The Cameronista BBC

Let me explain to foaming blog responders

What is it about people who comment on blogs? I have long wondered why the "blogosphere" is dominated by the libertarian right. As in America, the online right's many outlets here are completely co-ordinated and on-message about anything that threatens to damage their beloved Conservative Party. They are able to parrot the same attacks and counterattacks (most recently, say, on the anti-Semite Michal Kaminski) apparently without consulting one another, while the left turns on itself and flounders.

Now I look on in awe as commenters flock to blogs like ours to defend the Tories at all costs. Who are these poeple? Do they work at Conservative Central Office? If they don't, is that even more worrying? If I knew how, it would doubtless be fruitful to check the locations of their computers.

Recently, these people have got very angry about a debate between Mehdi Hasan and Peter Hitchens over whether the BBC is left-wing or right-wing. Abuse has been hurled at Mehdi for daring to suggest the BBC is, contrary to myth, a power-seeking, Establishment-pleasing broadcaster that -- if anything -- is right-wing. Now, while I think Mehdi is right to point to research showing that, for example, the BBC gave more airtime to supporters of the 2003 Iraq invasion rather than its opponents, and in that sense easy myths like "the BBC is anti-war" can be dismissed as nonsense, I would actually disagree with my colleague about the corporation being biased in any direction in a co-ordinated way. This is because it is too shambolic and huge.

Conversely, I agree with Hitchens that the BBC is very pro David Cameron. Hitchens is one of the few writers exposing the many examples of this. I completely disagree, however, with his outlandish reasoning: he says that the alliance shows that Cameron is left-wing and argues, absurdly, that the BBC has somehow converted the Tory party to its (liberal left) side.

In fact, the BBC is devoted to giving Cameron disproportionate airtime, as it memorably did when he talked tough against some of his expense-abusing backbenchers without actually withdrawing the whip as he promised he would. It does that because, outstanding institution though it is, its news culture journalistically is not very sharp. In short, it goes with the flow. This is not about its reporters, some of whom -- including Nick Robinson, James Landale and Iain Watson (the numbers one, two and three on its political reporting team) -- are among the best and most well-informed in the business. (Compared to some other outlets Robinson gave Cameron an impeccably hard time last night.) It is about a sluggish caution and group-mentality among faceless executives and producers.

The media, whose centre of gravity is anyway to the right in this country despite all the howls of fury from blog posters, have decided collectively, with a few exceptions, that the Tory party has changed, has "modernised" and is going to win the next election, probably by a landslide.

The BBC's movement towards Cameron, which results in incessant lead stories about Tory proposals and initiatives, is merely a reflection of this. So, the corporation is not so much biased (though for several years it has been on a recruitment drive to find people who have worked inside or understand Cameron's Tory party) as lazy.

Now, if you can't understand that, and still maintain that the BBC is "left-wing" or a vessel for Labour propaganda, you are going to have to do better than merely post clever-stupid one-liners below. Give me some real examples, please, and put your money where your loud mouths are.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.