The BBC has come under heavy fire in recent months for its coverage of the 2019 General Election, yet it would still be a major mistake by the left to support privatisation.
There can be no doubt that, despite their protestations, the BBC coverage of the general election was nothing short of a disgrace. Heavily biased in favour of the ruling Conservative Party, many have concluded that the image of “Auntie” is now damaged beyond repair. Not only were BBC impartiality rules breached on numerous occasions, but the Corporation also failed in its undefined duty to the British public when it was faced with the coming of the far-right Johnson government.
Many on the left are rightfully outraged at the conduct of the BBC, with many now refusing to back the Corporation and even calling for the state broadcaster to be broken-up and sold-off.
However, it would be a monumental mistake for the left to support privatisation from a position of anger.
It’s easy to believe that there are those on the right, both inside the BBC and government, that deliberately wish to undermine and destroy the left’s support for the BBC. The Conservative Party have been angling for complete British privatisation for years, with the BBC and NHS being two of the last state bodies not in private hands.
The solidarity of the left has stood as a bulwark against the advance of capitalism and it must remain so.
We cannot change our principles simply because we don’t like the victim. Standing alongside Boris Johnson and the Tories against the BBC and supporting privatisation destroys any moral arguments against the privatisation of the NHS and would seriously damage the arguments surrounding the need for the renationalisation of the railways and utility services. It is simply not socialist.
We must not fall into the trap that is being laid and the BBC must remain in the hands of the state, even if that state is controlled by Boris Johnson. Imagine for a moment the alternative, a BBC in the hands of Rupert Murdoch.
Instead, we must campaign for extensive reforms.
BBC News and current affairs must become representative of British public opinion and diversity, recognising that neoliberal centrists do not represent the opinions of Labour Party supporters, even if they are members of the PLP. Left-wing socialist voices must be prominent and featured just as highly as right-wingers and centrists.
A Diverse Newsroom
The lack of journalists from BAME, LGBT, disabled and working-class backgrounds is a disgrace across the profession, with those who are privately and Oxbridge educated frequently seen rising to the top. We must support endeavours such as PressPad who seek to “open the door to diversity in the media through mentorship & hosting”.
The far-right must be no-platformed and boycotted. The likes of Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson, Rod Liddle, Katie Hopkins and other assorted racists are regularly given platforms across the media. Misguided liberals have advocated that we hear their arguments and beat them in a war of ideas, a misguided concept as theirs is not a war of ideas but an appeal to base instincts. Platforming and embarrassing them has not worked. The far-right supply of media oxygen must be cut off.
Encouraging Liverpool style boycotts and backing campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate are essential. Anti-racist organisations must work to end these voices being given a platform on the BBC and throughout the media.
A Diverse Boardroom
The BBC boardroom must be democratised.
In 2018, the Media Reform Coalition proposed “an end to cuts and commercialisation, and argue[d] for a radically reformed BBC that can positively shape a broader media ecology.”
Alongside increased diversification of voices, the MRC proposed that the Corporation “be managed by a board consisting of executive directors elected by staff and non-executive directors elected by licence fee payers”.
While the licence fee has had its time, an elected board is essential.
Support the work of the Media Reform Coalition via their website: https://www.mediareform.org.uk
Scrap the TV Licence
The television license fee is in Boris Johnson’s sights as the first stage of privatisation as he seeks to decriminalise non-payment, yet it should not be opposed by Labour, the fee being a burden to working families and hugely unpopular. Instead, Labour must advocate that the license be scrapped with the cost of the BBC being paid for through existing taxation.
In Australia, all licence fees were abolished in 1974 and ABC has since then been funded by government grants totalling $1.13 billion a year with additional money generated through merchandising and licensing. The BBC has an extensive portfolio of shows and back catalogue of content.
In terms of news, Russia Today, Press TV, TeleSUR and Al Jazeera, all state-funded stations, are not funded by a television license and many would recognise them as far superior in terms of output.