However, with British politics undergoing an unfolding realignment from the traditional Left vs Right continuum towards a more contemporarily realistic Authoritarian vs Libertarian divide, the Covid pandemic has seen several striking metamorphoses from the Libertarian side of that divide to its Authoritarian side by certain media figures from whom one would have least expected it. Two particularly egregious examples illustrate the point.
First the nominally conservative columnist, presenter and commentator Andrew Pierce. In the now far-off days when I used to watch Sky News, the papers review featuring Pierce and stock London media-lefty Kevin Maguire – the double-act once dubbed ‘The Lenin and McCarthy of late-night political TV” – was often notable for Pierce’s robust advocacy of small-c conservative positions, notably on the conflict between personal freedom and State-authoritarianism.
Neither has he stopped there. Since then, he has gone on to demand both a compulsory vaccine passport scheme for pubs and restaurants, and compulsory continuous mask-wearing for students in all, not merely communal, areas of all secondary schools,
In Ireland for a few days where there is a compulsory vaccine passport scheme for pubs restaurants. no one complains. they just get on with it. shoudln’t we do the same in UK?
which also turned out to be wrong, it having been established as early as 21 October that this was factually untrue, and that roughly two-thirds of Covid cases in hospital were actually among the vaccinated. Far from the defender of individual liberty against authoritarian State over-reach that he once was, Pierce seems to have been transformed into a virtual medico-totalitarian.
Secondly, and arguably even worse, Andrew Neil, erstwhile doyen of political interviewers, hitherto famous for his forensic filleting of disingenuous politicians peddling claims more in the realms of fantasy than fact, and searching interrogations of tinpot tyrants threatening our liberties.
In a quite extraordinary intervention in the Covid debate on 9 December, Neil lashed out at the unvaccinated with a degree of intolerance and malevolence that many found shocking. Not content with merely criticising the unvaccinated for being hesitant or sceptical, for both of which they may have many and varied reasons, Neil went on to disparage them for their presumed selfishness and to demand that they be punished.
His intemperate tirade contained some highly tendentious philosophical propositions. He asserted, for example, that we have a responsibility to act in ways that protect not only our own health but that of others – a foray into leftist-collectivist ideology which in effect substantially absolves me from responsibility to protect my own, by transferring it to the State to compel you, on pain of punishment, to protect it for me. The critic of Neil, who remarked that, while you can take the Neil out of the BBC, you evidently can’t take the BBC out of the Neil, had a point.
His argument repeated to critics subsequently on social media seemed to hinge on a purely transactional trade-off: that the costs of lockdown legitimised vaccine passports as a preventive alternative, even to the extent of creating a two-tier, “Show us your papers!” society in which the minority would be ‘othered’ and discriminated against. But this again carries echoes of a collectivist ‘ends justifies means’ ideology which dismisses the rights, autonomy and freedoms of the individual.
Like Pierce, Neil, too, sadly, appears to have succumbed to the blandishments of the medico-authoritarians.
It’s invariably disappointing to discover that the people we thought were strong allies have, just when it mattered most, when it comes to the crunch, and when the metaphorical chips are down, weakened, turned away from the fight, and made common cause with our opponents.
So, this nomination for any 2021 Covid Wall of Shame isn’t a person, but a generic type – the commentator whom we thought was One Of Us, but who turned out instead be One Of Them. The assumed Hero whom Covid revealed as a Zero. A 2021 Covid Wall of Shame would surely contain few, if any, examples more deserving of inclusion.
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The incompetence and arrogance of BBC top executives before a Parliamentary committee prompt the question of how bad its behaviour must become before Boris Johnson’s timid government is forced to clip its wings
Problems which politicians hope will – if only they cover their eyes, block their ears, and pretend those problems either don’t exist or aren’t serious – miraculously subside or preferably even disappear, rarely do either. On the contrary, they tend to get even worse. Such is the situation the Johnson government now finds itself mired in with the BBC.
It’s obvious that the Corporation has benefited from the ‘Conservative’ Party’s cynical abandonment of its pre-election pledge, either to abolish the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ as a funding mechanism or at least decriminalise non-payment of it. It’s also evident, however, that the BBC has in effect banked that concession – or perhaps it would be better described as appeasement – and doubled-down on its woke-metropolitan left-‘liberal’ bias, on its ill-concealed contempt for its captive funders, and, above all, on its institutional arrogance arguably derived mainly from an assumption of its own immunity.
This was already obvious in the latter part of 2020, as the BBC –
More recent developments especially, however, must now prompt the question: how far it will be allowed to go before even Johnson’s over-indulgent administration is driven to act? Just what does the BBC have to do before this government, seemingly paralysed by timidity and reluctance to challenge it, finally acts to curb its excesses.
Before discussing those recent developments, it’s worth briefly re-visiting a few of its more blatant abuses of its uniquely privileged position over the past 18 months which I’ve previously either mentioned only in passing or not at all, or have occurred since I last wrote specifically about the Government-BBC relationship.
Eagerly embracing the woke agenda, it’s ‘advised’ all its staff that only trans-friendly pronouns may now be used for all internal communications and email signatures. (Though one can’t help but wonder if the Chairman and Director-General still prefer ‘Sir’ as a mode of address?)
It came very close to overt anti-white, class-hatred, anti-provincial racism in its notorious ‘Karens’ podcast of last summer in which two well-educated, well-off, intensely bien-pensant white women spent their time mocking less-educated, less well-off white women and instructing them on what to think. Typically, it declined to apologise, despite the substantial backlash.
Finally for this list, the BBC in January re-employed, a mere fortnight after his normal retirement, its former director of nations and regions, Ken MacQuarrie, in the £325,000 a year, impeccably-woke, grandiosely-titled role of Executive Director for Safeguarding Impartiality. Nice work if you can get it. As arguably the epitome of corporate marking-your-own-homework, this takes some beating.
Unacceptable and relevant as all this is, what makes the question posed in the title both urgent and unavoidable emerged from the Commons DCMS Select Committee summoning no fewer than three former or current BBC Directors-General to appear before it on 15th June, the trigger for which was the publication of the Dyson Report into the BBC’s failings, not only surrounding the original Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana in 1995, but also his subsequent re-hiring.
The Select Committee’s session promised to be compelling viewing, and in that respect at least, it didn’t disappoint. Over at The Conservative Woman, David Keighley, with the benefit of his prodigious inside knowledge, has already summarised the hearing and its outcome, but the demeanour of the three principal protagonists is directly relevant to my central point, namely, the Johnson government’s continued passive tolerance. Anyone wishing to sit through, as I did, the whole 3 hours 40 minutes performance can do so via the Parliament Live stream.
Only 20 minutes into the hearing, the Chairman’s forensic grilling of Lord Hall was already generating from the latter a studied evasiveness on the issue of Bashir’s re-hiring, His Lordship in effect blaming his subordinates. Asked by the Chairman how ‘this known liar‘ [Bashir] was being paid, Hall denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, Bashir’s pay arrangements, on the grounds that he personally was fully occupied in trying to run the whole of the BBC. He went on to deny also any knowledge of how Bashir came to be allowed to, in effect, moonlight at ITV while being paid by the BBC.
So, “Nothing to do with me, Guv“, in effect. Either His Lordship had sadly mislaid his “THE BUCK STOPS HERE” sign which presumably once adorned his desk, or this was taking hands-off management to a whole new level. Apparently, on his watch, the BBC needed official guidelines to explain to its reporters that obtaining a story or an interview based on forged or fake documents wasn’t necessarily best practice.
An exchange with Select Committee member Clive Efford (Lab, Feltham) was especially revealing.
Efford: “You had this particular guy (Bashir) being re-employed, and yet no-one thought to knock on your door and tell you as D-G that he was being re-employed?“
Hall: “No, they didn’t.“
Yet it was this same, apparently serially incurious, Lord Hall, who in July 2020, trumpeting its “largest-ever increase in investment in the World Service”, had cited as justification the BBC’s “potential to combat fake news”. The combination of hypocrisy and tin-eared lack of any self-awareness or contrition was breathtaking.
