Henry McDonald: Unionists should cite the BBC as a benefit of being in the UK

By a benign coincidence Jamie Dornan is cementing his reputation as one of Britain’s if not the English-speaking world’s best actors just as he stars in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’ which premieres in the UK this week.

By Henry McDonald
Monday, 24th January 2022, 3:45 am
Updated Monday, 24th January 2022, 3:48 am
The corporation remains a plus factor for those arguing in favour of the Union
The corporation remains a plus factor for those arguing in favour of the Union

Dornan has won critical acclaim as the bearded amnesiac hunted and lost in the Australian outback in the BBC’s series ‘The Tourist’.

The show has not only bolstered the belief of those like this writer that the Holywood Co.Down born actor surely must be number one contender as the post Daniel Craig new James Bond.

In addition, the superb acting, compelling plot and high production values show that when the BBC trusts writers, directors, producers ahead of box-ticking bureaucrats the corporation can still make brilliant TV drama.

Watching week by week rather than bingeing on ‘The Tourist’ it struck me that this single series underlines the importance of the BBC in the nation’s social and cultural life.

At a time when the Beeb has come under fire from a government desperate to divert public attention away from the Downing Street ‘partygate’ scandals it is worth reminding readers why the BBC is still worth defending. And for the readership of this newspaper why the corporation remains a plus factor for those arguing in favour of the Union.

Nadine Dorries, the Cultural Secretary has frozen the licence fee and warned that the days of pensioners being pursued through the courts because they can’t afford to pay the BBC ‘tax’ are over. Many and not only unionists in the UK might agree with that viewpoint.

The BBC’s critics here and across the water can also find many faults with its output.

Some of its TV drama seems based on a writing-by-numbers formula designed to be PC and woke.

Part of its international news outfits especially its Arabic service have been found guilty at times of blatant bias against only Israel in the Middle East conflict.

The Jewish Chronicle has recently focussed on two examples of its news and current affairs section playing down Islamic anti-Semitism.

In an anti-Semitic incident against Jewish students in London’s Oxford Circus the BBC coverage accused the victims of uttering an anti-Muslim remark, which an independent voice analyst expert has said there was absolutely no evidence of the young Jews saying this.

In the recent attempt by a lone Blackburn born Islamist to kidnap and threaten to kill Jews at a Texas synagogue the Chronicle pointed out that in a BBC report on the stand-off there was no mention whatsoever about anti-Semitism as a motive.

This was even though the gunman ranted about “F****** Jews” in his final call to his family before the FBI shot him dead.

Having worked in the BBC I have to stress however that the vast majority of staff journalists both here and over there behave with impeccable neutrality. For instance, it is worth noting the treatment meted out to Stephen Nolan and his team on social media by trolls.

One day he and his colleagues are damned for being anti-loyalist and pro-republican while the next it’s the other way around. Shot on Twitter and Facebook by both sides, which in effect means you must be doing something right journalistically if you are attacked on each front.

More reason to stand up for Nolan and his programme makers after a wave of torrid abuse in recent years.

My partner works a large chunk of the year in the United States.

One of her cultural lifelines back to the UK remains the BBC. Radio 4’s (barring the often far too PC, anti-Tory agitprop that masquerades as comedy at 6.30 weekday evenings) eclectic, educational sometimes eccentric programmes are unique and yes, very British.

They make her feel proud to be part of these islands northwest off the European Continent.

Britain may no longer be epitomised by Orwell’s old maids biking through morning mists to communion. Instead, today’s multi-cultural UK is exemplified for instance by the Glaswegian based outstanding radio comedy set in an Asian family’s shop, ‘Fags, Mags and Bags’.

‘The Archers’ meanwhile remains a constant in my life like millions of others ever since a roommate of mine from Devon introduced me to Ambridge when we were at Edinburgh University in the early 1980s.

‘Test Match Special’ and Five Live’s football coverage on Saturday noon along with Radio Ulster’s superb ‘Sports Sound” provide some of the most intelligent, iconoclastic, and sometimes absurdly funny (thank you Liam Beckett!) sports journalism in the world.

Think too about when the UK is plunged into national crises such as Covid and who the British public goes to for its trusted source of information.

A corporation whose news coverage can rely on the wisdom and experience of someone like John Simpson to explain an ever increasingly darkening, complex world or Hugh Pym and Fergus Walsh’s lucid guidance for viewers through the pandemic years are yet more reasons to protect the BBC.

It may not be as beloved by the nation as the NHS but the BBC remains like the health service one of those uniquely British institutions which the UK would be all the poorer if it was no longer there.

Unionists should therefore regard the corporation as a cultural asset in their campaign to preserve something even bigger than the Beeb — the Union itself.

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