So what if the BBC is left-wing?

The very notion of public service represents principles which, in the current climate, are considered left-wing

 

The BBC is routinely accused of ‘left-wing bias’ by media bodies and politicians who, we might say, exhibit a subtle bias of their own towards the right of the political spectrum. With the continuation of the BBC in its present form seemingly under threat, it’s worth thinking about what’s actually going on when this claim is made.

First of all, and before Guardian readers revolt, whether or not the BBC exhibits ‘left-wing bias’ is very much open to question. When one digs beneath the surface of all the partisan huff-and-puffery, one finds – as Owen Jones has pointed out in (yes) the Guardian – plenty of key BBC personnel with a conservative heritage, from Chris Patten to Nick Robinson to Andrew Neil to Robbie Gibb to Kamal Ahmed.

Leaving that aside, however: assuming the BBC does have some kind of left-wing tendency, so what?

Certainly, like other public broadcasters, in its presentation of news and political matters, the BBC must show due impartiality and give equal weight to divergent viewpoints. Nobody questions this.

Yet more broadly we must realise that the BBC exists as an instantiation of principles that, in the current climate, are generally considered left-wing.

As an organisation run not for commercial ends but for the wider public good, and funded accordingly, the BBC embodies the idea that a good society is about more than commerce and business; the idea that a good society needs a plurality of institutions, and should not be dominated simply by those of the market.

Like the NHS and public universities (also threatened in their current form by the privatisation lobby), the BBC exists to serve the public interest in a way that market institutions – which must prioritise the commercial interests of investors and owners – tend only sto do econdarily.

Unbound by the need to deliver a financial return on investment, the BBC is free to pursue projects that may not have mass commercial appeal, but which have longer-term cultural value, or serve non-economic, social and civic ends.

This is borne out in many ways, from shows such as Question Time and the Today programme, to Test Match Special and Thought For The Day, to the huge contribution the BBC makes to the UK’s creative industries, often in areas that are overlooked by commercial competitors.

It is part and parcel of this public role that the BBC be seen and heard as a defender of the public interest within society, as a defender of the shared good of the nation, since contributing to this shared good is its raison d’être.

The simple fact is that, although the BBC has an absolute responsibility to be non-partisan in its presentation of political and topical issues, in its day-to-day operation it will naturally sit to the left of the political spectrum.

This is the kind of institution it is, and the kind of institutional culture it is required to have in order to fulfil its stated purpose, which is to prioritise public over private interest, culture and society over economy (the simple absence of adverts on BBC programming can be read as an acknowledgement that we are more than mere consumers).

It is unsurprising that the BBC’s major critics are its private commercial rivals – e.g. the Murdoch press – and representatives of a political agenda that has, since Thatcher, sought the mass privatisation of major public institutions. Is it not completely obvious what is going on here?

The ideals that the BBC embodies are an affront to those on the political right who, in thrall to an ideology of private enterprise, see little validity to public institutions and thus regard the license fee as an unjustified state intervention in the broadcasting market, and the BBC itself as a barrier to profit.

As so the real question underlying the future of the BBC is this: does our vision for society include, as it did for those who established the Corporation in its public-service form in the 1920s, major institutions that exist explicitly to serve the shared good of the nation, and are structured and funded in such a way that they are not subject to commercial constraint?

If it does, then this is a broadly ‘left-wing’ ideal, because it acknowledged the limits of markets; the BBC should rightly be recognised as a fulfilment of certain ‘socialist’ principles.

Yet these principles accord with many conservative values as well, whether of tradition, culture, beauty, or the need to conserve in the present what is best about the past (the business of conserving the past is not, after all, necessarily profitable).

In its current form, the BBC stands for nothing less than the defence of society itself, imagined as something more than a machine for economic growth. For the common good of the nation, it must continue to do so.

