My parents were soft lefties who genuinely wanted a better fairer society, and some more in their pay packets. They read the Daily Telegraph and The Sun. I couldn’t understand it. “Why do you read these two right wing rags?” I would ask chirpily as a political 7 year old, boycotting South African fruit. “We are more than capable of distinguishing hard news from editorial bias, Deek” they replied candidly, hiding the plums. Page 2 of the Torygraph always carried the salacious unedited details of whatever court case was playing across our nations screens and front pages. The Sun was a 5 minute read which meant you had something to say in the pub, not that my parents ever went there. Anyway, BBC News would tell us what was happening, wouldn’t it?
It’s hard to explain to outsiders the role the BBC has played in shaping our national identity. Now I have traveled to the big lands over the sea and watched how they construct and absorb their collective world views, I can see how lucky we are to have been able (for some decades at least) to have formulated something that attempted to stand for values other than blatantly commercial. During my early years, there were still only two channels, only one of which carried advertising, and even now, the UK is fairly restrictive regarding the messages of mammon.
It’s too easy to accuse the BBC of representing “the establishment”. That is like accusing a house of having walls, or the sea of being wet. Of course it is. We knew it was stuffy, straight, conservative. There was no pretense, no change, it was predictable, mostly in a good way, setting the standard for many aspects of living room entertainment, informing the nation that it was still Great Britain, even if it didn’t feel that great anymore.
Now people are using the BBC as the basis for meaningful art, as correspondent after correspondent bucks the old “balance/censorship” dictat to show the truth, or as much of it as the news editor will allow, about what is happening in Lebanon. This would never happen if the war was being prosecuted by British forces, of course, but at least there is a change from the automatic refusal to call a war crime a war crime.
Keep on, Jeremy Bowen, Ben Brown, and let’s hope you don’t get shelled.