Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple

This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media

July 7, 2017
4 min read

Robbie Gibb, Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson

The appointment of Robbie Gibb as Theresa May’s new director of communications is a glaring display of how the ‘impartial’ media has functioned in recent years. Gibb, who was the BBC’s head of operations at Westminster and editor of the important Daily Politics TV show, now joins the pantheon of BBC executives who ditched their media careers to fulfil their true ambitions as Conservative party stooges.

In a functioning democracy, a public service broadcaster has an incredibly important role, not only in presenting the facts in a fair and balanced way, but also in setting the terms of debate – of what is and isn’t acceptable within the cultural and political realms.

Defining the parameters of this ‘Overton Window’ is something that Labour has had to fight tooth and nail for – and despite the unrelenting war waged on the Corbyn project, the party’s visionary campaign and manifesto have forced the neoliberal consensus to concede ground, with the BBC now begrudgingly making concessions to the new playing field.

Firm grip

On the other side of the debate, the task is a lot easier, however. The Conservatives have long held a firm grip around the neck of the BBC, and so have had free reign in determining what is and isn’t politically ‘neutral’. It is no coincidence then that, for example, business representatives appear on the 6 o’clock news 19 times more frequently than trade union ones do.

When the 2016 culture secretary John Whittingdale unveiled a white paper outlining the BBC’s future, it was startlingly clear that the Tories were proposing a reformation in public broadcasting that would bring it ever closer to full state control: a new board was created in which 5 of the 12 members would be handpicked by the government and given powers to decide the strategic direction, budget, and all other activities at the BBC.

Robbie Gibb isn’t the first and won’t be the last to participate in the revolving door between media and parliament – in fact, it’s been at full capacity for full time. David Cameron’s director of communications, Craig Oliver, was yet another BBC News editor who ditched his journalistic career to support the Conservatives.

But although many jump ship, many Tories – notably Andrew Neil (former Sunday Times editor and chair of the company that owns the right wing Spectator) and Nick Robinson (president of the Oxford University Conservative Association in 1985) – remain on. Of course, having political opinions isn’t a crime, but these are people who have clear biases, serving a public institution which is paid for – by us – on the assumption that it will be non-partisan.

Vested interests

We live in a country where most of the press is objectively more right-wing that the public are, and it’s worrying that although 40 per cent of the public supported Corbyn’s Labour, virtually no mainstream media outlet did. This disparity between the views of the privately-owned media and the public makes it even more essential that the state-owned BBC is safeguarded from political intervention and vested interests – if we can’t rely on them, then who can we rely on?

However, the answer to that question is where we can begin to regain hope. The left is now successfully finding ways to bypass the traditional media entirely; a huge army of grassroots activists, mobilised largely by Momentum’s modernised campaign strategy, have been able to promote Labour’s manifesto face-to-face with the public and repudiate the false narrative (perpetuated by the BBC as much as other media) about Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’.

Social media, of course, has also been key, as well as new media like Novara, which provides refreshing and uncompromising support for the Corbyn project.

Labour should seize the opportunity to demand an end to BBC bias and reforms to the whole mainstream press – outlawing media monopolies for a start. However, it’s certainly exciting to think we are on track to win despite the opposition of almost the entire traditional media, with the tabloids’ power looking broken. We should be optimistic now in our ability to overcome incredible odds, and defy all the expectations, sneering and bias of the mainstream.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones