP, the BBC has been complicit pedaling the fear agenda. A BBC overview article about the referendum stresses how independence could mean volatile oil revenues and an unstable currency – both key messages of Project Fear.
Can the BBC Fairly Discuss the C-word?
Another challenge to the status quo – and therefore to BBC – is the imminent climate crisis, analyzed and explained in Naomi Klein’s new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate."
BBC Newsnight interviewed Klein when she was visiting the U.K. before the book’s publication. In the interview, it's apparent that the presenter of the flagship news program, Evan Davies, is discrediting the very notion that there could be any alternatives to capitalism.
Whereas I read the book in detail, it's not clear from the interview whether Davies has or not. The book depicts how climate denial strategies and a neoliberal mindset have, so far, prevented action on climate change by creating apathy – and in many cases active opposition – to any meaningful solutions to the crisis. Ironically, in his discussion with Klein, Davies seems to insist on pushing these very ideological barriers.
Capitalism and its multiple crises are rarely discussed on the BBC, making the Klein interview a rare occasion. Another time it happened was, again, in the form of a book review – this time interviewing Russell Brand.
Brand spoke about his new book Revolution on Newsnight. During the interview, Brand repeatedly mentioned protests including the E15 mothers, Occupy Democracy and other issues such as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are often ignored by both the mainstream media at large and the BBC in particular. The lack of coverage has encouraged protesters to visit the BBC studios in an attempt to elevate issues, from austerity politics to the recent bombing of Gaza.
Another glimpse into the closeness of the BBC and corporate media more broadly with politicians was the book launch of BBC’s senior political interviewer Andrew Marr, an event hosted at Number 10 Downing Street by David Cameron.
The cozy nature of the event begged the question: Does Cameron's hosting of the book launch not compromise Marr’s position as an impartial political interviewer for the BBC? This question was asked by Liz Thomson, co-editor of the website Book-Brunch.
The response came from Andrew Marr’s wife, who complained to Thomson: “You've ruined my evening.” Later in the evening, Marr's wife called Thomson both “despicable” and “a bitch.”
Her outrage at what seemed to be a reasonable question suggests the non-critical culture of alliance between mainstream journalists and politicians. An editorial for the critical news analysis site Media Lens explores how the Marr incident in fact epitomizes the way the BBC and corporate media are embedded within the political establishment.
BBC: Media Of, By and For the Establishment
Digging into the management structure of the BBC reveals further evidence about the fusion between broadcaster and State.
Rona Fairhead has been the new head of the BBC Trust since early September, after replacing Lord Patten, a high ranking Conservative. The BBC Trust has responsibility for governing the public media body. Fairhead took the appointment while continuing in her two other lucratively paid roles – as a non-executive director for both HSBC Bank and Pepsi. Trust in bankers and corporate elites are at an all time low, and Fairhead’s personal role in HSBC makes her BBC appointment even more questionable.
HSBC is, after all, one of the banks central to the LIBOR rate rigging scandal, one of the world’s largest ever financial frauds. Fairhead herself faces legal action for her role overlooking the laundering of billions of dollars on behalf of Mexican drug cartels.
Further examples of the BBC’s pro-establishment ties can be seen across its executive management team. James Purnell, head of Strategy at the BBC, is the former Labour Secretary for Work and Pensions. The Labour party has direct motivations for acting to prevent Scottish independence and the rise of the Green Party, which would challenge its own standing in U.K. politics.
James Harding, head of Current Affairs at the BBC, is another example. Before his current role, he worked for the Times where his boss was Rupert Murdoch. With salaries stretching into the millions, and their incestuous relationship with the economic and political establishment, things appear to have become far too cozy for top-level people at the BBC. The last thing they want to do is rock the boat – so perhaps it requires someone else rocking it for them.