Mr Aitken, a long-time BBC reporter, begins a serialisation of his book in tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday with a recollection of how a BBC colleague reacted to the IRA’s 1984 attack on Mrs Thatcher and her Cabinet:
"In 1984 I returned to BBC Scotland after covering the Tory conference in Brighton. The IRA had come close to assassinating Margaret Thatcher with a bomb and the country was in shock. Apart, that is, from some of my BBC colleagues. "Pity they missed the bitch," one confided to me."
I’m sure most BBC journalists would disassociate themselves from such disgraceful remarks but they point to a wider and more systematic political bias within the publicly-funded BBC that Mr Aitken documents. Mr Aitken remembers his time as a BBC correspondent in Scotland and the BBC’s imbalanced coverage of the effect of Thatcherite reforms:
"If BBC impartiality meant anything, we would have balanced our story by emphasising the growing banking, oil and electronics industries. Instead, we constantly lamented the closure of shipyards and fretted about the ailing Ravenscraig steelworks."
When Major replaced Thatcher there was rejoicing amongst BBC journalists but on the night of the 1992 General Election "the atmosphere in the newsroom was one of palpable deflation. A young female producer was in tears."
Aitken confronted Greg Dyke, the Labour donor who became the BBC’s DG, about the "uncritical" coverage that the BBC gave early years, pre-Iraq war Blair. Aitken remembers Dyke saying "Who was that f****r?" as he was leaving their meeting.
Mr Aitken’s article recounts three very controversial statements made by BBC presenters:
- Exhibit one: "What do they think [Arab people] feel about them? That we adore them for the way they murdered more than 3,000 civilians on September 11 and then danced in their hot, dusty streets to celebrate the murders? That we admire them for being suicide bombers, limb amputators, women repressors?" – Robert Kilroy-Silk
- Exhibit two: "The Pope’s approach to AIDS has been outrageous. He has called for a ban on the use of condoms in fighting the disease in Africa…The orders from Rome are verging on the wicked." – John Humphreys
- Exhibit three: "The first guy I ever f***** without a condom gave me HIV.’ Since I’ve been HIV-positive, I’ve had ‘unsafe sex’ more times than I can remember, often with men whose names I could not tell you now." – Nigel Wrench
All three were BBC journalists when they wrote those remarks but only one BBC journalist – Kilroy-Silk – lost his job. The fact that the other two kept their jobs suggests that certain controversial views are acceptable within the publicly-funded Corporation.
Mr Aitken believes that on a whole range of issues the BBC is institutionally biased. At a recent talk to the New Culture Forum he highlighted anti-business sentiment, support for higher taxation, multiculturalism, sympathy for Irish Republicanism, suspicion of Euroscepticism and, of course, the BBC’s dominant new creed; hostility to America’s approach to the war on terror. An internal BBC seminar highlighted other biases only a few months ago.
I hope Tory media spokesman Hugo Swire (who has avoided the tough questions on the BBC) will read Mr Aitken’s book as the extract in the Mail on Sunday contains a very useful (and modest proposal):
"It is time to give people a choice in Britain. Perhaps the BBC should divest itself of a small part of its £3 billion a year income for an alternative service. Two per cent of revenues would give a newcomer £60 million a year for a speech-based rival to Radio 4. The centre-right in Britain needs to be clear-sighted about its situation. The BBC is a profoundly influential opponent of nearly everything conservatives believe, with the Right forced to accede feebly to the Left-liberal consensus. If the time comes when British conservatives feel like fighting back, broadcasting policy might not be a bad place to start."
I’m off now to order the book on Amazon.