Dr. Simon Ravenscroft recently completed a PhD in philosophy at religion at Cambridge University, and currently works on the research staff at the Von Hügel Institute

37 Responses to “So what if the BBC is left-wing?”

  1. John Smith

    ‘assuming the BBC does have some kind of left-wing tendency, so what?’

    Because part of its original charter was to be independent?

  2. Selohesra

    The fact that lefties always clamouring to defend the BBC and failing to see its bias perhaps indicates that the BBC is more in line with their way of thinking

  3. John McPartland

    Because it is meant to be independent, non partisan, unbiased. As the television tax is forcibly collected from all. All this article does is show, in utter clarity why the BBC needs to go in its current form. good show comrade.

  4. GhostofJimMorisson

    Of course Dr Ravenscroft is going to be left-wing: his career relies on public money

  5. stevep

    No, The BBC Is not left-wing. It is as unbiased and impartial as it`s possible to be in a right-wing consumerist society.
    The very idea is absurd. Indeed, it used to be criticised as being too establishment, too stuffy – like a maiden aunt. Where of course the old nickname “Aunty” Beeb came from.
    It has tried to lighten up in recent years and if it has a failing, it`s that it tries too hard to be all things to all people.
    The licence fee is a contentious issue. Is it right to insist the public pay a fee for a public service? Of course it is.
    The BBC is not just a broadcast medium, it is part of the very fabric of life in the UK, like National Insurance or the Royal Family. any call to privatise either would be met with howls of outrage across the political spectrum.
    So let`s celebrate what we`ve got and what a good many other countries would give their eye teeth for. A smidge over £12 a month is marvellous value considering the breadth and depth of BBC programming.

  6. Cole

    Ah, these academics are all commies.

  7. Selohesra

    Of course you Back the Beeb – it supports your leftie slant on things

  8. Selohesra

    Of course you Back the Beeb – it supports your leftie slant on things

  9. stevep

    Maybe you need to re-read my comments. It`s not too difficult, even for a right-winger!

  10. Selohesra

    “Le`ts have a “Back The Beeb” campaign!” – there re-read it – seems to imply you support it – rest of what you posted just twaddle – of course its left-wing

  11. stevep

    Plenty of right-wingers would support it too! Because they use The BBC it and rely on it. Life wouldn`t be the same without it.
    The only twaddle on this site comes from Tory Trolls bent on disruption and distortion. They will be outed and rebutted!

  12. Selohesra

    UKIP troll – please!

  13. stevep

    At least you admit you are a Troll. Most don`t. Respect.

  14. Harold

    The BBC is and always has been a conservative organisation. Way back when the “Young Ones” was on TV they commented by adding to the BBC program start “Broadcasting on behalf of the Conservative Party. I will accept if you are a UKIP/BNP/English Democrats and sections of the Tory Party then most organisations will seem “left wing” perhaps even the S8n and the Daily **il. At the last election the BBC went out of their way to make life easy for the Tories, even fixing the audience on the Q Time programme. Since the election they could not have been more sycophantic to the Government if they tried.

  15. stevep

    Absolutely correct. The Q time Tory audience plant was Quite blatant, yet no-one commented on it much. There would have been much squealing from the right if the reverse had happened.
    The BBC is and always has been pro-establishment. The criticism accusing it of being left-wing illustrates how far to the right Britain has shifted and how far the right are prepared to go to fulfil their agenda.

  16. blarg1987

    Please clarify what would you describe as news outlet that would be in the middle for reference?

  17. Faerieson

    As Lenin is alleged to have said, “Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” And this maybe alludes to the root of the ‘problem,’ if problem it truly is.

    The UK’s ostensibly reactionary ‘free’press have been banging on about the BBC for decades. And the demise of a real Labour Party appears to have removed a significant voice for those of conscience. ‘Tory Lite,’ I believe many of those north of the border now term the Labour Party. Thus, those who oppose the highly divisive nature of the current government have found themselves somewhat disenfranchised.

