Saturday, 22 January 2011

Left-wing bias? It's written through the BBC's very DNA, says Peter Sissons

The Daily Mail has an article by Peter Sissons about the pro-left and anti-right bias endemic within the BBC. The piece confirms so many of the things that I have written over the past few years that some may wonder if I am in fact Peter Sissons... I am not!

Here's a few extracts to give you a flavour:
'For 20 years I was a front man at the BBC, anchoring news and current ­affairs programmes, so I reckon nobody is better placed than me to ­answer the question that nags at many of its viewers — is the BBC biased?

In my view, ‘bias’ is too blunt a word to describe the subtleties of the ­pervading culture. The better word is a ‘mindset’. At the core of the BBC, in its very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left.

By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent. ­Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on ­running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’.


At any given time there is a BBC line on everything of importance, a line usually adopted in the light of which way its senior echelons believe the political wind is ­blowing. This line is rarely spelled out explicitly, but percolates subtly throughout the organisation.

Whatever the United Nations is associated with is good — it is heresy to question any of its activities. The EU is also a good thing, but not quite as good as the UN. Soaking the rich is good, despite well-founded economic arguments that the more you tax, the less you get. And Government spending is a good thing, although most BBC ­people prefer to call it investment, in line with New Labour’s terminology.

All green and environmental groups are very good things. Al Gore is a saint. George Bush was a bad thing, and thick into the bargain. Obama was not just the Democratic Party’s candidate for the White House, he was the BBC’s. Blair was good, Brown bad, but the BBC has now lost interest in both.

Trade unions are mostly good things, especially when they are fighting BBC managers. Quangos are also mostly good, and the reports they produce are usually handled uncritically. The Royal Family is a bore. Islam must not be offended at any price, although ­Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended.


But whatever your talent, sex or ethnicity, there’s one sure-fire way at a BBC promotions board to ensure you don’t get the job, indeed to bring your career to a grinding halt. And that’s if, when asked which post-war politician you most admire, you reply: ‘Margaret Thatcher’.


Complaints from viewers may invariably be met with the BBC’s stock response, ‘We don’t accept that, so get lost’.


...just before the 2009 local and European elections, when time was starting to run out for the Brown Government.
I was at Television Centre preparing to anchor the 5pm-6pm news, the centre-piece of which was to be an extended interview that I would conduct with Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman.

I did what I have always done before thousands of interviews in my 45 years as a broadcast journalist. I drew up a list of the most important current issues that I felt she needed to be asked about, drafted a few core questions, and scoured the newswires and morning papers for anything I’d missed.

Then it started — a steady stream of email messages from producers telling me what to ask. Three or four of them all wanted to have their say, and they seemed particularly twitchy about Harman being interviewed by me, unsupervised. Most seemed to be fully paid-up members of her fan club.

BBC news producers have a perfect right to try to ensure that a news presenter sticks to their agenda — it is the BBC way. But too many of them are concerned not about what will be the best thing to do journalistically, but about what will best please the news executives on the floors above. The two are not necessarily the same thing.

I managed to bat away most of the stuff suggested to me, and the way the interview might go took shape in my mind. Then, half an hour before transmission, a ­producer arrived with a list of questions for Harriet Harman emailed in by viewers.

This was news to me, but I had no choice in the matter because they had already been set up with ­captions, and it was my job simply to put them to her. After that, if there was time — and the interview was to run to no more than eight minutes — I could put some questions of my own.

I was asked what I had in mind, and I said that I was going to ask her about a row brewing in the morning papers about Gordon Brown not inviting the Queen to the 65th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. The response shocked me. I was told this was not a topic worth raising because it was ‘only a ­campaign being run by the Daily Mail’.

I have no doubt that if it had been the lead in The Guardian or The Independent, I would have been instructed to nail Ms Harman to the wall. I did ask the question, and she, clearly uncomfortable, promised a statement when she had found out all the facts.'
Sissons when it is published on February 2 by Biteback Publishing at £17.99.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the rest of the book shines an equally searching light into the fetid heart of the BBC as the passages you quote here, there should be a public enquiry, followed by wholesale sackings of the news personnel from reporters to producers, presenters and editors.

Better still, just close the whole rotten organisation down and raze every building to the ground, destroy all the equipment and make sure that there is no possibility of it ever resurrecting itself again.