Tuesday 10 March 2015

"Auntie's like the Queen"

The 2015 Royal Television Society Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture, broadcast by the BBC this week, was presented by Conservative peer, Lord Dobbs of Wylye - better known as Michael Dobbs of 'House of Cards' fame. 

(To paraphrase Francis Urquhart: You might think he mentioned 'House of Cards' far too many times. I couldn't possibly comment.)

I would say that his pro-public service broadcasting claims were very big ones and that, at heart, he's strongly pro-BBC. (If Rona gets the chop, maybe he'll be invited to take over on the strength of this).

The examples of bias he gave were so bog-standard - the sort of thing a few minutes Googling would bring up (in preparation for a lecture) - that I reckon he's never really given the subject much thought  - unlike many of us.

Here are some extracts (if you can't face watching the full 45-minute lecture): 

On BBC bias:
Now, that's another issue that gets a hammering because the BBC’s record isn’t spotless.
Europe. The BBC has an institutional bias in favour of the European Union and all its works. It has taken sides in an ongoing debate. That's been acknowledged in report after independent report.
Immigration. Too often and for too long, the BBC has implied that anyone who wanted to question immigration policies must be racist.
The BBC rails against excess in the City (as it should) while apparently conniving in extraordinary tax avoidance schemes for its own stars.
It ducked away from broadcasting its own inquiries into the Savile scandal, leaving that to ITV. Yet it couldn’t resist casting appalling allegations at the Tory peer Alistair McAlpine, even while it ignored the dark tide that was flooding through its own back door.
Its former Director General, Mark Thompson, has talked about the ‘massive left-wing bias’ within the organisation. Perhaps this isn’t the time or place to analyse that remark too deeply, as much fun as that would be, but put alongside the damning allegation that the BBC buys more copies of The Guardian than any other newspaper, there is surely a case to answer!
And yet, and yet… its independence and objectivity are the cornerstones of everything the BBC stands for. It's easy enough to pick out the failures, and just as easy to lose sight of some of the broader truths.
The BBC is still the most trusted source of news in the UK. It's still the place the British public goes to for the great events, those moments of national drama, and celebration, and mourning.
It's often very, very good at news. Equally often, it's terrible at self-criticism.
On why the BBC is like the Queen
We have what is arguably the richest contemporary cultural activity anywhere in the world. And the reason for that is, in part, because we have the finest broadcasting system in the world. And the BBC is at its core.
You know, the BBC is a little like the Monarchy. Yes, Auntie's like the Queen. Impossible to measure how much she earns for the country, but we know it's immense.
Our creative industries flourish. They bring employment, earnings, exports - and prestige. And the BBC is the oil that enables so many of these wheels to turn profitably.
On how the BBC might help defeat ISIS:
But modern wars aren't won by military might alone. This new struggle in which we are engaged with fanaticism won't be resolved simply by military means. Through the strength of our weapons systems. What will be just as important - if not more important - will be the strength of our culture. And our values.
Are we to simply blast ISIS into oblivion? Or will the fanatics fade into irrelevance when their followers drift away because they are sick of the endless butchery, and they know there is an alternative?
Very often, around the world, those who live on the dark side of the planet discover that alternative through the broadcasts of the BBC.
On why Kofi Annan likes the BBC:
And it's not just an older generation. The audience for the BBC's World Service is remarkably youthful. It's vast. And it's growing. 
Kofi Annan, the UN's former Secretary General, put it this way. 'The BBC World Service is what its name implies: a service to the world as a whole. It has perhaps been Britain's greatest gift to the world.' 
The surveys suggest that the BBC is still the world's most trusted source of information.
On why if we didn’t have the BBC we'd willingly pay to re-invent it:
The BBC is arguably this country’s strongest cultural brand. It has an impact in every corner of the globe. It is one of the prime weapon systems in our arsenal of soft power that will grow increasingly important in the years of uncertainty that lie ahead.
That doesn’t mean giving the BBC a blank cheque, or refraining from giving it a good kicking when it deserves it, but it does mean making sure it has the opportunity, and the encouragement, to meet its ambition of doubling its global audience to half a billion people in the next seven years. Half a billion.
What a difference that could make. A vibrant system of Public Service Broadcasting that is part of our future, not just a glorious past.
There are turbulent tides that are ripping at so much of what we believe in. So how do we resist the chaos? How will we defend ourselves, and our values? How will we best fight off the bullying, and even barbarity, that threatens us?
Or let me put those questions another way.
If we didn’t have the BBC, how much would we be willing to pay, to invent it?


  1. And yet, and yet… its independence and objectivity are the cornerstones of everything the BBC stands for.

    Which is the problem.

    I promise, Craig, that after a good night's sleep I will be able to read the rest of your post past that bit without laughing so hard I can't focus on it.

  2. Pass the sick bag !!!

  3. "Impossible to measure how much she earns for the country". With a free £3 billion taxpayer investment every year, the BBC would have to earn more than that to justify its existence and demonstrate that it gives a greater return on capital than alternatives. Dobbs and his fellow-travellers do not live in the real world.


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