As I expected, it wasn’t long before yesterday’s posting about BBC journalist-impersonator Nick Robinson had provoked some unhappy and even angry replies; since a few of them raised important issues, I hope you’ll pardon me for returning to the topic here.
Before we get to those responses, though, I want to post a few reminders about just who it is that we are dealing with when we examine the former Political Editor of BBC News. You see, one of the consequences of media-wide suppression of all issues pertaining to the actual structure of the media is that the ‘normal’ way in which BBC staff are presented to us is one that involves two operations that continue throughout their entire careers. On the one hand, there is perpetual airbrushing; on the other there is unending image management.
Let me start with the ‘airbrushing’. I don’t think it is going too far to say that the BBC’s basic approach is to proceed as if every member of every news team is someone whom Auntie Beeb once found floating in a basket made of bulrushes: the idea that any of them could have backgrounds, histories or allegiances that impact upon their journalistic work is simply not up for discussion.
Look, for example, at the paragraphs the BBC puts online about Nick Robinson:
(i) a ‘reassuring’ personal declaration designed to convince us all that the Corporation’s supposedly admirable ‘history’ and ‘values’ were things that Robinson imbibed with his mother’s milk;
(ii) a ‘reassuring’ list of some recent political events whose handling by the BBC we are expected to view as having been of celebration-worthy probity and competence;
(iii) a ‘reassuring’ summary of this obviously
useful talented individual’s meteoric progress through various organisations and roles within the UK’s state-corporate media system;
(iv) a ‘reassuring’ look at his educational history — neatly avoiding all mention of Cheadle Hulme School’s elite and divisive status as an independent ‘private school’ that took boarders, along with any other information (such as reference to an 83-acre site!) which could remind people that, at a time when poverty and inequality were once again growing in the UK, Robinson the schoolboy wasn’t exactly slumming it.
One final thing to note is the blurb’s loving mention of BBC broadcaster Brian Redhead (1929-94): you’d be astonished — yes, you really would! — how often it turns out that a now ‘high-flying’ and ‘important’ BBC employee originally had a personal connection or/and a political patron…
[[Side note: Brian Redhead was a figure very familiar to me on local (North-West) TV back in the 1970s — where he became the only man ever to have hosted a BBC programme (the regional opt-out show ‘Home Ground’) whose theme music was by André Messager…]]
And, as every reader will have realised, nowhere in our little bit of BBC PR boilerplate is there even the slightest hint of the information that I presented in my previous posting. That, of course, is the very essence of ‘airbrushing’: it is as if not a single one of those Conservative Party positions (Founder member … Chairman … Vice-Chairman … Member … Director/Chairman … Chairman … President …) had ever been occupied by anyone called Nick Robinson…
Yet, from the point of view of the licence-fee-paying audience (required to accept ‘on trust’ the politics-related reports and broadcasts of this individual), is it not the case that the single most relevant piece of information about him is the fact that, as late as 1988 — nine whole years into the Thatcher government’s 11-year riot of exultant social violence and unashamed elite larceny (and two years after he himself had joined the BBC as a production trainee!) — Nick Robinson was still a highly-placed and influential agitator within the youth wing of the Conservative Party…? (That bit of timeline, by the way, addresses the angry retort I received from someone determined to present Robinson’s political activism as ‘something he probably gave up before he went into broadcasting’.)
Now let’s turn to the BBC’s dedication to its employees’ ‘image management’. As many a reader will undoubtedly have noticed, the Corporation is not only astonishingly forgetful and unobservant about the pasts and private lives of its ‘front-line talent’, but even bends over backwards to help them burnish their image as ‘friendly people, welcome in anyone’s living room!‘ — by way of endless appearances in quizzes, comedy shows, cookery programmes, charity galas, and suchlike. And thus it was that in 2016, for example, Nick Robinson participated in the Children in Need ‘Bargain Hunt Special’ — which saw four famous salaried BBC radio personalities in two teams battling to see which of them could pull in the most money from viewers at home who all earned vastly less than they did.
