Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trouble at the 'Leftfield' BBC

It's amusing to watch BBC Head of Drama trying to wriggle out of the crisis of his own making. He'll soon be producing his family at the garden gate Little Britain style and uttering the famous words "what I meant to say was..."

He's under fire for saying the the BBC should "foster... left of centre thinking." He's now saying he actually meant "leftfield" rather than leftwing. It's possible he really did mean that, but the fact that this was said in a written article rather than an off the cuff speech tends to give weight to a more cynical reading of his words. When BBC executives write articles they are usually circulated to several others for approval. The fact that this got through that system without being changed says a lot.

Laughably, they are now saying that because Boris is appearing in an episode of East Enders it proves there is no bias at the BBC. ROFL.


Swiss Bob said...


Privatise it, they're not worth a tax collected by bullying thugs that in the worse cases drag people before the courts.

Sorry, no matter how good their 'drama' or whatever other output rings your bell, it's not worth it.

I'm live chatting the Coulson show before the Select Committee from 10:30am, not quite PMQ's but might be fun: Live Chat – Coulson before the Select Committee.

Will said...

Link plz.

Dave H said...

Shami Chakrabarti was on the Beeb this morning.

Not sure what her mother would have said.

(wv = menteast. You Couldn't Have Made It Up)

Lee H said...

Mentioned it on Robinson's blog last night, along with a couple of others and we were all removed!! After first getting on the comment was taken down! Even the bloggers start asking what happened to the mysterious blogs b4 1730.......Good to see the BBC with it's non biased coverage.
Soon they will be recording interviews with disgraced former spin doctors and putting it out on Radio 5 live...hang on....

Anonymous said...

Newsnight (Monday), a very long item about Purnell, only that he has lauched his ideas with Demos (Labour think tank/ PR). This is Leftwing product promotion NOT news. Osborne given a still photo and comment about his reforms.

£32B tax black hole not mentioned until, showing newspaper headlines, stated this is the papers headlines.

Not a sheep said...

Are you suggesting that the BBC is biased towards the political left; I am shocked...

Anonymous said...

BBC leftwing shock! Next you'll be telling us what bears do in the woods.

happyuk07 said...

What is that clown Boris Johnson doing in EastEnders anyway?

Any conservative worth his salt would be repeatedly calling for the BBC's demise.

golden_balls said...

I do wonder sometimes if the rightwing are creating these kind of stories to make it easier to suggest privatization in 2010 ?

were the bbc easy with the labour party when it came to the iraq war cash for honours hutton report i could go on.

the rightwing blogosphere need to get this paronoid idea about the bbc firmly out of there mind.

Much larger issues will face DC on entering downing street.

@swiss bob is Coulson the Director of Communications & Planning for the Conservative Party giving evidence to the select committee today ???

you wouldn't know reading this or other rightwing blogs hmmmmmm

Matthew said...

Dooesn't anyone in the Tory party remember the old Suzanne Vega song?

Ben Stephenson's explanation is far more plausible than the rather laughable interpretation that he was overtly arguing for the BBC to be politically biased. Does anyone really think someone in his position would commit career suicide by doing that?

The cosy liberal consensus at the BBC is certainly nauseating, but I don't regard this as an example of it, and it's not fair to treat the guy as a political football.

Anonymous said...

Only the BBC itself actually believes that it is impartial and actually presents a balanced political view.

It's a total waste of time trying to argue with them. The reckoning must be left until after the election when there must be a radical overall of the whole organisation not least in the way that they are funded and the way that they seem to waste taxpayers money on both executives travel/expenses and their payment over the going rate for largely talentless "talent"

golden_balls said...

@Anonymous 9.02am

i suspect you didn't watch newsnight
if you think the interview with purnell was about his launch of ideas.

15 minute interview 12 minutes taken up by asking the same question about Browns leadership

Man in a Shed said...

The Boris thing just shows how desperate the lefties are to cover their tracks.

