BBC producer dismisses left-wing bias claims: 'We struggle to find right-wing comics'

Victoria Bell
·4 mins read
Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on <em>Have I Got News For You</em>. (BBC)
Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You. (BBC)

A BBC producer has admitted he "struggles to find right-wing comedians" to appear on Have I Got News For You.

Responding to accusations that the satirical quiz show is too left-wing, its executive producer Richard Wilson said the problem wasn't BBC bias, but a lack of Conservative comics.

While he often puts right-wing columnists on the teams, he said, they tend to get into rows with other panellists, which "sours the atmosphere".

Speaking to The Times, Wilson, who says he himself is right-wing, said: “Most people who work in the comedy business will be left-wing.

“It is by its nature slightly anti-establishment and subversive, and it has got a young audience. But we try and leaven it as much as possible. Predictable jokes we try and cut out.

“It is not something that we don’t try and address. It is definitely the case that there aren’t many right-wing comics. It’s not like America, where there are a lot of right-wing commentators who are funny.”

The BBC’s impartiality has been subject to debate in recent months. (Getty)
The BBC’s impartiality has been subject to debate in recent months. (Getty)

It comes after the BBC's new director-general Tim Davie warned staff to steer clear of tweeting their political opinions, saying if stars wanted to be “opinionated” or a “partisan campaigner on social media”, they “should not be working at the BBC".

The BBC’s impartiality has been subject to debate in recent months, and Davie, who replaced Lord Hall as the corporation’s boss on Tuesday, believes it must be addressed.

Read more: New BBC boss bans journalists from posting ‘partisan’ tweets

In a letter to staff, he said his “guiding principle is that we are a universal public service, a BBC for all, that serves and represents every part of this country”.

But the stringent new rules might present problems for the BBC’s comedy arm and put substantial pressure on BBC executives to find pro-Tory, pro-Brexit comedians.

Tim Davie arrives at BBC Scotland in Glasgow for his first day as BBC director-general of the BBC. (PA)
Tim Davie arrives at BBC Scotland in Glasgow for his first day as BBC director-general of the BBC. (PA)

Wilson, 58, has had Conservative columnists like Rod Liddle, Peter Hitchens and Camilla Long on the show, but said: "If you have an opinionated columnist who is used to winning an argument, what you end up with is quite a feisty row which won’t necessarily have many laughs in it.”

He also said the show is attacked by “both left and right”, but that criticism has been increasing over the years because “people are just so touchy these days”.

Victoria Coren Mitchell, who occasionally hosts the show, also told The Times: “This talk of Have I Got News For You being too left-wing is absurd. It’s just anti-establishment! Donald Trump is anti-establishment, is he left-wing?"

The BBC has come under scrutiny many times in the past from commentators who believe the corporation’s coverage isn’t fair and equal enough, particularly its political coverage.

Lord Hall, former director-general of the BBC, pictured outside New Broadcasting House. (PA)
Lord Hall, former director-general of the BBC, pictured outside New Broadcasting House. (PA)

In July, Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis sparked controversy for a monologue in which she said government adviser Dominic Cummings “broke the rules” by driving to Durham during lockdown and that “the country can see that, and it's shocked the government cannot”.

The BBC said the episode “did not meet our standards of due impartiality”, while head of news Fran Unsworth said it belonged “more on the op-ed page in a newspaper”.

Last year, BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty caused controversy for criticising US president Trump for perceived racism.

Read more: Emily Maitlis is 'extraordinarily aggressive and intimidating’ says Tory MP

Trump had tweeted calling for four Democratic congresswomen to “go back to where they came from”, a phrase Munchetty said was “embedded in racism”.

The presenter told viewers she too had been told to “go back to where she came from” because of the colour of her skin.

The BBC initially partially upheld a complaint against the presenter, saying she had breached editorial guidelines, before then director-general Lord Hall reversed the decision.

Munchetty was supported by numerous high-profile figures prior to the overturning of the decision.