The BBC’s painful novelties

Daniel Johnson

In his October Wine column, Saintsbury quotes Dr Johnson on novelties to great effect: “…novelty is always grateful where it gives no pain.” Well, the BBC gave me pain twice this week with its novelties. The first you may, perhaps, dismiss as of no great moment, but I see it as significant. In a story about an advertisement featuring Jesus winking and giving a thumbs up sign, which offended many people and led to a rebuke by the watchdog, the BBC’s flagship Today programme on Radio Four mentioned the aggravating circumstance that the ad was shown at Easter, “which is the Christian holy week”. So Christianity is treated on the BBC not simply as one religion among others, but as one about which the average listener must be assumed to know nothing whatsoever. What would Lord Reith, the BBC’s devout first director-general, have said?

The other occasion was a much more substantial news story, reported on BBC 1’s Ten O’clock News: the decision by the German Constitutional Court on the legality of the German government’s bailout of Greece and other EU states to save the banks and the euro. In the course of this unusually lengthy television report, the BBC’s European Editor Gavin Hewitt interviewed a member of the Bundestag from Chancellor Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Instead of describing the politician as such, however, the BBC flashed up on the screen the description “German Conservative Party”. Now, as anybody who knows anything about Europe knows, there is a world of difference between a “Conservative” and a “Christian Democrat”. Nor is it even a matter of Left and Right: on many issues, the CDU is to the Left of (say) Tony Blair or Barack Obama. There is no such thing as a “German Conservative Party”; indeed, hardly any Western European countries have such a party, Denmark being a notable exception. To rename one of Germany’s two main political parties displays a condecension to the British public unworthy of the BBC.  

Why, though, am I not surprised by either of these painful novelties from the BBC?

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