Expect more of this soon - but lets never forget the systematic inbuilt left wing world view and bias that is the BBC.

We can't have a properly functioning democracy unless the BBC is abolished.

Richard said...


"were the bbc easy with the labour party when it came to the iraq war cash for honours hutton report i could go on."

Yes, they were. They completely folded under pressure from their paymasters.

Link, please, Iain. I'd like to follow this one up.

Salmondnet said...

Even if he intended to say "left-field", a revealing freudian slip. The way the left rush to the defence of the BBC tells you everything you need to know about the balance of the Corporation..

Yes Golden Balls, the BBC does critcise New Labour, but almost always for not being sufficiently left-wing.

VotR said...

The BBC is nothing more than Labour's mouthpiece since the government holds the future of the licence fee pursestrings in their gravy-covered fingers.

More 'persuasion' to convince the people of the UK to think like Labour do, and think in no other way. Mentioning a centre-left agenda, even accidentally, is nothing short of obfuscated public relations. If the BBC programmes are 'centre left' then theoretically, viewers minds will be conditioned to a 'centre left' viewpoint due to their programming through watching television.

It will be law soon, if the government, and its mouth the BBC, are not resisted and rebuffed at every turn, Iain. A more centrist and unbiased philosophy from the BBC is desirable, but Harm Man and her militant band are entrenched now, so until they are gone, if they ever let us vote them out, we'll just have to wait it out.

andrewha said...

I believe him when he says that he meant to say 'left-field' - but that gives him a big problem too.

It's this: his job is all about judging which scripts the BBC should film but he appears not to have a decent vocabulary himself. No wonder we end up with rubbish like Bonekickers.

Tappestry said...

Boris appearing in East Enders? Shorely Shum Mishtake.

Those left wing bastards are getting confused. They hate Boris so much, they are convinced that exposure of Boris the Toff to the masses will reduce his support.

But the opposite is true.

Every time those golden locks and big jaw are put on display, the votes pile in.

Leftfield thinking required by BBC to understand why this should be...of which they are clearly incapable.

Left wing thought is rightfield only, the proverbial one track mind, soaked with tiresome jealousy.

What they don't get is that unlike them, Boris is interesting.

dave said...

golden balls said.
the rightwing blogosphere need to get this paronoid idea about the bbc firmly out of there mind.


How is it paranoid when the people defending the bbc are always lefties like you.

El Sid said...

I have my problems with the BBC's inbuilt political bias - but this is a pretty lousy example Iain. If you are less selective with your quoting, it seems pretty obvious to me that he meant some sense of "leftfield". It was in the Grauniad website last Thursday - only the latest news on this blog!!!!

If we didn't all think differently, have different ideas of what works and what doesn't, wouldn't our lives, and more importantly, our TV screens be less interesting? We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking.

It's just a silly young man who is already so inured to jargon that he can't recognise when he's using the wrong jargon, or at least jargon that is easily mistaken for something else, and checking processes that have failed. But I don't see it as a call for political bias at the BBC.

Alcuin said...


Conservatives have come to grin and bear the institutional Left-Liberal bias in the media, the elite and particularly the BBC. But this is now way beyond a joke. On top of the 7% built in electoral bias against the Tories, we have a monopoly narrative in favour of Labour that could be worth as much as 15 points in an election.

PJTV ran a tirade against the US media in which Bill Whittle reckoned that the bias in all US TV media (except Fox), and particularly CNN, was worth 10% in the election of Obama, with the amplification of the electoral college, easily enough to swing the election.

You see quite sanguine about this situation. You should not be, you should be hopping mad. It is well past time for Conservatives to start attacking BBC interviewers head on, and in particular why they ask the questions they do. This will cause an unholy row, and some may get it wrong, but if the Conservative front bench get their anti-BBC act together, it could make a big difference. People like to see politicians who care, and who are sufficiently passionate about their beliefs to get mad in an interview - it does not have to be BNP mad, just Richard Littlejohn mad.

