radio review

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The Independent Culture
"You can't say we're not balanced, can you?" said Mark Whittaker at the end of Costing the Earth on Sunday evening. Well, yes you can. The context here was a debate on how the major political parties score on environmental issues, and as far as the actual discussion went, nothing was particularly out of place. But the BBC is never impartial, and can't be, not because it suffers from the supposed left-wing bias that occasionally sets the Conservatives frothing at the jaws and biting strangers in the street, but because nearly every scheduling decision betrays some sort of political prejudice.

When it broadcasts the Queen's Christmas message, it's showing that by and large it's in favour of constitutional monarchy; when it broadcasts Yesterday in Parliament, it's giving the thumbs up to parliamentary democracy. This is probably to be expected.

At other times, though. the Beeb takes slightly more controversial stances: on, for instance, Europe and the environment - both things of which it's broadly in favour. At any rate, there are a fair number of programmes around devoted to both: on the European front Radio 4 has Europhile for much of the year as well as the drier and more practical Europe Now on a Sunday evening, while Radio 5 has "News from Europe" every morning as part of The Magazine. As far as the environment goes, there's Costing the Earth itself on Four and the weekly Environment News on Five (which used to be known as "Dirty News": I presume the change came about because the leery way Adrian Goldberg said it led you to expect a weekly dip into the hot-tub of pornography, instead of a sensible round-up of hedgehog rescue schemes and recycling initiatives).

On any particular issue - the single currency, the Newbury by-pass - the BBC's impartiality is unblemished. But in introducing these programmes, the corporation has made a judgement of how salient the issues are to the public and, more importantly, has probably increased their salience. In both these cases, the major political parties are in broad agreement - the BBC is simply following a consensus. Things get stickier if, as a Transport 2000 spokesperson said on Costing the Earth, the government is three to four years behind public opinion: to follow political consensus is to ignore the issues most people want to hear about. Staying balanced is probably too much to ask; you just hope the BBC keeps tottering in an interesting way.