The BBC and me: Auntie Beeb prides herself on her ‘high standards’, but they’re sometimes double standards
The British Broadcasting Corporation – the BBC – earned itself the nickname of ‘Auntie Beeb’ because, like a good, old-fashioned Auntieji she knew what was best for everyone, and took pride in her ‘high standards’. But Auntie Beeb’s high standards are sometimes revealed to be double standards.
In January this year BBC aired a televised documentary on PM Narendra Modi which cast him in a less-than-favourable light in the context of the 2002 Gujarat violence.
When New Delhi objected to this, the official response from Britain was that the BBC adhered to the lofty ideals of editorial integrity.
However, that integrity has once again come into question by two recent episodes. Former England football star, Gary Lineker, temporarily forced to step down from presenting a popular BBC TV sports programme after he criticised the UK home secretary for a Nazi-like remark on illegal immigration, was reinstated after a public outcry. In another case, a TV series narrated by renowned anthropologist David Attenborough was allegedly abridged over fears of a right-wing backlash. Auntie likes pointing fingers at others, but doesn’t want fingers pointed at her.
My first brush with the BBC was in 1972, during a sabbatical in London. The then head of the India desk of BBC radio, Evan Charlton, an ex-editor of The Statesman, Calcutta, and my one-time boss, set up an interview for me for a temporary job as a Hindi news reader. The interviewer’s Sanskritised Hindi was way beyond my grasp of everyday Hindustani. We agreed that I wasn’t up to the job.
Perhaps it was sour grapes, but I couldn’t help wondering if the BBC’s use of pedagogic language, likely to be incomprehensible to many of its intended listeners, was an assertion of Auntie’s magisterial authority.
Years later, I was asked to participate in a BBC telephonic chat show with a British humorist, he in London and I in Delhi. A technician for a voice test told me I wasn’t “sounding Indian enough”. I replied I was Indian and was sounding the way I normally do. “Do you want a Peter Sellers imitation of Goodness Gracious Me? Will that sound ‘Indian’ enough?” I asked. Embarrassed silence. The chat went well, my un-Indian voice notwithstanding.
BBC? British Baqwasbazi Corporation?
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