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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
24 Feb 2024
Steven Edginton


BBC should be proud to be progressive, director general told staff

The BBC’s director general told staff the corporation should be proud to be progressive, The Telegraph can reveal.

In a leaked recording, Tim Davie said the BBC walked a “joyous tightrope of the culture wars”, and said “being progressive” was something staff “should be proud of”.

He made the remarks during an online question and answer session with employees, in which he said the corporation was “fair and balanced technically in terms of impartiality” in its coverage and did not have “party political bias”.

However, critics of the BBC reacted angrily to Mr Davie’s comments, which came to light after The Telegraph acquired footage of the meeting in January 2021, claiming they amounted to a political position.

In the recording, a BBC employee told Mr Davie there was “a real perception out there that we haven’t done enough to tackle impartiality, that we need to ‘de-woke’,” and asked him: “How would you respond to that?”.

Mr Davie said: “We do a reasonably good job of walking along the joyous tightrope of the culture wars where, being progressive, diverse, doing the things we should be proud of, is not woke. But meanwhile, we’ve got to make sure that we are clearly representing views from across the board.”

Responding to The Telegraph’s findings, a BBC spokesman said the director general meant progressive “in relation to areas like market-led technological change” and that “any other interpretation is wrong”.

Dame Priti Patel, a former Home Secretary, told The Telegraph: “The BBC once again have serious questions to answer over their political bias and culture.

“The public expects this taxpayer-funded broadcaster to be impartial, balanced and fair. But these latest revelations show they are obsessed with promoting a liberal metropolitan elitist agenda that most of the country disapproves of.”

Richard Tice, the leader of Reform UK, said: “Tim Davie’s comments confirm how deeply embedded Left-wing ideology is at the BBC. These comments prove the BBC is not fit for purpose and should be immediately defunded.”

Robin Aitken, a former senior BBC journalist, said: “A progressive groupthink dominates the BBC, including its director general. BBC people simply don’t seem to understand that not everyone shares their opinions and that to social conservatives the consensus BBC view on social issues and concepts like ‘diversity’ is itself controversial.

“For Tim Davie to say the BBC is proud to be progressive is to take a firm, and controversial, political position. It suggests he has a very poor understanding of what true impartiality looks like. If the BBC is, as he claims, a ‘progressive’ organisation, that inevitably excludes those, like me, who don’t identify as progressive.”

Mr Aitken said that “directly contradicts the BBC’s core mission, which is to accurately reflect all shades of opinion, not merely those of progressives”, adding: “Inadvertently, the director general has highlighted the scale of the problem he faces if he intends real reform at the corporation.”

Under its Royal Charter, submitted to Parliament in 2016 and subject to an updated framework agreement in 2022, the BBC is committed to “reflecting a wide range of subject matter and perspectives across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is under-represented or omitted.”

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A BBC source told The Telegraph: “To respond to a question about how the BBC can rid itself of ‘wokeism’ by saying we should be proud of being progressive and diverse is revealing. Tim doesn’t understand that these viewpoints are contested and not shared by many of our viewers.

“Unfortunately, this politically naive attitude is widespread across the BBC.”

During the 2021 meeting, Mr Davie also said: “There are areas of the BBC that are doing brilliantly, but there are areas we can improve and we are in danger, at points, of groupthink – I am, everyone else – unconscious bias, call it what you will. We need to free ourselves from that and really be representing the audience.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The director general has certainly talked about steering the BBC through the challenges of the culture wars.

“When talking about being progressive, the very point is that we need to evolve and keep relevant in relation to areas like market led technological change and this should not be confused with the BBC taking a political or cultural position, which is clearly not our role. Any other interpretation is wrong.”

The development comes after a recent poll that found more than half of working class viewers who think the quality of BBC news has declined blamed “wokeness” for that, according to Public First, a research agency.

James Frayne, a founding partner of Public First, said: “By four to one, leave voters agree the BBC is too woke, and around 40 per cent of Leavers say the quality of BBC news has gone down in the last decade – primarily blaming apparent ‘wokeness’ for this.

“If Tim Davie’s strategy holds, their leak of working-class Leave voting support will resemble a dam burst. While the BBC doesn’t have a universal problem, they have a developing serious problem with working-class Leave voters who appear to be turning off the BBC in droves.”

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, has recently accused the corporation of bias, citing the its reporting on an attack on a hospital in Gaza last year as an example.

Danny Cohen, a former director of BBC Television, wrote in The Telegraph last month that the BBC “is being undermined in its duty to impartiality by institutional bias, anti-Israel sentiment”.