Magazine article The Spectator

Bia S , Bor I S and the Beeb

Magazine article The Spectator

Bia S , Bor I S and the Beeb

Article excerpt

A political commisar as director general is the last thing the BBC needs

The Today programme ended , and John Humphrys walked out of the studio yawning and stretching. The phone was ringing in the empty programme office, and he picked it up. A spin-doctor's foul-mouthed rant about how rotten and biased and stupid the programme had been came pouring out of it. Humphrys asked after a couple of minutes, 'Can I just make a point?' 'Yes?' said the spin-doctor warily.

'Fuck off, ' said Humphrys, and slammed the phone down.

Lord Re i th wou ldn 't have l iked the language, but he would have approved of the instinct. And when Boris Johnson told the Daily Telegraph on Monday that the next BBC director-general ought to be a Conservative, and that the BBC was 'statist, corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and overwhelmingly biased to the left', there was only one proper response for people at the BBC to make: the Humphrys one.

The bosses of French state-owned television and radio are chosen for their political allegiance; they'll be clearing out their offices quite soon now. German television has a tedious system which hands out its top jobs according to politics. American television may be all about private enterprise, which is why you get advertisement breaks every seven minutes; but the networks prefer not to upset the President, especially when it was George W. Bush and some of the biggest advertisers were friends of his.

Of course British politicians like Boris would love to get their hands on the BBC.

Churchill tried it during the General Strike;

various Labour ministers wanted to do it during the war; Anthony Eden suggested controlling the BBC during the Suez crisis;

Margaret Thatcher would have privatised it if she could, but she was too wary of middle Britain to try. The only prime minister who succeeded in nobbling it (though only for a few months) was Tony Blair, with the 2004 Hutton inquiry. Look where it got him.

I've worked for the BBC since 1966, and loved it and loathed it in sometimes equal proportions. But in my 46 years I have never seen the slightest indication of a settled bias in favour of one or other of the political parties; and I have never been aware of any story that was commissioned, reported or distorted for party-political purposes.

Today, as in 1966 , the right in Britain accuses the BBC of being instinctively leftwing, while the left accuses it of being instinctively conservative. …

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