    As for the argument that the BBC are left-wing, this barely merits discussion. There may well be a small monority of dissenting voices, but they remain by design a minority. The organisation’s shameless (verging on) abuse of engineered opinion polls immediately prior to the election, revealed the true and underlying political slant of the BBC. But even so, anyone who has ever, abroad, been witness to the possible alternatives, would have to concede that the proposed changes do not bode well for the future of a better quality of broadcasting. For all of its faults it puts most other stations to shame!

  18. blarg1987

    We can opt out of paying the TV license, compared to having no control over which money goes to which TV station in the form of paying an uplift on the products and services you purchase for advertising on said stations.

  19. JAMES MCGIBBON

    The BBC News is unlike Fox News, fair and balanced. And they do make some excellent programmes.
    Some of you lefties have to realise that Britain is right wing and that includes some who pretend to be lefties. The so called left wing SNP want abortion rights transferred to them so they can dictate to women. Thought I would mention this as the left are silent on this issue.

  20. Faerieson

    Correction, ‘minority.’

  21. gunnerbear

    Surely if the BBC was so utterly brilliant then the public would flock to fund it via subscription. Why not give the public that choice? Afraid of the answer? The BBC are Lefty, Green washing morons; http://biasedbbc.org/blog/2015/07/05/dole-not-coal/ More damage done to the working man and woman by the Reds Climate Change scam. Which current Labour MP was steered that through the HoCs (and the other f**kers in the other parties were just as much a***e-holes for voting for the Climate Change Act).

  22. stevep

    I take my hat off to you, Sir. Anyone who can move the subject matter on from the BBC to abortion rights without any obvious connection, deserves my respect. You are a born Politician!

  23. stevep

    Yes, The Tory Trolls bleat and whine on behalf of their political masters, but they would miss the BBC if it went.
    The rest of the world has the utmost respect for the BBC. We don`t. Familiarity breeds contempt.
    The UK is currently being drip-fed right-wing propaganda against anything not in the interest of the wealthy few. A bonfire of public services will ensue, to be replaced, if history shows anything, by more expensive, narrower and inferior private services, purely for profit.
    It disgusts me we have fallen so low.

  24. stevep

    Yes, The Tory Trolls bleat and whine on behalf of their political masters, but they would miss the BBC if it went.
    The rest of the world has the utmost respect for the BBC. We don`t. Familiarity breeds contempt.
    The UK is currently being drip-fed right-wing propaganda against anything not in the interest of the wealthy few. A bonfire of public services will ensue, to be replaced, if history shows anything, by more expensive, narrower and inferior private services, purely for profit.
    It disgusts me we have fallen so low.

  25. Dave Stewart

    I find the idea that the BBC is left wing laughable.

    As was mentioned in the article the primary reason for this accusation is that it is a public broadcaster and aims to serve the public good rather than profit and that this position is inherently left wing. The absurdity comes when one realizes that even the great profit of free market economics Adam Smith thought that there were categorically parts of society and the economy that should not be left to the market alone. This idea that only the market should provide is rather new (around 30ish years) and was until the 80s considered completely extreme.

    The BBC isn’t left wing by nature, society (in Britain at least) has lurched alarmingly to the right much to the delight of those pushing this ideology who are set to gain massively from it especially those able to shout about it loudly like Rupert Murdoch among others.

    Also for those who complain about the cost of the BBC please bear in mind that the average viewing time for just BBC1 is 4 hours and 38 minuets per person per week (for around £2.70 per week per household not per person) which is around 240 hours per person per year (for around) £140 per household not per person). Also around 72% of people watch BBC1 at least some of the time. Again that is just for BBC1 not including all the other TV, radio and internet services provided. How anyone can claim that this is expensive I simply do not know it is madness. Compare that sort of value to that of Sky (cheapest subscription £5 a week per household) or Virgin media (cheapest subscription £3.25 per week per household) it’s incredible and all without having to sit through annoying adverts.

