Belfast Telegraph

It is high time we put the 'British' back into British Broadcasting Corporation

London-centric liberal and secular views dominate output and don’t reflect UK as a whole, claims Nelson McCausland

Why is it that the British Broadcasting Corporation is so often unrepresentative of the country it is intended to serve? Why does it seem that the agenda in the BBC is very often to the Left of the mainstream, both socially and politically?

We often hear critics say that the BBC is the “biased” broadcasting corporation, but is this true? And, if so, is it deliberate?

Veteran broadcaster Roger Bolton wrote about the BBC in a recent article in the Church Times newspaper and he was commenting as someone with a good knowledge of the organisation.

Bolton joined the BBC as a trainee in 1967, was editor of programmes such as Panorama, Nationwide and Tonight, and now hosts Feedback on BBC Radio 4.

His assessment was that the BBC has “a predominantly young workforce, which is more liberal and secular than the rest of the country. It is dangerously out of touch”.

He was writing about religious broadcasting and said that, because of the predominance of people with liberal and secular views, they did not realise how important religion is for many people across the United Kingdom.

The tendency for staff to hold liberal and secular views was influencing the programmes they produced.

With 50 years of broadcasting experience, Bolton is well-placed to recognise and analyse what is happening, and his assessment of the BBC staff is fairly accurate.

Of course, there are many people in the UK who are young, liberal and secular.

But there are also many other people who are middle-aged, or older; there are many people who are politically conservative, there are many people, young as well as old, who are socially conservative, and there are many people who have a religious faith, whether that be a Christian faith or some other faith. There is a broad spectrum of people and views.

But the difficulty is that the BBC staff do not reflect the diversity of the general population. As Bolton put it, they are “a predominantly young workforce” who are more liberal and secular than the rest of the country.

Our view of the world is shaped by our education, our experiences, our interests, the people with whom we socialise, as well as the newspapers and books we read.

That disproportionately liberal and secular workforce in the BBC is less likely to read conservative newspapers and magazines. They will probably gravitate towards the Independent and the New Statesman, rather than the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.

I wonder, too, how many came into broadcasting through a university course in “media studies”, or “cultural studies”?

It is worth remembering that cultural studies was pioneered in universities in England in the 1960s by a group of secular Marxists such as Stuart Hall, founding editor of the radical New Left Review.

Another important factor is that around half of the BBC staff are based in London, and London is very different from the rest of England. That was very clear during the recent EU referendum, where most London boroughs voted Remain.

The real power within the BBC resides in London, where so much of the commissioning is done. It is very London-centric, and while London is home to such British icons as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, it is a very cosmopolitan city and very different from the rest of the UK.

BBC output simply tends to reflect the way that liberal and secular decision-makers see the world. So, if the BBC workforce is disproportionately young, liberal and secular, what is the BBC doing to redress the disproportionate influence of liberalism and secularism within our national broadcasting service? Or is it going to continue operating in a state of denial?

Of course, that pervasive liberalism spreads out to the BBC nations and regions as well. Where London leads, the others will follow, at least to some degree and perhaps a little behind.

So, what of the BBC in Northern Ireland? Now, that would merit a column all of its own.

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