THERE’S a very strange drama unfolding at the BBC.
It’s a slow burning political thriller in which the final episode has yet to be written.
The latest trailer for this drama was unveiled on Sunday evening when David Cameron’s Conservative government came under unprecedented attack at the BAFTA TV awards, where the BBC swept the board with double wins for the Mark Rylance drama Wolf Hall.
The tone for the evening was set by Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky, who was given a standing ovation by the audience of TV stars and industry executives when he accused the government of trying to “eviscerate” the BBC and Channel 4.
Mr Kosminsky said: “In the week in which our secretary of state John Whittingdale described the disappearance of the BBC as a tempting prospect, I’d like to say a few words in defence of that organisation.
“It’s not their BBC, it’s your BBC. In many ways, the BBC and Channel 4, which they are also attempting to eviscerate, are the envy of the world and we should stand up and fight for it, not let it go by default.
“If we don’t, blink and it will be gone. No more Wolf Halls, no more ground-breaking Dispatches [on Channel 4], just a broadcasting landscape where the only determinate of whether it gets made is whether it lines the pockets of shareholders.
“This is really scary stuff, folks, and not something I thought I would see in my lifetime in this country. All of this is under threat right now, make no mistake. It’s time to stand up and say no to this dangerous nonsense.”
Government proposals to appoint a majority of members on a new BBC board threatened its independence, Mr Kosminsky said, and would turn it into a state broadcaster “a bit like … those bastions of democracy Russia and North Korea”.
He said the government wanted to tell the BBC what programmes to make and when to schedule them.
Mr Rylance later joined in the criticism, saying: “Woe to any government or corporation that tries to get between the British people and their love of a good joke, a true story, a good song, a fact or fiction, good sports commentating, newscasters who can hold themselves together as they tell stories about terrible tragedies in Paris, people who can help you bake cakes.
“We’re a nation of storytellers, were admired around the world for it. Tonight I was struck with the quality of storytelling in the country and I agree with Peter, times are hard.”
Ian Hislop and Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood were among other stars to speak out on behalf of the BBC.
Mr Hislop, accepting the comedy and comedy entertainment award for BBC1’s Have I Got News For You, said: “The BBC have allowed Have I Got News For You to be rude about governments … and rude about the BBC, which is a privilege you are given with public service broadcasting and not on state television.
“I have an idea that John Whittingdale’s ideal show would be the prime minister as host [of Have I Got News For You], the defence secretary and the home secretary as the two team captains.
“It is a ludicrous idea what he is proposing. But I think that like most of the really terrible ideas that this government has come up with, in about three weeks they will decide that they didn’t mean it and they will row back,” he added.
Revel Horwood spoke out after Strictly Come Dancing, which has been criticised by Mr Whittingdale and may be forced out of its primetime slot, beat ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent to the best entertainment prize.
“If they are in charge of anything entertainment-wise, it would be a complete disaster; we don’t want them in charge of any decisions, creatively,” he said.
“The scheduling is created around our audience. It’s a family entertainment show. You’d never schedule it at 1am would you? That would be ridiculous. I would hate to see it move.”
Without giving away too much of the plot of this steamy drama too early, the gnashing of teeth at the BAFTA awards does in some way explain why the BBC’s political reporting has been so biased in favour of the Conservatives.
Blackmail and bullying by the government has taken its toll on a Corporation still reeling from the Jimmy Savile and paedophile revelations about some of its presenters.
And it is there for all to see in red and blue.
Soon after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party last September, the BBC was accused of an ‘anti Corbyn bias’ and challenged with a 61,000 strong petition demanding that they stop using the prefix ‘left-wing’ when reporting on events related to his leadership.
Even before he won a stunning 59.5% of the vote, ensuring the largest democratic mandate of any Labour leader in modern history, Mr Corbyn was subject to what a source from his leadership campaign described as a ‘complete hatchet job’.
Former BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, even wrote to his colleagues over concerns about the Corporation’s bias against Mr Corbyn, and Channel 4’s Michael Crick issued a stunning rebuke to broadcasters referring to non-left MPs as ‘moderates’.
Despite these protestations the BBC’s agenda did not change.
In January this year, Mr Corbyn’s so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’ led to the revelation, that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil and so-called ‘moderate’ Labour MP Stephen Doughty planned his live resignation on their programme hours before it began.
Despite the fact that a live on-air resignation could be considered dramatic broadcasting, it beggars belief how it is the job of the BBC’s political editor to be of service to an evidently resentful shadow cabinet member intent on weakening the Labour leadership.
A few hours later the producer of the programme bizarrely admitted in a BBC blog that Neil, Kuenssberg and himself manipulated the news to negatively impact Mr Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions that week.
In the blog, the producer – Andrew Alexander – admitted that the BBC team were not just reporting the day’s news but trying to influence it:
“We knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact,” he wrote.
“We took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.”
As a fellow journalist of some 30 years standing, I found this admission shocking, but also symptomatic of degraded and biased journalism.
What we are told as ‘fact’ is now a fiction hi-jacked by big business ownership of our media.
These are the same big businesses which support a Conservative government and in turn influence draconian monetarist and capitalist policy at every turn.
Almost 78 per cent of our press and broadcast media is owned by a handful of mostly foreign-based billionaires.
The nature of media organisation is set by its owner.