    Please note that the Virgin and Sky subscriptions mentioned above are the cheapest I could find with a quick google search, they do not have many of the channels that most people tend to want, movies and sports for instance they also won’t come with all the other services that the BBC provides.

    The source of the info below:

    http://www.barb.co.uk/whats-new/weekly-viewing-summary
    http://www.uswitch.com/tv/providers/sky/
    http://www.uswitch.com/tv/providers/virgin_media/

  26. stevep

    The BBC is utterly brilliant, let`s get that one out of the way!
    The public do pay for The BBC by subscription, it`s called a TV licence. Public service, public subscription. Have done for decades, in case you`ve missed anything.
    If by choice you mean the choice of programming on the BBC as a whole versus commercial models like Sky or ITV, don`t make me laugh. ITV isn`t horrible, but doesn`t come close to the BBC for depth and breadth of programming. Sky is full of channels regurgitating ancient films and channels producing cheap, badly-made programmes designed to fill in the gaps between adverts.
    I don`t think the blatant attack on the BBC will be as effective as the rabid right think. The BBC is more pro-establishment than they realise and is watched and listened to by people all across the political spectrum.
    Remember the sell-off of Forestry Commission woodland, started by Labour and accelerated into full-blown proposed privatisation by the Tories. It wasn`t allowed to happen because huge amounts of people in affected constituencies complained about it and the Tories were forced into a U-Turn.
    The British people at heart are a decent race and respect decent values. The BBC represents those values.
    It guts the rabid right to realise it, but long may it continue!

  27. JAMES MCGIBBON

    Labour will always be outgunned in such programmes. The Con/Libs hate Labour and even managed to convince some of the plebs that Labour were responsible for the world wide capitalist recession. The SNP have a vile hatred of Labour. It is a no win for Labour.

  28. JAMES MCGIBBON

    Why not especially when a discussion is almost exhausted and more so when womens rights are always under attack from the religious fringe.

  29. gunnerbear

    “The public do pay for The BBC by subscription, it`s called a TV licence. ” No subscription means choice. The TV Licence is a Tax – you go to jail for not paying it.

  30. blarg1987

    Lets play a game, you and I set up our own TV stations that are subscription base, I am however free to show whatever I want, you on the other hand by charter have to show programmes that are in essence loss makers, such as news, sports, wildlife and small interest programmes.

    Who do you think is going to be successful under that system and who is going to go bust?

  31. gunnerbear

    Then the BBC can make stuff that people want to buy instead of being forced to pay for. Why should I be made to pay for the BBC when there is no football on it on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

  32. gunnerbear

    Then the BBC can make stuff that people want to buy instead of being forced to pay for. Why should I be made to pay for the BBC when there is no football on it on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

  33. blarg1987

    Because it has to under government charter. Which is the point I was trying to make in the above comment.

  34. HeleneJBurgess

    Last 50 year Best Home Income with leftfootforward. < ……… Find Here

  35. Sean

    When the country’s politics are as right wing as the Torys and UKIP, then even middle of the spectrum is viewed as left-wing. Gain some perspective…

  36. Janet T-Tremaine

    True JOURNALISM is all about giving both sides to a story – NOT about favouring one over the other. That is why it would be a good thing for the BBC not to be funded by public money so that people can choose whether or not to listen to them. If their reports are always skewed to the Left then the Right would not subcribe to the BBC and vice versa. Harold – I don’t know which programmes you watched on the BBC but they do not reflect any that I saw – especially when it came to the SNP which had so much cover of Nicola Sturgeon it was nauseating, and now has made her think that she is some sort of royalty. All she is, is a woman leader of the Scottish Nationalists.

  37. CaptainSensible

    This is the most sensible post of all those above – remove the compulsion to pay the license fee. If the people of Britain want the BBC to survive they’ll contribute if not they won’t.

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