The British Broadcasting Corporation
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The BBC argues that its right to licence TV viewing, rather than be funded from general taxation, guarantees its political independence. The idea that a state agency, particularly one as influential as the BBC, should be beyond the control of the people is dangerous in itself. However, for most of what the BBC broadcasts, from the soaps to the snooker tournaments, such independence is irrelevant.
In those areas where impartiality is important, the BBC often shows a strong bias. In particular, the corporation has been a good friend of feudal monarchy and an enemy of republican democracy.
In a letter to the Financial Times in September 2014 John Morrison, a former editor of the BBC Newsnight programme, wrote that "the BBC is terrified of upsetting the inhabitants of the bubble who ultimately hold its purse strings".
A culture of institutional self-regard enveloped the organisation, creating a patrician, paternalistic and often patronising attitude towards the public. Such delusions of grandeur continue today, despite the vibrant market in commercial broadcasting.
Antony Jay. creator of the BBC's Yes Minister
Between 1922 and 1926 the BBC was chaired by Jack Pease (aka Baron Gainford in Britain's class hierarchy). Pease, along with other lords, knights and military officers, was a member of the council of the Economic League. The League was set up to oppose what it saw as subversion of free enterprise. It maintained a database of trade union activists who would often be denied work in the construction and other industries. By 2013 construction companies were having to pay as much as £100,000 in compensation to the victims of the Consulting Association, which ran the database after the League was closed.
In his Ireland in the Twentieth Century Tim Pat Coogan says that "the north of Ireland BBC was virtually an autonomous region, responsive throughout the strike (by loyalists in 1974 against the Sunningdale Agreement) to Unionist attitudes . . . to such an extent that a member of the Irish Government, Garret FitzGerald, a future Taoiseach, would later claim that the BBC was running a rebel station".
In The Troubles Cooogan added that Garrett FitzGerald "told (a conference on Northern Ireland) that ' The BBC was very much in support of the strike, so much so that Conor Cruise O'Brien finally rang the BBC in London to ask them what the hell was happening! O'Brien was told that the BBC "did not monitor broadcasts in Northern Ireland and they had no idea what was going on'."
The BBC radio station in Northern Ireland is call Radio Ulster. "Ulster" is a term for Northern Ireland often used by unionists and loyalists, but not by nationalists.
The BBC refers to Irish nationalist terrorists in Northern Ireland as “dissident republicans”. In 2009 BBC TV News followed a report on an opinion poll about support for monarchy immediately with another report that “a leading republican” had been arrested on charges of multiple homicide. The “leading republican” was, in fact, the leader of a small Irish nationalist terrorist group, completely unrelated to mainstream British republicanism. But there was no apology from “the greatest force for cultural good in the world”. This demonstrated not only the bias of the BBC but also the shallowness of its claim that the licensing system allows it to practice a superior form of journalism.
The Invention of Tradition explains how BBC journalist Richard Dimblby used his commentaries on royal occasions to build a sense of public awe around the Windsor family, that has helped them resist democratisation. This monarchist bias is also illustrated by the case of a participant in a BBC radio discussion programme who was asked by the BBC moderator to withdraw his criticism of monarchy. The moderator found such democratic ideas unspeakable.
In 2010 the BBC revealed that it intended to continue its policy of discrimination against republicans. In a report to the BBC Trust the director-general said that the state media giant would spend more money on covering Windsor family funerals and weddings, which he described as "nationally unifying events".
It's anti-republican bias was put beyond doubt in 2013. In that year it ran a TV and radio series to mark the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Liz Windsor as hereditary head of state. In the publicity for this it said that the feudal institution was a part of "all that is great about Britain". It's use of "Britain", which excluded Northern Ireland, was probably unintentional!
In December 2014 the BBC was accused by the Daily Mirror of "shelving" a documentary called "Reinventing the Royals" under pressure from Charles Windsor. According to the newspaper the programme "was due to feature claims that PR expert Mark Bolland was employed to make Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles more appealing to the public" after Mr. Windsor's wife was killed in 1997.
The Corporation is usually as hard as steel about collecting its licence fees. It will prosecute the poor and the vulnerable for watching the broadcasts of other companies without a BBC licence. But in 2018 it made an exception. It announced that the wedding of Meghan Markle to a member of the Windsor clan could be watched at public events without a licence. The BBC loves the Windsors so much that it would marry one if it could!
However attempts by the Corporation to whip up public sympathy for the monarchy have not always worked. It had planned elaborate coverage of public grief on the death of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the mother of the present head of state, known as "the Queen Mother". In the event lack of public interest caused the state broadcaster to tone down its coverage. When it switched a popular hospital drama to another channel to make way for a tribute, 4.9m viewers also switched channels to watch the drama.
And in 2016 former BBC producer Chandana Keerthi Bandara won an employment tribunal case for unfair dismissal against the state-sponsored media giant.
In July 2013 the BBC Sri Lanka news service journalist decided that news of the birth of a new member of the British Windsor clan should not have priority in news broadcasts. The birth clashed with the anniversary of the death of thousands in anti-Tamil violence.
But following pressure from BBC management he did in the end publish the trivial story about Britain's monarchy.
Mr Bandara was subsequently found guilty of gross misconduct and was given a final written warning. A year later, following other allegations, he was sacked.
The employment tribunal found that despite the other allegations Mr Bandara's initial refusal to pump-up the monarchist story was a significant factor in the sacking. It said that the final written warning at that time was too severe for an employee with a good record.
The BBC said that it was "disappointed" by the tribunal's decision.
Coverage of the BBC report gave weight to the view that the Corporation sees its own status as similar to that of the feudal institution, unaccountable to democratic institutions. Professor Steven Barnett told the Financial Times that the BBC says in effect "we are not going to be beholden to the private sector or politicians". Another commentator quoted in the newspaper said the BBC "trust is not answerable to politicians but to a royal charter".
From 2007 until April 2017 the BBC was supervised by a “Trust”, a regulator of sorts. Conservative Party shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt described the Trust accurately in 2009 as both “regulator and cheerleader”. In 2013 the head of the Trust, Chris Patten, complained that "The trust has the responsibility of getting the best deal for licence-fee payers. But it is kept in its box on operational issues and the detailed management of money."
The Trust claimed to protect the interests of the licence payers. But it certainly did not look after the interests of those who would rather not pay the licence fee, or even of those who might like a much smaller public broadcaster. It seemed to see the interests of the licence payers as identical to those of the BBC that takes their money.
Michael Lyons, who once chaired the Trust, declared in an interview with The Financial Times that the state broadcaster should not be subject to democratic controls. According to the newspaper he reminded “the government and opposition parties . . . that he and the other trustees were appointed by the Queen, through the Privy Council 'rather than just at the dictate of ministers'”. The FT reported that Mr. Lyons was “sending a defiant message to politicians of all parties that his organisation will conduct an 'all-or-nothing' struggle to protect” its tax on TV watching.
In 2017 the Trust was shut down. Instead the BBC will have a unitary board like that of a private company. The Board is chaired by David Clementi who, of course, has the title of knight under Britain's official class system. The Director General will report to Mr Clementi.
Regulation will be in the hands of the Office of Communications (Ofcom) and the National Audit Office.
This new set-up was agreed following criticism of the Corporation for the Jimmy Saville sex scandal and excessive spending.