Having heard from ex-DG Lord Birt that he expected his (then) colleagues might have had a perfectly satisfactory explanation as to why they thought Bashir was lying (but didn’t tell him), Committee Chairman Julian Knight (Con, Solihull) subsequently became angry with him, practically accusing him of outright lying about the BBC’s treatment (both firing and blacklisting) of the Bashir whistleblower Matt Wiessler.
As David Keighley also recounts, the former D-Gs’ drive to inculpate others and exculpate themselves for the failings of the Corporation’s top management was relentless. It prompted Chairman Knight finally to observe, acidly: “Well, I’ve heard victim-blaming before, but this is quite something!“
The combined evidence of former D-Gs Lords Hall and Birt and current D-G Tim Daviecan in effect be summarised thus:
“We re-hired the guy whom we either knew or suspected was a liar with previous form in faking documents, who’d been sacked for wrongdoing in the US media, and who we knew was moonlighting for ITV while working for us. But neither of us is in any way to blame“
As a Dee-Gees’ reunion concert, it left a lot to be desired. But even after such a devastating public shaming, did the BBC appear to feel any guilt or embarrassment? Judging by its subsequent actions, not one iota.
Because, only one week after The Three DeeGees’ humiliation at the hands of the DCMS Select Committee, the Corporation announced plans to deploy ‘licence-fee’ enforcers to harass and intimidate over-75s who have yet to make arrangements to resume payment of it after the expiration of their Covid-related ‘licence-fee’ amnesty – notwithstanding that the amnesty doesn’t actually expire until 31st July – and to prosecute any who fail to pay.
Yet, even faced with all this, the Government response remained relatively muted. Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden contented himself witha few bleating bromides about how the BBC’ needs far-reaching change’ – but evidently, making it change its funding model to one involving willing customers voluntarily parting with their cash to consume specifically its own product is rather too ‘far-reaching.’
If an allegedly ‘Conservative’ government, despite being elected on a landslide only 18 months ago and with a parliamentary majority of 80, cannot bring itself to abolish an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion even by people who don’t want to consume the product which it funds, then what is the point of it?
If that same ‘Conservative’ government – with incontrovertible proof that the broadcaster uniquely privileged and protected by that tax not only failed to investigate adequately possibly the most shameful case of fraudulent journalism in half a century but compounded its self-indulgent negligence by re-hiring the perpetrator, to the evident incuriosity and insouciance of the individuals charged with running it – refuses to challenge it, then what is the point of a ‘Conservative’ government, or even a ‘Conservative’ Party, at all?
Just what does the BBC have to do before Johnson stirs himself?
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Boris Johnson’s backsliding on his 2019 election pledges about BBC reform means it has a new Chairman who is unlikely to threaten it even with any significant reform, never mind the radical revolution which its illiberal funding model and institutional bias both demand
Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Friday 15 January 2021.
In many fields, for the new Chairman of a major public corporation to be generally welcomed by the commentariat as a safe pair of hands should be reassuring for its stakeholders and customers. It would indicate the appointment of someone who could be trusted to do an important job well without making any serious mistakes, and who would not embark on a major upheaval.
The BBC in its current state, however, is not an organisation suited to such an appointment. It’s in serious trouble; arguably, even in crisis.
Strategically, as the Adam Smith Institute’s Madsen Pirie explains, it long ago deliberately abandoned its remit as an impartial public service broadcaster, both when it opted to pursue high ratings figures to try and justify its receipt of public money, and when it decided to enter the political arena as a player rather than a reporter, but with an internal culture of left-leaning metropolitan hyper-liberalism, projected by personnel who think their own views are the only “reasonable” ones to hold.
For all his manifest qualities, its newly appointed Chairman Designate, Richard Sharp, judging by the overall tone of press comment on the news of his appointment, appears unlikely to favour the radical, even revolutionary, approach to reforming the Corporation that its deep-rooted structural malaise demands.
That ‘senior BBC figures expressed relief‘ at the appointment, interpreting it as evidence of Government intent ‘to pursue a policy of reform rather than revolution‘, speaks volumes. That Sharp is reportedly seen essentially as ‘bipartisan rather than a culture warrior‘, and is described by his ‘allies‘ (may we be permitted to know who they are?) as likely to be ‘a tough friend‘ of the BBC, gives little confidence that the behemoth is seriously threatened by the kind of institutional shake-up which its captive funders clearly believe it needs at the top.
That the BBC’s senior executives apparently‘feared the appointment of an arch critic such as Lord (Charles) Moore‘, andSharp’s own reported opinion that ‘the BBC is at the heart of British cultural life‘, do not exactly presage a complacency-upending zeal. The comment attributed to Sharp’s ‘friends’ (once again, are we allowed to know their identity?), that he was ‘unlikely to push for a radical overhaul of the broadcaster‘, do not suggest an imminent change of focus away from the preservation of producer interest and towards more customer satisfaction.
The early signs from Sharp himself aren’t encouraging. At his pre-appointment hearing on 14 January before the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, he described as ‘the least worst option‘ and as ‘terrific value‘ the iniquitous ‘licence-fee’, and declared himself ‘not in favour of decriminalisation‘ of its non-payment – thereby pre-judging, even before taking office, the outcome of the review of BBC funding which as Chairman he’s supposed to lead.
On the BBC’s unconcealed political bias, especially among its prominent current affairs presenters, and despite the new BBC Chief Executive Tim Davie’s instruction to them to curb it, it’s already apparent from, for example, Emily Maitlis’ continued blatant editorialising, that Davie’s executive writ barely runs as far as his own office door.
ICYMI: “There are millions of Americans who are very worried one man can create a lie so huge that his supporters believe in him over the principle of democracy.”@maitis pushes Tea Party Movement co-founder @michaeljohns over his belief the election was “stolen”#Newsnightpic.twitter.com/SENIYKdbsd
Sadly, the BBC’s new Chairman looks unlikely to change that. Quizzed by the select committee on the Corporation’s notoriously pro-Remain, anti-Brexit bias in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum, he condescended to admit that ‘Question Time seemed to have more Remainers than Brexiteers‘. In fact, there’s no ‘seemed‘ about it: the News-Watch survey on this specific issue established that it was skewed by a factor of 2:1 or more in favour of Remain as part of a “massive, consistent and overt bias over decades“. Yet, the BBC’s overall coverage on Brexit, asserted Sharp, had been ‘incredibly balanced‘.
If all these indications are right, then the blame for what looks likely to become a total failure to call the partisan, bloated, smug, contemptuous of its financially captive audience BBC to account will lie, not with Sharp himself, but with those who took the decision to appoint him BBC Chairman. In other words, the risk-averse, pusillanimous, allegedly ‘Conservative’ government led by the politically invertebrate, pledge-reversing, all-bluff-and-bluster Boris Johnson.
How distant that now seems. The signals indicating the government’s abandonment of its pledge and its eventual capitulation have been discernible for the last six months or so, not least in Johnson’s and his ineffectual Media and ‘Culture’ Minister Oliver Dowden’s hesitancy and equivocation in condemning the BBC’s increasing doubling-down on the contempt it clearly feels for its audiences.
That was followed by a volte-face – one remarkable even by the standards we have come to expect from Johnson – when, deploying his usual compulsive hyperbole, he entrusted to the “fantastic” BBC responsibility for providing online lessons during his latest Covid-19 lockdown to children who are currently being denied their education mainly because of his own reluctance to take on the militant teaching unions obstructing the re-opening of schools and resumption of classroom teaching.
In little more than a year, therefore, he has gone from ordering a ministerial boycott of the BBC because of its political bias, to handing it a virtual monopoly on online teaching, despite half of Britons thinking it reflects their views and their values either fairly badly or very badly.
Tellingly, nowhere in any of the political announcements or mainstream media coverage of Sharp’s appointment is there any recognition of the fundamental iniquity of a funding model reliant on an illiberal regressive tax, payable via coercion, even by people who don’t wish to consume the product which it funds. So much for the ‘libertarian’ Boris Johnson which we keep being assured, with fast-diminishing credibility, really does exist.
