Reading Quentin de la Bédoyère’s manual on “how to win an argument about abortion” in these pages last month took me back to a time when I tried to do just that in the hostile surroundings of a BBC newsroom.
For 25 years I was a BBC reporter. I worked for many different outlets – The Money Programme, Breakfast News, general news output – but I ended my career on the Today programme. And it was there that my attempts to reconcile the needs of conscience with my professional duties reached some sort of climax.
I say “the needs of conscience”, by which I mean that as a journalist and a Catholic, I wanted to “tell the truth”. The BBC claims to do that every day – and in many ways it generally succeeds – but the corporation’s underlying “truth” rarely accords with Catholic teaching.
One area where the deviation is glaring is on the issue of abortion. I had been aware of the BBC’s entrenched bias on the subject for years, but it was only at Today that I had an opportunity to do some small thing to redress the balance. I had come to Today by invitation of the then editor Rod Liddle. Nowadays he is feted as an acerbic columnist on the Sunday Times and the Spectator. Back then (this was the early Noughties) he was unknown to the public, though making considerable waves within the BBC.
There are many things one could say about Rod, not all of them complimentary, but he was an excellent editor. Working as a BBC reporter, I had over the years become accustomed to working for a succession of risk-averse ciphers. The clammy fog of liberal political correctness enveloped most of the programmes I worked on and I became thoroughly disenchanted with it. Uncharitably, I used to complain that the BBC had a secret breeding programme for invertebrate editors – editors, that is, without backbone.
The consequences of this were (and are) greatly to be deplored. By corralling its news coverage within a tightly defined range of permissible opinions the BBC excludes and marginalises other points of view. This means that a full and truthful debate is often prevented and led, in my case, to an eventual break with the corporation. It is also, of course, explicitly not what the BBC is supposed to do according to its Royal Charter.
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