BBC guilty of ‘rewriting British history’ to promote woke agenda in ‘biased’ documentaries

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan in Freetown, in Sierra Leone, was one of those criticised in the report - BBC
The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan in Freetown, in Sierra Leone, was one of those criticised in the report - BBC

The BBC is “rewriting British history to promote a woke agenda”, a group of the country’s leading academics has warned, as they cited multiple examples of “bias” in its documentaries.

A report said the BBC was failing in its duty of impartiality by allowing “politically motivated campaigners” to present “tendentious” views of British history as fact.

Lord Roberts, the author and broadcaster, accused the BBC of pursuing a “fatwa” against Sir Winston Churchill. The dossier said documentaries on subjects including slavery, colonialism and the Irish famine distort the truth about Britain’s past through inaccuracy or omitting important facts.

Marie Kawthar Daouda, a lecturer at Oxford University, said the BBC needs to “stop apologising” for Britain’s history. Jeremy Black, the former professor of history at Exeter University, said the BBC was guilty of “systemic failure” through an inability to present a rounded picture of the past.

The report was compiled by History Reclaimed, whose co-editors are David Abulafia and Robert Tombs - both of whom are professors emeritus at Cambridge University. Supporters of the organisation include Lord Chartres, the former bishop of London; Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at King’s College, London; Niall Ferguson, the broadcaster and fellow of Stanford University, and Lawrence Goldman, emeritus fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford.

A midterm review of the BBC’s royal charter, launched by the then culture secretary Nadine Dorries earlier this year, is currently examining whether the corporation needs to be reformed to help it achieve greater impartiality.

The authors of the report, titled Can We Trust The BBC With Our History?, called on the BBC to tighten its editorial guidelines and set up an advisory panel of historians to reduce “groupthink” among programme makers.

Programmes highlighted in the dossier include The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, in which the comedian visits Freetown in Sierra Leone and discusses Britain’s role in the slave trade, without mentioning that the city - so-called because it was the destination of freed slaves - was set up by the British.

A current affairs programme suggested the Bengal famine of 1943 was a consequence of racism on the part of Churchill, despite the fact that Britain sent large shipments of food to the Indian region in the face of wartime food shortages.

RAF personnel feeding famine victims in Bengal in 1943 - Mirrorpix
RAF personnel feeding famine victims in Bengal in 1943 - Mirrorpix

Lord Roberts described it as an example of a “fatwa” he says the BBC has been conducting against Churchill for years, while Zareer Masani, a historian of Indian heritage, said he was “appalled” by the BBC’s claims.

Meanwhile, an episode of the archaeology series Digging for Britain aired a claim that British policy during the 19th century Irish potato famine amounted to the “extermination” of a people and that aid was refused - even though prime minister Robert Peel ordered the purchase of American maize to feed 500,000 people in Ireland and ruined his career by suspending the Corn Laws to allow untaxed imports.

Digging for Britain was criticised over claims it made about the 19th century Irish potato famine
Digging for Britain was criticised over claims it made about the 19th century Irish potato famine

The report also criticised Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson as well as a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Sarah Forbes Benetta, one of the only black women in Victorian high society.

A spokesman for History Reclaimed said: “Abuse of history for political purposes is as old as history itself. In recent years, we have seen politically motivated campaigns to rewrite British history in a way that undermines the solidarity of our communities, our sense of achievement, even our very legitimacy.

“The BBC, of all institutions, should never accept as fact arguments put forward by politically motivated campaigners. Sadly, it appears that tendentious and provocative arguments seem to be given preference, and they have often been relayed without proper concern for accuracy.

“At their best, the BBC’s programmes are of high quality and are widely praised. But regrettably, it seems that the BBC, for all its merits, does not always respect the objectives set out in its charter and its claim to be strictly impartial.”

Prof Tombs, co-editor of History Reclaimed, said: “The report identifies a pattern of failure by the BBC that points unmistakably to conscious or unconscious bias.”

Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, director of the anti-racism group Don’t Divide Us, said: “When a public institution such as the BBC helps normalise a radically critical, minoritarian view of Britain’s history, it makes the possibility of a culture-in-common for a nation’s citizens - old, new, and yet to be - more difficult. This is not a public service.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We place the greatest importance on accuracy and bring audiences a breadth of viewpoints, perspectives and analysis across thousands of hours of news, current affairs and factual programming, covering a range of historical topics.

“Across the entirety of our output there will, of course, be occasions when people disagree with or want to challenge what they have watched or heard and we have well publicised routes for them to do that.

“Cherry-picking a handful of examples or highlighting genuine mistakes in thousands of hours of output on TV and radio does not constitute analysis and is not a true representation of BBC content.”

Commentary: BBC should build unity around British history, not slander it

By Marie Kawthar Daouda

The BBC has a glorious past. For French or American audiences, BBC adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens are canonical. But why should a national broadcasting corporation be ashamed of being British?

We hear so much about the evil deeds of the British Empire, but an episode of History of Africa dedicated to the British involvement in the ending of slave trade is yet to be seen. In the meantime, The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan fails to mention that between 1808 and 1860 alone, The West African Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed over 150,000 African slaves.

We have heard a lot recently about the Benin Bronzes and their restitution but, in its coverage of the question, the BBC systematically failed to mention that these objects, work of enslaved hands, were seized in 1897 as an act of retaliation after the massacre of an unarmed party of British envoys and a large number of their African bearers, and that the following British expedition put an end to slave trading in Benin.

The way the BBC depicts British history might be the only way many people ever will access this past, and this inaccurate, biased and divisive slandering of the Empire will not do much good.

The BBC claims to be committed to reflecting the diversity of Britain. Promoting diversity of skin tone is a rather cheap substitute for diversity of opinion. In 2020, quotas were announced as targets for 2023 - 50 per cent women; at least 20 per cent black, Asian, or minority ethnic; and 12 per cent disabled.

As for ethnicity targets, are potential employees supposed to take a genetic test to qualify for one of the first categories? Britain is diverse, and so far, it has become inclusive by allowing skilled people, regardless of sex or skin tone, to make use of their talents in all sectors. The quota policy is inherently divisive and nurtures a victimhood mentality, while obfuscating hard work, personal achievements, and merit.

There is no shame in promoting a shared British identity. In its early years, BBC radio was shaped as a polite, slightly high-brow, family-friendly universe, more keen on creating a national British cohesion than on reflecting regional particularities.

During the Second World War, this national dimension took on much greater importance. Addresses from Winston Churchill or George Orwell kept people informed of the situation but, more importantly, gave the audience something to look forward to, and thus created a sense of togetherness.

For the French, “L’appel du 18 Juin 1940”, when Charles de Gaulle stood as the leader of the Free French, was a beacon of hope. And in October that year, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spoke during the Children’s Hour, telling them that “all shall be well in the end”.

Family, faith, and tradition are realities shared by many Britons of various skin tones, and understood by the vast majority of humanity. Many, in Britain and abroad, regardless of faith or ethnicity, will join in to watch the Carol Service and for the King’s Speech.

If Britain’s national broadcasting institution does not respect British identity, why would other countries? Building unity around British history and tradition is sorely needed - and the BBC could and should help to create it.

Marie Kawthar Daouda is stipendiary lecturer in French at Oriel College, University of Oxford