“In choosing Mr Sharp, a walking caricature of the Establishment, the Johnson government is signalling that it’s opting for a quiet life rather than conflict with the BBC.“
It is no criticism of Sharp’s qualifications and suitability for the role to say that he appears to be first-class choice – but for the next-but-one Chairman of the BBC. He would be an ideal candidate to steady the ship and settle it on its new course, after the difficult passage through the rough, rock-strewn seas that it absolutely must complete if it’s ever to emerge eventually into the calmer waters of firstly, a new funding model acceptable to its customers, and secondly, the trust by a majority of the public, in both its reflection of their values and its scrupulous adherence to impartiality, substantially restored.
But to command and navigate the lumbering BBC vessel successfully though that tricky passage requires something other than a gradualist or consensualist with insider connections to the government machine. It needs a radical, sceptical outsider, a disrupter, an unbeliever in the BBC’s specious claim to a ‘unique and special position in our national life’, unafraid to challenge and overcome the innate resistance to change among its self-referential senior executives and presenters.
The BBC behemoth needs a Chairman committed to demolishing its institutional groupthink; one willing to make life thoroughly uncomfortable for its senior cadres, to force on both it and them the changes necessary to transform it into a provider of product satisfaction and value-for-money to voluntary customers, not a pillar of the Left-‘Liberal’ Elite-Establishment exploiting its privileged position and guaranteed revenue to promote assiduously an ideological agenda unwelcome to most of its captive funders.
It isn’t going to get one. Thanks solely to the shameful timidity and duplicity of Johnson and his flaccid government, the BBC’s boat is not about to be rocked.
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Britain’s mainstream broadcast media seems determined to ignore the lessons it should have learnt from the public outcry at its deliberate concealment of the political biases of its chosen ‘experts’
Note: Longer and updated version of the article published at The Conservative Woman on Monday 07 December 2020.
Many readers will, I suspect, recall the furores earlier this year, admittedly over several broadcasters, but over the BBC in particular habitually concealing from its audiences – or, at the very least, not disclosing to them in advance – the partisan and in some cases extremist political affiliations of the supposedly ‘impartial’ experts which it invites on to its current affairs programmes as contributors.
On the 27th April edition of Panorama, for instance, one of the main interviewees was ‘former President of the Faculty of Public Health’, Professor John Ashton. His political leanings were not mentioned; it took Guido Fawkes to reveal them. But only two weeks earlier Ashton had reacted angrily even to Sky News‘ relatively innocuous disclosure of his Labour Party membership. The BBC could hardly claim to have been ignorant of them; should viewers not have been informed of them, so that they could judge whether they had informed his expressed opinions or not?
Only a month later, the BBC’s Today failed to disclose, before her contribution, the extreme-left political affiliations of the Marxist Professor Susan Michie before anodynely introducing her merely (albeit correctly – but of which more later) as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on which the Johnson government relies exclusively for its Covid policy and by which Johnson himself seems mesmerised. This time, the glaring omission got as far as being raised in Parliament.
In contrast, the BBC (and, to be fair, other media outlets too) rarely omit, not only to mention the political leanings of contributors from the conservative/libertarian quadrants of the political compass, but also to go out of their way to mis-label them disparagingly; thus, socially conservative or economically free-market contributors are regularly tagged as ‘right-wing’. Even in its bias, the mainstream media is biased.
You might think that with public awareness of its blatant partiality thus increasing, the media would be making at least a token effort to clean up its act. Not a bit of it. Its output on just one recent day showed two egregious, but not untypical, examples.
On Sunday 29th November, LBC retailed without challenge or further comment the unequivocal assertion by SAGE’s Professor Susan Michie – yes, yes, her again – that you should spend no time in ‘non-essential’ shops.
The first thing I would have queried was the apparent contradiction between her insistence that we are all universally and equally susceptible to coronavirus and her later statement that we all have different genetic make-ups; but let’s park that one, and concentrate on the politics. Going into (non-essential) shops, continued Michie, is like playing Russian Roulette.
Sage member Professor Susan Michie says going into non-essential shops is like playing a game of “Russian roulette” in case there are people with Covid-19 inside@TomSwarbrick1https://t.co/I1s3AfXOrj
Erm, not exactly. Even if contracted at all, in the UK Covid has a case-fatality rate of only 3.6 per cent, and an average fatality age of 82, while after the April spike which was over by early June, all-cause respiratory deaths are within or close to seasonal norms. Playing Russian Roulette on the other hand starts off with 16 per cent probability of death, which rises with each pull of the trigger. Play it long enough, and the fatality rate is 100 per cent. And you don’t have to be in your 80s or over 65 with pre-existing co-morbidities, either. Fortunately, most people survive going into shops, ‘non-essential’ or otherwise.
… she’s also managed to be, not only on the official SAGE, but even on the parallel ‘independent’ SAGE which is loaded up to the gunwales with left-wing activists most noted for their ardent advocacy of the most fashionable Green-Left-‘Liberal’ causes of our time, running from the ‘our precious NHS is being set up for privatisation‘ meme (if only!), through anti-Brexit Continuity Remainer-dom, to ‘Catastrophic Man-Made Climate Change’.
With this background, it doesn’t seem remotely surprising that a 40-years adherent to Communism – or at the very least State-Socialism – would want to discourage us from helping to keep independent private-sector businesses going. Or to presume to dictate to us what is or isn’t ‘non-essential’ shopping.
But why did LBC not inform its audience of its guest’s hard-Left authoritarian-Corbynite political leanings before asking her views? Was it afraid its audience might start to wonder whether her ‘advice’ stemmed solely from her unquestioned medical expertise or whether it was influenced, even driven, by her politics?
It isn’t an entirely unreasonable question to ask why someone of this ilk is involved in advising the government. Even less is it an unreasonable question to ask why an allegedly ‘Conservative’ government is not only listening to, but even largely following, that advice. That it is somehow ignorant of the SAGE members’ political affiliations, which are hardly secret, is risible.
That we have a ‘Conservative’ prime minister who not only takes advice from a hardline Communist but also acts on it, should cause us all a measure of doubt as to exactly what is going on in Downing Street at the moment. Although, on the other hand, it might just possibly remove some of the doubt as to exactly what is going on in Downing Street at the moment.
…….and that its somewhat less than ‘envy of the world’ performance on coronavirus is due, not only to ‘cuts’, but to ‘privatisation’, even though over 90 per cent of all its procedures are still performed directly by the State, and delivered via practitioners and clinicians employed directly by the State.
Did the Daily Mirror also conceal from its report Scally’s hardly unknown political affiliations out of fear that awareness of them would have made its readers less trusting and more sceptical of his advice?
Both Michie & Scally are on the Leftist-activist unofficial/parallel “Independent”-SAGE pushing for even harder lockdowns and mask authoritarianism. Given their politics, it isn’t hard to see how both might welcome the demise of private sector businesses, the weakening over Christmas of ties within the institution of the family, and a much greater role for the State in controlling people’s lives.
The media seem determined to ignore the lessons they should have learnt from 2020’s earlier outcries over their bias by omission or concealment. Absent an improvement, our only recourse will be to expand and intensify what increasing numbers of us appear to be doing already, and discount them entirely as an even remotely credible source.
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‘Tory rapist’ allegation: how hypocritical, virtue-signalling, point-scoring MPs and a selectively reporting, biased, partisan media combined to undermine further both the presumption of innocence and the rule of law.
Despite a plethora of stiff competition, ranging from Covid-19 to the post-Brexit trade talks and beyond, there really was only ever going to be one contender for the lead story on which our fearless Fourth Estate turned its forensic, objective and impartial gaze last weekend. And that was the Conservative MP arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault.
Although it ought to be axiomatic, I suppose that in the current atmosphere of febrile, intolerant, censorious Wokery where silence is automatically deemed to be conclusive evidence of acquiescence, I must for the avoidance of doubt declare right away an absolute abhorrence of any kind of unwanted sexual assault, or even attention. Particularly in the workplace context of boss and subordinate, it’s often not so much an expression of sexual interest as an exercise of presumed status or power. So, for the record, if the arrested Tory MP is eventually found guilty by due process of law, I want him both expelled from the Commons and imprisoned.
But equally, that should in no way impede the expression of legitimate reservations about how his arrest has been reported and subsequently treated.
‘Tory ex-minister arrested over rape‘ splashed the Sunday Times, notably omitting the word ‘alleged’ from its headline, and helpfully informing us firstly, that the man was an ex-minister and secondly, that the alleged assaults took place in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney – both of which might be interpreted as narrowing the possibilities down somewhat.
