Mark Thompson: Much less overt tribalism at the BBC

‘There is much less overt tribalism among the young journalists who work for the BBC.’ So says the contradictory and self regarding Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson in an interview with hard left magazine the New Statesman.  And he’s right.  The BBC is a completely different organisation and there is much less overt tribalism among its journalists.

But that is not to say the tribalism has gone.  Rather the tribalism is, as Thompson says himself, much less overt.  He picked his words very carefully because the tribalism and the bias is still there at the BBC, it is just exhibited in a more subtle and underhand fashion.

The instances of overt bias have been replaced with different phenomenon… bias by omission where only one side of an argument is invited to make a case, and the employment of carefully chosen language to reinforce what BBC journalists consider to be the correct worldview.  Thompson went on to say that:

The BBC is not a campaigning organisation and can’t be, and actually the truth is that sometimes our dispassionate flavour of broadcasting frustrates people who have got very, very strong views, because they want more red meat.’

This of course is utter rubbish.  The BBC coverage of climate change (global warming) is, by the BBC’s own admission, partial. The BBC has long since taken the view that the debate is over and the science is settled and this is reflected in its programming which clearly campaigns for action to be taken to combat what it believes to be man made global warming.  It is easy to find further examples of this approach on topics as diverse as proposed public sector spending cuts, the fawning coverage of Islam compared with the dismissive and contemptuous coverage of Christianity, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  But then, there is no need to take my word for it, because Thompson conveniently contradicts himself to illustrate how this happens:

I do think the BBC is very much – sometimes, frankly, almost frighteningly so – a values-driven organisation. People’s sense of what’s right and wrong, and their sense of justice, are incredible parts of what motivates people to join. I’m part of that. For me, that’s connected with my religious faith but the key thing is: you don’t have to be a Catholic.

Right, wrong, sense of justice… lots of self serving motivation, but where exactly is the commitment to impartiality and quality that is supposed to underpin the corporation?  Thompson paints a picture of an organisation people join in order to advance their own value set and seek what they consider to be justice, among similarly minded fellow travellers.  The evidence of groupthink is unmistakable.  Yet he wants to leave us with the impression that the bias has been eradicated.  He can’t have it both ways.  The BBC remains every bit as tribal and biased now as it was through the 1980s and 1990s and we still continue to fund, under pain of fine or imprisonment, the lavishly funded ego trip it offers to so many activist journalists.

2 Responses to “Mark Thompson: Much less overt tribalism at the BBC”


  1. 1 Barry 02/09/2010 at 11:40 am

    “This of course is utter rubbish. The BBC coverage of climate change (global warming) is, by the BBC’s own admission, partial. The BBC has long since taken the view that the debate is over and the science is settled and this is reflected in its programming which clearly campaigns for action to be taken to combat what it believes to be man made global warming. ”

    They also have a hefty financial interest in it, not only from selling their nature and science programmes abroad but a far larger concern being the BBC pension fund.

    The BBC fund is a member of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change who last year, in league with the UNEP Finance Initiative, called on nations to fix investment markets in favour of eco-wibble.

    The Chair of the IIGCC, Peter Dunscombe, is also Head of Pensions Investment at the BBC.

  2. 2 The King of Wrong 03/09/2010 at 8:20 pm

    As you suggest, Thompson is right when he says the tribalism has gone. One tribe won, forced out the opposition, and turned the BBC into a de-facto closed-shop, hiring only those who fit into the groupthink.

    The very fact that there’s no tribalism is sufficient evidence that the BBC is not fit for purpose: there should always be warring factions in a newsroom, that’s how you know that the stories will represent a balance of viewpoints.


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