New Labour’s War Against the BBC
by Stella Jorgensen
Indeed, it is only due to public funding and the independent status
of the BBC that such television is possible in
Tony Blair’s desire to control how the media portrays him and his party at times borders on the totalitarian. His ex press chief Alastair Campbell believed that the only way to know what was going to be in the news the next day was to create the stories. He was not being rhetorical either — on one occasion he personally wrote and filed copy fraudulently in the names of Reuters’s John Morrison and the Press Association’s Jon Smith to ensure that the appointment of George Robertson as NATO’s Secretary General “spun” the way he wanted it to.
An attempt to put a positive slant on TV news coverage was probably
behind Blair’s appointment of Gavyn Davies to the position of Chairman of the
BBC. The choice of Chairman is one of the few ways government can influence the
BBC. Davies was known as a staunch supporter of New Labour. Greg Dyke, the last
Director General, was also a party member. It is clear that Blair expected
Davies and Dyke to toe the party line. The BBC’s critical coverage of the war
So, a certain amount of Tony Blair’s antipathy toward the BBC is explained by his frustrated attempts to control how it portrays him, but that is not the whole story.
American readers may be interested to know that Rupert Murdoch’s
grip on the media extends well beyond
The Sun is
The Sun has also been the only paper to consistently support Blair’s ill
fated excursion into
It is impossible to overstate just how much Tony Blair needs the
support of The Sun as the British
general election approaches. Americans are used to a much more compliant kind
of media than the British are. The papers that are antiwar are savagely antiwar. The Daily Mirror ran a cover photo of dead Iraqis and a smiling
George Bush under the headline “He Loves It.” The same paper, when the
These examples broadly illustrate the degree to which the British media has been making Tony Blair’s life utter hell every day for the last two years. In a climate like this, the unquestioning support of The Sun and the wider Murdoch media is again crucial; indeed, it might make the difference between another term in government or unemployment and infamy for Blair.
Murdoch’s agenda is not simply pro-Labour, it is also steadfastly
anti-BBC. His papers in the
Altruism is not a feature generally found in men of Murdoch’s ilk. What, then, is his reward to be for his cheerleading services for Blair? Could Blair’s indebtedness to Murdoch explain why New Labour has been following Murdoch’s example and carefully chipping away at the reputation of the BBC since Blair’s arrival in Downing Street in 1997?
Blair has consistently refused to be interviewed by BBC journalists,
preferring the “softly softly” interviews of the commercial channels; he has
had his ministers publicly and repeatedly attack the BBC’s licence fee and
output, calling it monopolistic, and by turns dumbed down or elitist. John
Reid, the Labour Party chairman, was so enraged at the BBC’s refusal to act as
the government’s propaganda wing that he accused it of behaving like “a friend
However, Blair’s true moment of glory came in the wake of the Hutton Report.
The Hutton Report concerned the suicide of Dr David Kelly, a weapons
expert who was the source for a BBC news report claiming that the intelligence
dossier that made the case for war against
Despite (or perhaps because of) the Prime Minister and Alastair Campbell’s undignified gloating, public opinion remained on the side of the BBC. The BBC attempted to defuse the situation, swiftly appointing a new Director General and continuing with business as usual. BBC staff paid for a full page advertisement in a broadsheet proclaiming their support for their fallen leaders and their continuing commitment to independent journalism. Aside from the high profile resignations, government pressure for “efficiency” led the BBC to announce 3,000 redundancies and a massive reorganisation in an attempt to reduce the amount of licence payer’s money that is spent on bureaucracy.
Recently, New Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn showed that the BBC smearing
agenda continues. He wrote to the Independent, partially blaming the BBC for
the high death toll caused by the
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that New Labour wants to see
the BBC neutered, packaged up and sold off to Murdoch and others like him. Such
an event might be good for business and good for Blair, but it is most
certainly inimical to public interest, artistic standards and journalistic
impartiality. If proof is needed, one only has to compare the output (and
global reputation) of BBC News with Murdoch’s Fox News in the
The BBC, typified by men like Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies, prefers freedom and quality to profit and control. This point is at the heart of Tony Blair’s mistrust — he is a natural born capitalist; a man with an adding machine in place of an imagination, and he is simply unable to grasp that the BBC is a potential money making machine that can’t be made to care about money.