In the 1970s, the core team that led to the Thatcher revolution were bemoaning the state that Butskillism had got the country into. One said "It's our own bloody fault for not fighting all this". No football team has a hope without relentlessly marking their opponents players - giving them no space to operate. Labour know this, their tribal hatred of Tory Toffs keeps them on their toes. Time for Cameron to go on the attack - after all the goal is wide open.

Obsidian said...

Of course the BBC is biased, it's just the conspiracy some think it is.

One thing that does bug me about the left is that when the beeb start doing the things they condemn private business over - fatcat salaries whilst winnowing down staff levels in departments - there's a few squeaks, but otherwise a vast silence.

It's more than a little irritating.

Anonymous said...

From The Phrase Finder site:

WAY OUT IN LEFT FIELD - Out of touch, eccentric, odd; also, misguided. This term alludes to the left field of baseball, and there is some disagreement concerning its origin.

Some writers suggest it comes from the remoteness of left field, but only in very asymmetrical ballparks is left field more distant than right field. Others suggest it alludes to the 'wrongness' of left as opposed to the 'rightness' of right.

A correspondent of William Safire's in the "New York Times" said it was an insulting remark made to those who bought left-field seats in New York's Yankee Stadium during the years that Babe Ruth played right field, putting them far away from this outstanding player.

Perhaps the most likely theory is that it alludes to inmates of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital, which was located behind left field in Chicago's old West Side Park. Hence being told you are 'out in left field' would mean you were accused of being as peculiar as a mental patient.

In any event, the term has been used figuratively for various kinds of eccentricity and misguidedness since the first half of the 20th century

Anonymous said...

El Sid - have actually read the BBC Charter? have you ?? because if you had you would know precisely what is wrong with this statement.

Now get back to work.

dave, surrey said...

local tory mayor appears on london based soap..

and the relevance of this to the people of Dundee, Carlisle or Halifax is..?

Not only is the BBC depressingly left wing, it's also depressingly metropolitan

Cjamesk said...

Surely Sky and other providers could offer to scramble all BBC output thus no fee needed!?

Or even offer the BBC services as subscription only. I`m sure not many people would shed a tear as this outdated compulsory "Tax" needs to be re-addressed.

What next a telephone tax.....oh

golden_balls said...

@Richard 9.48

to name but one the drip feed on a daily basis with the Cash for honours saga isn't going easy on the labour party. Every detail of that police investigation was held on the bbc nightly news with robinson giving running commentary !

the rightwing always come back to the same old arguments but i doubt that will ever change.

BJ said...

Where is the head of drama doing this "wriggling", Iain? I do genuinely enjoy seeing Beeb bosses try to u-turn on a cock-up (so to speak).

Dan said...

Iain, I wouldn't expect such lazy journalism from you. As El Sid points out, it's crystal clear from the original article that this is the usual meaningless management jargon for "creative prgramming". Anyone who believes this is a political statement (and that a programme controller would really be stupid enough to declare their political beliefs in public!) is clearly not intelligent enough to be able to figure out meaning from context. It's dissapointing to see you suckered in by the Mail/Telegraph, as you are usually quite insightful.

BJ said...

Oh, it was in the Telegraph.

The thing is, I bet the Tories know this is nothing more than a jargon-fuelled cock-up but can't resist an opportunity to have a dig. Pretty juvenile.

Penfold said...

I was always of the opinion that to be radical, free thinking and to explore new areas was to look to the right field. The left field was always a secondary line.
One only has to look to sport to see that the right is favoured, the left secondary. Certainly in cricket a left hander causes all sorts of problems for the bowler, but the majority of batsmen are right handed.
This chappies comment is a freudian slip, he knew what he was saying and what he meant by it.
The BBC is inherently biased to the left, and like all organisms, it ensures that only like minded individuals are allowed to people the organism, so as to maintain the bias.
It would be worthwhile under FOI to trawl all job applicants and prove this bias.

