BBC must follow it own rules and axe Comic Relief

Published by The Times (2nd November, 2020)

Since inheriting the thorny BBC crown, Tim Davie has made it his mission as director-general to reassert the organisation’s impartiality after a series of controversies. He has sanctioned guidelines for staff that demand they must not support campaigns “no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial”.

This has already caused some difficulties, forcing a hasty retreat over Pride events. Prepare for more furores on this front. Yet Davie’s intent is clear: the BBC must avoid alignment with any campaigns that have a remotely political edge, even if they seem innocuous.

Ironically, the rules were released after an announcement by Comic Relief, the BBC’s pet charity, that it is finally going to stop making those toe-curling films of white-saviour celebrities visiting African refugee camps and slums to raise funds. I have long argued that these are patronising and reinforce the false image of a helpless continent in desperate need of our salvation.

Yet a bigger question swirls around Comic Relief after Davie’s guidelines: why is the BBC promoting an increasingly discredited aid sector while pushing the anachronistic concept that spraying cash around the planet is an unalloyed public good? No one knows this better than the BBC’s new boss since he chaired the charity before his appointment.

But this is a clear example of institutional bias. The BBC hands over its schedule for Comic Relief to showcase the aid sector’s neocolonial ideas. Some top executives are embedded in the industry. It spent another £38.6 million last year — much of it donated by bodies such as the Foreign Office, the EU and Bill Gates — through Media Action, its development charity.

No wonder it treats aid chiefs as sacred oracles on news shows, allowing them to dictate agendas and failing to question their baleful influence, while viewing critics with barely disguised contempt. Yet any notion that the poverty industry is populated by saints has been torn asunder by revelations of sex abuse and fat-cat profiteering. Meanwhile the BBC ignores rising concerns over naive western aid policies damaging democracy, fostering corruption and fuelling conflict.

Far from displaying impartiality, the corporation is a key player on one side of a politically charged debate as well as an active participant in a contentious government policy. This was wrong before Davie issued his new guidelines. Now he simply looks hypocritical if he does not follow his own rules by canning Comic Relief and ending all promotion of the aid sector.

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