Newspapers and broadcasters exercise power and influence in many ways. And one of their most powerful forms of influence is the ability to effectively set the political agenda for the other media and more widely, in parliament, the workplace, the home and the pub.
So-called editorial independence is a sham. Proprietors choose editors who they know share their views.
And now their sights are firmly set on a privatised BBC.
It seems it is ripe for the taking.
BBC News forms a major department of the Corporation, and for years has received complaints of bias in favour of the Conservative Establishment.
The commentator Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman pointed out the right-wing backgrounds of many BBC presenters and journalists.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones is also of the opinion that the BBC is biased towards the right, owing to numerous key posts being filled by Conservatives.
A study by Cardiff University academics, funded by the BBC Trust, and published in August 2013, examined the BBC’s coverage of a broad range of issues.
One of the findings was the dominance of party political sources.
In coverage of immigration, the EU and religion, these accounted for 49.4% of all source appearances in 2007 and 54.8% in 2012.
The data also showed that the Conservative Party received significantly more airtime than the Labour Party.
In 2012 Conservative leader David Cameron outnumbered Labour leader Ed Miliband in appearances by a factor of nearly four to one (53 to 15), while Conservative cabinet members and ministers outnumbered their Labour counterparts by more than four to one (67 to 15).
Former Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, has criticised the BBC as part of a “Westminster conspiracy” to maintain the British political system.
And so the drama unfolds…
Matters moved up a gear this past week when a 38 Degrees petition to sack Ms Kuenssberg, following her outlandishly politically biased reporting on the 5 May elections, was signed by more than 35,000 people in less than five days.
The fact that a very small number of people on social media used abusive and sexist language in calling for the BBC’s first female political editor to go, seemed at first like flotsam on the political wind.
Then suddenly, on Tuesday, 38 Degrees executive director David Babbs announced that the petition had been taken down with the agreement of the person who had posted it.
He said: “I am really concerned that a petition hosted on the 38 Degrees website has been hijacked, and used as a focal point for sexist and hateful abuse made towards Laura Kuenssberg on Twitter.
“That is totally unacceptable and, with the agreement of the petition starter, we’ve taken the petition down to prevent it being used in this way. There is no place in the 38 Degrees family for sexism or any form of discrimination or hate speech.”
Having both signed and endorsed the petition myself, I was taken aback by this.
I had read many of the comments on the 38 Degrees site, and of the scores of comments I read through, only one was sexist. That one was quite unpleasant, but totally unrepresentative.
It seems astonishing that a tiny and unrepresentative number of people can get a petition scrapped which had been signed by many thousands of genuine people.
The only people who claim to have seen this widespread sexism is 38 Degrees, who have not produced any public evidence of this.
Laura Kuenssberg is the most openly biased journalist I have witnessed on the BBC over the past three decades.
But she is by no means alone. Of course by targeting her we are only drawing attention to a particularly egregious symptom of the terrible disease of a rampantly right wing corporate and state media.
Nobody believes that removing her would solve the problem.
Nobody seriously believes the BBC actually would remove her even if the petition reached a million. It is purely a campaigning tool to highlight the injustice of media control, access and bias.
But behind all of this Game of Thrones is one man, billionaire media mogul and the man behind Sky TV, The Sun newspaper and The Times.
His name rings like that of Rasputin or Goebbels: Rupert Murdoch.
He is the man credited with winning the Conservative Party three General Elections in 1983, 1987 and 1992, and credited with the ascendancy of Tony Blair.
After flirting with Blair’s New Labour for a decade, Murdoch found a comfier bed fellow in David Cameron and became king maker again in 2010 and 2015.
Last June he gave David Cameron’s new Conservative Cabinet his personal stamp of approval, opining that the Prime Minister’s picks for his inner circle were “surprisingly good”.
Four years after the phone hacking scandal, which rocked the media and political establishment and saw the closure of Murdoch’s News of the World, the kingmaker is back at the centre of power in the UK.
Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of ad group WPP, said of the media mogul: “He certainly hasn’t been diminished. If anything, he has more vim and vigour than ever. He is just as powerful a figure and in the future will be even more so.”
At the start of 2015, the head of the company that controls more than a third of British newspaper assets, as well as 40% of Sky, still faced the possibility of corporate charges on both sides of the Atlantic, while many of his employees faced criminal charges for paying public officials.
While nine journalists were convicted over hacking, none where convicted over corrupt payments to public officials, and Murdoch has seen corporate charges dropped on both sides of the Atlantic.
After splitting the two arms of his media empire into a film/television and publishing businesses, ostensibly to prevent the phone hacking scandal tarnishing his more lucrative 21st Century Fox franchise, Murdoch has watched as both companies have grown in value on the stock exchange. He has also elevated both of his sons, Lachlan and James, into the top jobs at each company over the past year.
Even the decision to close the 168-year-old News of the World has resulted in a far cheaper seven-day operation for The Sun, which, though facing an advertising and circulation decline, is still the UK’s biggest selling tabloid.
He may have spent $500million (£336million) on settling hacking claims, closed a national newspaper and lost several of his staff but, after four years, Rupert Murdoch appears to have emerged a winner.
He is rumoured to be considering a returned offer for the whole of Sky he does not own but his interest in Time Warner, the US media giant behind the Harry Potter films and the CNN news network, suggests he may now have far bigger fish to fry.
And the biggest fish on this side of the water is the BBC.