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A public broadcaster acknowledges its left-wing bias

Leading British media writer John Lloyd, in Prospect magazine, on some frank admissions about the other Aunty

Andrew Marr, the former BBC political editor, recently stood before an audience and said that "the BBC is not impartial, or neutral. It's a publicly funded urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party political bias: it's better expressed as a cultural liberal bias."

It was an extraordinary day, momentous even ... The day's project went deep ... into the BBC's emotional hinterland, unleashing a certain amount of controlled anger, even of self-contempt. There was a sense that the BBC was saying to itself what it roundly condemns others for saying. Much of what came out in the open - and it was not private: it was webcast, and I was told I could write about it - can now be used by its opponents to say: "Look! Even the BBC says it!"

Perhaps the most powerful moment was a brief exchange towards the end of the day between Sue Lawley, who was the event's compere, and the BBC's Washington correspondent Justin Webb. Webb, whose question-and-answer reports with some of his BBC colleagues sometimes reveal a certain testiness at their assumptions on the US, said that the BBC was generally biased against America. He said that in the tone in which it reported the US, the BBC tended to scorn and derision, and that it didn't give America "any kind of moral weight". It is not hard to imagine what the BBC would say if this had been put to it by the US ambassador, but Webb got grave nods...

Before this, the (UK) Daily Telegraph columnist Janet Daley was given the lectern to lambast the BBC, as she does sometimes in her columns, for showing "an uncritical acceptance of smug consensual opinion". It was, she said, staffed by people whose views and beliefs, and those of their dinner party companions and the writers they read, were so entrenched as to be no longer visible. People outside this consensus - as she was - were given space, but put on air "with a health warning" that they were right-wing.

She admitted that the liberal consensus did change its mind, giving examples of certain propositions that could now be aired, if gingerly: that children of two parents have better life chances than children of one; that there may be more effective ways of providing health care than a state-funded public monopoly; or that multiculturalism can lead to alienation of ethnic minorities. However, a new raft of topics could not be discussed, such as the corrupting effects of foreign aid or that a benefit system which rewards the poor ensures the continued existence of poverty...

Interspersing the sessions were cameo appearances, on video, by well-known people in the broadcasting world who said that the BBC was absurdly elitist, or had gone soft, or presented a caricature of liberal leftism.

Robert Manne, in The Monthly, on how John Howard's long march through the ABC marks a victory in the culture war:

THERE can be little doubt that John Howard has been determined to bring the ABC to heel as part of his more general ambition to destroy as much as possible of whatever remains of the cultural influence he labels the "soft Left". Howard has borrowed from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci the idea that a counter-revolution, as much as a revolution, requires a long march through the institutions of society.

Unlike Gramsci's preference, however, the long march Howard has tried to orchestrate inside the ABC is from the supposed Left to the truly Right: hence the astonishing presence on the ABC board of Australia's most strident cultural warriors: Keith Windschuttle, Janet Albrechtsen and Ron Brunton.

Until recently, the conservative chairman of the ABC, Donald McDonald, has more or less held the line. No longer. In quick succession, the Government has abolished the position of staff-elected member of the board; the new board, on spurious legal grounds, has decided not to publish the commissioned biography of Alan Jones written by one of the most respected ABC reporters, Chris Masters; while the new managing director, Mark Scott, has introduced the position of director of editorial policies, whose role will be to make sure that all programs, including satire and those for children, are "impartial".

This last reform has been welcomed with considerable enthusiasm by all the major right-wing critics of the ABC: Windschuttle, Albrechtsen, David Flint, Gerard Henderson and the editorial team at The Australian. They are, of course, right to see it as a major victory in the culture war.

Matters are now moving more rapidly than even pessimists predicted. As a result of financial retrenchment, the policy of permeation from the top and outright persistent political attack, the Government has succeeded in its long-term aim. There is not much more work to be done.


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Original piece is http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20684585-7583,00.html


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