Boris Johnson has offered key positions in the media to his right-wing Tory allies. Paul Dacre, former editor of the viciously anti-trade union Daily Mail, is poised to take charge of Ofcom, the body that oversees the media and regulates the BBC. While Richard Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs executive who donated over £400,000 to the Tory party, is tipped to become BBC chairman. Sharp’s personal net worth is estimated to be over £100 million, and has close political ties to Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Both Dacre and Sharp will head up attacks on a BBC that the Tories claim has a “left wing” bias that “panders to woke culture”.
Over the years the Daily Mail under Dacre has served up a diet of racism and outright lies about ethnic minorities and migrants. The tabloid regularly whips up moral panics against, among others, “benefit scroungers”, single mothers and prisoners being held in “luxury jails”. Dacre’s possible appointment to a body supervising standards of accuracy and impartiality has been compared to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The BBC’s Royal Charter, first issued in 1926, established it as a public institution charged with disseminating information according to strict rules of editorial independence and impartiality.
This became the basis of so-called “public-service broadcasting”. However, the BBC’s reporting has always been influenced by corporate interests and those of the elite. A ‘debate’ on the BBC often represents different perspectives of the British ruling class rather than that of wider ideas inside society Research in 2007 found that in terms of “airtime coverage” business representatives outnumbered trade union spokepersons by more than five to one. By 2012 this had risen to 19 to one. The BBC has always maintained a close relationship with the state. Senior BBC executives, managers and journalists are disproportionately drawn from private schools and Oxbridge. They are part of the elite. Up until the 1990s BBC staff were secretly vetted by the MI5 security service. This relationship has become even cosier.
For senior editors there has always been a revolving door between Downing Street and the BBC. Senior news editors Craig Oliver and Robbie Gibb have both, at one time or another, served as government spin doctors. Even left-wing supporters of the BBC have been forced to concede that too frequently it pursues agendas set by the rightwing press. However, the BBC has also been a battleground for ideas.
It has a long record of satirical programmes with a distinct antiestablishment flavour, beginning with Hancock’s Half Hour in the 1950s, to Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, both of which are now under threat. With the appointment of Dacre and Sharp, the Tories see an opportunity to push the BBC even further towards the outlook expressed by the likes of the Daily Telegraph and other right wing publications.