The BBC discriminate, we're told today in two different stories - but what sort of discrimination is it? If you're Harriet Harman, it's ageist and sexist discrimination against older women; if you're Lynda La Plante, who's an older woman and who could use that very justification if she wanted, it's discrimination against anyone who isn't a young male Muslim.
They could conceivably both be right. Harman's assertion comes from anecdotal evidence - she says she spoke to an unnamed former BBC executive who told her there was prejudice against older female newsreaders. But we don't know how long ago that policy was in place - and as the article itself points out (as you'd imagine it would, given that the BBC are doing the usual sackcloth-and-ashes "Oh look it's a story about how shit we are, we've got to cover it, unlike every other media outlet ever, otherwise people will think we're somehow evil and they'll want to get rid of the licence fee" self-flagellation) some changes have been put in place recently because of previous criticism:
Following the row the corporation announced it would be recruiting more older women presenters.
Veteran newsreader Julia Somerville is due to return to the BBC as a TV news presenter after an absence of of nearly 23 years.
She will join Westminster correspondent Carole Walker, former ITN newsreader Fiona Armstrong and BBC World presenter Zeinab Badawi on the TV news service.
It's not clear in the article whether the 'row' in question is one involving Moira Stewart or Arlene Phillips. Phillips, of course, now has a primetime BBC show almost all to herself now, so you could say she hasn't done badly at the hands of the 'ageists' - although you could also argue that she might not have been first in the queue to host such a programme if there hadn't been such a furore in the first place over her departure from the other show.
The truth is, we don't know. All corporations have slightly opaque hiring and firing procedures, which doesn't necessarily mean they're hotbeds of discrimination. Harman, perhaps, has come to this story a bit late, with possibly outdated information from someone who no longer works fot the BBC, who may well have described to her a prevailing view some time ago. But there's no way of knowing. All you can say is that it's another "BBC ageism" story all over the other media outlets, who always take particular relish in attacking their state-funded rival.
Which brings me to the Mail and Lynda La Plante. It's not just the Mail who have carried the Lynda La Plante "Poor me, a Muslim would probably have more chance of getting a script accepted, wouldn't they, somehow?" story, but their treatment of it is very different from the Independent, for example, who did it this way:
"If my name were Usafi Iqbadal and I was 19, then they'd probably bring me in and talk," the scriptwriter, who has mainly worked for ITV, told The Daily Telegraph.
But Muslim writers hit back, accusing La Plante of "old-style racism" for reinforcing stereotypes. Max Malik, a novelist and playwright, called her comments "divisive, unhelpful and discouraging for young writers". Mr Malik, who won the Muslim Writers' Award two years ago, added: "She's trying to force me and my ilk into a corner. I don't call her a ginger-haired, middle-aged, female writer. That would be insulting."
Sarfraz Manzoor, journalist, broadcaster and author of the memoir Greetings from Bury Park, said Ms La Plante should "get that chip off her shoulder and return to the real world rather than playing the misunderstood victim in the fantasy world in which she is currently residing." He added: "I would love to meet the Muslim writers whose output is currently clogging up the television schedules: can she name any of these mythical individual,s or are her comments simply a headline- grabbing way to yet again bash the BBC and blame Muslims?"
That's one way of covering it, isn't it - getting both sides of the argument. Or you could just put La Plante's views in unchallenged and then carry on with a bit of BBC-bashing to fill up the space. That's what the Mail does, with a series of unconnected attacks on the BBC in the space of the same story:
PD James criticised the BBC over its 'extraordinarily large' salaries for managers.
the BBC has a target that 12.5 per cent of employees should be from ethnic minorities by December 2012.
In October, BBC Director General Mark Thompson admitted that programme-makers tackle Islam differently from Christianity.
comedian Ben Elton, who accused the BBC of being scared to make jokes about Islam
This week Thompson was also given an unexpected drubbing by P.D. James, the 89-year-old crime writer and former BBC governor.
The Conservative peer likened the BBC to a 'large unwieldy ship' and grilled him over the fact that 375 executives at the corporation earn more than £100,000 a year, and 37 of them more than the Prime Minister's salary of £198,000.
What a shame that the Mail didn't have the space to tell its readers where Thompson got given that 'unexpected drubbing' - was it in the privately-owned media? On a commercial channel? On TalkSport perhaps? No, of course not, it was Radio 4. (and hang on a minute, PD James appears to be an older woman - don't tell Harriet Harman!) Hands up who thinks we'll see James Murdoch get crucified on Sky News primetime... anybody... no...?
The Mail have simply re-hashed the Telegraph article, and can't be bothered to find a new angle, since that might require picking up a telephone and speaking to another human being, wasting valuable C&Ving time. Not that that matters to their readers - any mention of positive discrimination, even if it's anecdotal and totally unproven - why didn't La Plante simply submit a script under an assumed Muslim-sounding name to test out her theory? Or would it then mean she'd have nowhere to hide? - brings out the roars of disapproval against the evil Stalinist BBC:
All these anti-Beeb stories are good news for those commercial operations which would like to see them blown out of the water - and for those politicians who would like to dismantle the licence fee. If there are genuine concerns, beyond an anecdotal level, then these of course need to be investigated.
But what would the reaction be if a freelance made a big song and dance about not getting articles submitted to the Telegraph because they're not a hoary old Tory? Or to the Mail because they write accurate stories about immigration? Do you think we'd see their cause valiantly taken up by the rest of the media, with the publications in question happy to report on their own attacks? I think not. Which to me is one good argument for why we need the BBC.
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