The BBC has for the past several decades displayed a marked tendency to lurch from one minor crisis to another. These episodes tend to follow a predictable pattern. Typically, a scandal of some kind unfolds. This quickly becomes an obsession among journalists (mostly those who work at the Beeb itself). Despite the fact that ordinary people don’t particularly care, the story then comes to dominate media attention for several days in a manner that is out of all proportion to its importance. Eventually, there is a resolution, and the fuss dies down. Then, a few weeks or months later, a fresh (non-)crisis emerges.
Some examples off the top of my head (doubtless utterly opaque to non-British readers) include: the time Angus Deayton, presenter of a panel show, was exposed as having taken cocaine and having sex with prostitutes; the time Russell Brand telephoned, and left lewd voicemail messages live on air for an actor who once appeared in Fawlty Towers; the time phone-in quizzes on BBC programmes were discovered to have occasionally been rigged; the time Emily Maitlis, presenter of a major current affairs show, said openly biased things about Dominic Cummings, architect of the Brexit campaign; the time Nick Griffin, leader of the quasi-fascist British National Party, appeared on the debate show Question Time; the time Radio One’s weekly chart show declined to play Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead in full when it was almost the best-selling single in the week that Margaret Thatcher died…. And so on and so forth. These are all almost the textbook definitions of the phrase ‘storm in a teacup’ in the grand scheme of things. But they become, briefly, national obsessions – primarily because BBC journalists tell us they are. Gary Lineker’s brush with cancel culture is just the latest example.
These scandals have the air of what Paul Piccone used to call ‘artificial negativity’. At face value, they might be said to be damaging to the BBC’s reputation. But what they really serve to do is distract us from thinking about the real scandal, which is how utterly hegemonic Left-liberal progressivism now is within our purportedly impartial national broadcaster. It is much safer for the BBC if we are talking about what Gary Lineker should or should not say than if we are talking about the BBC Charter’s commitment to “reflect a wide range of subject matter and perspectives across our output as a whole…so that no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted”. That’s because this requirement, when it comes to conservatism, is now more observed in the breach than the observance.
To take one example, at the weekend the BBC website published a story entitled ‘Italy leaves children of same-sex parents in limbo’. It appears to concern (it is actually quite difficult to figure this out from reading the article itself) a confrontation between the Mayor of Milan and the Italian Interior Ministry over the issue of legal recognition of parent status. The way the story is presented, the Mayor of Milan had a few years ago made the ‘progressive’ decision to allow same-sex couples to be registered as parents. But recently the ‘far-Right’ Government of Ms. Meloni, who “made anti-LGBT rhetoric a cornerstone of her electoral campaign”, forced this practice to stop. Now children of same-sex parents are in “legal limbo”, and face a “range of challenges” including being orphaned if the sole legally-recognised parent passes away.
The article makes no bones about who the goodies and baddies are. Reading it, one would have to conclude that there is simply one side that cares about children and kindness, and one side that comprises unrepentant Nazis who are quite happy to cast children upon the dustheap so long as it means that they can express their ‘hostility’ to LGBT rights. Of the 10 or so people who are quoted or interviewed, only one (Matteo Salvini, the Italian Infrastructure Minister) is sympathetic to the Government’s policy – and his views are represented only by excerpts from a tweet. The other participants, all of whom are against the Government, are quoted from at length about their anxiety and discouragement, and are given free rein to opine about the Italian Government’s obnoxious policies and views and their negative consequences.
It takes a considerable amount of digging into the text of the article itself to glean that there might actually be some nuance to what is going on in the story. First, just as an aside, we discover on close reading that actually it is not the case that Italy’s ‘Right-wing Government’ forced the Mayor of Milan to put children of LGBT couples into ‘legal limbo’ by stopping him registering same-sex couples as parents. Actually, the practice was stopped by the Supreme Court of Cassation (Italy’s highest court); the Italian Interior Ministry just notified the Mayor of Milan of the fact. Whatever one chooses to describe as ‘legal limbo’, it is indisputably true that ignoring decisions of the Supreme Court will probably have that consequence in spades.
But that is in a sense by-the-by. The real problem here is that there is evidently something more to the entire discussion than meets the eye. The issue that animates Meloni and Salvini, it emerges, is here not the abolition of gay families, but a desire to regulate surrogacy. Meloni’s main policy proposal in this area, the article reveals, is actually to make surrogacy a universal crime (i.e., one that would be punishable even outside of the territory of Italy). And Salvini’s main statement on the matter (revealed in a caption to an accompanying photograph) is that “Children are not bought, not rented, not chosen on the internet”. The concern, in other words, is one which people on the Left once would probably have shared: namely the commodification of every facet of human life, including even childbirth and babies themselves.
There is a proper debate that needs to be had about this. Do we want it to be the case that a market for foetuses – for human life – should emerge? For what it is worth, I am fully in support of gay people marrying and adopting children subject to the same safeguarding expectation in place for heterosexual people. And I have no problem with the donation of eggs or sperm. But I do recognise that there is force to the argument that we should tread carefully about the marketisation of pregnancy and child birth – and I look back with a certain fondness on the era when the Left actually had proper critiques of that kind of thing.
More importantly, I recognise that this issue is something about which reasonable people can surely disagree. Whatever I (or, more pertinently, any given BBC journalist) might personally make of Georgia Meloni, she is not a fringe politician or crank. She is the Prime Minister of one of the most important and populous countries in Europe and obviously represents a large constituency within it. Her views matter and should be given due weight and properly represented and discussed – particularly when they are of wider international relevance, which the debate over surrogacy surely is.
Providing this proper representation and discussion should be the role of the BBC. If there is any argument for the existence of a national broadcaster that we are forced by the criminal law to pay for, it is that it should have a unifying function. It should provide a space within which genuine disagreements can be hashed out and, hopefully, a modus vivendi between opposing sides reached. It should in other words allow both sides in an argument to hear one another out so that, even if they do not reach agreement, they at least come to recognise that everyone holds their views for good reasons and not because they are simply stupid or malevolent. This, indeed, is a vitally important constitutional function when performed correctly. But when it comes to issues like Georgia Meloni’s policies on same-sex parenthood, the BBC signally fails to fulfil that purpose. To the average BBC journalist, ensuring that “no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted” simply isn’t on the agenda in debates like these. It’s considered more important to signal loyalty to one significant strand of thought alone: the consensus among what Matt Goodwin calls the ‘new elite’. This article on Meloni is merely one small example of that mindset.
What Gary Lineker should or should not be allowed to say matters not one iota when set against the real scandal: that our national broadcaster could not care less about fairly representing both sides to contentious debates, or about fulfilling its proper constitutional role as a neutral forum for the exchange of views. But the Beeb is just much more confident with Lineker-gate style crises than it is with inquiry into the mores of its journalists in general – and such crises come along with just enough regularity to keep us distracted from the deeper problem. This form of ‘artificial negativity’ probably isn’t deliberate – one can’t credit the institution with that level of competence, for one thing. But it is highly effective all the same.