Socialist Worker

BBC has been caught up inside the Matrix

DAVID MILLER, editor of Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq and professor of sociology at the University of Strathclyde, looks at the flaws in BBC reporting of Iraq.

Issue No. 1916

THE PROBLEM is that BBC journalists are trapped in the Matrix with the ruling class.

They are part of a political elite that lives in a bubble and understands little outside it.

It comes from the top. The training of BBC journalists ensures that certain things remain unsayable and unthinkable.

It just doesn’t seem “sensible” for them to think of what’s going on in Iraq as an imperial adventure, as an occupation, as US troops colonising another country.

The key thing is that they cannot think in terms of Britain and the West ever having any interests to pursue.

That’s outside the Matrix of official political doctrine. The basic benevolence of the West is never questioned.

So issues such as occupation, control over strategic resources and imperialism are never brought up. Instead you get the deeply felt belief that Britain is an innocent party.

Those who oppose what’s going on—the left, the Iraqi resistance—are presented as either mad or bad.

Of course, there have been changes since the Hutton report. You hear that from people working in the BBC.

If they try to get anything sensible onto the news, the mantra from management is that everything has to be “compliant” with the Hutton strictures.

In practice that means you can’t get critical or alternative views on. They’ve reined in the views that can be shown.

Its reporting is more cautious now, the range more constrained to a mainstream pro-government line. In fact this is the way the BBC has always operated in times of crisis.

You can look back at its coverage of the General Strike, the Suez crisis, the Falklands or the miners’ strike.

As the national broadcaster, it is subject to the most focused government intimidation—and it responds to that.

That’s always been case.

Democratic broadcasting should represent the opinion of people in the country.

But the BBC explicitly says it is not there for that—it is there to represent the mainstream politics you get in parliament.

So when there’s a disjuncture between popular politics and the elite—and that disjuncture has been nowhere greater than over Iraq—it all falls apart.

If there’s a legitimate debate in the country and the BBC doesn’t cover it, then the BBC’s stance becomes exposed as a political position.

The BBC staff walkouts after the Hutton report show there is now more pressure for genuine reform of broadcasting from within than ever before.

There is pressure to democratise the BBC, to elect its governors, to ensure it represents all shades of opinion fairly.

But people have also started to focus on alternative media, to organise outside the mainstream to get any significant dissent.

This is a very encouraging process—it shows signs of resistance, and it shows the massive reservoir of feeling out there.

David Miller’s book Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq is available from Bookmarks for £13. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to Bookmarks online. David Miller’s website is here

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Sat 28 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1916
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