BBC offices in London.REUTERS

Like a sophisticated sleight of hand that diverts the viewer’s attention to the wrong side, the UK’s Conservative Party has for years railed against the BBC’s alleged left-wing bias as it invaded the command posts of the public corporation and undermined its financial and editorial independence.

Two clumsy and drastic decisions this week have exposed the weakness of a British institution that, until recently, was almost as untouchable as the monarchy itself. On Friday, the entity’s management decided to suspend former soccer player and media star Gary Lineker from his position as presenter of the popular program Match of The Day (The Party of the Day) for harshly criticizing the Rishi Sunak Government’s new Law against Illegal Immigration on his personal Twitter account. The BBC yielded to pressure from conservative representatives and opinion leaders, and from the Minister of the Interior herself, Suella Braverman. Immediately, the rest of the collaborators of the program (Ian Wright, Alan Shearer or Jermaine Jemas) announced that they would not sit on the set, out of solidarity with Lineker. A full-fledged rebellion that led to a broadcast on Saturday that is expected to be without presenters or commentators, only with the best images of the day’s matches.

And this week, through an exclusive from the newspaper The Guardian, It was also known that the BBC had decided to remove it from its broadcast programming – to broadcast it only on its streaming BBCiPlayer— the sixth episode of Wild Isles (Savage Islands). It is a documentary about nature and the ecosystems that make up the United Kingdom, led by the naturalist Sir David Attenborough, for whom the British feel a veneration only comparable to the one they felt in their day for Elizabeth II. The Conservative Journal The Daily Telegraph He had previously denounced that the BBC, with an increasingly limited budget to compete with other television platforms, had allowed two non-governmental organizations to produce and largely finance the documentaries. WWF UK (World Wildlife Fund) and RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), which actively participate in British public and political debate, are not very liked by certain conservative sectors. His recent criticism of the relaxation of planning regulations across the country, pushed by the Sunak government, did not sit well with Downing Street.

WWF and RSPB produced and financed the sixth episode on their own, in which Attenborough also wanted to collaborate. They described in it the areas of the United Kingdom most depleted by man, and included some examples of the so-called rewilding, the method of allowing an ecosystem to return to its previous natural state. A way of removing power over nature from local authorities that especially irritates extreme right-wing groups.

David Attenborough during the COP26 opening ceremony in Glasgow on November 1, 2021.
David Attenborough during the COP26 opening ceremony in Glasgow on November 1, 2021.YVES HERMAN (AP)

“I think the facts speak for themselves. We have worked a lot with the RSPB, who have reviewed our scripts to check the data and have provided us with scientific information on the loss of wildlife in this country ”, he explained to Guardian Laura Howard, one of the people that Silverback Films, the producer of the series, put in charge of making the documentary.

The people in charge of the BBC decided that this episode, which they intuited would be the most criticized by politicians and conservative analysts, would be broadcast only by their service streaming.

“The story is completely inaccurate,” the BBC responded to the suggestion of possible censorship. “There was never a ‘sixth episode.’ Wild Isles It was always a documentary with five installments, which does not shy away from contributing environmental arguments. And we decided to separately acquire, for iPlayer, a film produced by Silverback Films, WWF and RSPB about the people who work to preserve and restore biodiversity in the British Isles”, defended the public corporation.

Conservative power at the BBC

The fight between the Conservative Party and the BBC is a classic. The tories they have always seen in the independence displayed by the entity in the news coverage an intolerable leftist bias. It did not matter that the institutionality demonstrated by the chain at moments such as the death of Prince Philip of Edinburgh, not to mention during the 10 days of mourning for Elizabeth II, was of such magnitude as to unleash furious criticism from the left.

The tension was compounded during the Brexit referendum campaign and the years after. The objective presentation of the disastrous consequences that analysts or businessmen predicted for the country due to its exit from the EU deeply irritated the eurosceptic sector, which dominated the Conservative Party.

It was the perfect storm for the BBC, because it coincided with a time of scarce resources and low audiences, seeing how a large part of its traditional audience migrated to new television platforms such as Netflix. In recent years there have been hundreds of layoffs, and closure of local stations or international services in other languages. The corporation is financed with an annual fee of about 180 euros (159 pounds), which all users are obliged to pay at the risk of incurring an offense that can be sanctioned with a fine of more than 1,100 euros.

Recent conservative governments —especially that of Boris Johnson— have constantly brandished the threat of “decriminalizing” non-payment of the tax, which would mean that, in the absence of such pressure, many citizens would stop paying.

Gary Lineker at Wembley State on April 16, 2022.
Gary Lineker at Wembley State on April 16, 2022.CARL RECINE (Action Images via Reuters)

But in the midst of this tug of war, Downing Street has been placing his own in the public entity. The current president, Richard Sharp, is a former investment banker who has donated almost half a million euros to the Conservative Party, and who arranged for Johnson to receive a loan of 900,000 euros when he was forced to reimburse the costs of decorating the official residence in Downing Street while he also had to deal with payments to his ex-wife, Marina Wheeler. Despite being investigated internally, Sharp made it clear that resigning was not on his mind.

Tim Davie, the current director general of the BBC, led the local Conservative Party chapter in the London Borough of Hammersmith-Fulham. He ran as a candidate in several local elections. Under his mandate, since September 2020, severe rules have been imposed on the entity’s workers regarding the use of social networks. He was the creator of what is known as the “Lineker clause”, which extended the obligation to refrain from commenting on the policy to external collaborators in entertainment programs.

Robbie Gibb, who was former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s government communication director, is now a member of the BBC’s board of directors. Prior to his Downing Street post, he was the network’s director of political programming.

The BBC has, or has had, notably conservative journalists on its payroll such as Andrew Neil, who ran the magazine The Spectator (the bible of the tories) or the Sunday Times of businessman Rupert Murdoch. Or Jeremy Clarkson, who in addition to presenting motor shows on the public channel, writes columns for the conservative tabloid the sun. In the last one, for which she had to apologize publicly, she wanted Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wife, “to be forced to parade naked through the streets of every city in the UK while the crowd yells ‘shame on her'” ! and she throws excrement at him.”

Clarkson continues to work for the BBC. Lineker, for the moment, is out. And there are hundreds of thousands of citizens who have expressed their support on social networks for who was one of the best strikers in the world, and their outrage at the reprisals against an extremely popular presenter who limited himself to expressing his opinion —widely shared in the United Kingdom—on a law that leaves irregular immigrants stranded. As helpless, it seems, as the BBC viewers.

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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