Republic appear on Her Majesty's broadcaster

A short review of a piece on The Sunday Politics East Midlands show 30th June 2013 

An impartial news report is something you can aspire to but never achieve. Everyone has their own opinions and perspective, to think they won't effect how you relate your version of the truth to others is absurd. I believe the idea the BBC is (rather than should try to be) impartial is linked to the fact its established by a Royal Charter. For overseas readers, the current myth used to sustain our Monarchy is that the Queen is politically impartial and has no real power. Previous myths, such as The Divine Right of Kings, are still enshrined in law but most modern monarchists shy away from them because it makes them sound thick.

When it is dealing with stories related to The Monarch the BBC often does not even aspire to be impartial. For example, recently there was a story involving The Queen gifting herself and her family a massive pay rise, with a straight face their Royal Correspondent, Nicholas Witchall, announced this news with the statement that she's "famously frugal". Err... not in my world she's not. Most middle class people would swap their lifestyles for her "frugal" one, let alone people who live in poverty.
Kensington Palace revamp for Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to cost £1m

Buckingham Palace accounts also reveal Queen is to receive a multimillion-pound funding increase over the next two years
Despite this though The BBC are to be congratulated for taking the brave decision to report such a damaging story regarding their Queen. Firstly because it's unusual they reported it at all, mostly the BBC's biases come by noticing what they do not say, rather than what they do. Secondly, and this is the really surprising bit, they actually gave 11 seconds to the opposing point of view by letting a representative from Republic on, to argue the Monarchy is unfair and outdated. It sounds trivial, 11 seconds, in a long report presented by an obviously apologetic Royal Correspondent. However, the response on line was huge, people were stunned the BBC would dare timidly show teeth to the hand that feeds.
The key point to understand about the UK's Monarchy problem is how much those who oppose The Queen could lose and how little they stand to gain. Nicholas Witchall is a case in point, how would it benefit his career, life and family, if he were anti-Monarchist? Very little compared to the obvious gains he could make if he becomes one of their favourite "subjects". Vested interests play a part in most political debates but when it comes to Monarchy every person discussing it in the media must be suspect. This is one reason the so-called honours system keeps poking its fingers into the celebrity and media world. Why else would so many "anti-establishment" celebrities keep quiet about them? Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney, and anyone who seeks to emulate them, have all effectively been bribed into thinking positively about Kings and Queens. All public figures know Royal patronage is a possibility and this must make their opinions questionable.

The best way to spot someone holding an opinion based on personal gain is to ask, does this fit with their other ideas and values? For example, few media talking heads, MPs, or members of the public, would be willing to advocate India's caste system because it's out of line with their sense of right and wrong. There’s no obvious difference though between that and our way of choosing a Head of State. In the past some people thought others were born to be nothing more than slaves, it was the natural way of things. Few still say that now, why do some pretend the Monarchy is different?

A great number of monarchists in the public eye should say, if they were to be honest, "well, I'd really like to get an OBE so that's why I support them". Instead they have to try pushing the square peg of selection-for-a-job-by-birth into the round hole presented the fact that in our society generally we choose people on the basis of their abilities.

The above is worth considering as you watch this piece (while you still can on iPlayer, if it's on Youtube permanently, please add a comment to this blog and I'll alter the link).


The piece starts at 46.44 on the BBC iPlayer here.
1 - 46.44 SEGMENT STARTS

The Sunday Politics East Midlands needs a local angle to each of its pieces. This is why time is wasted trying to establish a spurious link between the East Midlands and anti-Monarchy sentiment. Campaign group Republic are on because they've just had their annual conference in Leicester where they launched their #bornEqual campaign.

2 - 47.00 "VOX POPS"

The report begins with "vox pops" at the local Guildhall museum. Inevitably they begin with a pro-Monarchy point of view. The man in question lives in Australia but was born in the UK, he thinks The Queen is good because he feels nostalgic. The second person featured is anti-monarchy, he qualifies his point of view with "if I had a choice" and doesn't elaborate at all. This is good enough for the presenter who gives him a grin and a thumbs up sign. Then we have a woman who says "I don't see the argument about they cost the country all this money and that" as she puts forward her support for the Monarch, mainly on the basis of nationalistic pride. The next person claims "they must bring a fortune into this country" and the final contributor suggests "without the Queen, well there's no history in the country without her...".

During these exchanges the body language of the roving reporter is interesting, he positively warms to those with pro-Monarchy sentiment, pushing them to elaborate, whereas the single anti-Monarchy voice feels like a box ticking exercise. Crucially, there's no elaboration on the alternative point of view. In other words here we're dealing with bias by omission which is the BBC's default on this topic.

The lack of articulate opinion on both sides of the debate which is so apparent in these vox pops speaks to this history of ignoring the debate. Most people, both for and against, simply lack the tools to articulate their point of view on this topic because debates on it are so rare. Even those who support the Monarchy become very fuzzy when asked why.