From the SundayTelegraph‘s headline, we learned, further, that the man was a ‘senior Conservative‘ – whatever that means these days – and was in his 50s. It then took me only approximately 10 minutes to establish there are 89 male Tory MPs currently ‘in their 50s’, i.e., born between 3rd August 1960 and 2nd August 1970. Without laboriously checking the parliamentary careers of each, to anyone interested in contemporary politics, it was obvious just from the list of names that not all were ‘former ministers’ by a long stretch. One was, therefore, probably looking at a shortlist of no more than 30 possibles. So much for anonymity.
Already, the Times, the Guardian, and the Financial Timeswere either demanding that the Tory MP in question be named, suspended, have the whip removed, or even sacked, or going further by additionally criticising both the party (and by extension the Government), for not having done so immediately.
On Monday 3rd August’s edition of BBC Newsnight, the ever-willing rent-a-quote Phillips let rip. Living up to her uncomplimentary – but not entirely inaccurate – ‘Midlands Motormouth’ sobriquet, she condemned the Tories’ failure to name and suspend the accused MP, and declared Parliament was not doing everything it could to make itself a safe workplace.
“I’m not going to say it’s an unsafe place to work, but it’s currently not doing everything it can to make people safe.”
However, there’s one rather large elephant in this particular room-full of indignation; one which both protesting politicians and harrumphing hacks alike overlooked, or perhaps more likely, chose to ignore. It was hinted at early on in the imbroglio by Tory MP Michael Fabricant, but seemed to gain no traction whatsoever.
Although the Commons’ decision to abandon naming an arrested MP appears superficially to confer on MPs rights which are not available to others, it’s easy to see the logic behind it. Once the arrested MP was named and suspended, in such a relatively small workplace, the identity of the alleged victim would quickly emerge. Is that what the ardent namers and shamers in Parliament and the Press want? Or are they happy to throw the victim’s anonymity under the bus for the sake of some political point-scoring? So much for anonymity.
Nor should it have gone largely unremarked that some of the MPs who were shouting the loudest for the accused Tory MP to be named and shamed are also usually among the first to argue for anonymity for alleged rape victims in other circumstances. The double standards on display are nauseating.
Yet not only did the Newsnight presenter not challenge Phillips with this inconsistency, much less suggest that, by condemning the application of the very procedure for which she had herself voted, she was guilty of both rank hypocrisy and blatant political opportunism. From what I can see, in the reportage contained in all the supposedly ‘quality’ press articles linked to above, that 2016 decision of the Commons itself, to prohibit the naming of an arrested MP is mentioned nowhere.
To assume that every single political reporter or lobby correspondent involved in the production of all this material would have either been unaware of that 2016 change or had forgotten about it, especially on such a clearly sensitive subject, seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limit. It’s hard, therefore, to dispel the suspicion that it was specifically and deliberately not mentioned, because that would have diluted or negated the narrative which the media wished to convey. In other words, bias by omission.
Not that the media alone are deserving of criticism. The ‘Conservative’ Party, which currently appears to be frightened of its own shadow, reacted by giving its now-familiar impression of a rabbit frozen in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and allowed the opportunistic ‘Liberal’-Left a virtual monopoly of comment.
Where was any immediate statement to the media by any Tory MP that, with a police investigation under way, the matter was effectively sub judice, and that excessive both public speculation and premature assumptions of guilt could jeopardise a successful prosecution? Were I the accused MP’s lawyer, I would have been screen-grabbing every tweet issued taking his guilt as a given and demanding his head, and compiling a portfolio of them to present as evidence prejudicing the possibility of a fair trial.
Lefty ‘feminists’ purporting to name the MP arrested for an alleged rape & adding #ToryRapist to it will look pretty stupid if his lawyer successfully argues they’ve thereby prejudiced any possibility of a fair trial, won’t they?
How will they explain that to the alleged victim?
— Prof Dr A Libertarian Rebel Esq QC & bar🤞#KBF (@A_Liberty_Rebel) August 3, 2020
Where, also, irrespective of the details of the present case, was any forceful riposte that the non-naming of any arrested MP is specifically the direct consequence that 2016 House of Commons decision for which many of the zealous self-appointed Pestfinders-General themselves voted? Not to mention a sharp reminder that the presumption of innocence still applies until a guilty verdict by a jury?
Which leads to another point worth making: that the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence is so readily either disregarded or dismissed is an increasingly disturbing feature of the Woke witch-hunt.
Ever since the advent of the #MeToo movement, no longer are the finger-pointers content to wait for due process to take its course; they demand instant condemnation and punishment of the presumed guilty perpetrator based on (often one single) accusation alone. Woe betide he or she who objects, especially if facing the likelihood of a viciously aggressive social-media pile-on.
Is it too fanciful to suggest that the prevalence of the New Puritanism is conducive to the mainstream media feeling it can abandon impartial and accurate journalism for partisan activism with impunity?
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It’s hardly surprising that Parler is suddenly growing markedly in popularity as an alternative to Twitter in micro-blogging. Here’s why.
To anyone active on political social-media, the increasing frustration and anger in recent months at Big-Tech’s more and more overt censorship, in various forms, of conservative, classical-liberal and libertarian opinion should come as no surprise.
It’s been there in subtle ways ever since the 2016 votes for Brexit and Trump. But it’s in the last three months or so that the acceleration of Twitter in particular into a cesspit of predominantly Remainer, Left and Woke grievance and vituperation seems to have exploded, especially with our own December 2019 election, COVID-19, the imminence of full and final Brexit, and the explosion of hard-Left Black Lives Matter/Antifa violent protest.
For the record, I find some of Trump’s tweets counter-productively crass, and I’ve never been a particular fan of the Linehan who has a record of bullying people he disagrees with on Twitter anyway; so there was a fleeting touch of schadenfreude at him being hoist with his own petard when Twitter suspended him.
But whether one agrees or disagrees with the political opinions of all three is immaterial. The real test of our belief in free speech is whether we uphold and defend it, not just for the people and speech we do agree with, but also for the people and speech we don’t agree with. On that criterion, Twitter’s actions against Trump, Linehan and Cash were not only authoritarian and illiberal in their own right; they were moreover hypocritical and biased, in that it indulges and tolerates equally questionable speech from their opponents.
Nor is the censorship confined to prominent people. Small-C conservative, classical-liberal or libertarian tweeters report being subjected to straightforward follower attrition, the more insidious shadowbanning whereby Twitter seems to restrict the reach of accounts and make them hard to find, and artificial lowering of the number of Retweets or Likes on tweets popular with their followership.
When at least 54 people have apparently Liked a tweet you posted, but the thought-police at Twitter want you to think that only 20 have. . . . pic.twitter.com/3ZXzJCbAS9
— A Libertarian Rebel Esq QC🤞 #BritishIndependence (@A_Liberty_Rebel) May 25, 2020
Personally, Twitter relieved me of about 1,000 followers almost overnight in late 2018 for reasons that were, and remain, unclear. Since then, my rate of follower acquisition has been a fraction of what it was before that reduction, and I’ve now lost count of the Direct Messages from people telling me that Twitter had arbitrarily unfollowed them from me so that my tweets just disappeared from their feeds, and that it had been very hard for them to find me again in order to re-follow.
Below are the monthly changes in my own followership over the past 15 months. Notice the abrupt change in the last three months, just as concerns about Twitter’s flagrant left-bias seem to have really accelerated exponentially?
The fascinating metrics from the analytics, though, are that visits to the account’s profile are roughly 20% down (because it’s being made difficult to find?), while the number of engagements/impressions is substantially up.
Twitter also seems to be promoting left-viewpoint tweets up the order on subject or hashtag searches, too. Although I’m no fan of Boris Johnson or his ‘Conservative’ Party, this is especially noticeable on major set-pieces like Prime Minister’s Questions or a significant speech or intervention by a conservative politician.
If you want an example of just why @Parler is taking off as both a viable and preferable alternative platform to Twitter, just look at the predominance of puerile left-wing bile under the #borisjohnsonspeech hashtag.
