A Very British Man Shaping BBC News
Aye, they’re still at it. Graphic illustration of how the BBC continues to strive to diminish support for Scottish independence was provided by the infographic Reporting Scotland concocted to shrink the scale of the SNP’s success in the recent European Election – now the subject of a serious complaint.
Less blatantly biased, but also a distortion of reality, was the news package its Scotland Editor filed for the network on the eve of that ballot. With the Falkirk Wheel clanking in the background, Sarah Smith suggested that Scotland’s most popular political party could be about to suffer a setback in that ballot.
While it was worth weaving in the fact that a third of SNP voters are believed to have voted for Brexit, it was more than slightly devious of Smith to suggest that the SNP was cruising for even a mild bruising along the canal bank. Rigging a vox-pop in favour of that proposition was pathetic ‘evidence’ to put before viewers and certainly did not counter every (obviously spot-on) opinion poll throughout the campaign.
The good news is that Ms Smith is just a tiny cog in the wheel of the ever-turning BBC News spin machine. The bad news is that the person increasingly directing this 24/7/365 multimedia defender of the realm is so openly and passionately committed to Britain that he even recently penned a highly opinionated autobiography titled The Life and Times of a Very British Man.
That ultimate control of the corporation’s coverage of any indryref2 campaign could be in the hands of Kamal Ahmed should be of serious concern to any democrat in this land. Now in charge of “the BBC’s editorial strategy” and overview of Brexit, he is what Eddie Mair once described Boris Johnson to his face – a piece of work.
On taking up this new post the former economics editor sent a patronising (and highly impartial) email to his underlings instructing them to bear in mind when covering Brexit that “on economics…the evidence from expert modellers who know what they are talking about…is clear – it’s a bit rubbish.”
In fairness, he did balance this in his book by proffering an equally biased take on the potential social and cultural benefits of this political earthquake. “You know what?” he mused aloud on its pages, “Our decision to leave the European Union might go a lot further towards solving our issues of race and identity than anyone ever imagined.”
Ahmed claims the primary theme is identity, yet there is not a single mention in this volume of the bitter identity divide that is raging across a third of the landmass of this small island. That isn’t because he is at all unaware of the Scottish Question. Kamal cut his journalistic teeth in Scotland as a cub reporter for Scotland on Sunday (when I was also employed by that paper as its media pundit).
Serious consideration of Scottish nationalism would have rendered ridiculous his Pollyannish prediction that “all the people who live on our small island” are on a joyous journey to becoming “simply British”. More importantly, a public misstep on that issue could have sent the broadcaster-turned-author sliding back down the career escalator again.
His incendiary Brexit email was not the first time he had found himself in the headlines. In 2005, when he was political editor of the Observer, an esteemed colleague on its sister paper the Guardian felt moved to denounce him as a mouthpiece for Downing Street. In his award-winning book Flat Earth News, Nick Davies even claimed that emails sent to Ahmed by Tony Blair’s chief spinmeister Alistair Campbell were copied and pasted into leader articles advocating support for the Iraq War.
The New Labour lapdog snapped back by dismissing Davies’s allegations as “scurrilous” and “hearsay”. But he was obviously severely injured in this dog-eat-dog scrap and fled from Farringdon Road with his tail between his legs to become a PR flunkey at the UK’s equality and human rights watchdog – whose remit obviously did not include the human rights of Iraqis.
Never slow to namedrop, Ahmed later told a trade rag he was having dinner with David Miliband when he got the call from a head-hunter for that post. To his critics, that tale simply confirmed how snugly in bed he was with the then prevailing power elite.
Today one of his best pals at New Broadcasting House is, apparently, James Purnell, another former Blairite cabinet minister who has become the BBC’s head of radio and education. Little surprise Jeremy Corbyn gets portrayed night after night as the devil incarnate!
There was no way this born and bred Londoner was going to linger for long among us far northern provincials. Such was his rush to make it big back to the bright lights, even as a rookie reporter young Kamal was careful to cut a dash by splashing out pricey designer suits tailor-fitted to his whippet-like figure.
His dress-to-impress wardrobe in 2014 when he joined the BBC as its business editor after performing the same function for the pro-Tory Sunday Telegraph. It was a high-profile on-screen role but, with his cool demeanour and far from relaxed delivery, viewers were never going to warm to him.
The politics graduate from Leeds University did rapidly master the black arts of behind-the-scenes politicking and boot-licking, however, as he clawed his way up to his current highly powerful off-screen role. And he obviously hasn’t stopped clawing and crawling.
As much a self-projecting manifesto as a memoir, his book issues a clarion call for a “national conversation” about “those big questions about who we are, where we live and what that says about us – the British. Because I most definitely am British.”
What better pitch to the governors of the Very British Broadcasting Corporation?
By penning his first (of doubtless several) memoirs mid-career, this strident Brit is plainly already positioning himself for an even mightier position – maybe Director-General (as former current affairs chief John Birt became) or perhaps even a move into party politics. But the latter could only conceivably come about if thought he could rocket to the top as a British Obama.
Ahmed draws parallels between himself and the still idolised former president simply because both of them are of mixed race. “What President Obama did,” he writes, “was raise a mirror in which I could see myself reflected.” The audacity of hope doesn’t begin to describe that – especially as he also nicked a saccharine campaign soundbite from Bill Clinton to declare that he too comes from “a place called hope”.
Actually, he comes from Ealing, West London.
Ahmed says he wants all of us all feel embraced by Auntie Beeb. Soon after taking up his appointment towards the end of last year, he declared: “We want our newsrooms across the UK to be less a set of secret castles where, to the public, mysterious things happen.”
There is, of course, no great mystery as to why so many Scottish viewers (and voters) ceased to consider the Beeb a trustworthy news source after its shameful coverage of the 2014 referendum. Scottish nationalism obviously poses much of a threat to the British semi-state broadcasting service as to the British state itself. So, rest assured, from its secret castle on the Clyde the BBC will continue to strive to prevent that happening.