BBC bias, a woman doing her job and London Spy

A FEW scattered thoughts today on broadcasting and television. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones made a good point the other day when he said that the claim of ‘liberal bias’ at the BBC was ‘a clever fairytale that allows the right to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda’.

There is much merit in his argument, especially in the notion that the Tories have created a liberal ‘monster’ that doesn’t really exist – but rushes on with the hunt anyway, chasing away the imagined lefties who run the BBC and keeping the Corporation in line.

Historically, the Tories have always had more sympathetic coverage in the newspapers, so keeping the BBC under their sweaty thumb is a useful strategy in hogging the political limelight and therefore staying in power.

It is fair to say that many voters do not look all that deeply into the pool. Just this morning on BBC Radio 4, a woman from Oldham could be heard having a rant about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn not being tough enough to stand up to the terrorists. This is a slanted view, but one she was happy to swallow whole and spit back out in the face of a BBC reporter. As the by-election in Oldham marks Corbyn’s first big challenge as Labour leader, these things matter and will be argued over.

Where this question of bias becomes more difficult is when supporters of Corbyn start accusing the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg of bias. Kuenssberg has been accused by the likes of Stop The War Coalition of “naked BBC bias” and being “openly scornful as she mocked Corbyn’s stance on Trident weapons”. That was back in October, but such complaints continue to pop up on social media.

Asking the Labour leader tough or even leading questions isn’t biased – it’s journalism. Kuenssberg is doing her job, just as Corbyn is doing his job in defending his principles. She is a good presenter – and I say that as a lifelong bit of a leftie.

So don’t attack TV journalists for doing what they are paid to do, but do ask reasonable questions. My take on this is that the BBC is a small ‘c’ conservative organisation which tips its hat a little too much to the Conservative Party – even though many Tories hate the BBC on ideological grounds and seem at present to have BBC bosses running scared. But without the weight provided by the BBC, the news seesaw would be even more heavily weighted by those on the right, and any question of balance would be gone for good.

Bias does it is true have a subtle influence too, in that sometimes the BBC too slavishly follows an agenda set by the Labour-phobic, Tory lickspittle papers – rather than navigating its own proud way through these always choppy waters.

But let’s move to something the BBC is doing very well at the moment: London Spy on BBC2. Tom Rob Smith’s five-part thriller is a dark and vicious delight.

Ben Whishaw gives a remarkable performance as a young gay man who believes himself worldly wise. That is (spoiler alert!) until he is drawn into a dark maze after the man he thought of as his lover and partner is murdered and found stuffed into a case in his attic, alongside assorted S&M implements. The dead lover turns out to have been a spy, a man of mystery, lies and lethal malleability, apparently happy to mould himself to the needs of those around him – yet icily aloof and detached too.

Whishaw is fantastic to watch, his every emotion writ large on his face – a face that carries much of what happens. He is beautifully matched with the ever-wonderful Jim Broadbent as Scottie, an older man with tangled longings for Danny, Whishaw’s character.

A two-hander scene in last week’s episode saw the pair acting their own socks off – and each other’s too. It was raw and yet humane, and just so human in a shattered, angry, mournful way.

A favourite Jim Broadbent moment comes in Le Weekend, in which a middle-aged couple attempt to rekindle their romance in Paris. At one point, Broadbent’s character, Nick Burrows, is listening to Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone through his headphones, dad-dancing around the hotel bedroom in his T-shirt and pants, so ordinary and so gloriously lost in the moment. It made me laugh and cry in the same moment, and that’s not a bad trick.

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