IS THE BBC BIASED?
Robin Aitken, a former BBC reporter, has written a book arguing that the corporation has a systematic left-wing bias on matters such as Europe, immigration, the war in Iraq and so on. He was debating the issue at the ICA this evening with Peter Horrocks, BBC head of News, Tim Gardam, the former Channel 4 boss, and Jane Seaton, the BBC's official historian.
I'm not in any doubt that the BBC has a liberal bias - not a systematic centrally controlled political agenda but a set of widely shared and largely unchallenged cultural assumptions around, for example, multiculturalism, discrimination, Europe, the Third World and much else - and, even though I share many of these assumptions, I think it's wrong, even dangerous, that a publicly-funded broadcaster should be so blinkered.
These allegations have been around for a long time and the BBC has traditionally denied them robustly. Recently, though, some BBC people have begun to acknowledge that there might be problem, and so it was with Peter Horrocks, this evening.
Horrocks can't help the way he looks but he very much fits the stereotype of an upper-middle class intellectual grandee looking down his flared nostrils at the rest of us. He did accept some of what Aitken said though he denied that the BBC had a liberal bias.
His view was that, on issues like Europe and immigration, the BBC had focussed on the debate as it is in Westminster and ignored the wider spread of views held by the public at large. So the BBC had failed to represent Eurosceptic and anti-immigration views, for example.
There may be something in this but I don't think it's the full story. I think a more accurate explanation would be that the BBC was reflecting issues in the way that they tend to be reflected in the broadly liberal metropolitan circles in which BBC staff move. As a London media type, I rarely meet people who profess themselves strongly anti-European or anti-immigration. I rarely, to be honest, meet people who admit to holding Conservative views (unless it's the touchy-feely green Conservatism of David Cameron). It's easy to see how people who move in such circles could come to believe that these views are beyond the pale - when, in fact, they may well be the dominant opinions of the British public generally.
Anyway, even if Horrocks can't bring himself to accept the reality of bias at the Corporation, it's good to see senior figures acknowledge that all is not well at the BBC. Let's see if they put it right.