Dimoto said...

Cjamesk, you mean that you haven't noticed that BBC TV and Sky have a "news sharing agreement" ? Rigorously the same stories, in the same order, with the same video footage, and very often at the same time.
As I recall, (fading memory), Labour place-man Greg Dyke saw nothing wrong with the dodgy dossier story because it was pretty common knowledge, however, he then committed the cardinal error of backing his jorno when Campbell had ordered him to be fired. That provoked a full-on New Labour purge, and the pure New-Labourite junkfest that is the BBC today.

Cjamesk said...

Dimoto I didn`t realise! I often catch up on the "News" online.

Call me naive but thanks for the information!

Anonymous said...

I have just heard Milburn, another plank of the ZaNULab propaganda on equality. i.e. vote lab and you will get a well paid professional job. More pie in the sky politics from McDoom and co.

gordon-bennett said...

Most of us know that the beeb is consistently left-wing. See the BBC-Biased blog for daily proof. (Here: http://www.biased-bbc.blogspot.com/)

However, how effective is this bias?

The beeb were and are anti-Thatcher, but she won 3 elections.

The beeb were and are anti-Conservative, but they were in power for 18 years.

The beeb were and are pro-labour, but they will only have been in power for 13 years - even the beeb cannot conceal the depth of labour's incompetence and its effect on the people.

So it has all worked out in the end and justice will be done.

Anonymous said...

Swiss Bob got it in one, straight off. Privatise it. No reason not to. Complete no-brainer. Sorted.


JMT said...

Scrap the Beeb.

Give every honest household a annual tax rebate.

Spare young soldiers paying a TV tax for the TV in their bunk while prisoners do not.(I find this disgraceful and unforgiveable)

Flog what is left to fill the Brown holes in the economy (delicious irony in the BBC paying to fix their hero's errors/excesses)

Sell it as an environmental action: one less major power user and less CO2 (the BBC's bete noire - more irony there)

Its a no-brainer. Dave could start his new term as PM with a tax-cut that hurts no-one.

(BBC employees do not count - they have never cared about anyone other than themselves and their Party)

Anonymous said...

It was Ben Stephenson, BBC drama controller, who said
"we need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking"

-in a written article, so not just a throw away remark but a considered statement which he had plenty of time to retract but didn't.

Lying shite. Should have been sacked on the spot for an obvious breach of the BBC's charter of political impartiality.

His pathetic attempt to extricate himself with " what I meant to say was" is about on a par with " I vos only obeyink orders"

Norfolk Blogger said...

As opposed to the BBC bias by allowing Tory councillors from outside of Norwich North to take centre stage in the Norwich North debate on BBC East last night.

mikelaw_per@yahoo.co.uk said...

Years ago, the Politic Show did a package on an "innovative" policy that was being carried through by the Labour Mayor of Newham. I was a councillor at the time; I phoned and e-mailed the reporter who covered the piece pointing out that what was being lauded by their program was, in fact, not legal - I offered to provide proof.

The response from the reporter: "Are you trying to convince me that a Labour Mayor would be doing something that wasn't legal? I don't believe you."

I asked what his view would be if it were a Tory mayor... he hung up.

Clawingly Sanctimonious said...

Has anyone seen Toenails' latest blog?

Absolute pile of incomprehensible wank.

Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

I agree this was a wrong thing for a BBC controller to say. I think it reveals as much or more about attitudes in the world of drama, though, than about the BBC. Among artsy sorts, an unthinking, infantile leftism seems often to be accepted as the only possible view of the world, I'm sorry to say.

bergen said...

As the BBC say that they have to pay eye-wateringly high salaries to its staff to prevent them going to the commercial sector,then I suggest that it will be no hardship to this fellow to resign and find lucrative work elsewhere.

DespairingLiberal said...

