BBC Broadcasting House - New Extension

If we want the BBC to do its job we have to complain when it doesn’t!

Let’s get something straight at the outset. There are many rich and powerful people who want the BBC out of public ownership and in their own pockets. I am not one of them. Never was and never will be.

Over the past 40 years I’ve watched the rich and powerful greedily chomping their way through every scrap of public property they could get their hands on: from British Aerospace and British Telecom to gas, electricity, water, British Rail , the Royal Mail and now – the last remaining jewels in the Great British public’s crown –  the NHS and the BBC.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Powerful
Lifestyles of the Rich and Powerful

It’s not hard to understand why they want all this stuff.  If you sell things people don’t really need your profits are  hostage to the whims of fashion, but if you have a monopoly on all the things people can’t live without your profits are guaranteed for life.

The last time the Super-Rich had that kind of monopoly it caused the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression and the outbreak of the  Second World War just 10 years later.

Evacuation of Dunkirk, June-1941
Dunkirk Evacuation, June-1941 (US War Department)

In January 1941, six months after Nazi forces had surrounded the whole root and core and brain of the British Army and driven them into the sea at Dunkirk, Picture Post ran a photo story explaining where it had all gone wrong:

THE TRAGIC TALE THAT MUST NOT BE REPEATED: A TWO MINUTE HISTORY OF THE YEARS 1918-1939

Finance Scandals, Picture Post
Picture Post
Jarrow March 1936 from Picture Post, January 1941
Jarrow March 1936 ( Picture Post)
Rise of the Nazis, Picture Post
Rise of the Nazis (Picture Post)

In a last-ditch attempt to boost moral and give the British people something worth fighting for they were promised that, after they’d won the war, everything would be different.

Cold, damp, overcrowded rat-infested slums would be demolished and replaced by decent, low-rent Council housing. “Homes Fit for Heroes” as they were called.

No more unemployment – a job for every able bodied worker. No more exploitation by the rich and powerful – State control of the banks. No more poverty and starvation – Social Security for all. No more worrying about paying medical bills – free healthcare for everyone.

The Welfare State in other words!

National Health Service, Picture Post, January 1941
Mother Receives a Blood Pressure Test: Under ideal conditions and without the anxiety of finding the money to pay fees, Mother receives anti-natal care. Her health is a national responsibility. (Picture Post, January 1941)

But, over and above everything else was what Picture Post called “Our Main Problem” – the barrier between rich and poor “deliberately created by our system of education”.

“Our task is to remove the barrier – to bring the public schools into the general scheme.”

Two Systems of Education, Picture Post, January 1941
TWO SYSTEMS OF EDUCATION: A Picture That Sums Up Our Main Problem. (Picture Post, January 1941)

The month after Picture Post hit the street George Orwell followed suit with his essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius putting the view that the outdated British class system was hampering the war effort and that, to defeat Hitler, Britain needed a socialist revolution:

Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.

In the years between 1920 and 1940 it was happening with the speed of a chemical reaction. Yet at the moment of writing it is still possible to speak of a ruling class. Like the knife which has had two new blades and three new handles, the upper fringe of English society is still almost what it was in the mid-nineteenth century. After 1832 the old landowning aristocracy steadily lost power, but instead of disappearing or becoming a fossil they simply intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and financiers who had replaced them, and soon turned them into accurate copies of themselves.

Orwell at the BBC
George Orwell standing 2nd from right between William Empson and T.S.Elliot during a BBC Eastern Service broadcast.

The Lion and the Unicorn” was instrumental in creating a new kind of democratic “English Socialism“,  in contrast to the oppressive Soviet model, and also a new form of Britishness – a Socialist one liberated from Empire and the decadent ruling classes.

When the troops returned home victorious and went to the polls in the ‘Khaki Election’ in 1945, the first thing they did was kick Churchill out of Downing Street and put Clement Atlee’s first-ever majority Labour government in with a mandate to implement the new democratic English Socialism. The rich and powerful loathed it, obviously. The newspapers described it as an “unexpected landslide victory”, as school history books still do.  Unexpected by whom exactly?

But despite vehement opposition from the ruling elite, and a War Debt so great it wasn’t paid off until 61 years later in 2006, Atlee’s Labour government still succeeded in creating the democratic Socialist revolution that’s now known as the Welfare State.

That was the era my generation was brought up in. A golden age of light, fresh air, optimism, progress and freedom, with lots of interesting, creative things to do with our time, lots of great programmes to watch on the telly, lots of great music to play on the record player and the liberty to think and say whatever we pleased,  A golden age won for us by our parents’ generation, who’d sacrificed their own youth, lives and personal ambitions to give us all the things they never had themselves.