3 - 48.25 INFORMED / "EXPERT" OPINION  


Generally the format for a piece like this on the BBC would be to tail it with either "expert" or "informed" opinion. In this piece we get pro-Monarchy sentiment from someone the presenter introduces only as "Oriane". Her qualifications on the matter are not made clear and so a casual observer would assume she speaks with some level of earned authority. A quick google search reveals her to be, Oriane Genol, the Guildhall's main customer service's advisor. Why she's been made a profiled contributor is not explained. Given the treatment Republic receive in the studio interview and the fact we've had several versions of the establishment's point of view already, it would certainly have been better here to use one of their representatives to provide at least one argument as to why some people oppose the Monarchy.

Instead Oriane informs us, in no uncertain terms, that "love them or loathe them, they're here, they're not going anywhere". The tourism argument is raised and its stated as bold fact that "they work very, very, hard".

Already it's possible to argue a clear pro-Monarchy bias is evident. By the end of the location piece, we've not actually heard any debate. Instead we've heard a number of arguments in favour of The Queen and been made aware not everyone supports them. The one dissenting voice gives no reasons for his point of view though and therefore appears, literally, un-reasonable. This sets the tone for the debate to follow whether the guests know it or not. The theme is this: there's no reason to oppose Monarchy, it's traditional and it's patriotic.
Everyone loves the monarchy, hoorah!
4 - 48.45 WHERE'S YOUR LOCAL ANGLE CITIZEN SMITH?

Back in the studio presenter Marie Ashby sounds positively delighted as she explains how popular the monarchy are to, Graham Smith, Chief Executive of Republic:

"Admittedly this isn't a very scientific poll but how come you've said the East Midlands is this hotbed of anti-Monarchism?"

In the opening question she's referring to the awful and unbalanced piece they've just played but it knocks Smith off his guard a little because he appears unprepared for the line of questioning she adopts. Furthermore, notice how her first question puts words in his mouth, which he appears to refute. The interview is off to a bad start and to make things worse, she interrupts his answer trying to force him to go with the tedious and irrelevant local angle: "particularly in the East Midland though?"

A fairer exchange between the two would have been:

QUESTION: "How come you've said..." there's a solid local angle to this?

ANSWER: We wanted to fit into the format of your regional TV segment and we've just had our annual conference in Leicester, which happens to be in your patch.

The truth is: this is box ticking essential only to a couple of BBC staff members. No viewer really cares about the local angle, they're more interested in hearing a decent debate and so far they've not been given one counter argument to monarchy.


"overwhelmed"
5 - 49.34 YOU HAVE NO SUPPORT, YOU'RE IRRELEVANT

Once The BBC's irrelevant local angle fetish is out of the way the presenter chooses to try using The Queen's personal popularity to undermine the validity of Republic even being booked to appear on the show at all: "but opinion polls regularly show overwhelming support for the Royal Family," states the interviewer as if she were asking a question. Smith attempts to answer the point but is dealing with someone who has just confessed to being "overwhelmed" and this is presumably why she re-states her point "in a recent poll she came out very well", just as Smith is trying to explain that liking the Queen is not the same thing as supporting the system of Government known as monarchy.

This is basic stuff for anyone who has considered the issue but "subjects" often conflate the two and think anti-monarchists have formed a personal opinion of Elizabeth Windsor.

It's worth pointing out that in the event of a Republic there would be nothing to stop her from standing in an election and this little blogger thinks, it's likely she'd win at first. Why are pro-Monarchists so afraid of this alternative? Put her popularity to the test if you're so confident, where's the problem? I wonder if our impartial BBC presenter would be overwhelmed or underwhelmed by those ideas? We never get the chance to find out.

Maybe if I could just explain what I think...?
6, FIVE MINUTES IN AND CITIZEN SMITH IS ALLOWED TO MAKE THE FIRST DECENT POINT REGARDING ANTI-MONARCHISM IN THE UK

"Our job is to show what the problem is ... they've got nothing else to judge it against".

Unlike the previous points made by his opponents he's backed up by solid evidence provided by the broadcast itself. So far there has not been a single argument allowed against the monarchy. If you were new to the issue you literally would not know what the problem was. Smith then goes on to try to point out that people don't seem to understand the alternatives. Again, this is backed up by the evidence provided in the segment itself.

He's right to be flustered, he's been presented so far as the advocate of an unreasoned and minority point of view. The irony of this is so breath taking it's worth boldly stating the issues:

THE DEBATE (IN CASE YOU'RE NEW TO IT):

  • Smith is advocating democracy. He thinks that our head of state should be elected by the people they are to represent. He stands to gain nothing from this but a fairer society.

