Yesterday (July 31st 2019) BBC’s Jon Sopel handed far-right propagandist Steve Bannon a platform to espouse his extreme ideology. Sopel obsequiously agreed to a physical setting for the platform next to the USA/Mexico border fence with a pseudo-military vehicle in shot with an American flag attached to it. The concocted scene was Bannon’s intent to depict himself as part of a racist militia targeting immigrants.
The encounter was not an interview and Bannon’s rhetoric was left unchallenged and uninspected. Sopel acted solely as an enabler.
This awful episode in the BBC’s political coverage was not surprising. BBC news and current affairs has no understanding of what political balance in broadcasting is. This (wilful) ignorance is directed by director-general Tony Hall who, in BBC’s Annual Plan in March, declared that the “broadest range of views” must be broadcast. His view was that BBC news should be a team of stenographers with no care taken to examine veracity of opinions.
Of course, BBC’s commitment to broadest range of views is within restrictions. The restrictions are not specifically party political; they are informed by establishment bias. This bias is so ingrained that its practitioners convinced themselves of its absence. Sopel exhibited semi-conscious bias in response to the expulsion from Labour of Liberal Democrat voter Alastair Campbell. He exclaimed that “I’ve known Alastair Campbell for 25 years.” That translates as a pliable journalist being manipulated by a professional con artist for twenty-five years.
BBC’s obsession with aiding the promotion of extreme right-wing ideology has intensified. Within recent weeks viewers and listeners were subjected to Rod Liddle (Newsnight), Tom Harwood (Question Time), Dominique Samuels (various TV/radio) and Ben Shapiro (Politics Live) alongside regulars Nigel Farage and Toby Young. Any claim that the BBC’s guests were challenged fell flat because these characters did not care as long as they had an opportunity to spout their extremism.
An interesting quirk of BBC News’ operational methodology is its insistence on arbitrary differentiation between “interview” and “debate” and associated diametrically opposed rules of operation. Unlike “interviews,” where challenge is either absent or ineffective, all BBC “debates” are peopled with opposites. Thus, any knowledgeable person intending to impart facts and analysis has to contend with a disruptor talking nonsense. The BBC applies this rule to any “debate” including issues where contrary voices should be treated with disdain and muzzling.
From Tony Hall down the BBC’s mishandling of balance, bias and impartiality has become very problematic. Faced with a new Tory government of libertarian technocrats intent on destruction of society, broadcasters and media need to be focused on persistent, relentless and effective challenge with repetitive demands for information and answers. Sadly, the BBC does not appear to be up to the job.
Hussein Kesvani for Huff Post