Did I hear that right? Listening with half an ear to the News Quiz, that long running Radio 4 satirical sideways view of the state of the nation, always in the government’s crosshairs… did I hear that right?
Without any mention of her providence as affiliated with the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Institute of Economic Affairs, or of the fossil fuel interests who fund her punditry, Kate Andrews slipped right in under the flag of The Spectator, that front organisation for the talking heads of Tufton Street: the very apotheosis of astroturfing. During the show, she oh-so-subtly began to sow narratives that distract from the reality of climate impacts, suggesting that the reason we had food shortages is merely because “we have a war going on, we have trade tensions rising around the world”.
In spite of the acceptance by the BBC trust of the Jones report of 2011 which called the corporation out on its frequent platforming of Nigel Lawson as a counter to climate science, the new brooms at the top of the corporation, Chairman Richard Sharp and Director General Tim Davie, have heralded a new era where ‘impartiality’ means news items should always include a rebuttal of any criticism of government, including settled climate science.
This, despite Fran Unsworth’s unequivocal more recent email to journalists which advised: “Be aware of ‘false balance’ […] you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate”, we have seen a surge in shills with unattributed funding or affiliations popping up all over the place to serve the new ‘impartiality’.
Never mind the engineered distraction of Gary Lineker taking a ‘woke’ (moral) stance…
Of course, for some time there has raged a tug of war within the BBC over how to square the circle of two opposing definitions of impartiality. The long-held one, that decisions are based on objective criteria that if something is settled such as the science of climate change, then equal weight cannot be justified for an alternative subjective viewpoint. Or what has come to be called ‘both-sideism’, where all opinions are seen as equally valid and deserving of a seat at the debating table. When David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, proclaimed post COP26 that “flat earthers” will be welcomed to contribute, moral relativism would seem to have won out.
But the trouble is, they inevitably appear without affiliations or funding disclosed. Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Forum (the foundation’s campaigning wing), for example, was given a substantial platform on The Climate Question, with no indication of funding, or vested interest. His complacent soundbites – “most governments are not taking it seriously”; “utopian ideas”; “net zero is unrealistic” – were geared to play down the emergency on behalf of his clandestine fossil fuel masters. His views went unchallenged and given equal weight to those of serious experts.
This ‘both-sideism’ however, tellingly, does not seem to apply to economic arguments. It is noteworthy that the ‘business as usual’ narrative is never subject to the new impartiality and GDP growth as a paradigm continues to be cast in stone.
In November, Matthew Lesh, head of public policy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, contributed to a BBC news online article Economists question ‘black hole’ in UK finances where he said that “it was obvious” the UK was on an unsustainable path arguing that the government needed to reduce spending. Again, who funds him was not disclosed. The BBC‘s reframing of ‘impartiality’ will pit science against flat earthers, but not the proponents of ‘business as usual’ against advocates of real sustainable economic models.
When I shared these insights with Professor Steve Jones, he wrote:
“I am disturbed to hear that members of the Global Warming Foundation still appear on air: they behaved in a particularly aggressive way (threats of legal action included) when [my] report was published. To me it seems that they have sufficiently disgraced themselves in their history that they should have no place in the BBC‘s treatment of climate change. I agree that this constant contrarianism is depressing; in fact soon after the report was published, I was informed by the then editor of the Today Programme that they intended to take no notice of it.”
Last year the BBC’s executive complaints unit (ECU) reviewed a six-month period of broadcasts and found that no contributors’ political affiliations or clarity of funding were flagged despite the editorial guidelines in place, “and this fell below the BBC’s standards of accuracy”.
Indeed, in their review, the ECU quoted from the guidelines which state: “Appropriate information about [think tanks’] affiliations, funding (my italics) and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” Even Ofcom has suggested that the BBC should “be bolder in its approach” in “challenging controversial viewpoints” head on (probably why the government is so keen to appoint Paul Dacre as director).
However, all signs are that this situation is not the result of professional shortcomings but comes from an enforced obeyance: the government as ‘protection’ racket…
Disquiet amongst BBC staff
After his recent retirement from the BBC, environment correspondent Roger Harrabin expressed his frustration that, “in recent years the BBC has been much more generous with the amount of time allocated on air to people from the far Right than the far Left. That’s because behind Tory complaints lies the potential spectre of de-funding the BBC. […] But I had to leave the BBC to tell that simple truth”. He is not alone in this.
Robbie Gibb, whom Emily Maitlis, out of purdah, has referred to as an “active agent of the Conservative Party who played a significant role in determining the nature of the corporation’s news output”, was regarded as the government’s on-site enforcer: “Robbie is watching you”, a regular hushed caution.
Richard Coles tweeted on his enforced ‘re-education’ under the new regime: “I have to attend compulsory BBC Impartiality Training next week. I was thinking about this as I passed the George Orwell statue outside Broadcasting House this morning. ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’.”
Journalist Lewis Goodall claimed that Gibb was acting as the arbiter of how impartiality should be interpreted, seemingly in any way that would further the government’s delayist agenda. One doesn’t have to look far for his qualifications. He was an editorial advisor for GB News who Jennie King, from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue think tank, called a “‘central hub’ for climate scepticism in the British media”.
A BBC journalist of my acquaintance, who wishes to remain anonymous, has said that even now, climate stories are spiked if a denier cannot be found to rebut the science.
So, while the focus over the past weeks has been of a footballer straying into the world of politics, what is being missed is the quiet infiltration of a political player into the world of entertainment. Having axed Mock the Week and the Mash Report we see a different pattern emerging at the Beeb. To paraphrase Wilde, to lose one comedy show may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness, but to stack what remains with fifth columnists from Tufton Street might confirm a pattern of covert puppeteering within the BBC.
And the ‘comedy’ turn by Kate Andrews might not seem so funny when one follows the money. She is assistant director of he Institute of Economic Affairs (revealed by whistle-blower Shahmir Sanni as being indistinguishable from fellow Tufton Street ideologues) who published, between 1994 and 2007, “at least four books, as well as multiple articles and papers, suggesting manmade climate change may be uncertain or exaggerated [and that] climate change is either not significantly driven by human activity or will be positive”.
Neither is it funny that the IEA is funded by both Exxon Mobil and BP, and by DonorsTrust to the tune of nearly $300,000. DonorsTrust bankrolls dozens of climate denial organisations in the US including American Renaissance, which is designated a white nationalist hate group.
It is not surprising that with friends like these, IEA founders Antony Fisher and Oliver Smedley connived and concluded that it was “imperative that we should give no indication in our literature that we are working to educate the public along certain lines which might be interpreted as having a political bias”.
The Tufton Street cancer in the body politic has spread and has metastasised in the BBC.
We have reached Stage 4.
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