Political neutrality in television is too easily lost

Our media are a long way from perfect. The slavish devotion to sales, the persistent dumbing down, the glorification of celebrity….and that’s just the FT. But the very imperfection means we need to keep in mind what the alternatives are to current examples of media behaviour….like, for example, the BBC.

Many fingers are poised above keys on seeing those last five words. But I urge you to weigh the evidence and think about it.

Yesterday (Saturday) I listened to The News Quiz on Radio Four at midday. I like TNQ, it can be very funny – and Sandi Toksvig has one of the fastest comedic minds in Britain. But from start to finish, this edition of the programme was a nonstop political broadcast on behalf of the Right-On Party. Sometimes it was laugh-out-loud funny – but only when it forgot it was a PPB on behalf of the ROP. And like all dated, narrow satire, there was nothing positive on offer: it was all ‘get the Tories and hate the LibDems’. Not a single gag was devoted to the clowns who had helped create the mess in the first place

However, it only lasted thirty minutes. Whereas the hour before it had Kate Adie fronting From our Correspondent, a programme you simply wouldn’t find anywhere other than on the BBC. Scrupulously objective and marvelously informative, the programme made me proud to be British. It unravelled complexity, interrogated propaganda, and coated the whole with wit.

What we have to ask ourselves – as we digest the truly unpleasant practices to which Newscorp in all its forms is clearly addicted – is whether the Murdoch philosophy of television could ever live up to the standards set by the BBC. I know the Friedmanite wing of the Tory Party and the Young Right of the Daily Telegraph lack the intellectual discernment to consider this, but for the rest of us it is a valid question and an important consideration.

The Lord Reith approach insisted that the BBC was there to inform, educate and entertain. The idea that News International exists for any other reason beyond the empowerment of its family ownership dynasty is laughable. (Even Newscorp shareholders would be among the first to observe that they are a long way down the food chain from the Murdoch family).

Much as we all dislike the casually fluffy-liberal nature of so many BBC programmes, can anyone seriously imagine Fox News or Sky coming out with Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse? Morecambe and Wise? The BBC gave us Match of the Day: Sky gave us Andy Gray the sexist yob. Would any Murdoch television Channel tolerate Jeremy Paxman?

But if this doesn’t convince you, why not allow me to ask the question the other way round: could you imagine the BBC – or even ITV at its worst – promoting a bigot like Glenn Beck?

British readers probably don’t know who on earth Glenn Beck is, in which case the only observation I can make is “lucky you”. Beck is the resident far-Right nasty headcase ranter on the Newscorp-owned Fox News in the US. His spot is called The Glenn Beck Program, a title that puts me in mind of a boot-camp sentence handed down by a particularly sadistic judge.

I understand that Glenn is a great personal favourite of Rupert Murdoch, who never misses his show. This isn’t altogether surprising, as the Beck view of life is perilously close to Roop’s.

Above all, before allowing our suspicion of the BBC to let the Barbarians into Rome, we need to try and imagine the circumstances in which an arm of the Corporation would ever collude with the police and Government Ministers to spy on its viewers….or fire an employee in revenge for attempting to bring wrongdoing to justice.

There are antediluvian elements within the Conservative Party who would just love to stick it to the BBC. What we need to remember is that equally braindead tendencies in the Labour Party would do exactly the same given half a chance. Even if Mark ‘armbiter’ Thompson is a complete prat, he is a relatively harmless Birtist: it wouldn’t be that hard to get rid of him.

By contrast, it’s now 43 years since Rupert Murdoch wormed his way into our culture, and began the process of reducing media output to the lowest level of vulgarity – while using his control of public opinion to make and break successive Prime Ministers. Kicking him and his corrupting style out of Britain may no longer be possible without bringing down the Government at a critical time.

That is an inordinately high price to pay – and, with the benefit of hindsight, a needless expense. Many were the voices in 1968 who predicted exactly what the chippy Murdoch would do to The Times. Many were the observers of the man who correctly gave little or no worth to his word.

We mustn’t let this happen to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Part and parcel of removing the monetary element from our politics should be a guarantee of complete freedom from political influence for the BBC. In turn, the obsession of British television companies with ratings brought us Eastenders, Big Brother, The X-Factor and endlessly tedious programmes about property. Whatever arguments may be vomited forth by the Friedmanite nutters, none can hold water in the face of what our television ‘choice’ has become.

If the BSkyB takeover is allowed to go ahead, it will be the end of any aspiration at all to television as an improving medium in the UK. It will mark a victory for grubby political influence, illegality in reporting, and news in the hands of big business. Along with the abandonment of Net neutrality, it will tighten the grip of globalist Establishment selfishness on our ability to see and hear unfiltered news coverage.

We mustn’t let our healthy desire to see an end to pc and the continuation of healthy competition blind us to the Murdoch alternative. The BBC may be imperfect and irritating, but a television market dominated by Newscorp would be impossibly illiberal.