BBC impartiality: three cases

John Lloyd (who is one of my moral compasses) writes in his FT TV review (18/19 June 2011) that the BBC’s great prides are “enlightenment values and devotion to impartiality”. But, as he defines them, are these compatible?

Mr Lloyd goes on to celebrate  Terry Pratchett’s recent BBC show about assisted dying, and placed it in the long BBC tradition of supporting any such “progressive” cause and “defying those – religious, conservative, fearful, professionally scandalised – who find it abhorrent”.

Mr Lloyd does note, without comment, the widespread awareness that Mr Pratchett’s show was the latest of five which “were in favour of assisted dying to none against”.

I don’t know what it is about progressiveness which frees it from the possibility – the taint – of bias, like a cloak of invisibility.

I am inclined to add that the BBC’s campaign for the leading Burmese politician, Aung San Suu Kyi, seems a bit partisan too. Sure, she’s a hero; sure she’s garnered a vast number of votes; sure she has been abused by the government of her country.

She is, as it were, a patron saint of democracy, in the manner of Nelson Mandela.  But Mandela was out of politics during his incarceration and was then crowned (so to speak) as a neutral Head of State. So I see differences between the two. Anyway, I was uneasy when I watched John Simpson’s genuflection the other night. It reminded me of recent commentary (and yes I might have seen it on the BBC) which suggests that some democrats and other thoughtful people in her country are not convinced that all her policies are ideal.

Switching tracks, I noticed that Countryfile‘s John Craven (BBC1) discussed at length (and as part of something billed as an investigation) British and German policy on solar power as though it were a given that (a) solar power was good and (b) it didn’t matter how much it cost in subsidy to get more of it. Of course, not every aspect of every subject can be aired at every outing. But solar panels may well be the next bio-fuels, if you follow me.

It may be that these are all examples of “enlightenment” or “progressive” values but I can’t see that they are consistent with BBC impartiality.

It’s not that I think such bias should not be present on our screens. Indeed, I think the BBC is an absurdity because it is required to be impartial. But we should call a spade a spade and allow that in these cases, a  note of sharpness and challenge should have come from somewhere.

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Publication date

22 June 2011