Sunday, 26 February 2012

How the BBC loses its friends

Last week, I finally lost patience with the BBC's editoralising and tabloid agenda, and made a complaint.  Their political editor, Nick Robinson, appeared on the Ten O'Clock News to provide the watching masses with his interpretation of events (if they were neither asleep nor dulled into a stupor by what passes for entertainment on the BBC's alleged flagship channel).  Mr Robinson decided to provide us with his wisdom on the subject of the evisceration of the National Health Service being promoted by Andrew Lansley in the teeth of opposition from professionals, the political opposition, health service users, backwoods Tories, the Liberal Democrats and allegedly several Cabinet members.  Mr Robinson constantly referred to this as "reform" of the Health Service.

The term reform is emotive and value-laden - indeed it is classic editorialising.  So much so that those of us with long memories will recollect that the BBC threw up its hands with horror at the modest proposals to change the voting system last year - it always had to be a "change".  Given that support for the NHS privatisation is lower than the disastrous "Yes to AV" campaign managed to achieve (source: YouGov, as unlike Mr Robinson I try to keep to facts rather than supposition) you would have thought that this would require equal linguistic caution to uphold the standards that the BBC wishes to make us believe it maintains.

So I fired off a complaint, drawing some of these inconsistencies to the attention of the organisation.  In return, the following reply arrived:  [parts redacted but text left intact for grammatical amusement]

Reference CAS-131XXXX-SDNXXX

Thanks for contacting us about BBC News at Ten broadcast on 22 February.

I understand you have concerns with the use of the term ‘reform’ when our journalists like Nick Robinson use it in relation to the proposed changes to the NHS. I note your comments about the language used when discussing the Alternative Vote referendum.

The BBC uses the term “reform” in a number of contexts, such as government proposals on health and education. But the Alternative Vote Referendum asked a single and very specific question: the question of whether one system is better than the other is, therefore, fundamental to the vote.

The definition of “reform” is very clear, both in dictionaries and in common usage: it means “improvement” or “to make better”. It would, therefore, not be impartial for the BBC to characterise the AV referendum as being about “reform”, yet the term is applicable in the case of the NHS.

The political context for the government’s health and education “reforms” is different and therefore our judgement about what constitutes “due impartiality” is different. The question (and it is not an issue on which people are about to cast their vote) is more broadly about how to improve health, rather than about whether it should be improved.

Opponents of the government’s plans, therefore, do not normally raise any objection to the term. Indeed, they often use it themselves. That is not the case with “electoral reform.”

I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your concerns on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Jxxxxx Dxxxxxxx

BBC Complaints

Let us start off analysing this egregious twaddle for what it is.  Firstly, its general tone represents the kind of sub-literate formalations that besmirch contemporary officialdom.  It is a bombardment of inconsistencies that collapses with the readiness of a well-prepared tower block when detonated.  

The BBC apparatchik, clearly hot-foot from performing a similar role for the North Korean Communist Party, provides a partial definition of "reform".  This presupposes that the impacts of Tory policy on the NHS are to "improve" or "make it better" - hardly uncontroversial.  Opponents of the pillage might argue with justification that the only people it will have a positive outcome for are those who will make a financial profit from it.

The issue raised was about the specific proposals being put forward by Liability Lansley - not a general good feeling about whether health is a good thing.  As an economist, I would probably conclude with an "up to a point, Lord Reith", as clearly there are not infinite resources to spend on health care, and the question is how they are allocated and spent most effectively.  That is efficient government, not "reform" - so there is a major logical flaw at the heart of the BBC's thinking.

Indeed, it is very alarming that the BBC's editorial judgement is so impeded and blinkered that it believes characterising proposals as "reform" if the electorate is not required to pass a direct opinion on them.  Perhaps if AV had been proposed without a referendum then the BBC would have declared it as a "reform".  Indeed, if the Government was to propose repressive legislation and dress it up as "reform" doubtless Robinson and many (not all) of his colleagues would be providing pinhead analysis with the alacrity of performing seals being promised raw fish.  The next step from this is the kind of partisan broadcasting that the BBC's Charter is designed to prevent - indeed the same argument could have been used by the German Rundfunk in the 1930s about the Nuremberg laws with equal logical force.

Bearing in mind the nature of flexible posturing and convenient justification, the doublethink inherent with this particular set of attitudes becomes more apparrent.  The idea of extending votes to 16 year-olds would probably be characterised as "change", while semi-privatisation and unproven assertions about the benefits of parasitic bleeding of the NHS and education are given the perjorative editorial endorsement of "reform" without even the slightest recognition that there may be people who neither see the need nor the benefit from change, or the blind assumption that "change" is synonymous with "improvement".

The BBC would do well to send its editorial decision-makers on an extended education programme - the shades of its founding fathers are belittled by the current craven tabloidese.  Indeed, they probably need to supplement this with C.P. Scott's axiom - but how many BBC panjandrums could complete "comment is free but..." without reference to either ConservativeHome or Wikipedia, which appear to be their primary sources for inspiration?  Orwell is another author who should be read and interpreted thoroughly; he did not set the Ministry of Truth in Broadcasting House without due cause, and many of his essays such as "Politics and the English Language" are core texts for those who seek to earn public trust.

In the meantime, I shall go on assuming that the BBC is pro-government, and that its agenda this year will be to act as a fearless cheerleader for the monarchy and the Olympic folly.  In paralell, it will eat away at the pillars that should be the basis of wide support and trust, such as editorial impartiality, and the provision of quality, enlightening programmes.  At some stage I shall wish a happy tenth birthday to two beacons standing out above the general BBC slurry, Radio 6 Music and BBC4, but increasingly the BBC is losing the trust and the support.

To the faceless bureaucrat who wrote the reply above, I suggest that you attempt to avoid familiarity.  Fortunately there is only one Nick Robinson, and hopefully not many "journalists" "like" him.  In the meantime I shall await a reply to my subsequent complaint with interest.

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