Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Justice for James O'Brien!

The story that caught my eye this evening was one from Press Gazette in which it reports the departure of James O'Brien from BBC Newsnight.
The broadcaster is an open critic of Brexit and US President Donald Trump, views which he airs on his daily LBC radio show. But his opinionated approach flies in the face of strict BBC guidelines on impartiality, which have recently been applied to presenters who have taken a stance on BBC pay equality – resulting in some being taken off the air. In a leader comment about O’Brien, pro-Brexit newspaper the Sun asked: “How can the BBC still feign political impartiality with this professional leftie propagandist presenting Newsnight?”
O'Brien is something of a Marmite figure. You either love him or loathe him. To me though he's just background noise. He's full of himself, pompous, and given how he always chooses easy targets; a coward and a bully. He will never seek debate on a level playing field and certainly not without home advantage.

He claims to have resigned in order to speak freely on matters of Brexit, but if the BBC is still upholding its guidelines on impartiality he will have gone before he was pushed. I actually think this unfair to O'Brien.

The Sun chose its words well when it asks how the BBC still feign political impartiality. The short answer is that it can't and it doesn't. It has the deeply moronic Andrew Neil as a token licensed dissenter but for the rest of the time we are forced to endure empty headed luvvie presenters with a head full of conventional soft left dogma - whose values are a million miles away from the public the BBC nominally serves.

One would go as far as saying the pretence of impartiality is actually more insulting than if they had given James O'Brien free reign to do as he pleases. That is at least an honest position. If anything Newsnight has suffered from a slow bleed of ratings precisely because it is sanitised beyond usefulness. It could use a bit of grubby personal bias to at least make it interesting.

The problem is that the BBC has lost touch and no longer serves its function. Rather than being the inquisitor of the establishment it has become the mouthpiece of it. This is point lost on the BBC but is quite obvious to everyone else.

The weather vane is BBC comedy output. We have the Newsquiz, where last time I tuned in the punchline to every joke was Nigel Farage as Sandi Toksvig cackles in the background. Then we have the odious Mitch Benn and The Now Show ever ready to paint the eurosceptic as a middle-aged, paranoid gammon faced nazi who screams at the television. They kick down. Comedy derived from snobby and a distaste for the plebs.

At one time these comedians might have been edgy. They owe their careers to Ben Elton: The Man From Auntie - the BBC prime-time stand up show dedicated to slamming the Tory government at its peak. For a time BBC comedy was driven by the counter culture; speaking truth to power.

Through a number of charity telethons and jamborees these talents gradually became part of the establishment. Instead of seeking new talent the BBC became ossified and self-satisfied. It failed to notice the sea change in politics - and those comedians who used to kick upwards now kick in the other direction. They are the establishment. The same is true of BBC news output.

Fast forward to today and the comedian of the counter culture is not some snivelling leftist comedian like Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard or Frankie Boyle. The clip doing the rounds for the last few years is Steve Hughes and his bit on being offended.

If the BBC really wanted to speak truth to power it would be recruiting new talents with that razor sharp instinct to poke at the incumbent establishment - both in news and comedy, but the institutionalised culture of the BBC is still stuck in the eighties, failing to notice that the left is controlling the narrative in spite of a Tory government.

The BBC is out of touch and that is just not going to change. There is nothing left for it to do but fade quietly into the night. Ultimately if the BBC can't reform then it could at least stop insulting our intelligence. It should drop the pretence. That would at least be progress.

The problem for the BBC however, is that if it did rip off the mask and go the full moonbat it would be directly competing with Channel 4. That's why it needs O'Brien. What Channel 4 has accomplished, by dropping any pretence of impartiality, is to start a million conversations where Newsnight utterly fails. It has been a very long time since Newsnight made ripples.

In respect of that, since it is not inclined to be the voice for the people, (and if it wants to survive) it could do no worse than hang on to James O'Brien. Authoritarian, conforming to the narrative, snobbish and condescending. Can you think of a better man for the job? I can't.   

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