Sunday, 29 May 2016

Why is the BBC so irritating?

I was listening to Anna Foster and Tony Livesey on Radio Bloke (aka 5 Live) the other day. In the wake of the well publicised court case on taking children out of school for holidays, which the parents won on appeal, the angle they were pursuing was the higher cost of going away in the school holidays. They had a travel industry expert on, who was frustrating them as they plugged away about how inequitable it was that holidays cost less in term time. He patiently explained about supply and demand, driven not just by school dates but also normal weather patterns and habits. The presenters twice suggested this was "unfair" and that the agents and hotels should not charge more in the school summer holidays, which brought the riposte that, if Brits didn't want to pay the going rate, the hotels could get their price from selling more beds to Germans. He also pointed out that the lowest prices, at unnattractive times, were loss making and the industry needed the higher summer rates to earn their living. At this point Anna Foster used the phrase "rip off", lost patience with the poor expert and cut him off as he clearly wasn't going along with her preconceived ideas and moved on to the next item. Meanwhile I was screaming at my car radio about people who haven't got a clue about how the world actually works.

I have these screaming fits at the BBC with an uncomfortable frequency. The problem I have is that these idealistic but unrealistic attitudes permeate the BBC. Presenters on opinion forming programmes - and news readers, albeit by tone of voice and twitch of eyebrow - routinely see the world as a conspiracy against consumers by business, in which established phenomena such as the law of supply and demand are some kind of capitalist plot.

And it's not just me. In this week's Sunday Times, Sarah Baxter wrote:
"Given the assumption shared by the BBC and ITV that 'unbiased' means centre-left"
- this in the context of ITV appointing a Marxist, Noreena Hertz, as economics editor - if they want a different view they go further left since, she observes, they only ever have right leaning economists as guests. We know Hertz is a Marxist, because she says so herself (albeit talking to Jeremy Clarkson).

And it's not just Baxter, either, as Howard Davies, former head of the London School of Economics summarised the No Logo/Occupy/anti-corporatist movement Hertz comes from as "globaloney" in his review of her book, The Silent Takeover.

I don't believe the BBC is deliberately biased, though institutionally biased it undoubtedly is (a university study some time back showed an 80% correlation between the BBC choice of lead news items and the Guardian's). I just think that, like many organisations they recruit people of their own ilk, with a strong politically correct, metropolitan ethos. Basically an inherently "public sector good/private bad", soft/pink left, Tory sceptic (let alone, God forbid, UKIP) bunch of well-meaning, but impractical, hand-wringing do-gooders.

It left me thinking that the government missed an opportunity for reform in the recent BBC review. The licence fee system is clearly unsustainable in the long term given the viewing habits of younger generations but, sweeping away anything controversial in their attempt to get a remain vote in the referendum, this can was kicked firmly down the road.

About which I have mixed feelings, as I watch the BBC news, listen to R2 and R5 and use the BBC website a lot, always returning after trying other outlets. I would be more than happy to pay the equivalent of the licence fee as a subscription. But some wouldn't, so the service would  be cut. This would probably be a good thing, as there's no doubt that the BBC squeezes out competition in TV, radio and online, but it might compromise my general enjoyment (despite all I've said) of the service.

But it must be the way to go, if only because more than 10% of court cases are TV licence evasion!  Actually, it was an amazing 13% of people proceeded against in magistrates courts in 2012 - but apparently that's ok because they are dealt with in blocks and don't take up anything like that proportion of court time - so says a fascinating website I found called Full Fact, which is the "UK’s independent fact checking charity" and aims to "provide free tools, information and advice so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media" (see this story at

I'll leave for another argument whether ITV should even attempt to be unbiased (Ofcom insists on it for all TV news) when it isn't taxpayer funded, perhaps just closing by noting that this requirement, which in my view is palpably unmet and possibly impracticable, means that we don't get the balance we do naturally in the market for newspapers.


  1. You hit on an interesting point here Phil. My feeling is that the BBC presenters and others who front such forms of media like to put themselves in the place of the frustrated listener/reader. The facts don't really matter, its entertainment, as people like their preconceived views confirmed whether they are rational views or not. The media has picked up on this so instead of the BBC, for example, being informative it slips into the easy world of confirming our prejudices. The Daily Mail and indeed much of the press has of course been doing this for years.

  2. You're right of course, it's entertainment, which sits uneasily with the requirement on balance, though no doubt Reith didn't see a contradiction. I'll try singing the Jam's "That's
    Entertainment" next time I feel a shouting fit coming on. It's got good lyrics, anyway