I read Peter Whittle's column in the Telegraph carefully. He does not link to the Ben Stephenson quote in the Guardian. A search on the Guardian website does not show any such quote from Stephenson and it does not appear in the Guardian today.

Can anyone point me to the original Guardian article?

Just wondering if this is in fact a Whittle fabrication or over-statement - it wouldn't be the first. He is after all, as the Telegraph confirms, " founder and director of The New Culture Forum, a think tank that challenges the Left-liberal stranglehold on culture and the arts."

Swiss Bob said...

Sorry I couldn't get back to you earlier Golden Balls, I was too busy live chatting the three and a half hours of the select committee and uploading all the video.


Coulson before the Select Committee.

Live chat's over so you'll just have to watch the video.

Green Heron said...


"were the bbc easy with the labour party when it came to the iraq war cash for honours hutton report i could go on."

No they weren't, but on all occasions they were criticising the government for not being left-wing enough.

I don't think that the BBC is biased in favour of the government, but only a fool would deny that it has a pronounced left-wing bias in its reporting and covering of issues.

The BBC is, I am certain, biased AGAINST the Tories, and will always take the opposite side to them in any argument, which leads people to believe that it is pro-Labour. Of all the political parties, it is the Lib Dems - especially Vince Cable - who get the easiest ride, and of the minor political parties, the Greens get far more positive exposure than, say, UKIP. Left-wing bias, you see.

I can't think of a single example of the BBC being critical of the government from a right-wing perspective. Can you?

FonyBlair said...

Am I the only one thinking boris is only going on eastenders to boost his vaginal profile further? Will he run fir mayor again or try to get on the Tory front bench?

jon dee said...

Re Alcuin @ 10.19 am.,

How right you are not to underestimate the voter impact of BBC coverage and the need for a cohesive strategy to challenge it, at studio level if necessary.

BBC power is being misused as never before, with or without the backing of it's supine management. Air time is being given away for party political gain, McBride and Purnell being two recent examples. To buy this time commercially would be expensive but since the helpless licence payers fund it, who cares?

BBC has become so powerful it can deflect criticism with apparent ease while the Conservative party appears reluctant to confront it seriously, pre-election.

The BBC has become a bully and it is betraying it's impartiality. It must be confronted now.

trevorsden said...

If Boris is appearing in EastEnders he should be impeached. Crossroads would have been permissible but not the disgusting apology for 'edgy' drama that is Eastenders. No one right (or left for that matter) minded person should support that odious piece of junk.

The BBC are not 'Labours mouthpiece' - they are happy to throw bricks at the Iraq invasion and Afghanistan. They view the world thought the same lens as labour activists.

Now this is indeed very similar but it is not quite the same thing. The BBC is institutionally left wing.

Chris Paul said...

Where's the sodding link to this piece?

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Several friends of mine who worked for the BBC left in frustration at this sort of bias and outlook. They found their work meddled with if it was not "on message".

DespairingLiberal said...

Yes, it's so tragic that there is one element of the media left that is not rabidly right-wing.

Best thing is to flog the Beeb off cheap to Murdoch so that there is no public voice in Britain not following a news agenda designed to ensure that News International pays zero tax in all territories.

Then we will all be better off.

Unsworth said...

@ Carl Gardner, Head of Legal

Indeed, but one often has noticed the blurring, intermingling, of news and drama at all levels and in all quarters of the BBC.

Anonymous said...

Guardian Thursday 16nth July 2009"If people don't like BBC drama, they should come and speak to me'BBC drama commissioning controller Ben Stephenson responds to Tony Garnett's criticisms of the corporation's drama output

Ben Stephenson: 'I have instituted some big changes after listening to criticism.'
Making drama is the best job in the world – the privilege of working with writers with a unique vision, the spine-tingling spirit of camaraderie between a production team, the privilege of broadcasting into the nation's front-rooms. What could be better than that?

