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The BBC is ‘independent’. Really?

opinionEditorialThe BBC is ‘independent’. Really?

Set up as the Voice of Empire in 1927, the BBC has from the start been kept going by the generosity of UK taxpayers. Even if any in the number of these do not watch the BBC, or indeed loathe the very mention of that channel, they have from the start of the corporation been forced into paying a licence fee for its upkeep. In India, during just the period since the 1980s, the BBC through its slant in coverage gave support to Pakistan-linked terror operations in both Punjab as well as in Kashmir, just as it had in the past for some of the militias in the Northeast. The hangover left behind by the dizzy days of Empire continues to the present, with BBC commentators acting in the role of nannies, in particular of those countries that had previously formed part of the British empire. Nanny, of course, knows best, and hence the waspish behaviour of the channel to countries run by elected governments who do not believe that the editors and anchors of the BBC know better how to run their own countries. The transfer of authority in 2014 from the UPA to the NDA resulted in an about turn where access of the BBC and some other television channels to the higher reaches of power was concerned. During the UPA period, both Sonia Gandhi as well as her anointed successor Rahul were responsive and accessible to many international media channels. Indeed, the hospitality of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi, who would even pour tea herself for the invitee journo, became the subject of approving conversation in tearooms less exalted than 10 Janpath. Given that few of the viewers of the BBC or similar external channels (including in print) were voters in India, the access given to them to the homes and offices of the newly powerful under the NDA dispensation fell far short of what they had enjoyed under its predecessor. As has been made clear in some recent peregrinations, to 10 Janpath, the road to power in India passes through London, New York and of course Shanghai.
To those who keep in touch with the world of soccer, Gary Linekar remains a star. Knowing the game as he does, it comes as no surprise that his commentaries on the game have been among the few items on the BBC schedule that are actually popular. Largely as a consequence of the past glory of Imperial Britain, the Voice of Empire—sorry, the British Broadcasting Corporation—remains a fixture in many parts of the world despite its slim viewership. That the BBC has a clear tilt in its reportage is not among the better kept secrets of the world, for the Beeb is at its most independent in following the dictates set by the biases of its editors where coverage is concerned. Whether on air or offline, whether in personal life or professional, BBC presenters need to amplify the views of the organisation, and certainly not go so far as to describe modern Britain as a throwback to the Germany of the 1930s in the way Gary Lineker did in his spare time. While an expert in football, in this matter at least Linekar seems to have erred. For Britain is as much or as little Nazi as is India, a country that in contrast to its description of the UK, many BBC presenters on air routinely imply is following in the footsteps of Der Fuehrer. On-air and private social media posts by BBC grandees about India are of course no problem, but commenting in a similar way about the UK under a Conservative government is another matter, especially as the BBC chairperson is a friend and patron of Boris Johnson. And who in the UK does not know that the dream of Boris is to return as Prime Minister, in the way his oft-mentioned idol Winston Churchill did in 1951? That repeat of his old job was a disaster, but that lesson seems to have escaped the attention of Johnson, who clearly wishes to replace Rishi Sunak in 10 Downing Street before the UK goes to the polls. Public opinion forced the BBC to get Linekar back on air, but the difference in the BBC’s initial response to the ex-footballer’s private social media posts about the UK, and its attitude towards multiple posts from its staffers retailing the most absurd untruths about present day India show up the biases of Broadcasting House in a way that is impossible for apologists of the BBC to ignore.

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