Of course, The Times bashes the BBC, it wants 'Aunty' shot in the head.

Or why I don't put much stock in an anti-BBC survey paid for with Murdoch money

Most days The Times is the newspaper equivalent of the Mad Max: Fury Road “Uh uh… that’s bait” GIF to me. And I’m a subscriber. What kind of masochism is that? Well, it’s the self-appointed, self-abnegating kind. It’s the same commitment to hurting myself that makes me listen to the Today programme or subject myself to the milquetoast cavalcade that is the Andrew Marr Show.

I have about as much beef with BBC News as Eminem still has with his ex-wife, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel defensive of the BBC as a whole.

The BBC is Doctor Who, The Archers, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, People Just Do Nothing, This Country, Alan Partridge, This Life, I May Destroy You, The Thick of It, John Peel, The Evening Session, Yes, Minister, A Good Read, His Dark Materials, Inside No.9, The Night Manager, Limmy’s Show, Blackadder, Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review, Young Offenders, The Young Ones… I could go on.

Anyone who likes comedy and drama will have a list like that one.

The BBC costs — for radio, TV, news and entertainment — about 43p/day or £13/month. The argument from the right is that the Licence Fee that pays for that material is a tax because if you watch live TV in the UK, you’re legally obliged to have one. I think it’s a good deal overall, despite my long list of gripes about how BBC News does its business.

I also know that if the right has its way and replaces the licence fee with a Sky-style subscription model, the eccentric and eclectic mix the BBC currently offers will be over. The Licence Fee allows the BBC, when it’s doing its job properly, to experiment with new comedy and drama that commercial channels would never touch and writers who’d never get a chance.

But to the shock-troops and shock jocks of the right, that ability to experiment is a bad thing — allowing all kinds of ‘looney left’ stuff onto the air. To the eye-rolling, mouth-foaming offence addicts of the British right, Have I Got News For You, a show now so establishment it should have its own Garrick membership, is practically Marxist. Or at least that’s how they tell it.

The truth is the BBC is forever in the sights of Spiked snides and video sneaks like Darren Grimes — though they’ll happily rock up on its shows for an appearance fee — because privatising everything is the fundamental creed of their backers. The Sun, Times, talkRadio and Times Radio are all owned by Rupert Murdoch so it’s no surprise they’re part of the anti-BBC army.

It’s in that context that research commissioned by The Times, published yesterday, that suggests ‘nearly half of Britons think the BBC no longer represents’ comes as no surprise. I haven’t seen the questions or the methodology behind the survey, but I know exactly why the editors commissioned the work — they wanted that result and are likely to have framed the questions to ensure they got it.

For instance, the results of the research are presented as the public’s view of the BBC as a whole rather than BBC News in particular. The Times article, bylined to its Policy Editor Oliver Wright and relentlessly-BBC bashing Media Correspondent Matthew Moore, says:

“In the past year, a third of the public said that the values of the BBC had become less like theirs amid controversy over its coverage of Brexit and the pandemic. Only 33 per cent now believe that it represents their standpoint.

…The new research, by YouGov, found 44 per cent of the public thought that the BBC represented their values badly. This was particularly true of older people, with 48 per cent saying that the BBC did not adequately represent their views. In the north of England it was 51 per cent and Scotland 47 per cent. Among those who voted for Brexit, 58 per cent were unhappy with the overall stance of the corporation.”

The survey ignores comedy, music, entertainment and other areas of the BBC because The Times knew in commissioning it that the results would be much softer if those areas were considered. The newspaper’s intention was not to discover what the public thinks of the BBC but to further strengthen its line that the BBC is not fit for purpose and not worth protecting.

It’s quite laughable to read The Times, a London-focused paper with largely London-based columnists and a penchant for recommending obscenely expensive items in The Sunday Times’ almost beyond-parody Style magazine, accuse others of having a narrow metropolitan and elitist perspective. But of course, Moore and Wright roll out frequent critic and former BBC Head of News, Roger Mosey — who recruited Richard Littlejohn to 5Live back in the mists of time — to say:

“The BBC is more in tune with a metropolitan and more liberal audience than it is with the rest of the country. The positive thing is that I’m certain Tim Davie is on the case . . . Top of the agenda for me would be real devolution to centres outside London and a much deeper understanding of audiences.”

Of course, The Times is a private entity and does not have the same obligation as the BBC to serve a broad audience. But looking at Matthew Moore’s output as Media Correspondent it becomes clear that the paper has an obsession with BBC bashing. Of his last 14 pieces, 7 are about the BBC and all of those have a negative tone about the corporation. Moore has the Murdoch line and he sticks to it.

Is the BBC perfect? No. And I’m not sure that BBC News will be improved by the ministrations of Tim Davie, a non-journalist and former VP of marketing at Pepsi, who came up through the BBC’s business arm and whose past includes a stint as a Conservative Party council candidate.

The BBC often gets tied up in attempts at false balance on news programmes and is forever shot by both sides — accused of being too right-wing by the left and too ‘woke’ by the right — and I believe BBC News has been too easy on the government. But I understand why: It’s afraid. The Times scents that fear and it won’t stop the hunt; if Murdoch gets his way the BBC will be gone and nothing will replace it.

Share