Gerald Warner: We all pay for BBC political prisoners

The BBC was responsible for almost one in eight criminal prosecutions in magistrates' courts in England and Wales last year. Picture: Getty
The BBC was responsible for almost one in eight criminal prosecutions in magistrates' courts in England and Wales last year. Picture: Getty
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THE BBC was responsible for almost one in eight criminal prosecutions in magistrates’ courts in England and Wales last year, as it pursued defaulters who had failed to pay the Poll Tax of the Airwaves – the Corporation’s obsolete and indefensible £145.50 licence fee.

Overall, 12 per cent of prosecutions were instigated by the BBC. Who paid the costs of so much legal activity? The taxpayer, of course.

The total expense involved in this tyrannical exercise is incalculable, as is the damage inflicted on the criminal justice system by more than 180,000 prosecutions in a single year. Convictions totalled 155,000, but 26,745 cases failed. The Corporation will plead that it needs the money, which is true: 412,000 licence fees have been used to award £60m in payoffs to BBC executives since 2005, averaging more than £164,000 per recipient, with some being given more than £1m. The salaries of those who have not departed remain a public scandal.

Why should non-payment of a licence fee be a criminal offence, unlike defaulting on an electricity or gas bill? Why should members of the public have a criminal record imposed upon them by a clapped-out broadcaster, itself mired in criminality, as the Savile scandal revealed? This totalitarian privilege feeds the BBC’s narcissistic perception of itself as an arm of the state. At least 70 people have 
been imprisoned in recent years for 
non-payment of licence fees: they are the political prisoners of the BBC. The Corporation makes great propagandist play, on every possible occasion, of promoting “women’s rights”. Yet two-thirds of those prosecuted as licence defaulters are women; in the classic profile they are single mothers.

Part of the BBC’s leftist baggage is an ostentatious commitment to feminist causes; yet the report by Dinah Rose QC on bullying at the Corporation described a “strong undercurrent of fear”, including 37 cases of alleged sexual harassment over the past six years; 140 complaints of bullying brought by staff are still under investigation. The Corporation is the principal cheerleader for the leftist consensus. Its political bias is blatant, unashamed and axiomatic. At a BBC seminar as long ago as 2006, Andrew Marr disarmingly observed that the Corporation “is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.”

Last week, Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC, at a salary of 3,103 licence fees, told an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival that it would be difficult for the Corporation to maintain impartiality during the independence referendum: “It is in almost anything that we do. You’re struggling all the time to be impartial.” Happily, Lord Hall had found a solution: “Jim Naughtie is coming to broadcast from Scotland to all of the UK on Radio Four and really be ‘Mr Referendum’.” That is reassuring: James Naughtie is a byword for impartiality (BBC style), as he memorably demonstrated on the Today programme, on 2 March, 2005, when he asked: “If we [sic] win the election, does Gordon Brown remain Chancellor?”

The BBC’s institutional bias in its presentation of the opinions of think tanks has just been analysed in a report by the Centre for Policy Studies. The Corporation put “health warnings” in the form of the prefix “right-wing” before reporting the views of right-of-centre organisations between 23 per cent and 61 per cent of the time, whereas left-of-centre bodies were only given such labels between 0 per cent and 12 per cent of the time.

There is no institution in Britain more damaged than the BBC. Its monumental incompetence caused the abandonment of its Digital Media Initiative (DMI); few observers believe the cost will be as low as the admitted £100m – or 687,285 licence fees. Its pompous mantra of “public service broadcasting” is a euphemism for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand obscenely taunting Andrew Sachs; it took the enforced contributions of 123,711 licence fee helots to fund Ross’s massive BBC contract.

Lord Pearson, the Ukip leader in the House of Lords, has introduced a Bill to decriminalise non-payment of licence fees; it is unlikely to succeed, but the electorate will note which party is standing up for its interests, as opposed to the three consensus parties, which share the doctrinaire liberal worldview of the BBC. In an era of globalised communications, the notion of the BBC acting as gatekeeper to more than 200 rival television channels is ludicrous. It puts the Corporation up there with the Beijing internet censors. The BBC is long past its sell-by date and needs to be dismantled. As an urgent preliminary, the licence fee must be abolished. «

Twitter: @GeraldWarner1