Here is the news (as we want to report it)
By Antony Jay, brilliant co-writer of "Yes Minister" and former BBC denizen
This week the BBC was forced to apologise to the Queen for falsely claiming that she stormed out of a photo shoot. We shouldn't be surprised, says former producer Antony Jay. In this exclusive extract from a brilliant new CPS pamphlet, he argues that the anti-establishment views at the heart of the corporation have always dictated its mind set
I think I am beginning to see the answer to a question that has puzzled me for the past 40 years. The question is simple - much simpler than the answer: what is behind the opinions and attitudes of what are called the chattering classes? They are that minority characterised (or caricatured) by sandals and macrobiotic diets, but in a less extreme form found in the Guardian, Channel 4, the Church of England, academia, showbusiness and BBC News and Current Affairs, who constitute our metropolitan liberal media consensus - though the word "liberal" would have Adam Smith rotating at maximum velocity in his grave. Let's call it "media liberalism".
It is of particular interest to me because for nine years (1955-1964) I was part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Macmillan's premiership, and I do not think my ex-colleagues would quibble if I said we were not exactly diehard supporters. But we were not just anti-Macmillan; we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-Empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place, you name it, we were anti it.
It was (and is) essentially, though not exclusively, a graduate phenomenon. From time to time it finds an issue that strikes a chord with the broad mass of the nation, but in most respects it is wildly unrepresentative of national opinion. When the Queen Mother died the media liberal press dismissed it as an event of no particular importance, and were mortified to see the vast crowds lining the route for her funeral, and the great flood of national emotion that it released.
Although I was a card-carrying media liberal for the best part of nine years, there was nothing in my past to predispose me towards membership. I spent my early years in a country where every citizen had to carry identification papers. All the newspapers were censored, as were all letters abroad; general elections had been abolished - it was a one-party state. Citizens were not allowed to go overseas without travel passes (which were rarely issued). People were imprisoned without trial, and the government could tell you what job to do and jail you if you didn't do it. Some of my contemporaries were forced to work in the mines.
Yes, that was Britain. Britain from 1939 to 1945. I was nine when the war started, and 15 when it ended, and accepted these restrictions unquestioningly. I was astounded when identity cards were abolished. And the social system was at least as authoritarian as the political system. It was shocking for an unmarried couple to sleep together and a disgrace to have a baby out of wedlock. A homosexual act incurred a jail sentence. Divorc‚es would not be considered for the honours list or the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. Procuring an abortion was a criminal offence. Violent young criminals were birched, older ones were flogged, and murderers were hanged. Two years' National Service was compulsory for 18-year-olds. Small children sat in rows in the classroom and were caned if they misbehaved. Drugs were confined to the surgery (and the aristocracy). The bobby on the beat made sure the streets were safe at night. And for an England cricket captain to miss a Test Match by flying home to be present at the birth of his child would have ruled him out of serious consideration not just as a cricketer but as a man.
So what happened? How did we get from there to here? Unless we understand that, we shall never get inside the media liberal mind. And the starting point is the realisation that there have always been two principal ways of misunderstanding a society: by looking down on it from above, and by looking up at it from below. In other words, by identifying with institutions or by identifying with individuals.
To look down on society from above, from the point of view of the ruling groups, the institutions, is to see the dangers of the organism splitting apart, the individual components shooting off in different directions, until everything dissolves into anarchy. Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for order, discipline, control, authority and organisation.
To look up at society from below, from the point of view of the lowest group, the governed, is to see the dangers of the organism growing ever more rigid and oppressive until it fossilises into a monolithic tyranny. Those who see society in this way are preoccupied with the need for liberty, equality, self-expression, representation, freedom of speech and action and worship, and the rights of the individual. The reason for the popularity of these misunderstandings is that both views are correct, as far as they go, and both sets of dangers are real but there is no "right" point of view. The most you can ever say is that sometimes society is in danger from too much authority and uniformity and sometimes from too much freedom and variety.
