True democracy can only be achieved through a properly informed public. This is the maxim on which the Green Party have built their policy on the media. All information on the Green Party is taken from the ‘Culture, Media and Sports’ policy section of their website.
The BBC has been criticised as being too London centric, when it is meant to fulfill the needs of nationwide license fee payers. Tube strike developments are considered national news, but a bus strike in Glasgow, where millions live, is only regional. Green Policy aims for a fully dispersed public service that will have more significant local presence in all regions. Under the Green party, the BBC would no longer be funded by the license fee, but through a ring fenced inflation linked payment from general taxation. Considering that 12 percent of all cases in magistrate courts are License Fee prosecutions, and that 2.3% (111m) of the BBC budget was spent on License Fee collection in 2012/13, this seems long overdue.
James Heath, the director of policy at the BBC, argues that the general taxation model would remove “direct accountability”, because there would be no clear link between outlays and benefits for the taxpayer. This is superficial; as long as the public know how much they are paying, they can sufficiently hold the BBC liable for its content.
The license fee is designed to remove the BBC from annual government spending plans. However, the government not only sets its level, but there has also been top slicing to the tune of 250m per year to fund other non- BBC government policy media initiatives. Under the Greens, direct government control would be entirely removed, and a democratically elected and fully independent Public Service Media Council would decide the level of funding.
Correspondingly, all regulatory bodies and senior positions in the BBC will be appointed by democratically organised bodies, including trade unions and NGOs. Presently, the monarch appoints the regulatory body, the BBC trust, on the advice of government ministers, and the BBC trust then appoints the Director General. This has led to a public service run by people with strong political and business affiliation.
The Director General of the BBC, the editor- in- chief and chief executive, Lord Tony Hall of Birkenhead, is a crossbencher in the House of Lords.
The current international trustee is Lord Williams of Balgan, a Labour life peer in the House of Lords.
The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, was once chairman of the young conservatives.Thea Rogers, his former senior political producer, for shows like Newsnight, is now special advisor to George Osbourne.
The presenter for Newsnight and the flagship political programme Daily Politics is Andrew Neil, chairman of the conservative news outlet ‘The Spectator’ and publisher of London global business magazine, ‘The Business’. His editor is Robbie Gibb, who was chief of staff to conservative heavyweight Francis Mord.
The business editor is Kamal Ahmed of the right- wing Sunday Telegraph, who was rebuked by the Guardian’s Nick Davies for banging the war drums on Iraq. From 2011- 2014, the Chairman of the BBC trust was Lord Chris Pattern, a Conservative life peer in the House of Lords, and former cabinet minister. Shockingly, he had at least 13 other jobs as Chairman, including positions as an adviser for EDF energy and BP. He earned more in these two positions than he did as Chairman, so was a beacon of impartiality when it came to issues like fracking and climate change.
On the recommendation of conservative culture secretary Sajid Javid, Rona Fairhead was appointed as Patterns successor. The new Chairwoman serves on the board of directors of several large corporations, including PepsiCo and HSBC and as a business ambassador for the UK Trade and Investment government body. She is married to a former Conservative Councillor.
The current Vice- Chairwoman, Diane Coyle, not only sits with Lord Pattern on the advisory panel for EDF, but also is managing director of ‘Enlightenment Economics’, an economic consultancy for large corporate clients, such as Vodaphone.
Perhaps these juggling juggernauts can maintain due impartiality in their roles at the BBC, with little mediation from other perspectives. Evidence from a major content analysis at Cardiff University suggests otherwise. Contrary to George Osbourne’s accusations that the BBC has an ‘anti- business slant’, the opposite was found (funny that, he’s normally so insightful). In both 2011 and 2012 it was found that business representatives were given substantially more airtime on BBC networks news, than on either ITV or Channel four. Research into the BBC coverage of the 2008 financial crisis revealed similar pro- business sentiment. Opinion was almost completely dominated by investment bankers, stockbrokers and other city voices.
Green Party policy to appoint regulatory bodies from democratic organisations, such as trade unions and NGOs, would circumvent such pro- business bias. The Greens are especially focused on the voice of trade unions, ‘with a view to developing a formal union representation on governing boards’. This would be particularly potent; the Cardiff study also found that on BBC news at six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by over 5 to 1 in 2007 and 19 to 1 in 2012. On the issues of immigration and the EU, out of 806 source appearances in 2012, not one was a representative of organised labour. Considering the impact of such issues on labourers, and the narrative that immigrants encroach upon the workforce, it might be applicable to get their perspective. If the regulatory body wasn’t spearheaded by tycoons, and had working class representation, outrageously disproportionate coverage like this would be avoided.
These findings are also revealing in how they exhibit BBC and government unity. The perspective of trade unions was disproportionate with a Labour government in 2007, but this quadrupled under a conservative government in 2012. This brings to scrutiny whether the BBC even effectively mediates between the two core establishment parties. A meager mediation at that; the two parties echo each other in economic policy, pandering to UKIP rhetoric and neo- liberalism. The study found that the Tories get more airtime than Labour. When Brown was in power in 2007, he outnumbered Cameron 2 to 1, but in 2012 Cameron outnumbered Milliband 4 to 1. Perhaps this is due to Labour’s reluctance to put Milliband front and centre. However, the study also found ‘Labour cabinet members and ministers outnumbered Conservative shadow cabinet and ministers by approximately two to one (90 vs 46) in 2007; in 2012, Conservative cabinet members and ministers outnumbered their Labour counterparts by more than four to one (67 to 15)’ .
As George Monbiot notes, ‘if an issue does not divide the main political parties, it vanishes from view’; the neo- liberal orthodoxy of pro- privatisation and anti- regulation is default.
The BBC recently staged a debate on social media. There was no social media representative; the debate consisted of three MPs, Isabel Hardman and the presenter who paraded her bias by constantly repeating the word ‘misleading’. It concluded that orthodox media is the reliable option. Ironically, this one- sided lack of nuance encapsulates why people are looking to alternative media.
Although editors and producers at the BBC and members of the BBC trust may not always actively seek to advance their own agendas in the BBC, they are predisposed to the ideology behind their political and business affiliations. The BBC trust and the institution it regulates work in symbiosis to conserve the status- quo. Green Party Policy to entirely divorce the BBC and the state, through replacing the unifying mechanism with one of a democratic and independent nature, would give us the indiscriminate representation we pay for.
By James Wright