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.

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Morning after pill: It's time to say no to the "ultimate sexist surcharge"

A new campaign aims to put pressure on the government to reduce the cost of emergency contraception.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service recently launched its Just Say Non! campaign to highlight the fact that British women pay up to five times more for emergency contraception than women on the continent. The justification for the UK price of up to £30 – and the mandatory consultation with a pharmacist – is that otherwise British women might use the morning-after pill as a regular method of contraception. After all, you know what us ladies are like. Give us any form of meaningful control over our reproductive lives and before you know it we’re knocking back those emergency pills just for the nausea and irregular bleeding highs.

Since BPAS announced the campaign on Tuesday, there has been much hand-wringing over whether or not it is a good idea. The Daily Mail quotes family policy researcher Patricia Morgan, who claims that “it will just encourage casual sex and a general lack of responsibility,” while Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, which promotes what it calls "traditional values", fears that “there is a very real danger that [emergency contraception] could be misused or overused.”  

The Department of Health has indicated that it has no intention of changing current policy: “We are clear it is only for use in emergencies and we have no plans to change the system.” But why not? What is the worst that could happen? Wells argues that: “The health risks to women who use the morning-after pill repeatedly over a period of time are not known.” This may be true. But do you know what is known? The health risks to women who get pregnant. Pregnancy kills hundreds of women every single day. There are no hypotheticals here.  

The current understanding of risk in relation to contraception and abortion is distorted by a complete failure to factor in the physical, psychological and financial risk posed by pregnancy itself. It is as though choosing not to be pregnant is an act of self-indulgence, akin to refusing to do the washing up or blowing one’s first pay packet on a pair of ridiculous shoes. It’s something a woman does to “feel liberated” without truly understanding the negative consequences, hence she must be protected from herself. Casually downing pills in order to get out of something as trivial as a pregnancy? What next?

Being pregnant – gestating a new life – is not some neutral alternative to risking life and limb by taking the morning-after pill. On the contrary, while the UK maternal mortality rate of 9 per 100,000 live births is low compared to the global rate of 216, pregnant women are at increased risk of male violence and conditions such as depression, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and hyperemesis. And even if one dismisses the possible risks, one has to account for the inevitabilities. Taking a pregnancy to term will have a significant impact on a woman’s mind and body for the rest of her life. There is no way around this. Refusing to support easy access to emergency contraception because it strikes you as an imperfect solution to the problem of accidental pregnancy seems to me rather like refusing to vote for the less evil candidate in a US presidential election because you’d rather not have either of them. When it comes to relative damage, pregnancy is Donald Trump.

There is only a short window in a woman’s menstrual cycle when she is at her most fertile, hence a contraceptive failure will not always lead to a pregnancy. Knowing this, many women will feel that paying £30 to avoid something which, in all probability, is not going to happen is simply unjustifiable. I’ve bought emergency contraception while conscious that, either because I was breastfeeding or very close to my period, I’d have been highly unlikely to conceive. If that money had been earmarked to spend on the gas bill or food for my children, I might have risked an unwanted pregnancy instead. This would not have been an irrational choice, but it is one that no woman should have to make.

Because it is always women who have to make these decisions. Male bodies do not suffer the consequences of contraceptive failure, yet we are not supposed to say this is unfair. After all, human reproduction is natural and nature is meant to be objective. One group of people is at risk of unwanted pregnancy, another group isn’t. That’s life, right? Might as well argue that it is unfair for the sky to be blue and not pink. But it is not human reproduction itself that is unfair; it is our chosen response to it. Just because one class of people can perform a type of labour which another class cannot, it does not follow that the latter has no option but to exploit the former. And let’s be clear: the gatekeeping that surrounds access to abortion and emergency contraception is a form of exploitation. It removes ownership of reproductive labour from the people who perform it.

No man’s sperm is so precious and sacred that a woman should have to pay £30 to reduce the chances of it leaving her with an unwanted pregnancy. On the contrary, the male sex owes an immeasurable debt to the female sex for the fact that we continue with any pregnancies at all. I don’t expect this debt to be paid off any time soon, but cheap emergency contraception would be a start. Instead we are going backwards.

This year’s NHS report on Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in England states both that the number of emergency contraception items provided for free by SRH services has “fallen steadily over the last ten years” and that the likelihood of a woman being provided with emergency contraception “will be influenced by the availability of such services in their area of residence.” With significant cuts being made to spending on contraception and sexual health services, it is unjustifiable for the Department of Health to continue using the excuse that the morning-after pill can, theoretically, be obtained for free. One cannot simultaneously argue in favour of a pricing policy specifically aimed at being a deterrent then claim there is no real deterrent at all.

BPAS chief executive Anne Furedi is right to call the price of Levonelle “the ultimate sexist surcharge.” It not only tells women our reproductive work has no value, but it insists that we pay for the privilege of not having to perform it. It’s time we started saying no

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.