Posted by: John | December 29, 2008

On Rennard, money and the BBC

The Liberal Democrats have an unerring ability to not see the big picture when it comes to their own self-esteem and empowerment. At local level there are ruthless Genghis Khans who get our message across in an audacious and positive way. At national level we seem to fail to have the self-belief except in certain constituencies.

Take for example the latest missive from Lord Rennard. He wants money (don’t we all!) yet failed to show any innovative ways of `getting our message across`. If Obama has shown anything at all it’s to hypothecate fundraising to particular aims (ie fund the adverts for a day or two).

Second problem is the BBC – I raised a complaint with them for the `Now Show` regarding what i thought was over the top in terms of anti Lib Dem bias (without either the anti-Labour or anti-Conservative bias to match) nor the RIGHT to balance in reporting or, let’s be honest, exposure terms. The response is thus:

I understand you’re unhappy with the humour of the programme as you feel it is biased against the Lib Democrats

I can assure you that we are committed to impartiality and all our presenters and editors are aware of this. They’re expected to put aside they’re own opinions. Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of political views, opinions and trends in their subject area. We don’t seek to discount any view, or to endorse any view. We aim to establish all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience.

As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

I acknowledge however your strong feelings about the fairness of the content and that some restraint should be shown. Please be assured your concerns have been fully registered on our audience log which is made available to the programme makers and senior BBC management. This will ensure ‘The Now Show’ team are aware of your views and will help them determine the future content of the show.

Thank you again for contacting us with your concerns.

Now I’m one for a self-deprecating laugh as the next person yet what I really asked for (and said in my email) wasn’t to STOP anti Lib Dem humour but to have it as part of balance. The key phrases for me though are `Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of political views, opinions and trends in their subject area. We don’t seek to discount any view, or to endorse any view. We aim to establish all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience`

Why is this the standard when it comes to humour and NOT news and exposure? It’s shocking! Or am I missing something? Seems to me that the establishment parties have been putting pressure on the BBC as they felt we’d got away `scot free` yet of course they won’t be doing the same on our behalf when it comes to exposure. This is not to say the Party hasn’t had some coups – yet surely the way of `getting our message across` is to ensure that these rules are changed?

If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? Are we allowing ourselves to be screwed over for lack of staff, diligence or chutzpah?

One of the key challenges for the Liberal Democrats is, I believe, changing the rules of the BBC. If Cowley Street don’t want to do it – perhaps we should challenge the people charged with our communications at Conference or via the good Baroness. One feels the need for a netroots as in the USA prodding the central party along.



  1. A good posting;
    1. First, BBC grammar: ” They’re expected to put aside they’re own opinions”

    2. I also complained to the BBC about the Have I got News presenter who made an unprovoked reference to the LDs .
    “They are always in the S***” he said and even Ian Hislop’s chiding did not result in any contrition.
    The BBC sent a letter back saying it was ONLY A JOKE; they clearly cannot distinguish between a joke and bad taste. As Andrew Sachs knows.

    3. I agree with you about the Rennard letter; we have all known about Chris Fox’s appointment for weeks. From our opponents’ blogs! Hopefully his first task will be to write some inspiring emails to members.

  2. IAWTP, however, I suspect some of the answers you would get from the BBC (someone more literate and interested than the person who wrote to you, that is) are as follows:

    Balance is to be found in discussion programmes, like Question Time, where the appearance of Lib Dems is roughly in line with our popular vote. News, on the other hand, is about telling people what the news is, not about balance. As such, the BBC has to define what is or is not newsworthy, and what gets covered will reflect that judgment.

    And this is where the problem starts. Nick Robinson once said that the test for what political stuff gets on the news is whether something is “topical, significant, surprising or dramatic.” Because they have decided already that The Lib Dems Aren’t Going To Be In Government Any Time Soon, we face a very hard task in convincing them that “our message” is significant (ie. going to affect the lives of their viewers/listeners).

    So when we do get on, it’s usually because we’ve raised some news pertaining to the government by asking questions (thus unavoidably attaching ourselves to the story), or because Vince is just so much better than George Osborne that they’d rather talk to him anyway. That’s the key: if our message is to pass the topical, surprising or dramatic tests, it has to not only pass them in its own right, but it has to give them a reason to cover it in precedence to that of the official opposition, who seem to have a presumption of first opportunity to comment. In practice, that means having not just a better policy and spokesman to articulate it (which we do in many cases), but a *much much* better such pairing. Or, it means having a party conference, when we get on the news because we *are* the news.

    So, apart from making the good people of the BBC newsroom fundamentally question their assumption that they know who is or is not going to be in power at the next election (and that they are not simply creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by making judgments on that basis), I suspect there isn’t much we can easily do to change news coverage by complaining to them.

    Discussion programmes, on the other hand, are a different question. It may be fair to say Question Time is reasonably balanced, but This Week, on the other hand, is a disgrace; we are regularly discussed without any representative on the programme, just a bunch of sneering or patronising from Abbott and Portillo, usually tacitly (at least) supported by Neal.

    So that’s my conclusion: Yes, it’s worth kicking up a fuss about this kind of thing, but we have to be realistic and pick our fights when we think we have the best case to make.

  3. I think you need to judge the overall set of emails – not just the one. If you look at the emails over the last month, you’ll see various innovative ways of involving members and spreading our message online, which don’t involve asking for money, such as getting people to publicise their participation in the climate change march via Twitter or spreading the news about Nick Clegg’s previous YouTube film via Digg.

    These are both ways of ‘changing the rules’ to help get our message our regardless of how the traditional media decides to cover or not cover. They do of course also need people to think ‘I can help change things’ rather than just ‘Isn’t it awful someone centrally isn’t changing things’; so it’s good to read about you taking up the cudgels directly when you don’t like what the media does 🙂

  4. […] On Rennard, money and the BBC on John’s Liberal Revolution blog. Be careful what you wish for: I’m expecting Tweets asking […]

  5. […] 64. Baby P: David Lammy finally speaks…and insults Lynne Featherstone! (Andrew Porrer) 65. On Rennard, money and the BBC (John Abrams) 66. Finally, I make a decision on party president (Anders Hanson) 67. Public Services […]

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