My friends looked perplexed and it was as if they could read my mind: “The state of the planet’s got nothing to do with political parties” said one. “What does the right-wing have against the environment anyway?” retorted another.
At issue is the plan is to relegate some of Sir David Attenborough’s fantastic new series ‘Wild Isles’ to iPlayer from the convention of broadcasting each episode first. Evidently this is because of fears its theme (the very destruction of nature), would risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the right-wing press. And there is Gary Lineker’s pro-humanitarian outburst concerning migrant boats affecting the South Coast.
We first consider two highly influential actors at the BBC:
- Suspect One: Is none other than the Director General himself, Tim Davie who is also a Tory supporter. We know this because he has chaired a local association and stood for election as a councillor.
- Suspect Two: BBC Chairman, and former banker Richard Sharp, a renowned Tory party donor who remains under investigation for fixing a loan to Boris Johnson.
As journalist Jon Sopel sardonically commented on Twitter:
“Lucky there are no producer guidelines on whether you need to declare facilitating an £800k loan to a prime minister while applying for a job as chairman of a broadcasting organisation …”
Controversially, Gary Lineker drew historical parallels with the propagandist language used in pre-WWII Germany in the early days of Nazi power. Critiqued is the inhuman policies promoted by Suella Braverman regarding these ‘boat people’. Whatever the causes may be, the language is strong, and there are genuine and desperate asylum seekers involved. And people have lost their lives in the Channel.
The present Tory administration may not like him, but is Gary party political? He has apparently not declared himself. There has been some argument around whether an expert on sport should be allowed to pass comments that may be conceived as ‘political.’ High-profile or not, the sports commentator is also a private citizen and as entitled to express his views as the next person. He is now back in position, and refreshingly not repentant whilst some sort of enquiry is to ask if some nebulous guidelines have been breached. Apparently expressing humanitarian concern no more a sackable offence?
Apart from freedom of speech, detractors have chosen to concentrate on his comment that the language used in the migration debate is redolent of that used in 1930s Germany. Well, it does seem to ‘other’ the Channel boat people. The argument is readily translated into a gradualist one: that is if vilification succeeds for one group of people who are considered inconvenient, you have a scapegoat. Collateral damage may then spread to others deemed an enemy of ideology. Few would deny that those broadsides from the present Westminster administration (and sadly also the BBC) and delivered at both Sir David and at Gary, is aimed at anyone who dares to hold liberal, leftish, or green views on related issues. Let’s drill down a bit further.
I cannot recall (Sir) Bob Geldof being sanctioned for raising the profile – and funds – for alleviating African poverty, on account he is a rock musician? The outcome earned him a knighthood. When I was at school, my housemaster was elected an MP. He would have door-stepped, attended hustings, and done all things politicians do to get elected. I doubt if anyone cried: “My man, you have no right to dabble in politics, because you are a teacher!”
Sir David is another thorn in the flesh of rightist populists. Perhaps unintentionally, for one suspects he would see the planet much as do my friends mentioned at the top of this article. He has, however, been critical of BBC internal politics in his long career. The BBC’s decision to downgrade the broadcasting of part of his career-affirming TV series is troubling. One fears a melding of insane conspiracy theory around climate change or species extinction with right-wing ideas around freedom of the individual at the expense of collective responsibility. It sounds Trumpian, at least!
In contemporary Britain under a fag-end, incompetent and allegedly corrupt, post-2019 administration unpleasant, post-Johnsonian odours still lurk. Attacks on the independent judiciary, the attempt to prorogue parliament, limit the right to protest and even take strike action are current issues. We may fear that the right of private citizens to express opinions, even where the well-being of the planet and human welfare is involved, is threatened by media-induced cancel culture.
The Nazis, like all political movements, exhibited many traits. There are key differences today, for instance there is no re-arming nor expansionist military policy by any state in Western Europe (we look to Russia for that!). We have laws to protect people from a range of prejudices or worse, but we should honour this legislative base. The issue is really: do we want any of these traits that lead to fascistic regimes? It is gradualist arguments that flag danger warnings. Far right groups are fomenting racist and anti-migrant sentiments through demonstrations.
Maybe that is why so many of Gary’s detractors claim he overstepped the mark? But let us not forget the anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) who wrote, criticising German intellectuals (including himself) who remained shtum:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Niemöller survived. His near-contemporary, the anti-Nazi theologian, Dietrich Bonhoffer, was murdered by the Nazis in April 1945.
Gary, your warnings are appropriate, your sentiments need repeating through history. You did not – and need not – apologise. Your colleagues in sports journalism helped strengthen the case. And you have shown your BBC bosses to be paper tigers. But they did attack you, and they did so from a public service broadcaster that is supposed to be a bastion of our very democracy. At the very least, we BBC licence-fee payers have every right to express concern.
Present attacks from government and media on humanitarian standpoints are unethical and must be challenged. Like you, we should never take our eyes off the ball!