2016 minus 45: proud of the bbc?

Posted: 17 November 2015 in 2016minus, media
Tags: , ,

I’m not entirely sure when the phrase “I’m Proud Of The BBC” first became a ‘thing’ but certainly it became one after Mitch Benn wrote I’M PROUD OF THE BBC in 2010 and it became a fan favourite. I’ve a personal connection to the song, not only because I’m in the video (for about one and a half seconds) but because it was during the recording that I met Mitch, Clara and their children, after which my life literally changed for reasons that I may go into on another occasion. Suffice to say that without their love, support and friendship, my life would have been very, very different the past five years.

So, yes, I’m proud of the BBC. I’m very proud of it. I’m proud of public service broadcasting and how the BBC is so highly regarded around the world. I’m proud of how the BBC’s news service manages – more often than not – to ‘get it right’, not just in terms of accuracy, but tone as well.

Now before anyone jumps in to suggest that means something other than what it does, it’s worth reiterating that being ‘proud’ of something or someone doesn’t mean that you’re proud of everything it does or they do. 

I’m proud of my lad for many, many things. I’m proud of the young man he’s become, of so very much he’s done and accomplished in life. That doesn’t mean that I was particularly proud of him the day he tried to feed a jam sandwich to our video player when he was very young “because it looked hungry”. (Sorry, Phil!) Similarly, I wasn’t proud of him when he, as toddlers do from time to time, threw a tantrum in public.

In the same way, just because I’m proud to say that I’m proud of the BBC, it doesn’t mean that I agree with every decision they make, every programme they broadcast, the way they cover every news story. There are examples of each of the foregoing where I’ve problems with the BBC, and decisions they’ve made either in terms management judgement calls or about specific programmes. And yes, of course, the BBC puts out thousands of hours or original radio and tv programming; it would be astonishing if anyone were to have no issues with any of the programming. Harking back to the earlier mentioned philiosopher Benn, I agree with him that people want the BBC to be like a taxi, to take the individual member of the audience directly to where they want to go; in fact, it’s more like a bus service, taking everyone pretty near where they want to go, and occasionally right to their door.

All of that said, there are times the BBC as an organisation – and remember the BBC has a lot of organisations within it –  does things that are… well… ‘dodgy’ would be a kind way of putting it, and ‘indefensible’ a more accurate way of putting it.

And we don’t have to reach very far back to identify them. Leaving to one side, simply because there’s nothing to add, the culture that existed inside the BBC that allowed Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris and others to operate their vile practices, it’s not that long ago that two directors general of the BBC were forced out of their jobs, Greg Dyke because of the fallout from The Hutton Enquiry, George Entwhistle after Newsnight incorrectly implicated Lord McAlpine in the North Wales child abuse scandal.

And then, there’s BBC Three Counties Radio and Iain Lee. I don’t know Iain Lee at all; to use an old line, he wouldn’t know me from Adam, though at least he’d acknowledge I was better dressed. But Iain Lee… (You know what? I’m going to use his first name just because it’d just be weird to refer to him as ‘Lee’, for obvious reasons.)

Iain has, or rather had a show on TCR during which he did much, but in which he definitely expressed his views as to the idiocy of others. Libby Powell of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre appeared on the show defending a prison gardener and Pentacostal Minister who said he was being persecuted for telling prisoners to ‘repent’ for their homosexuality and for reading out passages from the Bible condemning homosexuality during a recent service at the prison. Iain asked her if she supported bigotry. “Homophobia is bigotry. Do you support bigotry?”

Apparently, this didn’t go down to well with Ms Powell because she defended her anti-homosexual views with church teachings, which led Iain to retort “You’ve chosen not to question it, because you’re a bigot” describing Reverend Barry Trayhorn’s views as ‘obnoxious’ and ‘poisonous’.

OK, so far, so contentious. It was combative but that’s part of why Iain was hired. It was direct and to the point and… and… and the BBC relieved him of his position. The official position is “Iain Lee will no longer be presenting his shows on the station.” To all intents and purposes they fired him. I specify “to all intents and purposes” because of course like many, odds are that Iain was not legally “employed”, but was hired as a freelancer. If he had been employed, I’d have expected the BBC, had they wished to dispose of his services, to have undertaken disciplinary procedures in line with the terms and conditions of his employment. That they could announce so quickly that he would not be returning… that says ‘freelancer’ to me.&

However, that’s a separate point. The main point I wish to make is… well, the main question I wish to ask is… WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU PLAYING AT, BBC THREE COUNTIES RADIO?

If someone makes a bigoted point, then the presenter has every right – one might even argue obligation – to say so. Their religion should not, does not and must not protect them from that, especially when they’re commenting upon a matter of public interest in the public arena. If a priest or rabbi or immam wants to mouth off about homosexuality in the privacy of their church, synagogue or mosque, without being called on it, that’s an arguable case. And inside a prison, the Authority isn’t God, but the Prison Governer. But the moment you enter the public arena, there’s no argument: you don’t get to muzzle others when they call you bigoted.

As many have said over many years, freedom of speech is not freedom from the consequences of that speech.

The BBC are wrong on this, flat wrong. And I’m not very proud of them at all for their decision. Their sacking of Iain Lee is a disgrace; it’s indefensible and contrary to what BBC should stand for: to educate, inform and entertain.

I hope that Iain Lee goes on to better and brighter things.

  1. Your thoughts echo mine own on the subject of CBC/Radio-Canada, on public broadcasting services in general in truth. We’ve had our own fiascoes as you may have heard in recent years.

    The instance you describe…does not yet have a parallel in my experience, although mutual acquaintances may yet put that belief into a grave in short order. I’d be glad to hear the original broadcast of that conversation in order to confirm that you are, as I suspect, rightly disputing the removal.

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