— A Libertarian Rebel Esq QC🤞 #BritishIndependence (@A_Liberty_Rebel) June 30, 2020
Then, just in recent days, Twitter has taken its Woke speech-control to a whole new level, issuing the following edict on the forms of NewSpeak which in future it will promote (and no doubt soon police and enforce) on its platform. Presumably our days of using “Whitehall” as convenient code and shorthand for all the Government ministries and departments in central London are numbered.
Although the Parler user interface is still somewhat clunky, and the platform could benefit from a few improvements, it’s nevertheless perfectly functional. A big plus the 1,000-character limit, which is much better than Twitter’s 280. That often means only one post rather than what, on Twitter, would require a two or three tweet thread. Although I know of one or two users who have junked Twitter accounts with over 25,000 followers to move across completely, most still have both running in parallel for the moment.
In contrast to Twitter’s shadowbanning and sometimes outright censoring of conservative views, not to mention steady erosion of followers, the early Parler impression is so far living up to its free speech reputation. Although an initial surge obviously isn’t representative, acquiring 1,000 followers in only 10 days is nevertheless a satisfying contrast to the last 18 months on Twitter. Many familiar, reciprocal-follow faces from Twitter are there; one of the pleasures of the last two weeks’ experience has been finding a new raft of them every day, including some of social media’s best ‘climate-change’-sceptics.
Dear bloggers/influencers. When posting at Twitter, also please post at Parler so we can cite you at Parler instead of Twitter whenever we write posts. Better to send traffic there until Twitter quits suppressing us. THANKS pic.twitter.com/ouV3LydZ37
How many more instances of the out-of-control BBC’s blatant bias does the Johnson Government need to make it finally resolve to tackle it?
Note: longer and updated version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Tuesday 02 June 2020
In an excellent article on 21 May at The Conservative Woman, News-Watch’s David Keighley forensically demolished, point by point, the bias-driven inaccuracies and assumptions in the BBC’s now-infamous 27 April edition of Panorama. He correctly located the programme firmly within the Coronavirus iteration of Project Fear which the Corporation had been running, and still was – or even still is.
Which makes the Government’s over-timid response, understandably touched on only briefly in David Keighley’s article, all the more deserving of criticism. It could manage little, if anything, more than a half-hearted squeak of protest delivered by Culture and Media Secretary Oliver Dowden, whom I’ve previously criticised as an ineffectual, paleo-Cameroon careerist, and who increasingly comes across as a twerp to rival even his (politically) late and unlamented namesake Oliver Letwin.
First, there’s the excessive “Dear Tony” familiarity; at the risk of being stuffy, I’d suggest this is singularly inappropriate in the current circumstances, and does nothing to dispel the impression of what ought to be a formal arm’s-length relationship in the public interest being conducted more like a friendly exchange between fellow-members of the same like-minded elite.
Dowden urges Hall to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality‘. At the risk, this time, of being pedantic, the use of ‘uphold‘’ here implies that those ‘highest standards of integrity and impartiality‘ are in fact the norm from which the Panorama programme was merely an isolated, uncharacteristic, aberration. That might come as a surprise to the 69 per cent of respondents to the late December 2019 Savanta-ComRes poll who said they trusted the BBC less even than ITV News on impartiality and accuracy.
Dowden concludes by referring to the need to maintain ‘public confidence‘ in ‘the BBC’s long-standing reputation for fair and balanced reporting‘. That, in turn, might come as a surprise to the 75 per cent of respondents to the (also late-December) Public First poll supporting abolition of the ‘licence fee’ outright, and the 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment.
As for the Mail‘s headline, Dowden’s pleadings represented, not so much a ‘blast’ as a half-hearted pretence at a gentle rap over the knuckles. They virtually invited a contemptuous response from the BBC. It has not been long in coming.
The Corporation remains unapologetic about its practice, especially noticeable in that edition of Panorama but by no means restricted to it, of habitually presenting as ‘impartial’ ‘experts’ people who turn out on closer investigation to be fiercely partisan, hard-Left, committed anti-conservatism activists with a distinct political agenda. Even Sky News has been shamed into improving itself a little on this score; but not the BBC.
It participated enthusiastically in, almost to the extent of heading up, the media lynch-mob in its witch-hunt against Dominic Cummings. Acres have already been written on this, to which I don’t propose to add; except to point TCW readers to former BBC staffer Robin Aitken’s excellent Daily Telegraph article. summarising the underlying background. Two statements, in particular, stand out, and they explain a great deal:
‘he is the BBC’s single most dangerous opponent, because he is one of the very few people on the Right who clearly understands that the BBC presents an obstacle to everything that conservatives believe in‘
‘the BBC hold Cummings and the Prime Minister responsible for Brexit, which for an organisation that led the battle to prevent the referendum result ever taking effect (and very nearly succeeded), is a very bitter charge indeed.’
Which brings us to L’Affaire Maitlis. This has also not lacked for apposite comment. Like David Sedgwick’s at Comment Central, Charles Moore’s analysis at the Daily Telegraph could leave even the most sceptical reader in no doubt that Maitlis’ partisan monologue at the start of Tuesday 26 May’s Newsnightwas a gross breach of BBC impartiality, (and so presumably must also have been a gross breach of her contract of employment?)
As Moore suggested, there was a dual purpose to Maitlis’ diatribe, which incidentally can’t be explained away as spontaneous: it was read from a teleprompter, so must have been pre-scripted, which therefore also means it must have been subject to BBC editorial control. The first aim was simply to hector the audience, but the second, ancillary aim was to virtue-signal to Maitlis’ like-minded professional and social milieux, to reassure them that she too holds the ‘correct’ metropolitan left-‘liberal’ opinions prevalent in their circle.
Less remarked on, though, was the hint of deception, or at least complicity in deception, by Maitlis’ colleagues and therefore, by inference, the BBC itself. Remember, Maitlis had signed off from the Tuesday edition with the promise ‘See you tomorrow‘; but, as speculation over the reason for her non-appearance on the following (Wednesday) evening’s edition grew, her Newsnight friend, colleague and Editor Katie Razzall tweeted thus:
Just for the record, Emily @maitlis has not been asked by the BBC to take tonight off – and if I thought she had been, I certainly wouldn’t have agreed to present the show @BBCNewsnight
But by 9.32.pm on that Wednesday evening, Razzall as Editor must surely have known what we the audience then didn’t, because it emerged publicly only on the Thursday morning: that the BBC, far from ‘suspending’ Maitlis, had in effect surrendered to her imperious demand to be given a night (in the end, two) off, because she was ‘furious’ at it for having the cheek actually to reprimand her, however gently (and inadequately), for her blatant breach of its impartiality requirement as her employer. Razzall, therefore, looks to have taken the opportunity to appear supportive and principled, but in reality, was arguably just being disingenuous, if not two-faced.
As might have been predicted (and was probably inevitable), the ineffectiveness of the BBC’s excessively kid-gloves response was shown starkly only a few days later when Maitlis, far from being chastised, doubled-down and offered a repeat performance.
Taking everything into account, the tweet below is hard to find fault with.
Self-entitled, arrogant, anti-democratic, wannabe authoritarian unaccountable rulers. Maitlis proposes a command and control society where conformity is enforced by fear and force. She is the know-all face of genteel Fascism/Stalinism https://t.co/HDXgYOCBvw
At least on the timing of any action, a decision to keep the powder dry for the moment, looks sound. It makes sense to keep the file labelled ‘BBC’ in the pending tray, albeit at the top, until COVID19 and Brexit are safely out of the way. But then. . . .
Tactics, though, are all-important. It was both misguided and inept of Dowden to restrict his remarks to the issue of lack of impartiality; the ‘bias’ allegation is by definition inherently subjective, and the Corporation has a range of strategies for deflecting and then smothering it, including enticing its critics into an endless ‘he said, but we said’ squabble, which ultimately gets nowhere. For the Government to try and upbraid the BBC for its political bias is the non-military equivalent of fighting a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing.
Had the hapless Dowden been more astute, and even remotely serious, he would have threatened ‘Dear Tony‘ with immediate decriminalisation of non-payment of the ‘licence-fee’, or even an urgent, unscheduled mid-period Charter Review to abolish it. Instead, his entreaties were all smokescreen and displacement activity.