National Education, Picture Post
WHAT NATIONAL EDUCATION IS GOING TO MEAN: A Class at on Open-air School in Leicester. The children have plenty of space between them. They are all near the big, open window. They work in plenty of air and light. The teacher gives them interesting, creative things to do. The pupils are absorbed in their jobs. (Picture Post, January 1941)

But, as the survivors of the Great Depression and Second World War started fading into history, the memories of all the things they fought and died for started fading along with them. Slowly but surely the rich and powerful succeeded in convincing the post-war baby boomers that public ownership wasn’t working and only the “discipline of the free market” could do the business.

In Margaret Thatcher’s share-owning democracy of the 1980s the public were offered the opportunity to buy shares in all the things they already owned.  Starting stealthily by selling off profitable companies like British Aerospace to reduce the deficit, the major turning point came with the destruction of the major obstacle to privatisation, the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984.

Battle of Orgreave, Miners' Strike, 1984
Battle of Orgreave, Miners’ Strike, 1984 (John Harris, reportdigital.co.uk)

From then on there was nothing to stop the privateers getting their grubby little paws on every scrap of public property they could find.

From Jaguar, British TelecomBritish Aerospace, Britoil and British Gas


…to British Steel, British Petroleum, Rolls Royce, British Airways, water, electricity and finally British Coal and British Rail in 1993.

Potters Bar Rail Crash
Potters Bar Rail Crash, May 2002 (The Telegraph)

When the railways were in public ownership trains were occasionally late and you couldn’t get a McDonald’s to save your life, but things were never that bad!

But by then it had been firmly established in the public’s mind that public ownership was as evil as communism and there was no alternative but to make the rich richer so their wealth could trickle down to the rest of us.

Margaret Thatcher - There is No Alternative
Margaret Thatcher – “There is No Alternative” (from  book by Claire Berlinski)

Never mind that trickle down was what your grandmother used to call “crumbs from the rich man’s table”.  That was the old glass-half-empty, politics-of-envy stuff that caused all our problems in the first place. This was the new entrepreneurial (formerly known as rentier) age and as long as we kept thinking the glass was half full we’d soon be rich ourselves.

Having spent the 80s trying to point out that if you don’t complain your glass is half empty you’re never going to get it filled up, and steadfastly refusing to  buy shares in companies we already owned, I finally gave in and bought shares in five electricity companies when they were privatised in 1990.

Over the next five years they did very well and I made a couple of grand, until I started receiving letters like the one below telling me that, under Section 429 of the Companies Act 1985, I had to sell out to a transnational corporation whether I liked it or not.

London Electricity plc Compulsory Share Purchase
Compulsory Purchase of London Electricity plc shares by Entergy Power UK plc

Section 429 of the 1985 Companies Act was one of those teensy-weensy bits of small print Margaret Thatcher forgot to tell Sid about. And, despite what it said on the tin, Entergy Power UK plc had very little to do with the UK. It was a front for Entergy Corp., an American-owned transnational who, a couple of years later, sold my own small stake in London Electricity on to EDF, a French transnational owned by the French government!

So much for the evils of nationalization! So much for Margaret Thatcher’s share-owning democracy! So much for the Dunkirk spirit and the Khaki Election. Since the end of World War ll the income growth of the top 10% has been steadily rising, whilst its been steadily falling for the rest of us, to the point that it has now gone into reverse!

Income Growth Inequality, Pavlina R. Tcherneva
Income Growth Inequality (Pavlina R. Tcherneva, Reorienting fiscal policy: a bottom-up Approach, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Autumn 2014)

So it’s no surprise that the pockets of the rich and powerful are now so stuffed full of what used to be our money that 86 of them now own as much as half of the rest of the world’s population put together. Which means each one of them is worth more than forty million other people! How can one person  be worth more than a population the size of Canada?! Surely that can’t be right, can it?

Superyachts of the Super Rich
Superyachts of the Super Rich

The rich are now so grotesquely rich that the annual income of just 100 of them could solve world poverty four times over. In other words, if the hundred richest people donated just a quarter of their monthly salaries , without dipping into any of their savings or selling off any of their assets, they could cure world poverty forever.

Poverty in Africa
Poverty in Africa

That really is awesome don’t you think? If you were one of those 100 people wouldn’t you want to spend money you can easily afford curing world poverty rather than buying one more Caribbean Island, Lear Jet or Super Yacht? If that tells you nothing else, it’s that they don’t care anywhere near as much about other people’s health as they care about their own wealth.

