1970s >> 1976 >> no-868-december-1976

The BBC: A Clumsy cover-up

A member of the Socialist Party wrote to the BBC about its persistent refusal to allow broadcasting facilities to us. The following reply on behalf of the Director General, dated 18th October, was sent to him.

 

  You are in fact suggesting that the BBC is biased against the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The answer to that charge is that this is one of a number of very small political organizations, with no members in Parliament and only a very modest number of parliamentary candidates in the field at any General Election. It may from time to time merit some mention on the air on its news value, or when we are doing a programmme about minority political organizations in general, but it is unrealistic to suppose that it will receive anything like the coverage given to the major parties, unless and until it begins to compete with them on an appropriate scale.
I hope this will explain the position to you and can assure you that there is not, as you seem to suppose, any ‘ban’ on the SPGB being mentioned on the air. The test is purely one of news value.

Yours sincerely,

 

Secretariat

 

What does “from time to time” mean? It conveys, we think, that the SPGB might expect some coverage once a year, perhaps; if that is over-optimistic, once every two or three years. We should like the chance. The facts are as follows. Despite continual representations, the first mention of the SPGB in a BBC programme was made in 1958—fifty-four years after the foundation of the Socialist Party, and thirty-six years after the beginning of broadcasting. This was also the last occasion, and apart from election results the SPGB has not been mentioned on BBC radio or television again between 1958 and 1976. “From time to time” is quite untrue.

 

What are the programmes about minority organizations in which the SPGB “may merit some mention”? Such programmes have appeared, but we have never once been invited to take part or been mentioned in them. Our exclusion is all the more remarkable when it is from programmes dealing with Marxism. Without referring to correct and incorrect versions of Marxism, the position is that the SPGB has been in existence far longer than any other organizations which makes use of Marx. Yet radio and TV discussions of Marxism and “dissent” have allowed recently-sprung-up groups, some smaller than the SPGB and all lacking MPs, to make statements.
The apparent implication of “news value” is that the BBC prefers trivialities to serious interest and arranges programmes in that frame of mind. Otherwise, there are many respects in which the SPGB is thoroughly newsworthy. In 1974 the 70th anniversary of the Party’s foundation, and an exhibition of material from our archives, were notified to the BBC and the press but ignored by the BBC. (For comparison, in 1953 there was a radio programme on the 60th anniversary of the ILP, a “very small political organization” which has now ceased to exist as a party.)

 

The SPGB’s analysis of Russia from 1917 onwards, our attitudes to the Welfare State and nationalization from the outset, our publication of a pamphlet on the race problem in 1948 might “merit some mention on the air”—but did not get it. Currently, the SPGB can claim to be unique in having over many years shown the fallacies in Keynesian economic doctrines. We have also, alone among commentators on society, consistently rejected the ideas of hereditary inequality allegedly proven by tests now found to have been fraudulent. Our record in countless matters is of a lone voice which turned out to be right, but still not “news value” for the BBC.

 

The statement that we cannot expect coverage because we are a minority is particularly interesting because it flatly controverts the views of official committees on broadcasting. The Beveridge Committee of 1949, after recommending a “Hyde Park of the air” (Para. 257) went on to state precisely what it had in mind—that opinions should not be kept off the air “either by simple calculation of the numbers who already hold such views or by fear of giving offence to particular groups of listeners. Minorities must have the chance by persuasion of turning themselves into majorities” (Para. 259; our italics). The letter on behalf of the Director General says in effect that he rejects this, and in the BBC run by him minorities shall not have the chance by persuasion of becoming majorities.

 

We would add that the BBC alone takes this attitude. Earlier this year London Broadcasting allowed our GLC election candidate radio facilities with the other parties. When two SPGB speakers went to LBC for an hour-long programme in September the interviewer asked if it were “really true” that an organization with our reputation and history had never been given “exposure”. And, of course, our companion parties abroad are able to broadcast regularly via the arrangements in their own countries.

 

It is therefore not surprising that members and supporters of the SPGB should draw conclusions. The BBC’s reply does more to confirm than to rebut them.

 

Robert Barltrop