Accuracy in Media

By Jonathan Boyd Hunt*

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is rapidly expanding in the United States, has launched a $1 million advertising campaign to sell the American people on the “impartiality” of its new 24-hour news channel, BBC World News. As Stuart Elliot of the New York Times put it:

“The campaign portrays the network as providing coverage that is impartial and objective, enabling viewers, as several ads declare, ‘to see both sides of the story.’ In other words, ‘fair and balanced,’ but for real.”

Well, the BBC might try and persuade the U.S. of its integrity, but hopefully it shouldn’t take too long for most Americans to rumble its institutional leftism. When they do they will be better off for it too, because then they will also realize how the planet’s most powerful broadcaster portrays their country in 43 languages to the four corners of the world.

As discussed in the April-A AIM Report “British Media Invade U.S.,” the BBC’s claims to be an impartial broadcaster, to show “both sides of the story,” and so on, are, in fact, utterly bogus, and merely a cynical device to facilitate its anti-conservative, anti-Christian, anti-American, occasionally even seditious reporting. 

Take, for example, the time in January 2005 when the BBC transmitted the blasphemous and expletive-ridden play “Jerry Springer the Opera,” depicting, according to reports, “a gay Jesus being fondled by Eve” and “a coprophiliac, perverted, nappy [diaper]-wearing Jesus, swearing and ranting at Satan and his mother.” Later the BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson justified its broadcast in the face of 50,000 complaints thus:

“…the BBC is not here to promote a secular worldview as opposed to a religious one, or so-called progressive values over traditional ones, but rather to give voice and space to a full range of perspectives.”

Then there was the occasion in March 2005 when the BBC was forced to admit that it had paid career criminal Brendan Fearan ?4,500 ($8,200) to opine on camera for a forthcoming program about Britain’s laws on self-defence. The BBC responded to the outcry by explaining to the Daily Express that the felon Fearon wouldn’t have appeared otherwise and that his views:

“…will ensure that the programme is properly balanced and as full a picture as possible.”

Then there was the time, a week after the London terrorist outrages of 7 July 2005, when the BBC provoked a storm by broadcasting a film by Muslim radical Dr. Azzam Tamimi blaming the bombings on British foreign policy. Three days later The Sunday Telegraph reported the BBC’s response:

“The BBC said that there had been no complaints about the broadcast and the program ‘aims to provide a wide range of views.'”

In fact the BBC was later forced to admit that it had received 50 complaints (or 50,000?how are we to know?). 

There was another hullabaloo just two weeks later, when the BBC broadcast a discussion program entitled “A Question of Security,” following which it was forced to admit that it had weighted the audience with six times more Muslims than their proportion of the British population. In its response the BBC avoided addressing the point but told the Daily Express instead:

“The questions raised by the audience reflected the concerns of many people in the wake of the attacks and were robustly dealt with by the panel, which represented a wide range of views and voices.”

A few days later the BBC broadcast a film featuring Muslim radicals Abu Uzair of the “Savior Sect,” and Abu Izzadeen of “al-Ghurabaa,” both of whom are disciples of hate-preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed who calls for the “killing of Jews.” The BBC responded to the outcry over this program by posting on its website an article entitled “Why radical views must be heard,” in which its editor Ben Rich explained:

“We have received a large number of complaints about this broadcast, most objecting to Newsnight allowing people on air who support or refuse to condemn suicide bombing in the UK.  Some other complaints concerned the use of Asghar Bukhari in the discussion, who condemned the suicide bombings in London, but does not similarly condemn them in Israel?The issue is whether the BBC should specifically exclude anyone known to favor (or at least not to condemn) terrorist acts either here or elsewhere. We do not operate such a policy of exclusion.”

Clearly, such examples of the BBC’s ethos, when collated like this, provide a chilling insight into the way the BBC interprets its legal obligation to report political issues impartially.  However, when one examines the records of the BBC’s chairman Michael Grade and his director of factual programs John Willis on this issue of “due impartiality,” one’s insight deepens further. 