Which raises the question:  are these the kind of people we want owning all the things we can’t live without and looking after us when we’re old and sick?

Oxford Bullingdon Club featuring David Cameron and Boris Johnson
Oxford Bullingdon Club featuring David Cameron and Boris Johnson (BBC Newsnight painting, Use of original prohibited by Copyright legislation!)

After five years of austerity, and just four months away from a General Election, these are the things we need to be discussing. Does it have to be this way? Are there alternatives? What are they? What would be the relative benefits and costs?

No surprise then that the 86 people who currently own more than half of the rest of the world’s population would want to own that discussion too. And you know what? They already do:

UK Front Pages, 1-12 January 2105
UK Front Pages, 1-12 January 2105 (thepaperboy.com)

If you look at those headlines dispassionately from a distance a pattern begins to emerge. Take a problem and charge it so full of emotion it’s impossible to think straight.  Blow it up so far out of proportion it pushes everything else off the page. Keep on shouting until people are so wound up they’ll do anything to get it to stop. Then offer the solution you already had sitting on the shelf just waiting for a problem to solve.

Take dementia for instance. All illness is miserable, no doubt. But is dementia so much more miserable than than a lot of others you could think of? The mass media says it is. Suddenly there’s a pill that may halt the misery of dimension. Not definitely will, just may, if we’re lucky. It’s going to be hugely expensive, but when we’re dealing with so much human suffering cost is no object, obviously.

But what about Ebola? Isn’t that an even bigger problem? Ah yes, well, a couple of weeks ago it was. but we’re working on a pill for that too. So isn’t that going to be even more expensive? Well yes, it is, but when your’re dealing with so much human suffering…..

But if money is no object then one day the NHS is going to go broke surely? Well, yes it is, but we’ve got a pill for that too. Drinkers, smokers and fat people have brought all their problems on themselves, so we cut them out for starters. Then we sell off the rest of the services to private corporations who can run them more efficiently, obviously.

There are always two sides to every story. A quick Google search will turn up all kinds of things that call all of the above into question. But with the long hours people have to work these days who has time for that?

In the Mass Media age the only defence we have against only ever hearing one side of the story is a mass media corporation we own ourselves – the BBC in other words.

BBC Broadcasting House - New Extension
BBC Broadcasting House – New Building

The one and only purpose of the BBC is to provide the public with the accurate, unbiased information they need to see through the manipulations of the private corporations and make properly informed decisions for themselves. When you think about how much trouble that could save us, the licence fee would be a bargain at twice the price.

Every Saturday morning when I were a lad BBC Radio ran a programme, Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac which started with the same catch phrase, “Hello children, everywhere”, and played the same records over and over again.

In those early post war years, with Dunkirk still fresh in people’s minds, the BBC stuck close to it’s founding principles of public service broadcasting,  so no surprise that many of the records Uncle Mac played were chosen to inform and educate young minds as well as entertain.  And at least one of those songs taught us that solving one problem often creates and even bigger one:

But the BBC doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s full of people just like us. If we were taken in by the propaganda it’s likely they could have been too. In fact, if you drew a graph of how much the BBC has represented the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the public over the post-war years my guess is it would correlate pretty highly with the differences in income growth.

The income growth of the majority of the public went into reverse in 2009. If recent events are anything to go by it appears the BBC has followed suit. In July 2014 the BBC spent licence payer’s money on lawyers representing BBC  employees who don’t believe in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting against one of the few remaining ones that still did!

Any doubts about where that was leading were dispelled three months later when the BBC put the final nail in the public broadcasting coffin by appointing a top banker, currently being sued over allegations of laundering terrorist and drug cartel money, to Chair the BBC Trust!

Rona Fairhead, Chair BBC Trust
Rona Fairhead CBE, Chair BBC Trust

There are plenty of people within the BBC who think that’s not right, but at the moment they’re outranked by those who think it is. Which is why, If we want the BBC to do what it’s supposed to do we have to complain when it doesn’t.

*****

Anatomy of a BBC Complaint

I’ve never been one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do types myself, so I put my money where my mouth is and submitted my own BBC complaint about the lack of coverage News at Six gave to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) announcement that the June 2014 deficit was a massive 50% higher than the previous year!

You’d think that was simple enough wouldn’t you? BBC Editorial Standards say they should acknowledge mistakes and correct them quickly. So either it was a mistake and they acknowledge and  correct it, or it was professional BBC judgement which has evidence to support it.

So how come such a simple issue is still dragging on 6 months later at the licence payer’s expense? If Inspector Morse was questioning the BBC what would he think? Chilcot anyone?

