Monday, 1 December 2014

Anti-NHS Propaganda on the BBC

The National Health Service. Public Domain Image.

If you've been living in Britain since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010, then you've probably heard a lot about how terrible the National Health Service (NHS) is. Whether your poison of choice is the TV, radio, or a newspaper, the fight to turn the British people against the NHS has been a long and determined one. This propaganda war has been largely unsuccessful, but that hasn't stopped the government from persistently trying to lay the groundwork for privatization of a much loved public service. In particular, the media arm of the government, known as the BBC, has been prolific in disseminating anti-NHS propaganda.

For example, BBC Radio 5 Live releases near-daily stories in which critics or complainants are given an opportunity to lambast the NHS in one way or another. Many or all of the complaints are quite genuine. However, the BBC's unrestrained willingness to meet their propaganda quota by giving every complainant airtime is truly unsavory. Due to the sheer plethora of radio segments that fall into this category, a significant number have made it onto youtube, so here's a couple for your amusement:

In the above video, the BBC starts with one of their favorite arguments: that the NHS try to silence whistleblowers. However, in most professions, if an employee publicly accuses their colleagues of being lazy, unproductive, and obstinate, it will result in some sort of disciplinary action. This escapes the BBC radio host, who then makes the bewildering claim that "the comments really apply to the public sector". What a remarkably transparent attempt to forgive, justify, and agree with the comments without any evidence. I bet she earned some brownie points with her bosses though.

Of course, the first guest on the show agrees with the comments fully and adds to them. The second guest nails it when he says "you don't hear about the good stories" but stops short of accusing the BBC of bias. Despite this belated defense, the story at hand is focused on criticizing the service, and all the host's questions for the defender are accusatory or negatively worded, e.g. at 4:35 - "Isn't it all too easy for someone who is lazy to hide in this giant machine, and it's very difficult to get them out of their job because of unions like yours, perhaps?". I like how she checked her bias after the question by saying "perhaps". The question gets repeated in the same ridiculous tone at 8:38 for no good reason.

The next video is interesting mainly for the way it starts. It seems this radio host recognizes how much she's been told to run stories about the NHS, saying "lets talk about that again". What follows is a story in which the first handpicked comment about the issue is that it's "absolutely scandalous".

Only today, I tuned in and heard Adrian Chiles running a segment about how mental health services in the NHS aren't good enough. I listen for less than 2 hours in any 24 hour period, but I hear the same thing almost every day. The only conclusion I can draw is that there's a chief editor at the BBC who's been explicitly told to get these stories on air.

There will be complaints with every service, public or private, and the NHS is no exception. The concern is with how complaints are being used to further an ideological, political agenda. The government's objective is to make the case for privatization of the NHS, presumably so they can give lucrative contracts to Conservative Party supporters. They appear to be doing this in two ways:
  1. Using the BBC and other media allies to bombard the public with negative propaganda about the NHS by giving every complaint or criticism a disproportionate amount of coverage.
  2. Starving the NHS of funding so they can make it fail. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that puts thousands of lives at risk.
BBC bias against the NHS is as old as the current government, and while that isn't surprising, it's quite telling. Thankfully, most of the public haven't succumbed to the propaganda. Support for the NHS remains reasonably high and, if we last six more months (to the next election), the propaganda war may come to an end. The new suits in charge will probably be just as corrupt as the current ones, but hopefully they'll have different objectives.

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