The BBC Chairman

Upon his appointment in April 2004 as BBC chairman, Michael Grade stressed his political neutrality and his aversion to political censorship. However, his period as controller of the BBC’s main television channel during the 1980s was fraught with controversy over its liberal output; and during his decade-long tenure of Channel Four Television from 1988 he oversaw broadcasts that the independent watchdog Media Monitoring Unit routinely criticized for their leftwing bias, which, on one occasion, compelled noted historian Paul Johnson to dub him “Britain’s pornographer-in-chief.”

Indeed, it was programs such as those transmitted under Mr. Grade’s stewardship of Channel Four that motivated three Members of the House of Lords to introduce an amendment to the then 1990 Broadcasting Bill to strengthen the existing but universally ignored requirement for British broadcasters to cover political issues with “due impartiality.” Back then Mr. Grade did not embrace the introduction of this guiding framework at all. To the contrary, he and Britain’s liberal-left mobilized in an amazing campaign to torpedo its introduction?presumably because it was designed to outlaw exactly the sort of political bias through omission that he and Britain’s other broadcasters routinely enact. 

Back then in 1990 Michael Grade armed himself with legal opinions from liberal broadcasting law firms and then spearheaded the campaign to force the Conservative Government to ditch the revision on the grounds that it was unworkable and would result in the courts being clogged up with “rightwing lunatics” holding broadcasters like him to account. 

He and his supporters argued that the proposal amounted to censorship of broadcasters’ freedoms. The cross-bench peer who proposed the amendment, the enlightened former Labor MP and BBC broadcaster Lord Wyatt of Weeford, explained that it was the very opposite of censorship, designed as it was to outlaw broadcasters routinely crafting programs with liberal bias through the omission of relevant facts.

During his period at Channel Four Mr. Grade also employed key executives who shared his views, including his director of programs, Liz Forgan, who oversaw the crucial political output by Four’s like-minded controller of factual programs, John Willis.

Attacking U.S. Policy

One typical documentary broadcast under their tripartite authority featured a “personal view” of American foreign policy in Nicaragua, delivered by arch-leftwing playwright Harold Pinter. Broadcast on 31 May 1990 and entitled “Oh Superman,” its anti-U.S. bias can be assimilated by the billing given to it by The Times of London: “a blistering attack on United States policy towards Latin America.” This program also came in for scathing criticism in both Houses of Parliament during the subsequent debates on “due impartiality.” In the House of Lords the former BBC-TV producer Lord Orr-Ewing condemned it as “a violent attack on United States policy,” while Lord Wyatt denounced it as “a vicious and un-balanced attack on the USA’s policy in Nicaragua.” A few weeks later in the House of Commons Conservative MP Graham Riddick appraised it thus: “a highly partisan and one-sided program attacking American foreign policy.”

During a radio discussion following its transmission Michael Grade admitted that the program had indeed presented a biased view of U.S. policy but he justified its broadcast on the grounds that Channel Four had given time to an opposing viewpoint on its public access “Right to Reply” slot (lasting just three minutes). 

Mr. Grade’s first tirade against the “due impartiality” legislation, which the BBC now claims to hold so dear, can be traced to 31 July 1990, when he spoke at the launch of a Channel Four program initiative. The next day’s Guardian quoted him as having opined that there was “no institutional bias in any television channel in Britain,” and that the new clause would “send television back to the stone ages.” However, it was Mr. Grade’s first lieutenant, Liz Forgan, who had arrived at Channel Four from The Guardian nine years earlier in 1981, who had been first to mount opposition to the proposed law. 

Her first outburst can be traced to a lecture delivered on 22 March 1990, in which she denounced the proposed legislation as “an erosion of freedom of expression.” The next morning’s Guardian duly reported her remarks and three days later covered the front page of its highly influential weekly media section with an edited version of her speech accompanied by a leading article echoing her misgivings.

