BBC’s Rightward Drift: Are They Ripe for Being Played By Bannon Et. Al?

The BBC’s flagship morning news show, Radio 4’s “Today” has lost over 800,000 listeners in the last year. 

Tom Mills, academic, author and host of our Media Democracy podcast, sought to explain this drop-off in The Independent

Clearly, there is a range of factors at work, many may be hard to put a finger on. Some at the BBC have publicity wondered if it is due to an increased focus on topics like art and fashion or if people are turning off from news generally (establishment or otherwise). But Mills points to a likely alienation of some sections of Today’s audience thanks to the show’s discernible rightward drift, which has led pro-EU and pro-Labour listeners to become exhausted with framing that seems perpetually skewed.

Examining some of the nuances of this dynamic, Mills continues:

“For the most influential figures in the BBC editorial machine, the political spectrum consists of well-meaning, privileged liberals, and more authentically representative right-wing populists…”

The former is borne of the post-war consensus and couched in apology for being “metropolitan elite”, the strong influence of the latter has emerged more recently, especially in the wake of the crisis of confidence in the establishment caused by the 2008/9 financial crash and political scandals of that era. 

Anything leftward of these two has been incessantly attacked, notably in the era of Corbyn’s leadership of The Labour Party. 

Mills adds: 

“Whilst at one stage the BBC could orientate itself broadly towards centrist opinion, and anxiety about appearing “out of touch” led some time ago to a conscious effort to engage “extreme” opinion; which in practice has meant some clumsy dalliances with the populist, and even far, right – hence why Nigel Farage became such a popular choice for BBC bookers.” 

This is highly astute and speaks to the sense in which BBC journalists often seem to be apologising for their very existence, before deferring to the hard-right ideologues deemed to be part of a populist zeitgeist.

It is not just Farage who has been promoted in this way, of course, Johnson and Mogg also took their turn.

Then there has been the proliferation of extreme right-wing groups such as Taxpayers Alliance and Migration Watch – frequently wheeled on to advance their particular agendas with no scrutiny of their motivations or who funds them.

Mills concludes referring to their recent broadcasting of sympathies for Stephen Lennon/Tommy Robinson – the serial thug and fraudster recently released from jail on a technicality following his imprisonment for repeatedly attempting to disrupt the trials of paedophiles.

The BBC looks like a ripe mark for Steve Bannon’s new Europe-wide propaganda project. Former Breitbart editor and far-right activist Raheem Kassam was recently granted a spot on air to pretend that the Robinson case was about “free speech”. This new cause celebre has now been bolstered across the spectrum: in far-right realms, such as the elite owned and highly un-rebellious Rebel Media (who Robinson has been associated with for some time), on the hard-right Fox (billionaire owned, but much more establishment-leaning), as well as on the supposedly “centrist”, establishment BBC. And that is without taking into account their social media strategy, coordinating a legion of followers in round-the-clock perpetuation of alt-right mythologies and paranoias. 

People drift off from establishment media for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. The risk is that their attention might be hoovered up by extreme-right platforms, pretending to be “rebellious” while pretty much supporting the same economic policies as traditional establishment parties, but with more scapegoating of minorities thrown into the mix: yet another reason to support strong, independent progressive media platforms in the UK.

You can do just that by visiting themediafund.org

Stephen Durrant

The Media Fund