So let’s remind ourselves about just what kind of reality it is that the BBC’s PR exertions are attempting to efface. This clip shows Nick Robinson delivering a piece to camera in October 2010…
Having all witnessed that display, let us carry out two different ‘thought experiments’, and see what we learn…
First, imagine that, rather than attempting to legitimise disastrous neoliberal economic policy while an anti-war placard danced behind him, Robinson was, instead, being inconvenienced by a pro-war demonstrator of some kind. Had he grabbed and destroyed, on camera, a piece of private property that had the words ‘Troops Into Syria Now!‘ on one side, and “Aleppo’s Children are Dying!” on the other, he’d have been sacked the next day — for misconduct that brought the BBC into the disrepute it pretends it doesn’t already exemplify. For the utterly simple fact is that, for all the interminable myth-making about its institutional and editorial ‘independence’, the BBC acts as an arm of UK state power, and is thus an enthusiast and apologist for UK state violence. As we all know, a BBC staff member who is a depraved sexual predator may spend decades using the Corporation’s corridors as both haven and hunting-ground; by contrast, anyone who dared use their position to get in the way of a nice new war would find their proud ‘public service broadcasting’ career suddenly turning into something that involved an enormous amount of solitary gardening.
Secondly, imagine that, rather than it being the quondam anti-CND organiser Nick Robinson who is filmed acting in this way, it is someone who operates in public life without the imprimatur of the sectors that benefit so massively from guaranteed government expenditure on sophisticated weapons systems and from the overseas crimes of the nation’s taxpayer-funded military…
Someone like your man Jeremy Corbyn, for example. Had the anti-war, pro-disarmament leader of the Labour Party been so filmed — first, as he grabbed and destroyed a placard he didn’t like, and then as he spoke with such offensive arrogance to a member of the general public — the BBC itself would have maintained a rolling, 24-hours-a-day news and comment onslaught whose aim was to force not just his resignation, but his complete disappearance from UK politics. (And you know I’m correct, so don’t write in pretending otherwise.)
It’s worth mentioning that, when that video clip ‘went viral’ back in 2010, Robinson immediately went online to
justify discuss his disgraceful behaviour in his official BBC blog. Read the following quote carefully — because you won’t believe your eyes if you don’t…
I lost my temper and I regret that. However, as I explained afterwards to the protesters who disrupted [sic] my broadcast, there are many opportunities to debate whether the troops should be out of Afghanistan without the need to stick a sign on a long pole and wave it in front of a camera.
Not on the BBC there aren’t!
For, as a growing number of quantitative academic studies attest, the BBC has for years been disproportionately concerned with presenting and privileging pro-war voices and ignoring or marginalising anti-war, non-allied and ‘enemy’ speakers and organisations. (For an article that gives a flavour of how comprehensively skewed is the war-related reporting of our wholly impartial state broadcaster, see here.) The idea that our nation’s shockingly comprehensive media-political stitch-up admits ‘many opportunities’ to debate the deployment of troops — in Afghanistan or anywhere else! — when the perennial ‘need’ for yet another war is the one fact of political life that must never be seriously questioned within state-corporate media or elite-serving politics is simply too ludicrous for words. (As, indeed, is Robinson’s pitiable attempt to make it seem that someone who puts a placard on a ‘long pole’ in view of a TV camera has done something so appalling as to shake the very foundations of civilisation…)
Mind you, Robinson’s tactic of attempting a bit of ‘damage limitation’ by taking discussion to a space somewhere on the internet is one that he has kept up. He last did it as recently as yesterday — when Labour’s Barry Gardiner (Shadow Secretary for International Trade) recovered from a shaky start to take his interlocutor apart on live radio (recording here): Robinson then repaired to Twitter to pretend he hadn’t really been shredded by his interviewee.
Needless to say, of course, back in 2010 the BBC’s ‘image management’ team didn’t let the matter rest with just some self-exculpatory maunderings on an in-house blog. After all, there were — as there still are! — many, many popular comedy programmes into which BBC insiders may effortlessly be inserted whenever it seems that their actions can be sanitised by immersion in the obedient laughter of a compliant studio audience and the smiling approval of everyone on stage…
Now, perhaps I am someone who is simply over-sensitive to state-approved comedy of the kind that HIGNFY deals in; but I was disgusted by that ensemble performance in 2010, and I am disgusted by it now.
— In fact, having now gone through that clip all over again, I’ve decided that I am too disgusted to finish discussing this topic tonight.
I’ll write the rest tomorrow.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making an anonymised micro-donation in return! Micro-donation — 50p, 50c, whatever — is the way to sponsor the creation of quality content outside the control of corporate-owned and power-serving media structures. To micro-donate to me, with guaranteed anonymity, simply click on the button… Thanks!