In fact, during 1990 The Guardian published at least ten articles featuring Miss Forgan’s opposition to the new impartiality clause, against eight featuring Mr. Grade’s similar views. But if it was Miss Forgan who can take the credit for instigating and whipping up the opposition to the proposed law, it was certainly her boss who became the movement’s figurehead. 

Nevertheless, despite the widespread hostility orchestrated by The Guardian in which they had the two principal roles, on 22 October 1990, in the final weeks of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, Parliament voted through the new “due impartiality” legislation. 

A Promotion

Two years later on January 25, 1993, Liz Forgan left Channel Four to become managing director of BBC Radio. That same day The Guardian marked John Willis’s promotion as her successor by covering the front of its weekly media section with his lengthy essay denouncing?yes, you guessed right?the “due impartiality” legislation.  Within his piece Mr. Willis opined:

“The small, vocal group of politicians, mainly in the House of Lords, who pushed the late addition of the due impartiality clause into the Broadcasting Act, seem to have little confidence in the intelligence of the British citizen. The vast majority have the good sense not to be brainwashed by what they see on television.”

Which looks very much like an unconscious admission that some people are indeed brainwashed by what they see on television.

In the event, Britain’s broadcasters continued to ignore the new law?as they still do today?with the same posturing arrogance as they did the previous, weaker one.

More Violations

Indeed, one of the worst breaches occurred towards the end of Michael Grade’s and John Willis’s tenure at Channel Four. Made with The Guardian’s co-operation and transmitted on 16 January 1997?the same day that The Guardian finally submitted to Parliament its official complaint listing hotly disputed corruption allegations against several Conservative MPs?the documentary “A Question of Sleaze” used a catalogue of propagandist techniques to imply that The Guardian’s charges were true. Its defining moment was undoubtedly the “dramatic recon-struction” of the controversial owner of Harrods, Mohamed al Fayed, placing wads of banknotes into the outstretched palms of the beleaguered Tory MP Neil Hamilton. The program was an outrage and one can only hope that it contributed to John Willis’s and Michael Grade’s departures from Channel Four a few months later.

From their shared views on seemingly everything it was therefore certainly no surprise, when, in October 1997, The Guardian appointed John Willis as its new “independent” ombudsman, responsible for investigating serious allegations against the paper. 

His first complaint was his most difficult test but he certainly passed it with aplomb. 

This concerned The Guardian’s deputy foreign editor, Victoria Brittain, whom MI5 had discovered had allowed her bank account to be used as a repository for ?327,442 ($600,000) transferred from Libya, reportedly from Libya’s security service, to facilitate a libel action against The Independent brought by Ghana’s security chief Koyo Tsikata. Mr. Tsikata had brought his legal action following an article in The Independent airing his murderous activities on behalf of Ghana’s Marxist dictator, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, a sympathizer of Libya’s Colonel Gaddaffi. 

Though none of the essential facts were disputed, in his rambling report on the matter Mr. Willis softly chided Miss Brittain for her “na?vet?” and instead reserved his anger for MI5, whom he blasted for monitoring her activities at such a high cost to the British taxpayer: “It was completely indefensible to continue monitoring for over a year at a reported cost to the taxpayer of ?750,000,” said he. 

(Victoria Brittain, of course, went on to co-author the controversial play “Guant?namo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom,” alleging human rights abuses by the U.S. authorities at Guant?namo Bay detention camp, Cuba?though it is doubtful whether any of the theater-goers off Broadway knew of her money-shuffling activities betwixt Marxist despots and Gaddaffi’s Libya.)

After a spell at Granada TV’s subsidiary company United Productions and then WGBH Boston, in April 2003 the BBC’s then director general Greg Dyke appointed John Willis as his new director of factual and learning programs, responsible for the BBC’s entire factual programs output. So when the BBC’s then chairman Gavyn Davies resigned and Greg Dyke was sacked following the suicide of Dr. David Kelly one year later, and Michael Grade was chosen as the BBC’s new chairman, John Willis was again joined with his fellow anti-impartiality campaigner from the past.

