Netflix and kill: The right want the BBC's head, no matter how much BBC News traffics their talking points

... and the left is understandably tired of the whole thing.

‘Guilty pleasures’ is an odd concept really. Most people mean songs or TV shows that they’re mildly-embarrassed about enjoying, but I once met a man who told me without irony that his guilty pleasure was “collecting Nazi memorabilia…” Okay, Lemmy. My current guilty pleasure is less of a pleasure and more a guilty headache — listening to Adrian Chiles’ radio show on BBC 5Live.

A sentient turnip cursed by a veg-obsessed wizard to present banal talk radio, Chiles is confused by the world in the way only a 53-year-old man who’s been consistently rewarded for ignorance can be. Yesterday, I switched on his show to hear him asking a panel of MPs, “How do you define ‘woke’?” and allowing the Tory to witter on for several minutes about “virtue signalling”. Chiles’ response to the man’s mediocre monologue was one of his trademark grunts.

While Chiles was picking over the peculiarities of modern language with the grace of a hippo accidentally-entered into Dancing On Ice, Emma Barnett was over on Radio 4 presenting Woman’s Hour. I can’t listen to her now without two things entering my mind unbidden:

  1. The fact that emails from her to her father played a part in the court case that ended in his conviction for running brothels that employed trafficked women and she referred to them as “your whores”.

  2. The moment during an election edition of Question Time when she demanded of Angela Rayner, “Would you nationalise sausages?”

After a long stint at The Daily Telegraph — where I encountered her and found her a pleasant editor (I hadn’t heard the ‘your whores’ story at this point) — it’s not surprising that Barnett’s instincts skew to the right. While she would argue she’s balanced and told The Times that she is simply “on the listeners’ side”, I find that she does her ‘I cannot believe you just said that!’ act to commentators and politicians on the left far more often than she does to people on the right.

Barnett isn’t a political correspondent and her job at Woman’s Hour is to chair a wider range of discussions, but generally, the BBC News and Current Affairs operations have a serious problem. With the BBC generally terrified about what the government will do to its future funding, it bends over backwards to be ‘impartial’, here defined as “not doing too much to piss off the right”.

The Director-General, Tim Davie, a former Conservative council candidate and marketing man who has precisely zero journalistic experience (whose new boss is also a Tory), told a recent Reuters Next event:

“Impartiality is something we learn, it’s a skill, and we need to show people this is what we are in business to do… we are activists for impartiality…”

But that ‘impartiality’ only seems to cut one way. If there were a truly mainstream left-wing newspaper to write for, BBC News stars wouldn’t get away with contributing to it. Guido Fawkes and his flying monkeys would swarm them immediately. But popping up in The Daily Mail (Andrew Marr) or regularly contributing to UnHerd (Justin Webb) while still fronting major BBC News shows? No problem. Because the right-wing perspective is deemed the default by BBC bosses and any left-wing perspective is a sign of “metropolitan elite” tendencies. Forget the fact that you’ll find far more Daily Mail minded people round London dinner tables when such a thing is once more permitted.

Being a former Young Conservative like Nick Robinson (he was president of Oxford University Conservative Association) is considered almost unworthy of comment. Robinson scoffed at the idea that his teenage politics have any bearing on his adult professional perspective on Matt Forde’s obsequious bumlick of a podcast Political Party. But when Lewis Goodall, who had been a Labour-supporting activist and blogger at university, joined Newsnight, he was monstered by Guido and the gang, sneered at by The Telegraph as someone who “had made no secret of his political views”.

There is reams of evidence that BBC News leaves open goals for the right and even dribbles the ball to the edge of the goal line for them. Regardless, chancers like Hovis delivery boy cosplayer Darren Grimes and his dubious pals at Defund The BBC, the most obvious astroturfing group this side of the workmen resurfacing the leisure centre all-weather pitches, claim that the corporation is basically a Communist conspiracy to destroy everything they love about Britain — racism, shit food, and the fear of difference being chief among them.