  • News at Six: Viewer Complaint 1 July 25, 2014 The 4th item on the News at Six on Thursday 24 July was the announcement that the IMF had raised its UK growth forecast “by almost half a percentage point”. In contrast, the ONS announcement ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: BBC Response 1 July 25, 2014 Case number CAS-2832936-Y1CMD4 . Thanks for contacting the BBC. This is an automated email confirming we have received the complaint below. Please do not reply to this email since it is generated from an unmonitored address. If ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: BBC Response 2 August 2, 2014 Reference CAS-2832936-Y1CMD4. Thanks for recently contacting the BBC. We aim to reply to complaints within 10 working days (around 2 weeks) and do so for most of them but cannot for all. The time taken depends on ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: BBC Response 3 August 6, 2014 Reference CAS-2832936-Y1CMD4. Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘BBC News at Six’ on BBC One. We note you felt we didn’t give equivalent due prominence and weight to two reports on our 22 July and 24 July programmes. You of ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: Viewer Response 2 August 6, 2014 Reference: CAS-2832936-Y1CMD4 Thank you for your email of 06/08/2014. Video, audio or transcripts are no longer necessary as your email confirms the ONS statistics were given zero prominence or weight on the ‘News at Six’ on the ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: BBC Response 4 August 6, 2014 Case number CAS-2854164-81M5MF. We are sorry that you were not satisfied with our earlier response to your complaint and appreciate that you felt strongly enough to contact us again about the matter. This is an automated email to ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: Viewer Response 3 August 7, 2014 Further to your email of 06/08/2014 re. complaint CAS-2832936-Y1CMD4 I wish to make a separate complaint re. the statement that transcripts for ‘BBC News at Six’ are not available “due to the prohibitive costs”. As a TV ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1: BBC Response 5 August 7, 2014 Case number CAS-2854731-7TXWGG. We are sorry that you were not satisfied with our earlier response to your complaint and appreciate that you felt strongly enough to contact us again about the matter. This is an automated email to ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1b: BBC Response 6 August 15, 2014 Reference CAS-2854731-7TXWGG. Thank you for taking the time to contact us again recently. We had referred your complaint to the relevant staff and are normally able to investigate and reply to most complaints at this stage (which ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1b: BBC Response 7 August 22, 2014 Reference CAS-2854164-81M5MF. Thank you for taking the time to contact us again recently. We had referred your complaint to the relevant staff and are normally able to investigate and reply to most complaints at this stage (which ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1b: BBC Response 8 September 9, 2014 Reference CAS-2854731-7TXWGG. Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1b: BBC Response 9 September 9, 2014 Reference CAS-2854164-81M5MF. Thanks for your further contact. Your complaint regarding coverage of the ONS figures is being investigated and we will send you a considered response in due course. This is separate to your complaint regarding ‘News at Six’ ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 1b: BBC Response 10 November 24, 2014 Reference CAS-2854164-81M5MF. Thanks for contacting us again regarding ‘BBC News at Six’ on 22 July. Please accept our apologies for the long delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and are sorry you’ve had ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 4 December 11, 2014 . Case number CAS-2854164-81M5MF. I wish to escalate this complaint to Stage 2 of the Complaints Process. The essence of the complaint is: 1) On the afternoon of Tuesday 22 July 2004 the Business News segment on the BBC ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 11 December 12, 2014 . Editorial Complaints Unit. Thank you for your email of 11 December. I have read all the previous correspondence and before the ECU considers whether it can investigate your complaint I would be grateful if you ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 5 December 12, 2014 . Re: Editorial Complaints Unit Email. Dear Mr Tregear, Thank you for your email of 12 December. I am be happy to clarify your point. You are correct, this is the first time that I have raised ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 12 December 12, 2014 . Editorial Complaints Unit Email #2. Dear Mr McNulty, Thank you for your email. I fear I may not have expressed myself as clearly as I could have done on the issue of editorial discretion. There are clearly ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 6 December 12, 2014 . Re. Editorial Complaints Unit Email #2. Dear Mr Tregear, Thank you for clarifying the editorial discretion issue and explaining the limitations of the terms of reference of the ECU. It’s interesting that all the Stage 1 responses I’ve ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 13 December 16, 2014 . Editorial Complaints Unit Email. Dear Mr McNulty I have passed your complaint to Malcolm Balen, who is the Head of Editorial Standards for BBC News. He has assured me that he will be in touch in ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 7 December 16, 2014 Re: Editorial Complaints Unit Email: Dear Mr Tregear, Thank you for your email and apology for the delay in dealing with my