If the BBC is "our cultural NHS", it's another state religion


According to Shadow Culture Secretary Chris Bryant, the BBC is the nation’s “cultural NHS”. He said it to the Royal Television Society, and wrote it for HuffPo UK. And in case you didn’t get the message, he wrote it again for Broadcast, and declared it in Parliament. The BBC has helpfully spread the news far and wide via its omnipotent website and taxpayer subsidised Radio Times. The golden thread, he says, is that the BBC “provides something for everyone”. That’s nice. A public service broadcaster should, of course, try to provide something for everyone who pays for it, from Butterflies to Blackadder; The Young Ones to Sir Jimmy Young; the Nine O’Clock News to Not the Nine O’Clock News; David Dimbleby to David Brent; and Fawlty to Strictly. The BBC has undoubtedly produced some of the finest programmes and the greatest moments of television the world has ever seen. It is, truly, a national treasure.

But there’s a problem in the form of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. As Chris Bryant told Parliament:

Like Blofeld in “You Only Live Twice”, the Secretary of State has lined up a tank of piranhas, but he has not quite reckoned with the ingenuity of M and Bond in the shape of Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, who lined up to attack him yesterday.

He so Special Agent Bryant laid bare the evil plot to destroy Auntie:

The Tory’s war on the BBC could mean no more popular shows on a Saturday night, no more sport and an irrelevant and barely recognisable BBC come 2027. The public deserve a world class broadcaster showing popular and acclaimed programmes and sport; the government seem intent on wrecking it but Labour will fight to save the BBC.

Labour are indeed fighting to save the BBC, not least by having former BBC employee Chris Bryant defend them in Parliament, and former Labour Cabinet minister James Purnell now spinning from within. Bryant used to be the BBC’s Head of European Affairs; Purnell is their current Director of Strategy and Digital. He is implicated in contriving the letter signed by 20 celebrities (including M and Bond), in which they plead with David Cameron not to “diminish” the BBC. Signatories included a number of BBC employees who are paid £millions by the Corporation, doubtless fearful that their salaries might also be diminished.

If you scratch beneath the skin of the BBC workforce (not too deeply), you may be shocked and surprised at how many of them voted for Ed Miliband..

But to equate the belief in the ethos of public broadcasting with the ‘national religion‘ that is the NHS is to misunderstand the purpose of art and to limit the expression of national culture. It is like saying the Church of England is our spiritual NHS: it isn’t, and for it to become so would be to reduce holiness to a form of social contract, and relegate the peace of Christ to the absence of civil strife.

Chris Bryant’s rhetorical embroidery brings to mind a 2011 Employment Tribunal ruling which gave a former BBC employee, who so ‘strongly believed’ in the ethos of public service broadcasting, permission to bring a discrimination case against the Corporation under laws designed to protect religious faiths.

The case might have seem frivolous, except that when politicians like Chris Bryant talk about the BBC being the nation’s “cultural NHS”, he is basically saying that it is sacrosanct and inviolable. As The Telegraph observed of the Tribunal case: “The decision effectively puts the broadcaster’s core principle on a par with Christianity.”

Devan Maistry worked for the BBC Asian Network, and alleged that his belief that “public service broadcasting has the higher purpose of promoting cultural interchange and social cohesion” led to him being treated unfairly.

Tariq Sadiq was acting for the BBC. He pointed out that the case could mean that a belief in the aims of any public sector organisation would count as a philosophical belief, and so subject to legislation designed to protect the individual against discrimination. Mr Sadiq said: “A belief that the aim of the NHS should first and foremost be to look after the health and welfare of its patients could, if the claimant were correct, amount to belief for the purposes of the 2003 regulations but it would be absurd for that to be the case.”

Except that it’s not entirely absurd. Wikipedia explains why:

Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful and long-lasting meaning by establishing symbols that relate humanity to beliefs and values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

The NHS creed has already been elevated to the orthodoxy of a state religion. The monolith is established; it is privileged by all political parties and is apparently exempt from fundamental reform – immutable at the point of need, and all that. It even has its own priestly caste (aka the BMA) who are fierce guardians of its interests. As the state’s universal healer and miracle worker, it is expanded in perpetuity with ring-fenced funding, irrespective of the continuing queuing, rationing and bureaucracy which are intrinsic to any nationalised and socialised system.

It really therefore comes as no surprise that the ethos of the BBC – to educate, entertain and inform – should be recognised by an Employment Tribunal as a ‘strongly-held belief’ on a par with any other religion. The reiteration of ‘strongly-held’ acknowledges a degree of religious fervour: when a belief is fervent, it is of great significance to the individual; ie, it is a faith. And so the higher purpose of public service broadcasting is akin to state religion.

It was Nigel Lawson who first remarked: “The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practice in it regarding themselves as a priesthood.” For that reason, those who dare to protest or seek to challenge its infallible and immutable precepts meet the fate of all heretics at the hands of zealots. Anything which the BBC espouses (absolute equality; pro-EU; anti-Conservative; pro-Palestinian; pro-Islam; anti-Israel; anti-Christian, and a myriad of other biases) constitutes the consecrated creed of the state. There is no space for dissent: the imposition of the BBC’s liberal creed is quasi-religious dogma, and we are taxed, on pain of fines or imprisonment, to sustain the propagation of its gospel and to disseminate its form of truth. There is no toleration of dissent: recalcitrants can expect the full force of state inquisition.

The moment the state adopts a definition of ‘religion’, and then attempts to apportion rights and liberties under the guise of an enlightened tolerance of relativist equality, there is no logical end to the official recognition of all manner of weird cults, strange sects, spurious beliefs and pseudo-religions, all of which have to be equal under the law irrespective of their contribution to the common good and irrelative to the inherent bunkum believed or propagated. For Chris Bryant, the belief in public service broadcasting is now akin to the belief in national healthcare. It is a moral imperative which becomes philosophical belief, and so must be protected by parliamentary statute.

One wonders how long it will be before John Whittingdale is arrested for ‘inciting hatred’, or for violating the BBC’s dignity, or for creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for BBC employees. There can be no place in Britain for Auntiephobia.