There is a much better route, and much stronger case, available based on the BBC’s iniquitous compulsory ‘licence-fee’. It’s true that much of the UK’s mainstream media, whether broadcast or print, is biased. But the BBC is uniquely egregious on that score because we are forced on pain of fine or imprisonment to pay for it regardless of whether we want to consume its output or not: unlike, say, Sky News or The Times, where we can simply choose not to purchase their product, or cease subscribing to it.
The Daily Telegraph‘s Madeleine Grant hit the nail on the head in linking the two, correctly saying that, unless the BBC rapidly both repudiates and eliminates the shamelessly partisan personal editorialising of the type epitomised by Maitlis on Newsnight, it cannot continue receiving any kind of coercive funding.
Time, though, is running out. On Monday 25 May, The Times reported the BBC’s proposal that the wealthy may in future be charged more for their TV licence. This is outrageous, in the sense that no-one should be coercively charged anything for a product they don’t wish to consume, especially the deceitfully mis-labelled ‘TV-licence’ which is, in fact, a regressive poll-tax; but making ‘the wealthy’ pay more for it both reduces its regressivity and plays to class-envy, thus taking some of the sting out of the criticism of it as a concept.
The Maitlis episode as culmination of ever more flagrant BBC bias has given Johnson ample justification for pushing ahead with decriminalising non-payment of the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence fee’, on the wholly legitimate grounds that people of whatever means should not be forced to pay for this. With trust in the media being significantly lower, rarely can the circumstances have been so propitious.
But so they were, almost as much, over the period of the General Election and then formal exit from the EU in December and January. Despite all the anti-BBC Boris-bluster then, nothing has actually been done, the ball has been dropped, and it needs to be picked up again. Don’t hold your breath, though. The danger has to be that, once again, the faux-‘Conservatives’ will back down.
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A combination of Johnson’s vacillation, resistance, and ministerial appointments reflecting both, together with a probable reluctance to counter and overcome the BBC’s self-serving resistance campaign, make it highly likely that he will abandon pledges to reform its anachronistic and illiberal funding model
In that earlier 17th February blogpost, however, I recounted how only four months previously, the Institute of Economic Affairs had published its own ‘consultation’ in the form of its policy paper New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence fee, its main recommendations for transforming the corporation into a subscriber-owned mutual being summarised here.
I went on to describe the alternative explanation – for Johnson’s apparent reluctance, that is, to follow up on his initial resolve, despite evidence of substantial public support – which was suggested by academic David Sedgwick in his book The Fake News Factory: Tales from BBC-Land, and I speculated that the Cabinet and Government appointments emerging from Johnson’s reshuffle seemed to bear this out.
Secondly, BBC grandees are being wheeled out to promote the corporation’s own version of Project Fear. Chairman Sir David Clementi led the predictable shroud-waving, conjuring up an apocalyptic vision of a Britain plunged into civilisation-threatening darkness should a distraught populace be deprived of Strictly Come Dancing, before wailing that scrapping the licence fee would ‘weaken the nation‘.
How the nation would be weakened merely by some of its people no longer being coerced to pay for something they do not want was not immediately obvious. Or, as Continental Telegraph‘s Tim Worstall succinctly put it, disingenuous tripe: in effect ‘Without the licence fee we’d stop making Strictly Come Dancing ‘coz we’d have no money, so we’d have to make Strictly Come Dancing in order to make money’.
Clementi went to list examples of programmes and national sporting events which would, allegedly, not be accessible under a subscription model – a risible argument which in effect acknowledges that the BBC couldn’t make programmes of sufficient quality or appeal to persuade customers to part with their money voluntarily. In which case, it should be asked, why should they be forced to fund it coercively?
The ‘endangering coverage of national sporting events’ claim has even less merit. Clementi completely failed to explain why, apparently, a subscription-funded BBC couldn’t bid against its rivals for the right to broadcast major national or sporting events.
Thirdly, the corporation’s reliably on-message MPs among dripping-Wet ‘One-Nation’ Tories are distraught.
The BBC is so much a broadcaster that people love, gushed political pipsqueak Huw Merriman, overlooking consistent opinion-polling reporting the exact opposite, and whose own article ironically ended with a poll in which fully 92 per cent of respondents wanted the licence fee scrapped.
Merriman, incidentally, is the erstwhile sycophantic PPS bag-carrier to former Chancellor of the Exchequer and arch-Remainer Philip Hammond, content to act as his anti-Brexit plotting master’s mouthpiece, and thought to have been the anonymous PPS who forecasted that Parliament not approving Theresa May’s (non)-‘Withdrawal’ BRINO Agreement would ‘put Corbyn into No 10’. Yet despite being a relative nonentity, he has managed to become Chair of the Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC. It’s likely stance on the licence fee question isn’t hard to guess.
Destroying the BBC would be ‘cultural vandalism’, hyperbolised loyal May-confidant Damian Green, studiously ignoring the fact that hardly anyone demands its specific ‘destruction’, merely the reform of its funding model to make it non-coercive.
Even ministers are backtracking furiously, running scared. The next BBC boss will need to be a reformer, squawked former DCMS Secretary Nicky Morgan in one of those proverbial statements of the bleedin’ obvious, but curiously forgetting that it’s the Government that’s promising to require reform.
I suspect the strong probability is that, regardless of public opinion, a significant part of the Tory Parliamentary Party is already compromised. And that’s before MPs start coming under pressure from astroturfing letter-writing campaigns to their local papers and similar phone-ins to their BBC local radio stations.
In the meantime, the BBC remains able to treat its captive funders with undisguised contempt.
With Johnson’s dramatic announcements of his intent, both to decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence-fee and even to consider its outright abolition, already starting to be hastily softened and diluted, it’s justifiable to ask whether both won’t eventually be abandoned under pressure
It all began so well. On 14 December, under 48 hours after his stunning election victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson initiated moves to decriminalise non-payment of the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability poll-tax inaccurately known as the BBC ‘licence-fee’.
It was hardly unexpected. During the final week of the election campaign, Johnson had already condemned the iniquity of people being forced to fund the BBC despite having no wish to consume its output, and had raised the prospect at least of its outright abolition.
He correctly branded it a tax – as had the House of Lords as long ago as 2006 when it determined that it was indeed a tax and not the ‘service-fee’ which the BBC disingenuously claimed and continues to claim – and his chief strategist Dominic Cummings was reported to be working on proposals for alternative ways for the Corporation to fund itself.
As relevant as these considerations are, they’re in some ways almost secondary: because abolition of the licence-fee, or at the very minimum, decriminalisation of its non-payment, should, on principle alone, be so uncontroversial as to incontestable, given that a BBC TV licence is mandatory on pain of fine or even imprisonment, even if the householder wishes to consume only non-BBC output.
It’s a statist, authoritarian funding model, more suited to a dreary 1960s socialist semi-dictatorship than a modern liberal democracy with competitive free markets. In a multi-platform, multi-provider broadcast environment, where we access hundreds of TV and radio channels, on computers, tablets or smartphones, inside or outside, at home or travelling, at any time, the BBC’s household TV-signal receivability poll-tax is anachronistic and outmoded to the point of obsolescence. It’s increasingly unenforceable, and ultimately doomed.
As an analogy, imagine being forced to pay Waitrose an annual £157 ‘trolley-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to shop elsewhere. Imagine being forced to pay British Airways an annual £157 ‘flight-tax’, just for the ability to choose always to fly FlyBe or Easyjet. Well, that’s the BBC ‘licence-fee’.
In the days following Johnson’s 14 December announcement, with ministers already instructed to boycott the BBC’s flagship Today Programme over credible allegations of its consistent anti-Brexit and anti-Conservative biases, it received widespread praise and approval from voters and commentariat alike, by no means all of them slavish Tory-supporters or Boris-worshippers.
A Savanta-ComRes poll found that BBC News was less trusted than ITV News on perceptions of impartiality and accuracy: that two-thirds of respondents believed the licence-fee should be either scrapped or substantially reformed: and that half of all under-55s would prefer to receive news free from commercial broadcasters funded by advertising, rather than pay for it via the BBC licence-fee.
