The BBC is like a goldfish. Just as we have no way of communicating to the poor creature that it is confined by a bowl, experts of the utmost skill and renown have sought in vain for years to explain to the corporation that its ethos is slanted towards the left. It knows no other world but that of the Guardian, in which it lives and moves and has its being. It would die, more of shock than anything else, if it were removed from it.
And so it swims round and round, opening and closing its mouth and burbling that such accusations are fanciful. But now at last I believe I have found a way to signal across the vast divide that separates the BBC and the rest of us. This is thanks to what turned out to be a rather amusing thing which recently happened to me.
A friend telephoned me, in a state of mild shock, to let me know that I had been the defendant in a six-minute show-trial on a Radio 4 programme called Feedback. I often listen to Feedback, engagingly presented by Roger Bolton. It sometimes voices important criticisms of Radio 4 and occasionally persuades its executives to defend themselves.
As my appearances on Radio 4 are limited to the occasional slot as token right-wing maniac, I couldn’t quite see how I had come under the searching gaze of Feedback. I soon found out. I had dared to criticise and challenge Professor David Nutt in a discussion on the Today programme. Worse, some listeners might have thought I got the better of him.
Professor Nutt is a hero to those who think our laws on cannabis are too strict. Presumably, I had been asked on to Today in order to make the professor look good by comparison. Yet it had not quite been so. And great was the fury of ten listeners (yes, ten), who emailed Feedback to complain about me. Feedback devoted its opening section to the subject. Today was sternly arraigned for giving airtime to me, described by Mr Bolton as someone who ‘can always be relied upon for moral indignation and rarely hesitates to play the man as well as the ball’. It was assumed throughout, and without question, that my appearance on Today was self-evidently a Bad Thing. Its editor was at fault simply for having let me near a microphone. I think that is why the makers of Feedback made no attempt to contact me. They appear not to have grasped that there could be any argument.
So far, so fairly bad. If people want to be rude about me on the BBC, it’s a free country. But the procedure went a crucial stage further. Prosecution and verdict were followed by sentence. Mr Bolton had invited a scientist into the studio to speak at length on how unqualified I was to debate the drug laws with Professor Nutt. This person (I later established) knew virtually nothing about me. He was led by Mr Bolton’s questioning into agreeing that the editor of Today should remove my name from his address book.
This was little better than a call for censorship. That is not the function of Radio 4 or of Feedback, or of the licence fee. I and some others complained to the producer of Feedback, and at length convinced her that an injustice had been done. I was given time to argue in my own defence in the next week’s programme. And that may possibly be that.
But I hope not. I have for years been offered pitying smiles by BBC people and others when I have suggested that their attitude towards moral and social conservatives is patronising, dismissive and unjust. This episode seems to me to be proof, on the BBC’s own terms, that I am right.
First there is the Today item — in which Professor Nutt was treated with friendliness and I was met with (perfectly proper) adversarial suspicion. This arrangement places pressure on the underdog to assert himself, and thus to appear ‘aggressive’ and ‘hectoring’. Then there is the assumption that because I am ‘right-wing’ and work for the Mail on Sunday, I must be unqualified to broadcast except on the basis of my entertainment value. This assumption is so universal that the producer and the presenter of Feedback ignored a basic principle of natural justice. They made a programme in which I was attacked, condemned and recommended for future oblivion. Yet they never considered that I might be asked to defend myself.
Nor did it cross the mind of whoever, at Radio 4, commissions programmes from independent companies and reviews them before they are aired. And if a dogma is so powerful that it suppresses the deep human urge for fairness in so many different minds, two things certainly follow. It is absurd to deny that such a dogma exists, and it is urgently necessary that it should be swept away.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.