A troubled institution. Photo: Getty Images
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If anything, the BBC tilts to the right

The role of newspapers in shaping the news agenda has given the institution a right-wing editorial bias. 

What goes on the campaign bus should perhaps stay on the campaign bus – at least as far as David Cameron’s remarks about closing down the BBC are concerned.

The Prime Minister, amid the rigours of a tough old election campaign, told journalists he was “going to close it (the Corporation) down after the election.”

The story emerged – secondhand – via the venerable Nick Robinson, who was recovering from surgery during the campaign.

My instinct here is that BBC journalists – and I was one of their number for more than a dozen years – are right when they describe this as “yet another of bit of pressure” from a Conservative party which has long viewed the BBC with suspicion and in some cases outright detestation.

However it also rather sounds as though an embattled Cameron was letting off steam rather than making any kind explicit threat.

Nevertheless it would be a mistake to overlook the fact the BBC is approaching negotiations about charter renewal and any kind of comment by the governing party of the day about the broadcaster’s future will rightly be scrutinised to destruction within New Broadcasting House.

Employees there, certainly the journalists, have felt under near constant siege since around the mid-point of the last decade, with several strikes and a long slump in morale the outcome.

First came the devastating findings of the Hutton Inquiry in 2004, which plunged the Corporation into the biggest crisis in its history; there has since followed the seemingly endless rounds of budget cuts borne by those on the shop floor of news.

Taken together these traumas have destroyed confidence BBC producers had in their own ability and produced a drip-feed of hemlock taken via doom-laden emails from senior managers unaffected by mountains of proposed savings.

So the Prime Minister may joke and others around him fire off volleys of complaint in what the tabloid press gleefully calls the government’s ‘war with the BBC’ but oddly there is much the Conservatives would approve of at the Corporation.

While not being an arm of the State the BBC certainly carries with it much of the architecture of State. That is to say the overwhelming majority of senior journalists and bosses tend to be white, middle aged, middle class men and often hail from a public school background.

Their views – hardly surprisingly – reflect much of that and the idea of the BBC being a haven for socialists and subversives is just rubbish, for if there was ever a ‘Left-wing bias’ there certainly is no longer.

Rather the BBC is a socially liberal place and I suspect that is – in a broad sense – the politics of those who work there too. Witness the visit of the Queen back in 2013, with journalists flocking to get near the old dear for a selfie or two.

Indeed those of us who have worked there for any length of time know there is just as much pressure from the political Left as the Right to cover events in an unbiased way. I recall fielding editorial complaints from the likes of David Blunkett, Tory Central Office and the Israeli government.

Mr Cameron and his ilk might be interested to know that if anything there is an in-built editorial bias from the Right because of the way the newspapers – and especially the Daily Mail – help shape the day-to-day agenda at the BBC.

Senior editors plough their way through bundles of the day’s papers before ever committing themselves to covering a story and often end up reflecting what has already been printed, not only in the Mail, but the Times, Sun and Telegraph too.

All of this said I, like Nick Robinson, suspect the BBC will be around for a good long time to come even with John Whittingdale as Culture Secretary. It’s been in bigger scrapes in the past with Tory governments, especially those headed by Margaret Thatcher.

Imagine the UK without the BBC? – not even David Cameron would find that funny.

Pexel
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This week, a top tip to save on washing powder (just don’t stand too near the window)

I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

Well, in the end I didn’t have to go to Ikea (see last week’s column). I got out of it on the grounds that I was obviously on the verge of a tantrum, always distressing to witness in a man in his early-to-mid-fifties, and because I am going to Switzerland.

“Why Switzerland?” I hear you ask. For the usual reason: because someone is paying for me. I don’t think I’m going to be earning any money there, but at least I’ll be getting a flight to Zurich and a scenic train ride to Bellinzona, which I learn is virtually in Italy, and has three castles that, according to one website, are considered to be “amongst the finest examples of medieval fortification in Switzerland”.

I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing there. It’s all about a literary festival generally devoted to literature in translation, and specifically this year to London-based writers. The organiser, who rejoices in the first name of Nausikaa, says that all I have to do is “attend a short meeting . . . and be part of the festival”. Does this mean I can go off on a stroll around an Alp and when someone asks me what I’m doing, I can say “Oh, I’m part of the festival”? Or do I have to stay within the fortifications, wearing a lanyard or something?

It’s all rather worrying, if I think about it too hard, but then I can plausibly claim to be from London and, moreover, it’ll give me a couple of days in which to shake off my creditors, who are making the city a bit hot for me at the moment.

And gosh, as I write, the city is hot. When I worked at British Telecom in the late Eighties, there was a rudimentary interoffice communication system on which people could relay one-line messages from their own computer terminal to another’s, or everyone else’s at once. (This was cutting-edge tech at the time.) The snag with this – or the opportunity, if you will – was that if you were not at your desk and someone mischievous, such as Gideon from Accounts (he didn’t work in Accounts; I’m protecting his true identity), walked past he would pause briefly to type in the message “I’m naked” on your machine and fire it off to everyone in the building.

For some reason, the news that either Geoff, the senior team leader, or Helen, the unloved HR manager, was working in the nude – even if we knew, deep down, that they weren’t, and that this was another one of Gideon’s jeux d’esprit – never failed to break the monotony.

It always amused us, though we were once treated to a terrifying mise en abîme moment when a message, again pertaining to personal nudity, came from Gideon’s very own terminal, and, for one awful moment, for it was a very warm day, about 200 white-collar employees of BT’s Ebury Bridge Road direct marketing division suddenly entertained the appalling possibility, and the vision it summoned, that Gideon had indeed removed every stitch of his clothing, and fired off his status quo update while genuinely in the nip. He was, after all, entirely capable of it. (We still meet up from time to time, we BT stalwarts, and Gideon is largely unchanged, except that he’s now a history lecturer.)

I digress in this fashion in order to build up to the declaration – whose veracity you can judge for yourselves – that as I write this, at 3.04pm on a sticky Thursday afternoon, I, too, am in the state in which Adam, before his shame, strolled in the Garden of Eden.

There are practical reasons for this. For one thing, it is punishingly hot, and I am beginning, even after a morning shower, to smell like a tin of oxtail soup (to borrow an unforgettable phrase first coined by Julie Burchill). I am also anxious not to transfer any of this odour to any of my clothes, for I will be needing them in Switzerland, and I am running low on washing powder, as well as money to buy more washing powder.

For another thing, I am fairly sure that I am alone in the Hovel. I am not certain. To be certain, I would have to call out my housemate’s name, and that would only be the beginning of our problems. “Yes, I’m here,” she would reply from her room. “Why?” “Um . . .” You see?

So here I lie on my bed, laptop in lap, every window as wide open as can be, and looking for all the world like a hog roast with glasses.

If I step too near the window I could get arrested. At least they don’t mind that kind of thing in Switzerland: they strip off at the drop of a hat. Oh no, wait, that’s Germany.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times