complaint. I look forward to hearing from Malcolm Balen in due course. Yours sincerely more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 14 December 16, 2014 . From: James Harding Complaints. Dear Mr McNulty, Thank you for your correspondence with the Editorial Complaints Unit about the above programmes which, as I think you know, has been referred to me. Your complaint, if I might summarise ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 8 December 22, 2014 . Dear Mr Balen and/or Mr Harding, Thank you for your email of 16 December. I’d rather you didn’t summarise my complaint. The BBC webform already limited it to 242 words. If I had wished it to be ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 15 December 22, 2014 . From: James Harding Complaints. Dear Mr McNulty, Thank you for your further email. I see that on re-reading our correspondence it appears that the wrong sentence has appeared in bold in the ONS data: Public sector net borrowing excluding ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 9 December 22, 2014 . Dear Mr Balen, Thank you for your further reply. Funny how the wrong sentence can mysteriously appear in bold without anyone being responsible. No matter. This is the least of the things I complained about. More importantly, Editorial ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: BBC Response 16 December 22, 2014 . From: James Harding Complaints. Dear Mr McNulty, As I have previously referred you to the Trust, I am afraid I am unable to comment further on the substance of your appeal. For the sake of clarity, however, I ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 2: Viewer Response 10 December 23, 2014 . Dear Mr Balen and/or Mr Harding, Thank you for confirming that BBC News does not regard the official announcement of the June deficit as a ‘major matter’. I suspected as much when I saw your economics/business correspondent ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 3: Viewer Response 11 January 8, 2015 . Request for Appeal, BBC Trust. This complaint concerns the lack of due impartiality in the BBC’s reporting of two key economic indicators in the period 22 to 24 July 2014. The BBC’s Stage 1 and Stage ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 3: BBC Response 17 January 8, 2015 Thank you for your e-mail. We check this e-mail address regularly throughout the day and will respond to e-mails requiring a reply as soon as possible. more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 3: BBC Response 18 January 28, 2015 . Thank you for your email of 8 January 2015 to the BBC Trust. We note that BBC Audience Services have informed you that they are not going to respond to you further on your complaint as ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 3: Viewer Response 12 January 29, 2015 . Thank you for your email of 28 January 2015. I do not understand why you need to begin your investigations by reviewing my correspondence with BBC Audience Services to check that my appeal against their decision ... more
  • News at Six Complaint Stage 3: BBC Response 19 January 30, 2015 Subject: RE: Request for Appeal Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2015 17:47:59 +0000 From: Trust Editorial <TrustEditorial@bbc.co.uk> To: ‘Ian McNulty’ <ian@mcnultymedia.co.uk> Dear Mr McNulty, Thank you for your email – we have noted its contents.  We will be in touch with a substantive response in due ... more
  • News at Six Complaint, Stage 3: BBC Response 19 January 30, 2015 . Thank you for your email – we have noted its contents. We will be in touch with a substantive response in due course. more
  • News at Six Complaint, Stage 3: BBC Response 20 February 23, 2015 . I am sorry to send a disappointing response, but I do not believe your appeal should be put in front of Trustees. The BBC’s journalists and programme-makers are expected to work to a high standard; ... more
  • News at Six, Complaint Stage 3: Viewer Response 13 March 10, 2015 . Dear Ms Buckle, Thank you for your response of 23 February 2015. I am sorry to disagree with your decision to block this complaint from due oversight by the Trustees. My reasons are included in ... more
  • News at Six, Complaint Stage 3: BBC Response 21 March 12, 2015 . As you have requested a review of the decision not to proceed with your appeal we shall provide the Committee with your appeal, the letter from Leanne Buckle and your email requesting a review of ... more

3 thoughts on “If we want the BBC to do its job we have to complain when it doesn’t!”

  1. A timely reminder of why the BBC really does matter and a wonderful journey through the great con that has been perpetrated on us all! That ‘caring/sharing’ political message had us all believing in the bright new future as everything we held central to a fair and just society was then carefully undermined through the clever tactics of divide and rule, greed and guilt and of course ‘winner takes all’! As you so clearly point out, there is no doubt who are the winners and losers. I listened to Obama’s state of the Union speech yesterday as he outlined the huge success of America and dissed the ‘dastardly Russians’ with no friends. Is this what we’ve come to, simplistic politics that don’t even attempt to hide the propaganda they represent. So never mind everyone…. as the NHS struggles, the Euro dream hovers on the brink of collapse, and a new cold war grows dangerous in the Ukraine ( follow the money!), we can always blame the feckless poor and ‘the other’ ones who are ruining our country. Meanwhile our BBC matters if there is any chance of getting the truth out there! We all need to complain when it doesn’t do its job properly.

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