Despite being all over the media like a pissing puppy, with numerous outlets that are amenable to his particular brand of plastic proletarianism, Grimes knows there’s a lot of mileage in claiming that the left controls culture. Meanwhile, the left is understandably fucked off with a BBC that puts reporters in the channel to film desperate refugees in sinking boats, let Barnett ask her “would you nationalise sausages?” question in all seriousness, and treat any idea left of General Franco as suspicious in the extreme.

When BBC News’ Home Affairs Correspondent, Daniel Sandford, tweeted…

… he found himself shot by both sides — deluged from tweets by the right and the subject of one of Darren Grimes’ clunkily-delivered YouTube monologues and castigated by the left for comparing the public service broadcaster with a private company. When I talk to BBC employees about this kind of thing they often say, “See! This shows that we’re getting it right. If both sides are angry, we’re getting impartiality.” But that’s a fallacy.

BBC News often accepts right-wing talking points whole-cloth, rarely pushes back at bad faith claims of bias from tedious talking heads like Grimes, and dismisses left-wing complaints (remember the Corbyn hat debacle on Newsnight? Or the HIGNFY joke about bombing Corbyn supporters?) as spurious. The right is ‘angry’ because it's fighting a culture war and wants the BBC out of the picture. The left is actually angry because it believes the BBC has capitulated to the right. The positions are not equivalent.

In his video triggered by Sandford’s tweet, Grimes accepts Netflix’s claims about how many subscribers it has in the UK and essentially delivers a long advert for the streaming service while claiming that the BBC is dreadful value for money.

While I definitely have serious problems with BBC News output across radio, TV and online, comparing Netflix with the BBC’s output isn’t like for like. The Licence Fee gets you a large range of radio, podcast, and TV, and unlike Netflix, the BBC is required to produce public service output and content that serves a British audience generally as well as specific local areas.

Grimes wasn’t alone in using Netflix as a stick to beat the BBC with this week. Over at The Daily Telegraph, Ed Power curled out a comment piece headlined, “Over 200 million people are happy to pay £13.99 a month for Netflix – and that should scare the BBC”, with a lede that reads: “The streaming giant is not competition – it's an existential threat, even with a price rise. To compete, the BBC must up its game, fast.”

Two points: 1) How many people does Ed Power think live in the UK? Because that number he’s quoting (200 million!) is Netflix’s claimed global subscriber base. 2) Netflix is only “an existential threat” to the BBC if the corporation continues to be strangled financially and culturally by the Conservative Party.

One of the Conservative government’s strategies since the Cameron/Osborne-era has been to tighten the BBC’s funding while shovelling more and more financial obligations upon it. By doing that the Tories are able to claim that the BBC is failing to do what it promised (see free TV licences for the over-75s) and that the quality of its output is falling while streaming services soar. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s ‘public service broadcasting’ review is just the latest step in that scheme. As I wrote previously about the panel he’s put together to consider the question:

Putting that collection of people in the position to decide what should happen to the BBC… is like asking Harold Shipman for advice on elder care.

While Dowden praises the streamers to high heaven and figures released by Kantar this week lauded Amazon Prime Video as the UK’s biggest subscription service, the truth is shakier. Prime Video can trumpet such big numbers because it’s bundled in with Amazon’s Prime delivery service — that’s what people are paying for. Prime Video is simply a loss leader.

Netflix meanwhile is the Uber of streaming. Like the taxi app, Netflix is trying to dominate the market by charging a rate that isn’t profitable but that it hopes will give it so much of the market share that when prices rise (as they already are) its competitors will already have been killed off.

You can expect the arrival of the Andrew Neil-fronted, hedge-fund cash supported GB News and Rupert Murdoch’s as-yet-unnamed British attempt at Fox News to also be used to put heavy pressure on BBC News to further bend to right-wing demands. Doing so will not save the corporation however as the most hardline figures on the right won’t be happy until it’s stone dead. And the left, battered and bruised by BBC contempt in recent years, will understandably be loathed to march in its defence.

Still, people like Emma Barnett and Adrian Chiles will be just fine. They’ll just up sticks and join Eddie Mair in the lukewarm water of LBC. And the good stuff in the BBC archives and produced by its drama department? That’ll all be sold off to a private buyer to be locked up in yet another streaming service which will charge you more per year than the Licence Fee but that’ll be a choice, right?

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