Written by Robert Jones
In the wake of what appears to have been the most brutal and crushing elections in decades it seems odd that what has left me most uneasy and bitter in the aftermath of it all is the relative calm and passiveness of the BBC’s Election Broadcast. On the surface it was much of what we have come to expect of any post-2010 election results programme; an unnecessarily flashy newsroom, giant 7ft touchscreens and a selection of garish and OTT holographic mock-ups of iconic landmarks, swingometers and the Electoral Map. This technology overload and the excitement of the Election itself seemingly distracted minds from pondering too long on the physical makeup of the BBC’s assembled commentary panel. To the passive watcher it was simply a selection of the Beeb’s most recognisable political pundits. For myself and many others on social media it was the poorest reflection on the BBC’s commitment to give a more representative voice to women and ethnic minorities.
David Dimbleby led the proceedings with a supporting cast of Radio 4’s Jeremy Vine in front of the green screen, BBC stalwart Andrew Marr reacting, Political Editor Nick Robinson joining him and The Daily Politics’ Andrew Neil interviewing party representatives. In the midst of this male dominated panel no more than two female presenters were allowed precedence at any one time. Despite giving one of the strongest punditry performances of the night, Newsnight’s Laura Kuenssberg seemed wasted on the Social Media commentary, often being cut short or simply ignored by Dimbleby; Fiona Bruce, another instantly recognisable BBC Newsreader, was given only a minor role in reporting on the ballot counting in Sunderland which was all over by midnight; And finally, Sophie Raworth and Emily Maitis were left on the periphery to deal with the result-by-result number crunching. The BBC’s further choice to have Huw Edwards host the second leg of their coverage only compounded the problem. Edwards’ chair could just have effectively played host to any one of Evan Davies’ female Newsnight co-presenters, Fiona Bruce or Kate Silverton, to name but a few female alternatives. All are experienced and responsive debate moderators who could have proved a more refreshing alternative to the Beeb’s decision to stick to safe ground.
To add insult to injury, not a single commentator from an ethnic minority appeared in the studio. Perhaps most concerning however is BBC’s apparent elitist attitude to hiring. A quick Wikipedia search of each of the presenters from the election broadcast reveals that not a single one of them – women included – had a comprehensive education. Each one studied at a private, fee-paying school. This is not to say that the BBC shouldn’t feature privately educated presenters, but rather that, for the number to be so disproportionately unrepresentative of the UK, it is deplorable.
The never-ending stream of accusations from across the political spectrum that the BBC leans too far to the left or too far to the right have always left me sceptical of just how grounded or viable such attacks actually are. One thing is for certain however: in its current affairs coverage the BBC worryingly reflects the white, largely patriarchal, privately educated political elite it serves to hold to account. In light of this, to describe the BBC as right-wing or left-wing, now more than ever seems entirely insignificant with vacuous cross-spectrum attitudes and ideologies retaining a stranglehold on the future of British broadcasting.