It must be ten years now since I risked life and limb to brave the Cresta Run, go fox hunting and be driven round a racetrack by Lord Brocket in a Ferrari for a Channel 4 documentary on the British Upper Class. In the heady few minutes following its first transmission I thought it would mark the beginning of a glorious TV career. But TV never happened for me and oftentimes since I’ve wondered why.
The short and obvious answer is that I’m crap — which may be true, but that never stopped a thousand and one other TV C-listers you could name. What I think it really boils down to is something far more insidious and pernicious: the institutional bias right across the board against almost anyone of a vaguely right-wing persuasion.
I say ‘almost’ for, yes, there are exceptions. Niall Ferguson is allowed leeway by dint of being able to look so fetching in a blue open-necked shirt; David Starkey is granted occasional licence, too, just so long as he accepts that he’s only really there to play the token conservative Widow Twankey; Andrew Neil survives by maintaining a devious inscrutability; and so on.
When, though, was the last time you saw Simon Heffer presenting a red-meat documentary on the scrounging underclass; or Allister Heath doing a brutal takedown of QE; or Paul ‘Guido Fawkes’ Staines investigating the tangled ‘green’ business interests of Tim Yeo MP and Lord Deben; or me, doing an exposé of Big Wind?
You didn’t and you likely never will. TV’s relentlessly green/left-liberal agenda just wouldn’t allow it. When was the last time you saw a TV programme expressing proper scepticism about the great Climate Change Scare. The answer, I can tell you, was five years ago, with Martin Durkin’s The Great Global Warming Swindle. Since then: nothing.
To understand why, you really should read Durkin’s fascinating recent blogpost www.martindurkin.com (snappily titled ‘Kiss Goodbye to James Delingpole’). If you think press censorship is bad, he argues, wait till you see what programme-makers have to put up with under the tyranny of Ofcom. Any programme that dares to defy the bien-pensant orthodoxy is likely to result in a flood of complaints, an Ofcom adjudication, then career-death for all involved.
It would be nice to think this process would work both ways: that after, say, Channel 4 broadcast a ‘documentary’ as egregiously lame and fat-headed as Is Our Weather Getting Worse? there’d be so many viewer complaints that the entire programme-making team would end up with their heads on spikes at Tower Bridge.
Unfortunately not. Provided you’re on the politically correct side of the argument, any amount of bias is apparently forgivable in the broadcast media. As Durkin notes: ‘On the BBC’s Today programme politicians are regularly berated for not doing enough about this or that, or for threatening worthy projects with their cuts. How many times, in the past ten years, have you heard the Statist BBC reporters asking about the shocking levels of debt? Or demanding of politicians with new proposals: “Who’s paying for all this? Where’s all the money coming from?” Where is the balance here?’
Where indeed? A few months ago, I was invited by a publicist to review a documentary of which the BBC was clearly very proud, called You’ve Been Trumped, about Donald Trump’s plans to build a £1 billion golf course near Aberdeen. The documentary — it almost goes without saying — was agin the project, focusing on the objections of three local families and the damage that would be done to the protected sand dunes.
Now I don’t doubt the sincerity of the film-maker. But in the context of what Alex Salmond has been doing to Scotland with his massive wind-farm building programme these past few years, the BBC’s decision to commission such a piece seems perverse to the point of obscenity. Whatever you may think of Trump — and I appreciate he makes a great pantomime villain — the fact remains that what he is planning will bring jobs, tourism, pleasure and prosperity to the region, work more or less sympathetically with the landscape, and is supported by the vast majority of local people. Salmond’s grand project, on the other hand, represents probably the most savage act of destruction against Scotland since the days of the ‘Butcher’ Cumberland.
Can the BBC really not see this? It has made the equivalent of a documentary about the devastation wrought on the barnacle and limpet population by landing craft on Normandy’s beaches in June 1944, and it’s really first class, with lots of amazing re-
creations of what it must have been like to be a mollusc when the invasion fleet appeared. But it’s not the main story; not the one people have a right to expect in return for their compulsory licence fee. Plus ça change.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 29 December 2012