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Draft Letter to BBC Trust

December 26, 2014

I welcome comments on the draft below

BBC Trust Unit
180 Great Portland Street
London
W1W 5QZ

Dear BBC Trust

The BBC generally enjoys an excellent reputation but we are extremely concerned at the pro establishment bias in the reporting of current affairs and political discussion programmes. We feel that the BBC has totally failed to deliver on its first public purpose, that of “Sustaining citizenship and civil society”. We believe that part of the reason is that the Purpose Remit you wrote may not provide adequate guidance.

Britain and indeed the whole world, is in a scary place today:

  • natural resources of all kinds are being dangerously depleted, due in part to man’s over consumption
  • pollution of all kinds is threatening much of the life on the planet
  • climate change represents a huge threat to civilisation – even if the cause is disputed.
  • inequality in Britain and much of the West is rising inexorably, to the point where the economy is under threat – a trend which could only be addressed by either very high growth, which will put even more pressure on the environment, or by very substantial redistribution of income, wealth or both
  • Britain has a bloated and highly unstable financial system, which the government is not trying to fix.
  • In Britain, key economic indicators have in our opinion become so misleading as to be worthless; the economy is not improving.
  • The remarkably ineffective ‘war on terror’
  • Our political system is no longer fit for purpose.

The response of the four main parties in Westminster has been largely limited to pursuing ‘austerity’ in one form or another and privatisation (especially of the NHS) . The government has not even felt it necessary to try to justify NHS privatisation on grounds of value for money.

When a right wing magazine like the Spectator accuses the Prime Minister and the Chancellor (rightly in our view) of going about the country misleading the public about the deficit [1], this should be the lead story on all TV channels. We would not expect this of the commercial channels, but surely the BBC should have picked this up. When just three days later the Spectator picks up this story again talking about, “The fatal contradiction at the heart of the Tory message: there is no money, except for people we like.” [2], the BBC should have been asking whether we can ever trust such a government, just as they should been being saying about any Labour government that deceives.

When the government crows about the trend in the unemployment figures, does the BBC never wonder what relevance the headline figures mean in an era of zero hours contracts? It hardly takes a genius to suggest that ‘full time equivalents’ might be a more reliable headline figure.

So how do the public respond to the barrage of misinformation repeated by all the mainstream media, including the BBC? They become totally confused.. According to YouGov polls, most of the public want renationalisation: to cease and reverse NHS privatisation, and to renationalise Energy companies.Royal Mail and railways. This is too left wing for the Labour Party, BUT most people think Labour is too left wing from them! [3] There is a total mismatch between public wishes and party policies. This has to be wrong; democracy has become meaningless. If public expectations are unrealistic then the parties have to explain this properly and not just repeat without evidence the mantra that the free market is good and wealth trickles down.

Why is it that the BBC has so spectacularly failed to perform the proper function of a public service broadcaster? It is supposed to be operationally independent. Of course it has often been accused by Tory MPs and ministers of being ‘left wing’, whereas the opposite is true, as was revealed in a study carried out in 2013 by Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and funded by yourselves [4].

Your purpose remit stresses the need to be impartial, but fails to define what the word ‘impartial’ means. We believe that the BBC lazily or timidly takes it to mean not departing too far from a prevailing consensus manufactured by the weight of corporate and government propaganda, propagated by commercial media, and regretably the BBC itself. We on the other hand believe that ‘impartial’ should mean not partial, in other words all reasonable points of view (including ‘heterdox’ ones) should be given proper weight.

In particular, misleading statements about matters of genuine public interest, from whatever source. should be rigorously and persistently exposed; well informed and well argued criticism of orthodox opinion should be vigorously promoted; but baseless and populist rants should receive the scorn they deserve. If necessary TAM ratings should be downrated in their importance.

Much of the trust’s attempts to measure performance are based on licence fee payers’ perceptions. This is not adequate in itself. In your report for 2013/14 you say, “50% of respondents [to your survey] said that BBC News was the source they were most likely to turn to for impartial news coverage. This is a much higher figure than for any other broadcaster and remains at around the same level as last year…” Given that most other broadcasters are commercial and may be expected to to biassed towards commercial interests, 50% is an appallingly low figure. The other problem with reliance on audience perception is that people tend to trust repetition of what they have been told before, too often in the mainstream media. Blind belief in a rapidly crystallizing ideology will be disastrous for Britain.

Whereas we recognise that you face pressures not to depart too much from the establishment view of reality, some of you surely have children. A NASA funded study found that in cases of societal collapse, where the elite, in order to protect their position, had appropriated almost all the resources available to the civilisation in question, that civilisation collapsed that much faster [5].

We very much hope you will now revise the Purpose Remit along the lines we suggest.

yours faithfully

[2] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/12/the-fatal-contradiction-at-the-heart-of-the-tory-message-there-is-no-money-except-for-people-we-like/

[1] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/12/shamefully-david-cameron-is-now-misleading-voters-about-the-deficit/

[3] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/terrifying-scale-poliical-illiteracy-uk.html

[4] http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-biased-is-the-bbc-17028

[5] Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas, Eugenia Kalnay, “Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies”, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90 – 102, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615

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