In retrospect it seems pretty clear that the 1940s and 1950s were years of excessive authority and uniformity. It was certainly clear to me and my media liberal colleagues in the BBC. It was not that we openly and publicly criticised the government on air; the BBC's commitment to impartiality was more strictly enforced in those days. But the topics we chose and the questions we asked were slanted against institutions and towards oppressed individuals, just as we achieved political balance by pitting the most plausible critics of government against its most bigoted supporters. And when in 1963 John Profumo was revealed as having slept with a call girl and lied to Parliament about it, the emotion that gripped us all was sheer uncontrollable glee. It was a wonderful vindication of all we believed. It proved the essential rottenness of the institution.
Ever since 1963, the institutions have been the villains of the media liberals. The police, the armed services, the courts, political parties, multinational corporations - when things go wrong, they are the usual suspects. In my media liberal days our attitude to institutions varied from suspicion to hostility. From our point of view, the view from below, they were all potential threats to human freedom. Even though I worked in a great institution, I did not identify with it. To describe a colleague as anti-BBC was a term of praise.
Obviously all institutions have to be watched pretty closely. Although their justification lies in the service they provide, their fundamental objective has always been self-preservation. Without their critics, 10-year-old children would still be going up chimneys, women would not be able to vote, and sheep-stealers would still be being hanged. Nevertheless they are all that stands between the civilised world and the chaos of anarchy or the violence of tyranny.
It would have been more than reasonable for us to have opposed specific abuses by institutions; homosexual acts were decriminalised during my BBC years, which we all applauded. But the focus of our hostility was the institutions themselves. It was not - and is not - shared by the majority of our fellow citizens: most of our opinions were at odds with the majority of the audience and the electorate.
Indeed, the BBC's own 2007 report on impartiality found that 57 per cent of poll respondents said that "Broadcasters often fail to reflect the views of people like me". It often surprised me how regularly the retired brigadier from Bournemouth and the taxi driver from Ilford were united against our media liberal consensus. Those same media liberals who today demonise Margaret Thatcher simply cannot understand why she won big majorities in three successive general elections and is judged by historians around the world as having been Britain's most successful peacetime prime minister of the 20th century.
So how did it happen that this minority media liberal subculture managed to install itself as the principal interpreter of Britain's institutions to the British public? And even more interestingly, where do its opinions and attitudes come from?
Some of the ingredients have a proud and ancient lineage: resistance to oppressive political and social authority, championship of the poor, the Factory Acts and the abolition of the slave trade, are golden threads that run though the fabric of British history. But there are four new factors which in my lifetime have brought about the changes which have shaped media liberalism, encouraged its spread, and significantly increased its influence and importance.
The first of these is detribalisation. That our species has evolved a genetic predisposition to form tribal groups is generally accepted as an evolutionary fact. This grouping - of not more than about five or six hundred - supplies us with our identity, status system, territorial instinct, behavioural discipline and moral code. It survived the transition from hunting to agriculture: the hunting tribe became the farming village. It even survived the early days of the industrial revolution, in pit and mill villages: the back-to-back city slums were the tribal encampments of industrial Britain.
But the evolution of cities, of commuter and dormitory suburbs, has deprived millions of people of tribal living. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but fewer and fewer of us are now brought up in villages, even urban villages. The enormous popularity of television soap operas is because they provide detribalised viewers with vicarious membership of a fictional, surrogate tribe. Many people find strong substitute tribes at their places of work - they are not the birth-to-death, 24 hours a day tribes we evolved from, but they provide many of the same social needs.
But we in the BBC were acutely detribalised; we were in a tribal institution, but we were not of it. Nor did we have any geographical tribe; we lived in commuter suburbs, we knew very few of our neighbours, and took not the slightest interest in local government. In fact we looked down on it. Councillors were self-important nobodies and mayors were a pompous joke.
We belonged instead to a dispersed ''metropolitan-media-arts-graduate'' tribe. We met over coffee, lunch, drinks and dinner to reinforce our views on the evils of apartheid, nuclear deterrence, capital punishment, the British Empire, big business, advertising, public relations, the Royal Family, the defence budget. it's a wonder we ever got home. We so rarely encountered any coherent opposing arguments that we took our group-think as the views of all right-thinking people.
