Channel 4’s Disgraceful Conduct Last Night Shows Why Broadcasting Reform is so Necessary



Britain’s broadcasting landscape is broken. The small number of channels that hold a throttling oligopoly over the airwaves have successfully limited authoritative voices to a narrow, left wing, ideological range. The three or four major players are at best left-liberal and at worst nakedly socialist, with no countervailing broadcast option from the pro-freedom end of the spectrum.

It would be less than ideal, but understandable, if strict impartiality guidelines were adhered to. The sad fact of the matter, however, is that the left get away with rank bias and because their dominance over cultural institutions is so total, nothing checks them.

Too often, well meaning left wing presenters attempt to balance programmes by attacking left wing parties… from the left. There was no hint of ideological bias when, after Labour’s manifesto was lauched, Newsnight focussed a discussion around whether it wasn’t radical enough.

I’m still waiting for a primetime segment to be devoted to a discussion over whether the Tories have drifted too far to the left.

It’s easy to point to rabid former Newsnight presenters like James O’Brien and Paul Mason, but is there a single countervailing example from the right? From constant Remain weighted BBC panel bias, to ‘sky views’ opinion think pieces, giddy correspondents lapping up Labour press releases on Twitter, and the naked partisan hack shop that is Channel 4 News, the supposed regulator Ofcom has shown itself to be utterly toothless in toning down the left’s flagrant breaches of the spirit of impartiality.

Last night’s ‘debate’ on Channel 4 saw the broadcaster giddy and gloating with ice sculptures replacing the Tory and Brexit parties. What is particularly egregious is that Channel 4 seemingly delighted in allowing other parties to veto Conservative participation in the debate, when Michael Gove came along to the studio.

Consequently the organisation broadcast an hour of Centre Left-Sepratist (Plaid), Left-Sepratist (SNP), Left-Liberal (Lib Dem), Left Left (Labour), and Loony Eco-Left (Green), all arguing about who could regulate the economy more. What a public service.

It’s important to note that despite overwhelming bias, there are many good people who work in some of these organisations, but sadly the cultural weight of the institutions rests against them.

The right in the UK would complain less if the landscape were more balanced. It would not be a problem to have a nakedly left wing broadcaster like Channel 4 hosting an all-Left debate if there was a similar channel that was permitted to exist on the right.

Imagine for a second that Britain had a centre-right broadcaster. Let’s say that this organisation was fronted by a bloke who is on record as having chanted “F**k the Labour Party”, and complained on-air about the ethnic makeup of Remain rallies. Let’s say this broadcaster decided to hold a debate focussed solely on anti-Semitism and decided to empty chair the Labour Party when Corbyn attempted to send Barry Gardiner in his place. Imagine his place was represented instead by a memorial wreath.

This is, of course, ridiculous, but not so far from the ridiculous display that graced Channel 4 studios last night.

This can’t go on.

We live in a country that has advanced so far in so many ways but our broadcast landscape is stuck in the 1990s. A small number of broadcasters, entrenched in bias by one sided regulation, and all locked in by a regressive TV tax that no other developed country has sought to copy. Modernisation is long overdue.

Tom Harwood is an award-winning journalist and commentator. Follow him on twitter: @tomhfh