25 August 2023

What’s BBC Bitesize really teaching our kids?

By Richard Norrie

The BBC is its own worst enemy. The head asks for one thing while the arms and legs behave as they please. It has tacitly admitted it has a problem with bias, specifically in that it fails to represent and understand the views of people more often than not drawn from working-class backgrounds. Its bias is usually described in such terms, which can be decoded to mean those of us who voted to leave the European Union and are not all aboard the liberal train to Social Justice. Yet despite director general Tim Davie’s attempt to steer the BBC back to its statutory responsibility of impartiality, things just keep on slipping through.

Take, for example, the BBC’s educational materials provided via the Bitesize and Teach websites, which students may be thanking or cursing this week depending on how they did in their GCSEs. Until recently, articles were hosted promoting unchallenged activists who wished to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. Another activist who encouraged museums to ‘display it like you stole it’ was given free reign. Puff pieces were published on Greta Thunberg, presented as though she were just a regular kid who happened to be a political activist, and not the controversial radical she truly is. Questionable material from a campaigning organisation was presented without question to damn the media, and right-wing media in particular, as hostile to Muslims. 

Accounts of American history offer a sanitised view of the Black Panthers, omitting their Maoism and criminality and presenting them as part of the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, and not a rupture from it. An article on ‘social justice’ endorsed affirmative action policies as a means to bring about group-level equality of outcomes. Another on sexuality and ‘gender identity’ linked to an organisation that offered advice on how to use a chest binder safely as well as group and ‘chem sex’. For those not in the know, the latter is sex while under the influence of drugs, often crystal meth. This can also be done safely, apparently.

Indeed, if there was one common theme to all the examples uncovered in my recent report for Civitas, it was a belief in the activist. They all seemed to either rely on political activists, praise and endorse them, fail to challenge their views, or present a sanitised version of them. Indeed, the Bitesize website has a page for Key Stage 1 pupils – the youngest aged 5-7 – that encourages them to ‘Be an astonishing activist!’ It gives a series of examples that includes Nelson Mandela, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, and, er… Guy Fawkes. His ‘activism’ extended to trying to blow up parliament and killing everyone in it. But there is a problem in that the type of activist the BBC promotes tends to operate outside of democratic channels and prefer conflict to compromise.

Enough evidence has been amassed to show there is bias. Studies have confirmed it, ex-employees admit it, the BBC tacitly acknowledges it. Yet, there are those who view the attempt to re-instil impartiality as actually being a threat to impartiality, with the Tory government attempting to bring it to heel. Former BBC editor Rob Burley has recently written that the danger is that journalists get too close to government, that the ‘most serious impartiality risk’, is that in seeking access to stories, lines are crossed and politicians come to shape the news. He talks of the ‘perception that the BBC is too close to the government’ which has grown under Davie’s leadership. Yet Burley also reveals Jeremy Corbyn was serenaded at the BBC with chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ back in 2017. This is reported without comment, but who were these people if not journalists? What do they do at the BBC? And how could we expect their obvious impartiality not to filter into BBC content?

As Davie sees it, the bias is ‘not largely a left or right thing’ but rather to do with ‘culture war’ social issues, climate change and diversity. More accurate would be to say it reflects the concerns of the New Left developed around the 1960/70s, which moved from class resentment to identity politics, before morphing into the woke monster we all know today, more politely termed radical progressivism

Indeed, it seems there is an internal conflict within the BBC with younger cohorts seeking to make broadcasting purposeful to bring about social betterment, without realising this necessarily alienates those who disagree on what is best. There are also so-called ‘affinity groups’ within who seek to influence the BBC’s editorial line. A leaked recording of a meeting of the BBC’s Pride Network revealed the pressure the BBC is under from within to conform to a certain line on trans issues, that is highly emotive. Threats to quit were made along with allegations of ‘transphobia’ after the BBC published material critical of Stonewall, among other things. As one participant stated, ‘We need to… come to this meeting with Tim Davie with a clear idea of what we want in mind.’

The BBC is in a perilous position. Since 2018/19, 1.7m people have stopped paying for a TV licence while evasion is up. Fewer people are willing to pay, when competition from on-demand streaming is stiff. Times have moved on. Younger cohorts are switching off as too are working-class households. Fixing its impartiality problem is necessary but will not be enough to stem the tide. Currently, it is in the classic bind of something akin to taxation without representation as it presents an elitist view of the world, often at odds with ordinary people and even reality itself. 

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in content being targeted at children under the guise of ‘education’. Time and again the BBC’s output looks to portray radical political activists as the most noble of political actors. Those who seek societal betterment through the contest of ideas and compromise within the political democratic system are seldom singled out for praise.

There is a problem here in that the BBC is encouraging the young into direct political conflict, often with the very same society that sustains them, at an age when they are ill-equipped for politics given their natural idealism, inevitable ignorance, and naivety. It seems adults have been taken in by the idea of children coming forward with the ideas, as well as moral authority to correct all our societal and environmental problems. But in derogating their own authority in this manner, they are setting up the young to fail.

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Richard Norrie is author of 'BBC Impartiality and the Problem of Bias' published by Civitas

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.