It is undoubtedly this?Michael Grade’s historical antipathy to impartial reporting?which explains why the BBC’s staff greeted news of his appointment with euphoria. The next morning’s Guardian quoted John Humphrys, the pugnacious anchor of the radio program that began the chain of events that ended in Dr. Kelly’s death, as opining that Michael Grade’s appointment was “terrific and reassuring” and that there were “a lot of smiling faces at the BBC this morning.” There were undoubtedly a lot of smiling faces at The Guardian too, not least because The Guardian had backed Mr. Grade’s candidature with a leading article the previous week despite admitting not knowing who the other candidates were.

Fake News

Indeed, the sheer dishonest posturing of the BBC and Guardian on the issue of impartial reporting is revealed by their complete volte-face, for now they actually cite Britain’s impartiality laws to argue that News Corp’s increasingly popular Fox News should not be allowed to set up a UK-based channel.

Yes, really. With stultifying, naked hypocrisy and front, May 8, 2003, The Guardian carried a supposedly genuine news item entitled: “TV watchdog checks claims of bias on Murdoch channel,” reporting that the broad-casting regulator the ITC had received nine complaints over Fox News’s reporting of the Iraqi war. It quoted Julian Petley, the chairman of an organization calling itself the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, as opining that he was against censorship, but that allowing Fox TV to broadcast in Britain would result in censorship taking place. I kid you not. 

This report was accompanied by a leading article entitled “Fox hunting: we don’t want biased news over here,” attacking Fox News over its coverage of the Iraqi war and arguing accordingly that Fox should not be granted a license to broadcast in Britain. The Guardian explained:

“Here ‘due impartiality’ rules ensure the news is balanced and independent?otherwise a broadcaster can be taken off air.” 

Likewise in a speech to the Royal Television Society a month later in June, the BBC’s John Willis said:

“…it is on news and current affairs that American TV is shown at its most dispiriting.  No nation needs independent and impartial media more than the U.S.?during the Iraq conflict…much of the coverage, particularly on the cable channels, could have been written and produced by the White House.”

Meanwhile, in May 2005 Michael Grade delivered the Goodman Media Lecture, entitled: “The Future of Impartiality,” in which he stressed:

“Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s editorial mission?ensuring ‘due impartiality’ is the most important legal responsibility laid upon the Board of the BBC by Parliament?We are accountable to Parliament and to the licence fee payers to make sure that the BBC’s editorial systems deliver impartiality.”

This is unlike Fox News, he said, whose television presenters “make no bones about letting their opinions show on air.”

So much for Michael Grade and John Willis. But what of their colleague and fellow anti-impartiality campaigner Liz Forgan? 

Well, in November 2003, the board members of the wealthy and unique journalist-dominated organization that owns The Guardian, the Scott Trust, announced the appointment of Liz Forgan as their new chairman. On the happy day The Guardian marked the occasion by publishing her r?sum?.  This revealed, no doubt unwittingly, that during her reign as Channel Four’s director of programs she had also been a member of the Scott Trust’s board?on which The Guardian’s editor Peter Preston also sat?a fact that both she and The Guardian had kept entirely secret during The Guardian’s long campaign of 1990 corralling support for her seemingly independent, self-generated opposition to the “due impartiality” legislation.

Cute, eh? 

For her services to broadcasting, on 31 December 2005 the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St. James’s Palace, London, announced that the Queen had bestowed on Liz Forgan the honor: “Ordinary Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire.” 

Wise up America, and wise up fast.

What You Can Do

Please send the enclosed postcard to Craig Dubow, chairman of Gannett, the parent company of USA Today. Also, if you care to nominate someone for the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media award, please do so with another postcard. And please consider a contribution for AIM’s Stop Al-Jazeera campaign, using the remaining postcard.

*Jonathan Boyd Hunt, a writer living in England, wrote the April-A 2006 AIM Report on the Guardian’s and the BBC’s expansion in the U.S., and a book and website on a controversy which brought down the last British Conservative government. See www.guardianlies.com




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