Saturday, 11 March 2017

There's nothing like a dame (Jenni Murray)

The big 'BBC bias' controversy I missed this week was Dame Jenni Murray of Woman's Hour getting a ticking-off from the BBC for a Sunday Times piece, where she'd written that transgender women aren't "real women".

Of course, Dame Jenni's Sunday Times piece was full of PC caveats but that still didn't stop the specific target of her criticism, India Willoughby, from (outrageously) calling for her to be sacked for expressing her opinions. 

Nor did it stop the Four Gender-Fluid Horseriders of the Twitter Apocalypse from descending upon her. 

Or the BBC from 'reminding' her about her duties regarding BBC impartiality. 

The BBC said: 
Jenni Murray is a freelance journalist and these were her own views, however we have reminded her that presenters should remain impartial on controversial topics covered by their BBC programmes.
The whole debate over this raises many, many questions, but I'll just stick to the BBC impartiality questions (as is my way). 

Several things struck me about this affair, but most of them can be grouped under one issue: the ever-controversial question of what 'freelance journalists' at the BBC can and cannot say. 

The first thing to say is that it's staggering how many of the top names associated with the BBC are freelance. (Mr Hammond, are you taking note?)

Who knew Dame Jenni Murray, veteran of Woman's Hour, was freelance rather than BBC? You may have done, but I didn't - though I certainly should have known. Wherever you took 'top talent' at the BBC turns out to be freelance. 

The second thing to say is that the BBC response makes it clear that 'freelance' BBC talent is meant to "remain impartial on controversial topics". 

So, from that, I draw the conclusion that everyone - from Andrew Neil to Andrew Marr to Samira Ahmed - is meant to be "impartial on controversial topics", even while doing something for a non-BBC media outlet. 

And I'm assuming that the old Twitter impartiality guidelines apply to freelancers too.

(And what about Gary Lineker?)

The third thing to say is that it's very interesting what got Dame Jenni Murray pulled up. She's expressed controversial opinions before and not got told off by the BBC for it - despite the 'right-wing tabloids' giving her stick over it. 

Why didn't she get pulled up for that

My answer to that would be that she didn't get pulled up over pornography in the classroom because the BBC has a pronounced social liberal bias. 

Many people at the BBC would see nothing outrageous about a call for pornography to be taught in classrooms for feminist reasons. They would, however, feel deeply uncomfortable with the Woman's Hour dame breaking one of the very latest cardinal rules of social liberalism, by saying that transgender woman aren't 'real women'. 

The BBC has been leading the way in trying to make transgender identities normal and accepted in the past couple of years. Dame Jenni Murray - as an old-fashioned BBC feminist - is clearly very much out-of-step with current BBC thinking on the issue. Hence her unprecedented 'reminder'. 

The fourth thing to say (and, probably, the most controversial for some reason) is that, as Dame Jenni says in her Sunday Times piece, she is a feminist, and feminism is the driving force behind Radio 4's Woman's Hour

The programmes feminist underpinnings aren't disguised. They are openly stated...and this despite the fact that, according to the feminist Fawcett Society, only about 7% of women in the UK call themselves 'feminists'. It's an ideologically-charged programme, and doesn't make any bones about that being the case, or see any problem with that being the case. 

In other words, Woman's Hour is not impartial. It's biased in favour of feminism. And the BBC is intensely relaxed about that being the case. No-one at the BBC, evidently, sees that as being, in any way, hard to reconcile with the BBC being an impartial broadcaster. Why is that the case? 

Why is it wrong for Dame Jenni Murray to express a view many people share about transgender people but right for Dame Jenni Murray to front an openly pro-feminist daily Radio 4 programme? 

I had other things to say about this earlier in the week but can't remember them now. Radio 4's The Media Show did, however, discuss the issue (very interestingly) this week. (A transcription is unnecessary as it will be available to listen again to for a year). It's well worth a listen - especially for the Sunday Times Magazine editor's parting shot about BBC bias over Brexit. 


  1. All of the recent nonsense about Murray came as a considerable surprise to me. I always thought from her appearance that she was transgender.

  2. The BBC treasures impartiality. Apparently.

    As long as it is the correct kind.

  3. I'm intrigued that Jenni Murray is a "freelance journalist", but has presented Woman's Hour (aka "Left-liberal feminist Hour") since 1987.

    Hmmm ... so transposing experience of the business world ... how do the BBC ensure we LF payers get good value from Jenni? What is the duration of her Woman's Hour contract? How often is it renewed and put out to market for others to bid for? Who supervises the bid evaluations and award to ensure due process?

    Just my guess, but I would think there are hundreds of middle-age, middle-class women who could improve on Jenni's spot and more cheaply too.