‘Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report’ (Philippians 4:8) was incorporated into the mission statement of the BBC, founded in 1927. The first Director-General John Reith’s vision for the corporation was that it should provide education, promote moral improvement, and take a fair and impartial stance on political matters. Old Broadcasting House was dedicated in 1931 to the glory of God. The BBC gained an international reputation for quality and integrity.
What happened to that noble vision? Robin Aitken was a respected BBC journalist for 25 years, and he describes in this book the way in which he believes that the corporation abandoned the broadly biblical worldview of its early years. Over recent decades, he maintains, it has propagated a series of ‘noble lies’ in order to promote a ‘progressive’ agenda. The title alludes to Plato’s depiction of an ideal state in the Republic (written c. 375 BC), where those in power could promote a myth that would ensure social stability. Ironically of course, the lies promoting a ‘progressive’ (aka permissive) agenda lead to instability, if not anarchy. Alarming evidence of that unfolds daily.
The hinge decade was the 1960s, when Aitken suggests that the BBC became cheerleaders for the new, transgressive, ‘liberated’ morality. The tendency now was to mock any defence of patriotism, self-restraint, or the heterosexual married family. The ideal was individual freedom.
The noble lie at the heart of this new morality is that we can, as individuals and as a society, dispense with an objective moral code without consequences (p.161).
A society where each individual is ‘free’ to pursue their own interests free from external obligation soon fragments. The sexual revolution led to relational and family breakdown which has contributed to rocketing rates of mental illness and crime.
Aitken argues that the BBC has fallen desperately short in a number of areas. He says it has often failed to critique Islamic fundamentalism. It has tended to champion the cause of European integration, often dismissing concerns about mass immigration as ‘racist’. It continues to promote transgressive and ‘progressive’ values. And the insistence that ‘minorities’ must be afforded ‘victim status’, and that people are to be judged by their group identity rather than by individual behaviour is a cancer in the body politic. It is this mindset, argues the author, that left the BBC unwilling to report what was going on in places such as Rotherham, when girls were (and in some cases still are) targeted for sexual grooming by gangs drawn disproportionately from a Pakistani background.
Today we see the unrest unleashed by the identity politics. When human dignity is based solely on ‘victimhood’, dignity is stripped away from any deemed to have ‘unearned privilege’. New situations of injustice and inequality arise. The only firm foundation for justice is the Christian conviction that every human being has essential dignity (p.226). Aitken concludes by observing that science and material prosperity do not meet the needs of the human soul. The ‘arid fictions’ of the noble lie will ultimately be exposed. Truth will prevail.
Aitken’s account is backed up by another recent book (David Sedgwick, The Fake News Factory: Tales from BBC-land, 2020). Both books maintain that the ‘news’ put out by the BBC is not impartial, and is sometimes untrue. The authors of these books suggest that we would be well advised to seek alternative sources of information.
Dr Sharon James is Social Policy Analyst for The Christian Institute
The Institute’s recent briefing on Identity Politics is available online: https://www.christian.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Identity_politics_briefing.pdf
For an article on Christian discernment when looking for news, see: https://reformation-today.org/articles-of-interest/a-christian-approach-to-the-news-media/