My last post, Jeremy Paxman, the BBC, Impartiality, and Freedom of Information, seems to have attracted a good deal of attention, but unfortunately it is unlikely that there will be any major developments in the near future. The Information Commissioner’s Office has warned me that, although they have begun to investigate, progress is likely to be slow.
In the meantime, here is something that I came across at about the same time that I made my Freedom of Information Act request about the BBC’s climate change seminar. The following transcript is taken from an edition of Radio4′s Talking Politics programme (broadcast on 4th August 2007) which was devoted to the Corporation’s problems with impartiality.
Presenter: One of Yes minister’s creators, Anthony Jay, has written a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies entitled, Confessions of a Reformed BBC Producer. It tells how Jay, together with a small group of leftish rebels within the BBC, took on the Conservative establishment represented by Harold Macmillan, grouse moors, and the old school tie back in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s, and how they developed a set of beliefs and attitudes that Jay terms media liberalism which he says still permeates the BBC today. What was once heresy is now orthodoxy.
Of course it shouldn’t really matter what the views of BBC producers are. Guidelines and codes of conduct are supposed to ensure that whatever goes out on the airwaves conforms to set standards of due impartiality. But when I spoke to Anthony Jay earlier this week he told me that his generation of producers had easily found ways round them.
Anthony Jay: In those days we were particularly strict about political balance, but of course you could invite an opposition MP - who were all Labour during the time that I was there - who was particularly plausible and attractive and put him up against a bigoted ineffective Conservative and say that we had achieved political balance. And in the same way you got your point over by choosing your subject and choosing the questions to ask, because all the questions could be based on ‘is it really just that such and such could happen’.
I remember talking to a fellow producer from another department who was saying that he was really trying to do something about the eleven-plus, and of course he was against it, but he said that he couldn’t find anyone to argue that it was socially just. And it hadn’t occurred to him [that] that was the BBC liberal question. The [real] question was did it work, did it actually give the best people the best chance of getting the best education and it wasn’t to do with everybody having a fair crack of the whip. It was to do with making sure that the people who had the real ability got to the top and a position where they could exploit it.
All this happened a long time ago, but in his pamphlet Anthony Jay makes it clear that little has changed at the BBC. If we consider what he says about the selection of interviewees and apply it to the way in which the BBC covers the climate debate, then there seems to be clear evidence that the nefarious practices that Jay describes are still alive and well.
Fluent and confident broadcasters like Professor Chris Rapley, Professor Tom Burke, and George Monbiot frequently appear as advocates for the alarmist cause. The only sceptics who seem to be allowed on the screen are Lord Lawson and Dr Richard North, neither of whom can speak with real authority on the matter. What happened to people like Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christianson, Professor Bob Carter, Christopher Monckton or Dr David Whithouse who could actually give the BBC’s chosen few a run for their money?
Until the BBC reveals who was invited to their climate change seminar it is reasonable to wonder whether the same selection process may have applied to this too