Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

BBC Bias: One Step Forward …

Billy Joel performing in Jacksonville, Florida...

Joel good, Manford bad

Yes, I know I’m a bit behind the news here, but it seems Jason Manford has been read his future by BBC management after he spoke out against poor equipment provision for the troops recently.

In fact, he exacerbated his crime by criticising the Beeb’s coverage of the Help for Heroes concert. Now while I agree with Manford on both counts, he is now a part (albeit a semi-detached one) of the BBC collective and thus needs to mind himself when it comes to overt political activism. So, maybe some brownie points are due to the Beeb for actually doing something about bias on the part of one of its presenters, even though Manford has given no hint of any bias on his work on The One Show. Sadly though I suspect that, just like Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (who lost their BBC parking privileges after attacking the licence fee), his real crime was to show his teeth to the mouth that is currently feeding him. Perhaps, then, we’ll suspend our praise.

One has to wonder, though, if the same finger wagging would have been directed at any public faces of the BBC who spoke out against, say, the Iraq War?

Whatever, the suspended brownie point awarded above must be forfeited thanks to the efforts of Simon Mayo’s efforts last Thursday (17th) during his Drivetime show on Radio 2.

Playing one pro-trade union track is easily forgiveable, two seems suspicious. However, Mayo played at least five tracks with the reminder that it was “the last day of the TUC conference” so they were going to play some “TUC songs” and “songs to send trade union delegates home with a spring in their step”. Even Brian Ferry’s classic “Lets’ Stick Together” was explicitly thrown into the mix.

Strawbs’ “Part of the Union”, Mayo told us, “pretty much started off as an anti-union song, which then became an anthem for the unions”. Phew, consistency maintained. (Funnily enough, quite a few of those listening probably best remember it as the soundtrack to an insurance advert.)

Tennessee Ernie Fords’ Sixteen Tons and Billy Joel’s Allentown we’re aired, with Mayo revealing that he had never though of the latter as a trade union song, until a proper listening to the lyrics revealed its blue-collar nature. (That was a lucky – he might have missed that one otherwise.)

Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” was “of course, another union tune”.

What we see here is that whatever internal policing takes place of bias in the BBC current affairs coverage, it seems to ignore other areas of output, including light entertainment on harmless old Radio 2.

Am I being rather pedantic and nit-picky here? Quite possibly, but since the BBC expects to be regarded as an impartial broadcaster, the bar has been set – too high, one could suggest, for anyone to achieve. I look forward to Simon Mayo inviting suggestions for Libdem songs, Labour anthems or “songs to send Conservative delegates home with a spring in their step”.

Maybe the best solution would be to remove the duty of impartiality; after all, why should the rules on broadcasters political positions be any different to newspapers? Naturally, removing the impartiality duty would require the abolition of the compulsory licence fee – fine; if I’m not being forced to pay for it, the BBC can be as biased as it likes.

An interesting footnote to the Simon Mayo issue arose from his introduction to the theme for the evening; apparently he had considered doing some “Pope oldies” but “couldn’t make it work in a reliable and uncontroversial way”. Hmm.


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