This notable unanimity between public and punditocracy continued into the New Year, the apparently imminent decriminalisation of the licence-fee given impetus, it seemed, by the announcement of the departure of the BBC’s Director-General.
Then came the Brexit Weekend of 31st January – 1st February, when the BBC, far from demonstrating any acknowledgement of, much less contrition for, the precipitous decline in its audiences’ toleration of its coercive funding model and of its inherent institutional bias, simply doubled down on its contempt for its captive customers, as I described in detail here a week or so ago. And then promptly compounded it by announcing, on Monday 3rd February, an increasein its so-called ‘licence-fee’.
Only a month before, a Public First poll found 75 per cent of respondents supporting abolition of the licence-fee outright, and 60 per cent favouring the decriminalisation of non-payment, indicating both greater dissatisfaction with the BBC and greater willingness to see its funding reformed than reflected in the Saventa-ComRes poll mentioned earlier.
Rarely can a set of political circumstances have been so propitious for a recently elected government to implement a pre-election pledge for an easy win, to widespread approval. So we waited for what seemed the inevitable announcement.
And then something changed.
In the week after Brexit Weekend, a rather more hesitant, cautious, non-committal tone has started to emerge from certain Conservative Party figures and Government sources. It was very noticeable during an extended interview on Talk Radio between host Mike Graham and John Whittingdale MP, the former Tory Culture Secretary.
By way of background, it’s worth recalling that Whittingdale was Culture Secretary at the time of the last BBC Charter Review in 2016; but also that, having previously voiced some disobliging opinions about the BBC in general –
anticipating its demise as ‘a tempting prospect’;
criticising it for abusing its privileged position and protected funding by merely chasing ratings rather than producing new content; and
describing the licence-fee as ‘worse than the poll tax’,
he was sacked by Theresa May in her first Cabinet reshuffle after becoming PM after it had mysteriously – or perhaps fortuitously – emerged earlier in that Charter Review year of 2016 that he had had a previous relationship with a sex worker, his sacking prompting an outpouring of Twitter-joy by prominent BBC lefty-luvvies who might well have had good reason to fear a different BBC funding model reliant on persuading customers voluntarily to part company with their hard-earned cash.
His discussion with Mike Graham on Wednesday 5th February is very much more emollient and less critical than his previous opinions. Instead, he comes out with stuff like this:
“there are serious issues to address for the BBC, in that the broadcasting world is changing very rapidly, there is now a huge choice available which simply didn’t exist before”
“the BBC clearly needs to reconsider at this point what its place is and what it change it needs to make”
“in terms of the licence, I mean all that’s being announced today is a consultation about whether or not to decriminalise, which is something that we looked at before, but which we said should be kept under review, but I think that in the longer term there is a case for asking whether or not the licence is still an appropriate means of financing the BBC”
By all means listen to the interview and study the transcript for yourself: but to me it suggests a party and government starting to row back from its implied promises, and almost leaving it to the BBC itself to decide its future funding method.
On the same day, current Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan – she who declined to stand again as MP for Loughborough because of the time pressures of politics on her private family life, but nevertheless accepted a Peerage from Johnson so as to remain Culture Secretary for a mere few weeks but then adorn the Lords’ red benches for life – agreed that the BBC licence-fee could indeed disappear.
But, er, not before 2027.
In other words, for the remaining 7 years of the current 10-year Charter period, the funding model based on the coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax would be sacrosanct. Bizarrely, Morgan suggested that this showed the government was ‘taking heed of public opinion’. She then went on to echo Whittingdale by confirming that what was being launched was merely a ‘consultation’ on whether non-payment of the licence-fee should be decriminalised. Cue sound of ball landing in long grass.
Three days later, Morgan was back, this time with the revelation that the licence fee might not in fact be scrapped outright, but replaced by ‘tiered levels of access’ in which viewers could choose the level of services they required. Significantly absent was any mention of no payment being required from those who don’t wish to consume BBC output at all; presumably, therefore, under this ‘tiered levels of access’ model, there would still be a minimum level payable anyway, so it would still be both coercive and amount to a regressive tax, as now.
It’s reasonable to wonder why the Government needs its own ‘consultation’ at all. The work has already been done. Only 4 months ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published its policy-paper ‘New Vision: Liberating the BBC from the licence-fee“, whose main recommendations, transforming the Corporation into a subscriber-owned Mutual, summarised here, were –
The nature of the broadcast market has changed to such a degree that public service broadcasting, the current definition of which used by Ofcom is no longer coherent, should no longer be delivered largely by one institution.
Niche providers are often better than the BBC at ensuring the broadcasting of good quality content to meet minority tastes.
The fact that the market for broadcasting is now an international industry means that many artistic, educational and cultural programmes, which might not have been economic in the past, may now be economic and not need subsidy.
Changes in technology mean that the current approach to financing, owning and regulating the BBC is no longer tenable.
The BBC should be financed by subscription and owned by its subscribers, enabling it to determine different subscription models for different markets
The BBC should lose its legal privileges and be treated in the same way as al other news and media organisations for competition and other purposes
Johnson professes himself a fan of ‘oven-ready’ solutions. This is one he could prepare and serve right away, restricted only by the time it takes to pass legislation revoking the current BBC Charter and allow the BBC a reasonable, but not excessive, duration in which to transition to its new funding model.
Since Johnson won the election, there have been several disturbing hints that he might be resiling from some of the positions he previously appeared to espouse robustly. Immigration reduction, HS2 and Huawei all come to mind, and that’s before the tentative ‘squeeze the rich’ Budget proposals. trailed and rightly excoriated as disincentivising and un-conservative over the weekend of 8-9 February.
Now it starts to look as if the Biased BBC and its iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ might be going the same way. Superficially, it’s difficult to see why, given the public support the proposal enjoyed and continues to enjoy. In footballing terms, Johnson has the ball at his feet with an open goal gaping in front of him, and the crowd roaring him on. Has he –
panicked at the first contact with the enemy; or
gone native after institutional capture by a BBC-Whitehall pincer movement; or
never ever had any genuine intention of decriminalisation or abolition anyway?
Or is there something more profound, even darker and more cynical, at work?
In his new book “The Fake News Factory – Tales from BBC-Land”, a searing excoriation of the BBC, its bias, and its abuse of the power derived from its uniquely privileged position and jealously-guarded protected funding, author David Sedgwick suggests a possible answer.
It is that Boris’ Johnson’s recent sabre-rattling about the BBC has much more to do with his personal annoyance at how it has intruded on his private life, most notably during the recent election campaign, than it has to do with any principles-originating conviction that its current coercive funding model is illiberal, authoritarian, and a wrong that must be righted.
Brexit apart, suggests Sedgwick, as a metropolitan ‘liberal’-‘progressive’ Conservative, Johnson is, politically, largely in tune with the left-of-centre, state-interventionist, Green, socio-culturally Woke institutional groupthink of the BBC, on whose propaganda the political class relies heavily to get its message across. And that, with this worldview predominant in the Conservative Party in its current iteration, not much can be expected of it in taking the behemoth of the BBC on.
More recent developments certainly seem to bear this out. In Johnson’s recent Cabinet and Government reshuffle, the post of Culture and Media Secretary, carrying responsibility for the BBC, went as predicted to ‘rising star’ Oliver Dowden, Remainer, Cameroon, ex-SpAd & party-insider. With at least one careerist eye no doubt fixed on future promotion, the prospect of him rocking the BBC boat looks remote.
To complete the hat-trick, elected as Chairman of the Commons Select Committee to scrutinse the DCMS was Tory MP Julian Knight, whose first contribution to the ‘licence-fee’ debate was to suggest that imprisonment for non-payment should be replaced by stiffer fines. Given that most ‘licence-fee dodgers’, as he put it, who get convicted don’t pay because of financial hardship – not surprising with the ‘licence-fee’ being a regressive tax – all that bigger fines would do is increase the number of people given a criminal record. Brilliant. The idea of abolishing the regressive tax instead had clearly not occurred to him.
