During a debate on the coverage of the miners’ strike at the Edinburgh Television Festival, the BBC’s industrial editor at the time, Martin Adeney, described trucks bringing coal to a steelworks as having made a “successful run”. As Ken Loach pointed out, it was a successful run only if you were on the side of the government, not if you were a striking miner.
The assumption in Adeney’s statement runs deep throughout liberal journalism, of which the BBC is the standard-bearer. It is currently expressed in the reporting of the firefighters, whose modest pay demand is represented as a percentage, not a decent living wage and invariably set against the public risk. This is “impartiality”, a sacred word in the lexicon of British broadcasting, which has long lost its dictionary meaning and is a euphemism for the consensual view of established authority. Indeed, it was John Reith, the BBC’s founder, who understood the power of establishment myths about “impartiality” and “balance”. To Reith, impartiality was a “principle” that could be suspended whenever the established authority was threatened. He demonstrated this during the General Strike in 1926 by writing much of Prime Minister Baldwin’s propaganda, and broadcasting it on the BBC. The same “principle” has since applied to every major social upheaval, notably national strikes and popular opposition to war. From the General Strike to the 1980s miners’ strikes, from the colonial wars to the present-day devastation of
Until recently, television journalism enjoyed more credibility in
Last month, a study for the Independent Television Commission, co-written by Ian Hargreaves, former head of BBC News (and a former editor of the New Statesman), acknowledged the depth of this disenchantment. To stem the decline in audiences, the report recommended that the rules on impartiality should be relaxed and that news channels be allowed to follow a clearly defined agenda. What struck me about this was the assumption that impartiality actually existed: not that news channels were already following a political agenda based on a convergent parliamentary system and a market liberalism that has moved so far to the right that it accommodates and consumes “official” conservatism. Listen to British broadcasting’s drumbeat on
Leading the pack, the BBC has allowed the outrageous bribery and manipulation of the members of the United Nations Security Council, and the red herring of weapons inspections, to dominate the news while all but ignoring the true reasons for the American obsession with
We depend now – those of us who know where to look – on samizdat. This is the Russian word given to the underground press during that country’s totalitarian era. Today, most samizdat is found on the worldwide web. In
In this country, MediaLens is becoming indispensable (www.medialens.org). Its editors, David Edwards and David Cromwell, consistently challenge the assumptions and benign suppressions of “the amply rewarded, influential journalists and commentators [who] often write and speak with great confidence, skill and erudition, but always within well-policed boundaries that do not seriously challenge established power”. Politely, they ask them, and invite the public to ask them, why they recycle myths (such as
It was Orwell, they remind us, who said: “To be corrupted by totalitarianism one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.”