Friday, January 26, 2007

Lost Mail, Mr Dacre?

Paul Dacre rages against the BBC's 'liberal bias' because, in his heart, he knows the Daily Mail is losing its purchase on public opinion.

Lance Price - Guardian CIF

It's been a tough couple of weeks for the BBC. First, it had to come to terms with having its wings clipped by the below-inflation financial settlement imposed by Gordon Brown. Then it faced a broadside from the editor of the Daily Mail,
accusing it of seeking to destroy all that's good about British culture and society. According to Mr Dacre, the corporation is a massive, many-headed hydra threatening all that decent Britons hold dear. It's enough to make you tremble with fear as you reach for the remote control.

The Mail, of course, has a particular gift for instilling fear. Never an issue goes by without warning its readers that modern Britain is a nasty, dangerous place that should be ventured into only with great caution. Stray too far and you are likely to be attacked and brutalised by any one, if not all, of the following: violent criminals, illegal immigrants, paedophiles, mad mullahs, foreigners and officials of the European Union. Far better to stay inside with the Daily Mail and turn your face from the window.

It's no longer even safe to stick on BBC1 or maybe listen to a bit of Radio 2. If you do, you'll be inviting the apologists for all that is wicked out there right into your home. And what's more, the Corporation has the effrontery to charge you a licence fee to fund its insidious conspiracy of 'cultural Marxism'.

Paul Dacre offered some hope to those who shares his views. He concludes that the BBC is so bloated and self-satisfied that it's in for a fall. American-style right-wing radio and TV channels will spring up to counter the corporation's bias and steal its audience in huge numbers.

I believe Mr Dacre is fundamentally wrong. Wrong in his analysis of the BBC. Wrong in thinking that the Daily Mail comes closer to representing the views of the majority of British people. And wrong in predicting a rupture between the Corporation and its audience.

There is another way of looking at the BBC. Far from undermining traditional British values, it upholds them with a tenacity that impedes any radical challenge to the status quo. Let's take just a couple of obvious examples. The royal family is treated with fawning coverage that sickens those of us who believe it's wrong for any position of power and influence to be a gift of birth. The content and tone of royal reporting is almost uniformly unchallenging and reverential. And when it comes to reverential, the special treatment meted out to the good reverends of the Church of England, and, to a lesser extent, to representatives of other religions, is monstrous.

No organisation that gives free air-time to a minority sect like Anglicanism can truly be considered part of a Marxist conspiracy. Watch Songs of Praise and you would think that the people of Britain were filling our churches with undiminished enthusiasm every Sunday. "Thought for the Day" is an extraordinary anomaly in the otherwise rigorous Today programme. No economist, politician or businessperson is given a free slot to expound their take on the world completely unchallenged. And quite right, too. What's so special about people of faith?

More generally, BBC journalism has moved downmarket, closer to the "tabloid" style so beloved by the Daily Mail. Indeed, stories from the Mail itself stand a disproportionately higher chance of being followed up by the BBC than those from any other paper. So much so, that a recent emailer to the Six O'clock News asked if it was the BBC's job to be the Daily Mail of the airwaves.

Where the Corporation differs from the Mail, however, is in its openness to debate. The Daily Mail has its view of the world and that's that. You can take it or leave it, and many of us chose to leave it. The BBC does, indeed, paint a different picture of Britain. More culturally and politically diverse, more open and more broadminded. It can be guilty of an establishment bias but its airwaves are open to the public as never before to express more or less whatever opinions they like within the law. Sometimes those opinions reflect those of Mr Dacre. More often, they do not.

That, I believe, is why Paul Dacre is really so angry with the BBC. It's starting to dawn on him that, having been a master of political and cultural propaganda for so long, he's beginning to lose his touch. Or rather, Britain is moving on and leaving him behind.

How does he know? Because even the Conservative Party has abandoned his agenda, or says it has. David Cameron routinely denounces Daily Mail values because he knows that the broad centre of public opinion in this country, to which he has to appeal, doesn't agree with them. Mr Dacre thinks that because people buy his paper, they agree with its politics. Mr Cameron is calculating that many of them don't, and he's surely right.

And so if the Fox News-style rightwing news channels were to try to break into the BBC's market, they would fail because the BBC upholds something that the Daily Mail never has and never will: fairness. And that's something I and, I suspect, the vast majority of licence fee-payers are more than happy to pay for.


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