In the broadest sense, almost everything you do could be construed as a political act.
For example, if I choose to drink tap-water instead of from a bottle am I making a political decision to protect the environment? If I do the same thing in countries where there is fluoridisation, am I giving my consent to that process? Or it may be that there is no political intent behind it all, I just prefer tap-water to bottled, or viceversa.
This means that definition can be a problem in the run-up to an election or referendum, where there are certain rules about how things must be covered (more on that in time but for now see if you can spot something interesting in this link).
To show you how some definitions can be a little skewed, I just want to give a little example from a few years back.
George Alagiah, to be specific. Please pay particular attention to the last paragraph.
The BBC has received 200 complaints after the newsreader George Alagiah was told to step down as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation charity over impartiality fears.
The BBC said that “a number of factors had been considered” in asking Alagiah to stand down now, one of which was because he was fronting a series on food. The BBC2 series Future of Food begins tomorrow night.
Helen Boaden, the BBC director of news, has refused to back down, saying the corporation’s impartiality needed to be upheld. The Fairtrade Foundation campaigns for the interests of farmers in the developing world.
“It is not the business of BBC journalism to take a view on this or to be perceived to take a view,” Boaden said.
“This is why it is inappropriate for a BBC journalist to take a high-profile, public role representing an organisation which … takes a very particular view of the controversial issue of global trade.”
That rule, if applied equally, isn’t actually such a bad thing.
So now let’s think about Evan Davis for a second.
Evan Harold Davis (born 8 April 1962) is a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. From 2001 to 2008 he was the BBC’s Economics Editor, taking over from Peter Jay. It was a period during which the BBC consciously sought to develop more business friendly journalism. Previously, he had worked on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme from 1997 to 2001. Prior to working for the BBC, Evan had two spells as an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Evan Davis is the presenter of the popular BBC Two show Dragon’s Den. He is also on the Policy Advisory Board of the Social Market Foundation, a neoliberal free market think tank. (Davis is not mentioned in the People section the site of the Social Market Foundation any more but seems to have rather a large play if you search his name there).
So it would seem that the Fair Trade Foundation is a political organisation which takes a particular view of the controversial issue of global trade, a view so “particular” in fact, that BBC journalists must not be dirtied by involvement with it, whilst the Institute For Fiscal Studies and the Social Market Foundation have no particularly controversial views on these matters and BBC journalists can do what the hell they like in them.
It’s something I think campaigners in the indyref will need to be on the lookout for.
Just to nail the point in, here are some non-controversial and non-political views from those think tanks Evan Davis is/was involved with (or people invited by them), who apparently think “the public should be forced to save for a pension unless they specifically opt out”.
In April 2000 Conservative Party leader William Hague delivered a controversial speech to the SMF. Hague proposed the creation of detention centres for asylum seekers, arguing that asylum seekers should be detained in former army barracks because:
People are arriving in Britain armed with expert knowledge of how to exploit our asylum laws; what to say on arrival; how to string out appeals and how to remain here if their cases are eventually turned down.
Writing in The Guardian, David Walker describes the history of the SMF:
The Social Market Foundation was founded by refugees from the collapse of the old Social Democrat party, became pro-Tory, then vaguely New Labour. All along, though, it has stood for diminishing the public sector and reducing the role of public bodies as service providers.
So, nothing political or particular to see, move along, move along.