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We have a right to expect the BBC to be impartial

ByOlivia McMahon

Oct 25, 2016

Today, the BBC finds itself fighting a battle on several fronts. Day in, day out, it defends itself on one side from rife accusations of bias flying from the political left, right and centre. On the other stands the ever-looming prospect of government cuts, as the ‘tempting prospect’ of a downsized, even non-existent, BBC that John Whittingdale joked of feels disturbingly possible. Under Cameron’s government almost 400,000 of us felt compelled by these dodgy remarks to sign a petition in hopes of protecting the BBC. Underneath the flippancy of such comments lie undeniable truths that linger despite Whittingdale’s reshuffle: the new BBC Charter conceives a BBC forced to embrace politicisation under the guise of increased ‘transparency.’

At the heart of Ken Loach’s profoundly political and emotional narratives are the misrepresented, so as such it is hardly surprising that Loach this week used the success garnered for his latest feature – I, Daniel Blake – to publicly defend Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn and his supporters find themselves repeatedly voicing that they do feel personally victimised by the BBC and the British press generally for their coverage (or lack thereof) of his stint as Labour leader. A London School of Economics (LSE) study earlier this year declared the media’s treatment of Corbyn as more akin to an ‘attackdog’ than a watchdog, calling into question whether, like Loach, Corbyn’s socialist examinations of the status quo are to remain on the periphery of British politics.

In this vein, The Sun and The Daily Mail have always seemed like pitbulls Murdoch kept on a loose leash, unique in their relentless attacks of the British left. But the presence of a ‘systematic’ anti-Corbyn bias is alarming to say the least. The Media Reform Coalition join LSE in highlighting a decidedly neoliberal and mediated reportage in news bulletins concerning Corbyn’s leadership.

Finding that most coverage barely cited Corbyn’s views at all or accurately, leading academics show that the media effectively delegitimises Corbyn’s popular mandate as Leader of the Opposition. With political scrutiny being but stone-cold dead, how can we allow our press to neglect their responsibility in showing the Opposition holding our government to account?

As these prolific claims of BBC bias wash over us more regularly, we overlook just how much trust the British public invest in it as a public service broadcaster. If over 96 per cent of us consume the BBC’s services on a weekly basis, consider then how many of us pay their licence fee of £145 to do so? Our relationship with the BBC should and must be seen for what it is – a contract. Citizens invest in the institution far more than £145 a year alone; with it comes a reasonable expectation that its content be impartial, pluralist and unpartisan.

An overt irony arises with the revised Charter’s assertion that “it is no longer supportable for the BBC to regulate itself’”, to which there is obviously no other solution but to establish a government-appointed board to preserve neutrality. Who can blame Loach for calling the BBC “an arm of the state… representing state interests” in the face of these changes? Will our future BBC try to maintain a monolithic mask of journalistic integrity and ethics, or will issues with its lack of democratisation become impossible to ignore?

One can only hope for a public response that outweighs the dominant right-wing media narrative drowning the critical voice of a supposedly ‘loony’ Left. At the end of the day, how are we to think for ourselves, to hold politicians to account with a press that refuses to do so fairly?

Image credit: Bruno Chatelin

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