  • He is opposed by an un-democratic system which believes a God has picked our Queen for us, using its magic powers. Many of those against him stand to gain power, money and status for their points of view.
7, 50.20 "I, ANNA SOUBRY, DO SWEAR THAT I WILL"

Once Smith has made a tiny bit of progress the presenter brings in, Anna Soubry MP. Presumably, Smith has riled one of Her Majesty's ministers by being allowed to make a decent point, so we get out and out falsehoods. Firstly Anna wrongly claims she does not have to support the Monarchy, after snorting out the reply "well of course I am," when asked if she's a Royalist.
Despite frequently taking this oath, Soubry, wants you to think she "doesn't have to" support the Monarchy.
Anna giggles away as the presenter Marie, apparently unaware of the oath MPs take at this point, asks "what do you mean of course you are"? It's interesting to note that defence or casual support of the monarchy often relies upon easily disproved assumptions and "little white lies". One of them, that The Queen has no power, was disproved at the start of this year but never widely reported.

Having connived with the presenter in a falsehood, by ignoring the fact she's sworn an oath to support the Queen, Soubry then goes on to try to attack Republic on the same basis she did: that they have little to no support. The irony of invoking democracy in defence of Monarchy is never addressed and even she admits "I'm being mean", to which comment the presenter laughs harder than at any other point in the programme, right in Graham Smith's face. The two then act as female school bullies, ganging up on Smith and at points both interrupting and squealing at him.

Souby then goes on to try and sneer at "the alternative" although unfortunately for her that has not yet been spelled out. "I mean look at the alternative, which is essentially a presidency," she blusters only to fall at the first hurdle when she remembers the current President "uh, I think Obama's brilliant". At this point an understandably vexed Smith dives in with the fact that this is not the alternative proposed by most Republicans. They suggest a ceremonial role for an elected head of state, few are suggesting a political Presidency with legal powers.

This is a key point because it's important to note the implicit assumption in Sorby's response. She is talking about an American style presidential system, with legal powers, to replace our supposedly symbolic and allegedly politically powerless monarch. If you're pro-Monarchy, and have bought the myth that they have no power, ask yourself why she, a Minister of Parliament, assumes otherwise?

"Left wing" politician curiously fails to criticise Monarch
8 - 51.20 THE "LEFT WING" POLITICIAN

Chris Leslie MP, is then brought into the conversation. The phrase "left wing" originates in France during the period leading up to the revolution. The left's traditional role was to oppose the King, so they sat on the other side of his sword hand. Leslie keeps out of this debate in the main and sounds apologetic in tone after he makes it clear that all MPs have to support the monarch because of the oath of allegiance. "So you have to be?" says the presenter, sounding surprisingly underwhelmed by this, to her, new information.

Either she knew this beforehand and was lying when she said Soubry wasn't obliged to be a Royalist or she was unaware, either which way in my opinion she now owes Smith an apology.

Obviously that doesn't happen and all the New Labour Party have to say on the matter in this instance is that there might be "even more debate" in the future.

9 - 51.50 THEY BRING IN LOADS OF MONEY, PROBABLY

The presenter then dives in with the money fallacy. "They bring an awful lot of money in" she announces and then cuts Smith off with "well they do" when he tries to respond with a few facts. He then gets attacked in stereo by Sourby and Marie, one in each ear, again alike to school bullies.

The irony though is that the presenter has to refer to questionable research to back up her position because not only does the BBC rarely report upon any real enquiries into the Royals regarding their costs and benefits but also it has no research of its own in that direction. The system of patronage and vested interests I outlined at the start of this piece makes such investigations very difficult. This is one of the reasons we need to have the debate.

Alternative information from Visit Britain is dismissed, "I don't care what they said" announces "subject" Sorby. She appears to have invented her own "research" and announces that tourists only come to our capital city to see the Queen. Nothing else.

This brings Smith round to trying to point out that The Queen's PR has changed hands in our living memory which is dismissed and produces more titters and giggles as he gets described as "an old cynic". By this point Smith optimistically tries to get the fact the BBC has a huge pro-Monarchy bias in but he's shouted over by the presenter who with a chuckle announces: "We have to leave it there, you won't be invited to the Palace, that's for sure, ho ho".

Many a true word spoken in jest. Vested interests are almost always at the heart of this debate. If I had time I'd google these characters and experience little surprise when their connections to the Windsors were revealed to be more than just an oath or two.

10 - For years I've felt like a lone voice on The Monarchy.

On LBC particularly it was very rare you'd get a caller who agreed that they were a bad idea. Republic demonstrates the fact that the internet affords us the opportunity to discover people who are literally on the same page.

Check out these links:

Join the campaign: #bornEqual

COMMENTER'S NOTE: My anti-Monarchy sentiment is inspired almost entirely by my patriotism. By pushing this idea we stand to gain nothing other than a better nation to call our home. We need a nation of people that take pride in themselves and represents this country by their own great deeds, not by the mere patronage of a rich family.

We need citizens not subjects!

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