THE BBC : DR WHO DOESN'T WORK HERE ANY MORE
1st March 2020
Boris Johnson wants the BBC to lose its license fee and become a subscription service, competing with the likes of Netflix and Sky. So say the political weeklies.
The argument against this move is that if the BBC becomes a commercial broadcaster Britain will lose a world-class public service that projects 'soft power', British prestige and British values of impartiality, tolerance and fairness, to global audiences.
The trouble is we lost all that long ago. The BBC has gradually been allowed to fall into the hands of people – no doubt well-meaning – who advocate what they imagine is a progressive message of brotherly and sisterly love, but which in reality is a hotchpotch of half-baked student ideas of people insulated from the reality of having to earn a living. The days when anyone abroad would learn impartiality, tolerance or fairness from the BBC are long gone. Having mislaid the mission to inform and educate, the BBC has now lost even the ability to entertain.
Instead we have Laura Kuenssberg telling us why our elected representatives are either fools or knaves and Katia Adler telling us why we must defer to the EU. On radio we have comedians like Nish Kumar telling contemptuous jokes about a large section of license payers and right-on academics like Laurie Taylor explaining how best we, the listeners, can mend our bigoted ways.
BBC programme makers armour themselves against criticism and dissent by claiming that they receive just as many complaints from the left as from the right, so that, in the words of Lord Hall, BBC director-general, they 'must be getting it about right'. This argument is a false comparison. They are provoking criticism from both ends of the political spectrum because their policies and their bias merit criticism from all thinking people regardless of political leaning.
Perhaps the most curious aspect of the BBC’s arrogance and bias is that it is transparent to most of its employees. Those who join the BBC quickly come to believe that whatever is corporately sanctioned must be for the best. Senior BBC insiders see themselves as a band of heroes, struggling to keep alive the sacred flame of truth against a barbarian government’s plan to review their license fee and plunge us into darkness.
Speaking on German TV of Johnson’s plan, David Dimbleby said, 'The whole idea of a national broadcaster that speaks truth to the nation and is impartial and objective is under threat'.
Dimbleby takes it for granted that he and his colleagues are 'the impartial broadcaster who speaks truth to the nation'. It doesn’t occur to him for one moment that he and his colleagues might be biased, or that their critics might be correct. Anyone who has watched the smug smile slowly vanish from Dimbleby’s face as the Question Time audience departs from script and applauds popular, common sense views will find his protests self-serving rather than heroic.
But not all who join the BBC are seduced by the Corporate view. George Orwell, for example, joined the BBC in 1940 because he believed British propaganda was both honest and necessary to fight Nazism. The BBC’s Overseas Service was under MOI direction throughout the war and Orwell was at first keen to support the government’s propaganda efforts. His experiences working at the BBC seem to have changed his mind. By 1942 he had resigned. He confided the reason to his diary, All propaganda is lies, even when one is telling the truth. What Orwell saw in prototype during wartime emergency, has slowly become the peacetime norm; the skilful use of the truth as propaganda; to mislead, to misinform, to misdirect attention.
Curiously also, the BBC sees itself as the guardian of the nation’s moral conscience while in reality is in the forefront of the decline in broadcasting values. Programmes that once attracted large audiences and top acting talent with their imaginative and original writing, have been replaced by scripts obsessed with currently fashionable woke values – gay rights, feminism and racial diversity.
Dr Who tells the story. Ten years ago, the show attracted acting talent of the calibre of David Tennant, guests of the stature of Derek Jacobi and Michael Sheen, and audiences of 10 million. Today the programme attracts audiences of 4 million and acting talent such as Stephen Fry.
Complaints about the show in its new form have grown to the extent that there are now Twitter hashtags like #NotMyDoctorWho. But the BBC remains immune to such rebuke. Chris Chibnall, the show’s producer, was quoted last week by Deadline saying 'I worked on Doctor Who myself and produced it for many years and I can honestly say I don’t think it’s been in better health editorially. The production values have never been better'. When asked by Doctor Who Magazine about the criticisms he said, 'In terms of external opinions, it’s not a democracy. We make the show we want to make'.
Above all, the BBC fears that becoming commercial will result in a dumbing down of its values and its programming. What could be dumber than Mrs Brown’s Boys, Gavin and Stacey or Dr Who in its current incarnation? Flagship programmes like Horizon and Panorama have also succumbed to superficial, trivial reporting of important issues.
It is true that once it is deprived of lavish amounts of public money the BBC will be worse off. In order to remain in being at all, it will have to start taking into account what its viewers and listeners want and are willing to pay for, instead of lecturing us on what it thinks we need. Overpaid TV celebrities like Gary Lineker, and pontificating radio academics like Laurie Taylor will have to go and be replaced by professional broadcasters paid an affordable wage (men and women alike).
I am among those who mourn the loss of a once great public service, but that loss is not being brought about today by us. It happened years ago when we, the taxpayers, took our eye off the ball and allowed the woke generation to move in and quietly demolish an organisation that had taken a century of British decency and common sense to build. It is not too late to reclaim this great institution.
Richard Milton is a writer and journalist.