The second factor which shaped our media liberal attitudes was a sense of exclusion. We saw ourselves as part of the intellectual ‚lite, full of ideas about how the country should be run, and yet with no involvement in the process or power to do anything about it. Being na‹ve in the way institutions actually work, yet having good arts degrees from reputable universities, we were convinced that Britain's problems were the result of the stupidity of the people in charge. We ignored the tedious practicalities of getting institutions to adopt and implement ideas.
This ignorance of the realities of government and management enabled us to occupy the moral high ground. We saw ourselves as clever people in a stupid world, upright people in a corrupt world, compassionate people in a brutal world, libertarian people in an authoritarian world. We were not Marxists but accepted a lot of Marxist social analysis. Some people called us arrogant; looking back, I am afraid I cannot dispute the epithet.
We also had an almost complete ignorance of market economics. That ignorance is still there. Say ''Tesco'' to a media liberal and the patellar reflex says, "Exploiting African farmers and driving out small shopkeepers". The achievement of providing the range of goods, the competitive prices, the food quality, the speed of service and the ease of parking that attract millions of shoppers every day does not show up on the media liberal radar.
The third factor arises from the nature of mass media. The Tonight programme had a nightly audience of about eight million. It was much easier to keep their attention by telling them they were being deceived or exploited by big institutions than by saying what a good job the government and the banks and the oil companies were doing.
The fourth factor is what has been called ''isolation technology''. Fifty years ago, people did things together much more. The older politicians we interviewed in the early Tonight days were happier (and much more effective) in public meetings than in television studios. In those days people went to evening meetings. They formed collective opinions. In many places party allegiance was collective and hereditary rather than a matter of individual choice based on a logical comparison of policies.
It is astonishing how many of the technological inventions of the past century have had the effect of separating us off from the group. The car takes us out of public transport, central heating lets each member of a family do their own thing in their own room, watching their own television, listening to their own music, surfing the net on their own PC or talking to a friend on their own mobile. The fridge, the microwave and the takeaway mean that everyone can have their own meal in their own time. Our knowledge of public events and political arguments come direct from the media rather than from a face-to-face group. We still have some local, territorial group memberships, but their importance is now much diminished and their influence weakened.
These four factors have significantly accelerated, and indeed intensified, the spread of media liberalism since I ceased to be a BBC employee 40 years ago. It still champions the individual against the institution. The BBC's 2007 impartiality report reflects widespread support for the idea that there is "some sort of BBC liberal consensus". Its commissioning editor for documentaries, Richard Klein, has said: "By and large, people who work in the BBC think the same, and it's not the way the audience thinks." The former BBC political editor Andrew Marr says: "There is an innate liberal bias within the BBC".
For a time it puzzled me that after 50 years of tumultuous change the media liberal attitudes could remain almost identical to those I shared in the 1950s. Then it gradually dawned on me: my BBC media liberalism was not a political philosophy, even less a political programme. It was an ideology based not on observation and deduction but on faith and doctrine. We were rather weak on facts and figures, on causes and consequences, and shied away from arguments about practicalities. If defeated on one point we just retreated to another; we did not change our beliefs. We were, of course, believers in democracy. The trouble was that our understanding of it was structurally simplistic and politically na‹ve. It did not go much further than one-adult-one-vote.
We ignored the whole truth, namely that modern Western civilisation stands on four pillars, and elected governments is only one of them. Equally important is the rule of law. The other two are economic: the right to own private property and the right to buy and sell your property, goods, services and labour. (Freedom of speech, worship, and association derive from them; with an elected government and the rule of law a nation can choose how much it wants of each). We never got this far with our analysis. The two economic freedoms led straight to the heresy of free enterprise capitalism - and yet without them any meaningful freedom is impossible.
But analysis was irrelevant to us. Ultimately, it was not a question of whether a policy worked but whether it was right or wrong when judged by our media liberal moral standards. There was no argument about whether, say, capital punishment worked. If retentionists came up with statistics showing that abolition increased the number of murders we simply rejected them.
