The BBC used to portray people at the bottom of society with sympathy. From the legendary Cathy Come Home through to Growing Up Poor, Auntie like British society more generally saw poverty not as a failure of aspiration but as a failure of society. This week, we learnt the publicly-funded BBC will be using our money to make a show dubbed the 'working class Hunger Games'. The show entitled, 'Britain's Hardest Grafter', is not satire and its producers are advertising for individuals who earn the Minimum Wage or are either under- or unemployed. The professed objective of the show is for the participants to 'prove themselves' (to who?) in a range of challenges, as yet undisclosed.
I don't want to patronise the contestants by claiming they are being exploited. I'm sure all the participants will be willing ones. But I am uneasy about middle-class BBC executives finally giving up on any pretence they serve the public interest and instead rushing to become part of a steady demonisation of working class people. There's a nastiness about programmes that seek to divide people into the deserving and undeserving poor. The BBC want us to believe that those contestants who fail in the first week are not grafters, and therefore undeserving of our sympathy as they eke their lives out their £73.10 jobseekers allowance a week. How long till we see contestants weeping into the cameras as executives rub their hands at the ratings?
Should we be surprised or disappointed? Were this month's election results not enough to prove that vested interests - financiers, rogue landlords, tax evaders - had roundly convinced the electorate that their rights were more important than ours - our rights at work, our public services, our welfare system?
This programme is an example of the divide-and-rule tactic that pervaded the General Election campaign. People were distracted from those at the top, the political and financial elite, that are truly to blame for our economic hardship and instead told to envy the asylum seekers and welfare recipients whose out of work luxury places them in grinding poverty.
Instead of the BBC asking why these people don't earn enough to live on, they pit them against each other for pure voyeurism. Instead of asking why so many hard-working people in Britain toils on zero hour contracts, unable to save for their futures, the BBC try to parade people for our entertainment.
Just to cap this display of tastelessness off, the "prize" for public humiliation is a year's minimum wage. Seeing as the BBC has a duty to be impartial, perhaps for balance we can have a Britain's Greediest Banker with the task of seeing how much taxpayer money they can stuff in their pockets before they get caught? But of course the attraction of Benefits Street is far more titillating than Threadneedle Street.
Working class representation in our media is all too often dominated by the feckless, the workshy, the scrounging in order to represent them as the tip of the iceberg, rather than the exception to the rule. It doesn't take much to work out why the middle-class, public school dominated media continue to maintain the fallacy that people at the bottom of society don't deserve our sympathy. Yet, the BBC used to know better, it is a shame it doesn't now.
We all want to defend the BBC which finds itself increasingly vulnerable from attacks from both the left and the right. It is said to be both culpable of liberal bias and an overtly staunch defence of the establishment. With a new Conservative majority government, I'm sure the BBC is keen to defend itself from the liberal bias charge. But that doesn't defend this programme - and I told them as much in a meeting this week. They had little to say.
If the BBC want to maintain their reputation as a broadcaster of repute and with it defend the current license fee arrangements, it is going to have to think much more carefully about the kinds of behaviour it chooses to use its incredible influence and platform to expose. With our media dominated by right-wing outlets, it isn't hard to find content that attacks those at the bottom of society. It's hard to justify using public money to add to the unending bile directed at the poor.