BY JOHN ISMAEL
BBC Bias is discussed across the nation all the time but having such bias recorded as evidence to prove cases of bias is another matter. Yes, the BBC likes to record itself but, because the BBC is such a huge and multi-faceted institution, it’s very difficult to prove that a bit of bias in one direction is not simultaneously being outweighed by another bit of bias in another direction on some other random BBC station or channel within the BBC. The BBC is so huge that any survey of its bias – the BBC would say – is rendered nigh impossible.
Nonetheless, there are websites out there which log instances of bias and few are as determined and committed as Biased BBC. We increasingly suspect the BBC is no longer impartial and we are increasingly minded to see the BBC licence fee as a tax too far.
One of the most disappointing examples of the BBC’s lacking in impartiality has been shown by one of its most unlikely programmes – The Moral Maze, which features on BBC Radio 4, presented by either Michael Buerk or David Aaronovitch. Buerk is of course highly respected – he joined the BBC in 1970. During his subsequent years as a foreign correspondent, which included a four-year posting to South Africa, he reported from 53 countries. People tend to trust Buerk as he read the BBC News during those years when the BBC stood more with the people and enjoyed reporting news events as they were, rather than as they saw them.
So, what has happened to the Buerk brand? When The Moral Maze chooses its guest speakers today why is it often not declaring that some of the regular guest speakers on the show are from the same, weird cult, called the Revolutionary Communist Party? (The RCP has evolved since the early 90’s into Living Marxism and then Spiked, alongside front organisations like the Institute of Ideas and Sense about Science. The RCP network is still led by the redbrick sociologist Frank Furedi. An interesting background to this whacky cult, written by a former member, Don Milligan, can be found here).
The RCP, which has become a libertarian, contrarian posse of weirdness (try and read the cult’s Mick Hume’s The Point is to Change It) – although allegedly once linked to violence – has as much right as anyone else to appear on a BBC programme like The Moral Maze. That is not the issue here. Milligan is correct in saying that Spiked Online and the Institute of Ideas are merely part of the commentariat, and as such these former comrades have as much “right to bang on about progress, censorship, science and technology as anybody else”. As James Bloodworth writes on Little Atoms, “never knowingly not on Radio 4, the former cadres of the RCP apparently pride themselves on being loose-cannon dissenters with a bulging book of social contacts.”
What is unacceptable on the part of the BBC is having episodes of The Moral Maze where more than one speaker is from the RCP (often referred to as the LM Network) and not announcing this fact to the BBC audience – their fee payers.
The BBC can hardly claim ignorance.
After all, just as BBC Bias employs watchers, so the RCP is watched for whatever it does. Those in the metropolitan media world should know of the RCP and their members and tactics, not least because they’re guaranteed contrarians – if you want a wind-up merchant on your programme to generate controversy, the RCP is an inexhaustible source of talking heads for hire, and they sometimes even produce the goods.
Take the case of Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas (good speaker and valuable Moral Maze contributor) sitting alongside another RCP’er, Kanan Malik, during one Moral Maze episode. A blogger detailed the programme – discussing Zimbabwe – here asking, “So why was he (Malik) lamely (and, it seemed to me, embarrassedly) backing up Claire Fox’s crass “anti-imperialist” excuses for Mugabe? Could it possibly be because Malik, for all his erudition, is a member of the same organisation as Claire Fox?”
The sect has now got a third interrogator on the programme – James Panton – notorious for his robust defence of animal experimentation.
The BBC cannot be so lackadaisical to think for a moment that the RCP are harmless therefore members escape public classification. Some of the RCP sect members’ comments in the very recent past about rape victims and paedophilia have been vile. The sect’s denying of the genocide in Serbian death camps saw the closure of their magazine Living Marxism after a legal battle with ITN and lost the group any benefit of the doubt years ago.
If the RCP is genuinely what some of the freedom-loving writing of RCP’ers Brendan O’Neill and Mick Hume claim they represent, then why do the Institute of Ideas secretly put multiple RCP members on panels and then charge members of the public to hear them debate? Why the front organisations? Why the apparent entryism? Where is the transparency if the RCP has nothing to hide? How is the RCP funded? Why is their guru Frank Furedi’s wife the chief executive of BPAS, the UK’s largest independent abortion provider? How come Furedi has recently been appearing on Newsnight and on Radio 4? It is hard to gauge the real influence of this group of people. But their skill in achieving spaces on public platforms without revealing their real intentions and politics, and their ongoing work in UK schools and universities, are a worry. Maybe it is time the RCP, or whatever it calls itself these days, came clean with a statement and pointed out they are genuinely harmless and here are where ex-RCP fingers are in pies.
BBC Moral Maze Producers, if you consider dishonesty and duplicity to be moral problems, sort this blatant bias out. Just as BBC Radio 4 was asked to apologise for not announcing Miriam González Durántez as Nick Clegg’s wife during a Brexit segment on the Today programme last week, so The Moral Maze should make a statement about these RCP’ers.
Or change the show’s name to The Immoral Maze. But then Buerk, presumably, would be off in a shot.