Fellow Remainers: Hands off the BBC

Fellow Remainers: Hands off the BBC

Remainers indulging in conspiracy theories about the BBC should be careful what they wish for.

Recently, it’s become fashionable in Remainer circles to attack the BBC for the apparent bias in its coverage of Brexit.

In recent days, for example, Lord Adonis’s Twitter feed has been an orgy of attacking the BBC’s impartiality, sometimes bordering on conspiracy theorising, and often using the vaguely sinister hashtag #BrexitBroadcastingCorporation :

Meanwhile Henry Porter has devoted a column in the Guardian to claiming that the BBC is abdicating its responsibilities in reporting Brexit.

Some of this, it appears, follows on from a decision by the BBC not to cover a march against Brexit, while reporting on Farage and Rees-Mogg’s publicity stunt in dumping fish into the Thames. Now, you may think that is right or wrong, but the fact remains that the BBC has to make those kinds of judgment calls all the time. I yield to no-one in my desire to see the UK remain in the EU, but as things stand we will leave next year, and the BBC has to report the news on that basis. The process of the negotiations is newsworthy and people are entitled to be informed on them and the effect they are having on British politics.

Frankly there are marches all the time and the BBC is right to be sceptical about how newsworthy they are. They are never going to be able to cover them all, and every time they don’t, people are going to complain about it. The only way they are all going to be reported is if the BBC adopts a weekly slot on the Saturday evening news to cover that week’s march. March of the Day: look away now if you don’t want to know how many people were on it.

Similarly, there’s been conspiracy theorising about the appointment of Robbie Gibb as Downing Street Director of Communications:

Really? There’s always been a crossover between journalism and political communications. Former BBC political journalist Lance Price was an adviser to Tony Blair during Lord Adonis’s time there, and went on to become the Labour Party’s Director of Communications. There’s not necessarily anything sinister about it.

Over recent years there has been a catastrophic collapse in trust in institutions: often well-deserved but insidious nonetheless. There is a reason why Farage, and Trump, and all the others want to destroy trust in the BBC and in impartial journalism, and we shouldn’t be assisting them with it.

If Britain is to remain in the EU, then it will be because there has been a firm shift in public opinion towards remain, of the kind that the Government cannot ignore. If the electorate are going to change their minds they’re not going to take it from Remainers that it’s the right thing to do: they need trusted, impartial sources of information to help them make up their minds. Undermining those sources is self-defeating.

Those indulging in conspiracy theorising against the BBC, and undermining trust in it, have fallen for the nirvana fallacy: they are comparing the real BBC with an unrealistic, idealised version of how it might be. The BBC is never going to be perfect, because it’s a fallible, man-made institution. The choice is between it as it stands, and no BBC at all. Make common cause with those who would destroy the BBC, and it will disappear and take public service broadcasting with it.

The alternatives to the BBC’s standards of journalism are the likes of Swawkbox, the Canary and Breitbart. Be careful what you wish for.

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