The same moral imperatives determined our attitude to the dissolution of the British Empire. It was right, so there was no further argument. We would not even discuss whether the prosperity and happiness of the Ugandans or the Rhodesians or the Nigerians would be better served by a partial or more gradual transfer of power; it had to be total and it had to be immediate. We were horrified by the arrogant way our grandparents' generation had used their political and economic power to impose Christianity on religiously backward peoples. Were we, as missionaries for democracy, not guilty of imposing media liberal democracy in exactly the same way?
If I had to mount a defence of our media liberalism, I would say that in the first place the BBC was still in the shadow of John Reith. Political impartiality was much more strictly enforced than today. In the second place we had seen all too clearly the dangers of oppressive and unchallenged authority in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. In the third place, there were areas of British life - the legal status of women, homosexuality, divorce, penal policy - in which most people agreed that liberal reform was necessary. In the fourth place, large areas of British life - the law, industry, banking, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the Cabinet - were dominated by an upper class ‚lite who were holding the country back. For all these reasons I would defend, not our ideas and attitudes, but at least their consequences. I believe - well, at least hope - that we did not do too much damage.
I do not think the same is true today. The four mitigating factors above have faded into insignificance, but the media liberal ideology is stronger than ever. Today, we see our old heresy becoming the new orthodoxy: media liberalism has now been adopted by the leaders of all three political parties, by the police, the courts and the Churches. It is enshrined in law - in the human rights act, in much health and safety legislation, in equal opportunities, in employment protections, in race relations and in a whole stream of edicts from Brussels.
It is not so much that their ideas and arguments are harebrained and impracticable: some of their causes are in fact admirable. The trouble - you might even say the tragedy - is that their implementation by governments eager for media approval has progressively damaged our institutions. Media liberal pressure has prompted a stream of laws, regulations and directives to champion the criminal against the police, the child against the school, the patient against the hospital, the employee against the company, the soldier against the army, the borrower against the bank, the convict against the prison - there is a new case in the papers almost every day, and each victory is a small erosion of the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution.
I can now see that my old BBC media liberalism was not a basis for government. It was an ideology of opposition, valuable for restraining the excesses of institutions and campaigning against the abuses of authority but it was not a way of actually running anything. It serves a vital function when government is dictatorial and oppressive, but when government is ineffective and over-permissive it is hopelessly inappropriate.
I can't deny that my perceptions have come through the experience of leaving the BBC. Suppose I had stayed. Would I have remained a devotee of the metropolitan media liberal ideology that I once absorbed so readily? I have an awful fear that the answer is yes.
Australian visa laws 'unfair' to Muslims
The poor little precious petals are being asked to name their families. What an outrage!
NEW laws that demand Arabs seeking visa entry into Australia provide the names of their parents and grandfather hint at racial and religious profiling, according to a leading Islamic group. "It would be pretty naive to think there is no religious profiling going on (with visa applicants), even if it's not officially recognised," said the Islamic Council of Victoria's spokesman, Waleed Aly.
Australian security agencies had asked for the new regulations that require extra personal information from Arabic visa applicants to include the names of their parents and grandfather. Other visa applicants, including those from China and Russia, are also being required to provide additional information about the spelling of names and ancestral names before being granted entry to Australia.
The Federal Government has insisted there is no racial or religious profiling in Australia's immigration programs. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' spokeswoman said the changes would help in the proper identification of applicants and their character. "The question that has been included in the new form (about Arabic grandfathers) is designed to enable more accurate and higher-quality identification of visa applicants," she said.
But Mr Aly said his own experiences had shown him racial and religious characteristics were focused on by border officials. Mr Aly said despite random searches being conducted at Australian airports, he had become used to always being stopped and questioned, and that many Australian Muslims knew that they would come under special attention, especially at airports. "They disproportionately focus on people who are Muslim or who appear to be Muslim," he said.
All visa applicants aged 16 and older wanting to visit Australia must fill out a character assessment form, which identifies their siblings and parents. But regulations brought in this year require Arabic, Chinese and Russian visa applicants to provide extra detail. For Russian citizens they must include their patronymic or ancestral name, and Chinese applicants must provide their name in commercial code numbers, which relates to Chinese characters, and in English
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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