These three appointments, and the developments preceding them, hardly suggest that Johnson’s robust-sounding pledges on the BBC’s iniquitous ‘licence-fee’ will be carried through swiftly and eagerly. Or at all. To answer the question posed in the title: Yes, almost certainly – Johnson will indeed wimp out.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Chief of Staff Dominic Cummings are exploiting the ability of new-media to reverse the power-relationship between the Government and the traditional mainstream press
Cast your mind back to the immediate aftermath of Trump’s formal Inauguration ceremony as the 45th POTUS in Washington DC on Friday 20th January 2017, and the furore over the size of the crowd. That started when Trump took to Twitter to castigate the overwhelmingly hostile Liberal – i.e., left-wing in US political parlance – media for deliberately under-reporting both the number of spectators, which he put at 1½ million, and the size of the TV audience, which he claimed was the biggest in history.
Outrage duly ensued. For virtually the entire next two weeks, the media devoted nearly all of its resources and reporting to proving him wrong. TV stations were bombarded with requests for their respective audience viewing figures, so that they could be aggregated. Fact-checkers enjoyed a rush of business. Crowd-size scientists were swiftly engaged. The talking heads in the news studios debated endlessly how many people the eastern half of the Mall, extending from the steps of the Capitol to the Washington Monument, could theoretically hold. Camera footage from helicopters was obtained, to estimate crowd densities and apply these to the measured area of known spaces.
While the Liberal media’s attention was focused almost exclusively on desperately trying for its anti-Trump Gotcha! moment, however, Trump’s attention was elsewhere. During those two weeks he initiated the process of reviewing, de-fanging and ultimately de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency, whose ideological capture by the Green movement and the ‘Climate-Change’ Industrial-Complex had helped to advance the eco-socialist agendas of both during the Obama years. Only The Guardian appeared to pick it up. By the time the mass of the US media cottoned on to it in the second half of March, and predictably clutched its pearls in a collective attack of the vapours, the process was well under way and virtually irreversible.
In short, as neat a way as you’re likely to find, outside the pages of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, of neutralising the enemy’s strength by turning it against itself.
I was reminded of this on Monday afternoon, as the row broke about No 10 Downing Street’s Director of Communications allegedly denying some accredited journalists access to Lobby briefings, the long-established system of privileged access enjoyed by the political correspondents of the major traditional newspapers and broadcasters.
For anyone who hadn’t followed the initial stages of this saga on Media Guido, the Lobby briefings were recently moved from the House of Commons to No 9 Downing Street, ostensibly on security grounds, but accompanied by some “inner Lobby” hacks being selectively invited to special briefings, with others excluded. On Monday afternoon, though, the entire Lobby walked out in protest, although the circumstances are, to put it mildly, disputed.
No10’s version of events
“Full briefing happened for all. Smaller selected briefing for specialist senior journalists (incl guardian) arranged. Uninvited Journalists barged in and demanded to be part of it. It was made clear – only those invited could stay. They chose to leave”
As Dan Johnson of The Article points out, the Lobby doth perhaps protest too much. The system is itself antiquated, is incompatible with the growth and increasing influence of New Media, functions as a restrictive-practice closed-shop run for the benefit of its members, and thus secures them competitive advantage over their rivals.
All true, but what struck me was the immediate Press reaction, and then the consequential implications for the way government communicates with the voting public, and vice versa.
Just as with their American media counterparts three years ago, outrage and hyperbole duly ensued. Huffing and puffing (appropriately, you might think, from The Huffington Post) was the order of the day.
I can safely say that in 22 years of being a political journalist, I’ve never experienced a day like today.
No.10 sources now insisting that political editors like myself “are not banned, they are just not invited”.https://t.co/tcWGZeHSot
Not very long elapsed before references to “Goebbels” and “fascism” were being bandied about, the principle of Reductio ad Hitlerum never being particularly far away when the Fourth Estate feels its dignity slighted. The incident represented a ‘frightening attempt by Johnson to exclude unsympathetic press’ apparently. . .
. . . although how a government that wanted to ‘exclude unsympathetic press‘ would have included BBC News, ITV News, Sky News & the Guardian in the specially-selected inner group invited to stay for the specialist briefing was not immediately obvious.
I suspect Dominic Cummings is the mastermind behind this, is taking a leaf out of the Trump media-playbook, and is doing it brilliantly.
For all their complaining, some sections of the traditional, established (and Establishment) media really have only themselves to blame if their past few years’ conduct is, as appears to be the case, leading ordinary people to accord their account of Monday afternoon’s events in Downing Street no greater credibility than the Government’s own version.
One gets an increasing impression of a general public sick and tired of significant parts of the journalistic profession eschewing proper factual and impartial reporting and analysis in favour of slanting, opining and trying to tell it what and how to think. Not to mention sneering at, demonising and insulting it whenever its opinion dares to differ from the homogeneous groupthink of those same parts of the media’s incestuous left-‘liberal’ metropolitanism.
Take the BBC’s discharge of its Charter obligations over the past few days. How did it choose to mark Brexit Day?
By sending a reporter to the celebrations in Parliament Square to ask participants whether the crowd wasn’t ’too white’. LBC’s Julia Hartley Brewer’s comment speaks for itself.
BBC reporter to Brexiteers celebrating in Parliament Square: “It’s a very white crowd”.
When she reports at the Notting Hill Carnival, does she point out the “very black crowd” to the people she interviews too? pic.twitter.com/YleztCrLeq
By reporting the crowd in Parliament Square as ‘a few hundred’. After which I decided, having been there, to try a little ‘crowd-science’ for myself. Measuring on Google Earth, the celebration area being used was roughly 6,500m2. Where my fellow-revellers and I were, the density was probably 3 people per m2, but let’s say 2.5 people per m2 on average. That equates to possibly 15,000 people, maybe 18,000, but certainly not less than 12,000. Rather more than ‘a few hundred’, anyway.
Finally, on Monday, and with quite impeccable timing in view of the opprobrium rightly heaped on it over Brexit Weekend, the BBC announced an increase in its so-called ‘licence fee’ – or, to label it more accurately, its coercive, regressive, household TV-signal receivability tax.
The impression of an organisation knowing it has lost the trust of its audience and therefore doubling-down with impunity on its contempt for it, is hard to dispel. As is equally, though, the impression of anti-BBC opinion specifically and anti-media opinion generally, perhaps the previously restrained expression of dissatisfaction with both, having ramped up exponentially after last weekend.
I suspect Dominic Cummings knows this, and is choosing his moment carefully, judging that the public may now be more reluctant to support the media in a spat with government than for a very long time: and also that, if the mainstream established Press thinks that this is the time to go to war with Downing Street, then it’s making a big mistake.
No 10 Downing Street cut the BBC out of its production of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Day address completely, preferring to use its own in-house videographer and then distribute it via social-media simultaneously with making it available to the mainstream TV news channels. It’s this – apart from the content of course, which must have been anathema to the BBC – which is apparently thought to be a significant factor in the BBC refusing to broadcast it.
This has been coming for years. It’s over a decade ago now that Peter Wilby, former editor of both the Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman, led the chorus of old-media criticism directed at then Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan’s demolition of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the European Parliament, which became such a hit on YouTube.
Wilby went on record afterwards as saying –
“The online success of Daniel Hannan’s speech…………proves what we knew: the internet lacks quality control”.
Prompting Hannan’s memorable reply –
“Yup. That’s the thing about the internet: it turns the quality filters off. Until very recently, few of us could get political news direct from source. It had to be interpreted for us by a BBC man with a microphone or a newspaper’s political correspondent. Now, though, people can make their own minds up. The message has been disintermediated.
What Mr Wilby seems to mean when he complains that the internet “lacks quality control” is not that my speech was ungrammatical, or shoddily constructed, but that its content was disagreeable. The quality filters he evidently has in mind would screen out points of view that he considers unacceptable.”
Finally, the mainstream media is becoming less and less crucial to the communication process between government and governed, with social media engagement figures climbing rapidly.
Cummings, I’d surmise, is only too aware of this, hence the apparent willingness to treat the mainstream media with considerably less deference than it feels entitled to as of right, based on its assumption of its historic dominance continuing. New channels of inter-communication between electors and elected, however, risk its decline in significance accelerating.
In the same way that Trump often does, Number Ten is playing a hostile media like a violin, And it’s working.
Thoroughly agree with this article? Vehemently disagree with it?