Former Tory Minister Chris Patten tucks his knees under the Chairman’s (presumably) gold tooled leather topped desk at the BBC Trust next week. The event reminds me how baffled I remain by the steady flow of charges of lefty-bias at the BBC. In terms of its outputs my experience over fifteen years of working with BBC News and Vision is that people are fastidious in their attention to ‘neutrality’, above all in the political arena. Indeed there are occasions when you get a whiff of over-compensation from the ‘self-hating liberals’ that are alleged to fill the place.
Generally I have the sense of being in the company of ‘hypercritics’, and I guess that’s how it should be. In media terms critique is interesting and description is dull – so it is to be expected that much of the time one of the world’s biggest broadcasters sounds critical. Of everyone. And most of the time I treasure that. And you don’t have to look far to see that there is a pretty diverse political ecology among the journalists: OK Andrew Marr was a student socialist radical, but in the same generation Nick Robinson was President of Oxford University Conservatives. Wikipedia suggests Andrew Neil was Tory office worker in the 1970s and the discrete former BBC TV news editor Craig Oliver surprised many colleagues by popping up as head of media for David Cameron. Richard Klein is I think the only channel controller to have an identifiable political commitment: in the past he has stated support for the Tories. I’m confident I could pick out plenty of examples of lefties, liberals and the odd green in similar posts – so far so plural.
But the interesting thing to note is that the power seats have more often than not been occupied by Tories by a factor of more than 2:1. To the best of my knowledge Trust/Governor Chairs and Director General postholders over the last twenty years with a known political history include: Tories: Chris Patten, Michael Grade, Christopher Bland, Marmaduke Hussey; Labour: Michael Lyons. Crossbenchers after leaving the job include John Birt & Greg Dyke. The current DG keeps cards close and has no political history I’m aware of. Labour peer Barbara Young was deputy chair of governors for a spell. All ‘hideously white’, but in political terms much more blue than red.