But what I love about it the most is how passionate the people who work in drama are. Working in TV drama isn't a nine-to-five job, it is a wonderful, all-consuming lifestyle. It gobbles up everything. It is glorious.

And with passion comes debate, discussion, tension, disagreement. If we didn't all think differently, have different ideas of what works and what doesn't, wouldn't our lives, and more importantly, our TV screens be less interesting? We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking.

But what unites us is that we all want the same thing – great drama – be it on the BBC, on ITV, on Channel 4 or on Sky.

So let's work together to get there. Let's talk to each other in person about our thoughts – let's get red in the face and disagree, but then find a way through. Let's have a chat, a lunch and listen to each other's point of view. And let's start believing we all want the same thing, because we do – we just have different ideas of how to get there.

I have been contacted by a number of writers over the past few days. Some passionately agree with Tony, but want to talk to me about it and I welcome the discussion.

But others passionately disagree with what he says and have asked for their words to be published. I know they will be accused of being in my pocket but, seriously, what have they got to gain? They could just whisper sweet nothings in my ear and then dart back to their computers. Besides Tony Jordan, Peter Moffat and Billy Ivory – to name a few - are proper grown-up scary writers. No one puts them in the corner. But their experience at the BBC has been different and they want to join in this passionate debate.

And what does this tell us? Well, a few things. There is clearly more than one point of view in this complex debate. For a lot of people – particularly audiences who recognise the BBC as the home for the best drama in the country – BBC drama is something they love to watch. And for many of those who make the drama it is a great place to work.

But there are a lot of people who don't like what we make and have been caught in development hell. I recognise much of what Tony Garnett says, and am happy to talk to him and anyone else about it. I don't want to list a point-by-point response – that would be reductive – but anyone who knows me will know that I take this very very seriously. My open Friday surgeries are designed for this very reason.

After nine months in the job I have instituted some big changes after listening to criticism – the open door policy, a radically smaller ratio of development to production, one indie department instead of four.

And that's just the beginning. I am going to continue to make changes. So now is the time to come and speak to me. I am an open book and have an open door. I will even buy you a BBC cup of coffee, if you are unlucky. Let's start engaging with each other – not over blogs, or in newspaper, but face to face. That is the only way we will change anything.

I have to say I feel heartened by this. It tells us that for all the naysayers about a crisis in drama in this country, about us having no good writers, about the US being better, we are a country that has never been more passionate about television drama. We love it, we are passionate about, we are good at making it and we are in it together.

• Ben Stephenson is the controller of BBC drama commissioning

DespairingLiberal said...

Thanks Anon. He obviously meant "left-field", but it's a bit of a sad reflection on the yoof of today in meejah jobs that he didn't understand this difference. It's always funny when one hears people trying to be super-fashionable and tripping up over the language.

What do all you Beeb-bashers make of the way the BBC has given full coverage to Malloch-Brown's leaving present on helicopters for his less-than-adequate nulab "colleagues"? It must be confusing for Iain and the rest of you New Rightists to have the Beeb not siding with NuLab. Do your brains auto-reject this contrary evidence to the (almost religious with many of you) belief that the BBC hates you, or is there scope for thinking in there?

Just curious.

Mr A said...

The BBC needs complete reform. Not only because of its obvious left-wing bias (try getting them to do anything on the Smoking ban - even just allowing a comment on a news piece - and see where it gets you) but because it just isn't doing its job. HBO is a small channel run entirely through subscriptions. As a result it isn't constrained by ratings, advertising revenues etc, and as a result it produces masterpiece after masterpiece - "The Wire", "The Sopranos", "Six Feet Under", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" etc....

The BBC is essentially an enormous version of HBO where subscription is enforced upon everyone at pain of fines or imprisonment. Yet it churns out "DIY SOS," "traffic Cops" and "Cash in the Attic". Where are our "Sopranos" or "Wire"s?

It's left-wing bias is truly scary enough but the fact that it can't even do its basic job properly demands it be reformed, totally, from top to bottom.