The Demagogue’s Favorite Amplifier

The British Broadcasting Corporation, known to all as the BBC, began life back in 1922 under the guiding hand of John (later Lord) Reith. It has operated continuously ever since, funded almost entirely by the British taxpayer with an initial charter to “inform, educate, and entertain.”

The supposed raison d’etre of the BBC was to provide higher quality programming than mere commercial enterprises would deliver. This would be uplifting for the nation and therefore a mission of great civic importance.

Unfortunately, right from the outset, the BBC was deeply confused about how it should operate. Yes, it would be lovely to deliver highbrow programs for educated thoughtful people but… what about the vast majority of folk who didn’t fall into that category yet had to pay their license fee regardless? Surely they must be catered to as well?

And so the BBC ended up spending most of its budget on precisely the lowbrow programming the commercial stations were accused of focusing on.

This fundamental contradiction was at the heart of the BBC right from the outset and it only grew worse and worse as the years rolled by. By the early 1970s there was essentially no difference whatsoever between the output of the BBC and the output of commercial organizations. For every award-winning BBC production there was an equivalent produced by one of the independent stations. And for every piece of lowbrow mass-market trash produced by the independent stations there was an equivalent being churned out for prime time by the BBC.

In short, the BBC appeared to be quite pointless, even though much-loved by a substantial number of Britons out of sheer force of habit.

This changed in the second decade of our present century. At last, the BBC acquired a real purpose.

Unfortunately, that purpose was to become the uncritical mouthpiece of demagogues, amplifying and extending the reach of their lies to vast audiences of credulous citizens.

The Kremlin began to realize that the BBC’s naïve obsession with “always reporting the other side of the story” meant it could use the BBC as a mouthpiece. The laughable notion that there are “always two sides to a story” turned the BBC into a passive amplifier of lies.

As we all know, there are many sides to every story. Often there’s the truth and then no shortage of false narratives. The Kremlin used the BBC to ensure that it could confuse a significant percentage of people by simply telling lies that the BBC would uncritically report as “the other side of the story.”

Hence when Russia invaded Ukraine, the BBC obediently repeated the lie that this was all a spontaneous action by Russian civilians. When Russia shot down a civilian airliner over Ukraine, the BBC obediently repeated the lie that it was the Ukrainians who’d shot it down.

Of course it wasn’t long before others noticed how useful the BBC was in spreading lies and propaganda. Brexiteers rapidly co-opted the BBC for their disinformation campaign, resulting in a surprise win for the UK’s most absurd self-harm project since the Enclosure laws. The BBC passively repeated Brexiteer lies about how easy and quick and painless Brexit would be, about how Brexit would save £350 million per week, and about how it would be all upside with no bad consequences for anyone.

All of these things were lies, but the BBC reported them as facts.

Just a couple of weeks ago the BBC reported an in-depth study by the government’s own economists that showed the best-case Brexit scenario would result in a loss of at least £60 billion per year for many years to come. The BBC then obediently presented “the other side of the story” by giving air time to Reese-Mogg, who on the spur of the moment made up the claim that on the contrary Brexit would yield an immediate benefit of more than £80 billion per year. The fact he’d just invented this claim merely because it sounded nice received no comment at all from the BBC, which instead legitimized this infantile response by reporting it with equal gravity to the exhaustive data-driven study showing the precise opposite.

It’s easy to see why the Kremlin adores the BBC. At no cost to Russia, the BBC will promulgate whatever lies the Kremlin sees fit to put out into the world. The BBC will likewise undermine British society for free by repeating Brexiteer lies and helping thereby to drive irreparable divisions through the center of British society. There is probably no other organization aside from Fox News that has helped the Kremlin so much, and it’s all free.

Whether Lord Reith would be happy with this outcome is, of course, a matter for speculation. But we can assume that the BBC would be happy to report uncritically both sides of the story in nice 30-second segments for the edification, or otherwise, of their viewers and listeners around the world.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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