The BBC’s hall of mirrors By William Bowles

26 August 2007

“However, especially in the years since Hutton, we’ve come to focus on it [public trust or rather, lack of it] first and foremost in the context of journalism. Accuracy, impartiality, resolute defence of our editorial independence, a willingness to acknowledge mistakes when we make them: meeting all these expectations simultaneously is an immense challenge in these complex, disputatious times, but it is what the BBC has to do.”The BBC has squandered trust. But we will win it back Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, the Guardian, Friday August 24, 2007

Methinks ‘the lady doth protest’ just a little too much. More to the point, Thompson’s observations on the public’s lack of trust in the BBC uses the pathetic example of the furore over the promo on the Queen’s photo-shoot, not exactly at the cutting edge of BBC news and current affairs programming.

Indeed, where it counts most, on the BBC’s slavish adherence to the status quo, Thompson has absolutely nothing to say except that whatever the BBC’s faults:

“The BBC remains by a long way the most trusted broadcaster, indeed the most trusted media provider of any kind”

But why then do almost 1/3rd of those questioned (according to Thompson) state that they have lost trust in the BBC? Thompson would have us believe it’s because of little ‘faux pas’ here and there that have resulted in the lack of trust.

But the major reason for the loss of trust–that the BBC is a vehicle for state propaganda–is alluded to when Thompson says “especially in the years since Hutton”. But why is the Hutton ‘inquiry’ so important?

In truth, the Andrew Gilligan interview with Dr. Kelly which in turn led not only to Dr. Kelly’s alleged suicide but also the axing of the top managers of BBC and finally the pathetic Hutton Inquiry was the ‘tipping point’ for the public’s loss of trust not only in the BBC but also in the government itself.

“The serious problems we’ve found affected a minuscule percentage of our output: not 10% or 1%, but perhaps a few thousandths of 1% of the programmes we have broadcast over the past couple of years.”

But we are not talking about ‘errors’ of fact here but the ideological position of the BBC and its role in pushing the ‘party line’, something that is built-in to the very fabric of the BBC and always has been.

So blatant was the state’s interference in the BBC’s news coverage of the UK’s participation in the illegal invasion of Iraq that it literally did a flip overnight. Thus Thompson’s utterly disingenuous remarks about the BBC being “the most trusted media provider of any kind” were it not such a serious subject, be absolutely laughable.

And indeed, the very fact that Thompson felt it necessary to publish this paean to the BBC’s alleged impartiality reveals not only how important the BBC is to the state’s propaganda machine but also how vulnerable it feels given the disastrous results of the British state’s attempt to exhume the British Empire.

For as Thompson points out:

“Public trust is not a new topic for us. We’ve always known that it’s the foundation on which everything the BBC does is built. We’ve also known that it’s asymmetrical – easy to lose, slow and difficult to restore.”

Yes indeedy, without public trust, the BBC is unable to be its ‘master’s voice’ and unless it really asserts its independence from the state, it won’t be “slow and difficult to restore”, but well nigh impossible and the odds of this happening are as remote as the BBC regaining the trust of the public.

Never before has the hegemony of the managing elite been so effectively challenged, not only through its ineptitude but because for the first time there are real alternatives which the public can turn to, not as ‘alternative’ sources of news and information but which the public can use as a comparison.

For make no mistake, even though there is currently no challenge to the rule of capital, the goings on inside (and outside) the BBC reflect a deep-seated crisis of confidence in the capitalist state of which the BBC is such an integral part and has been so since its inception.

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