The Beeb… is the Spanish Inquisition still with us?

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The Beeb… is the Spanish Inquisition still with us?

Douglas Fraser highlights the parallels between the BBC and the Spanish Inquisition.

“No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition” said Monty Python. Stanley Baldwin’s government did not expect the modern equivalent when setting up the British Broadcasting Corporation, an institution which similarly enforces conformance of opinion and is accountable to no-one. Fortunately the BBC has not literally had those of whom it disapproves burnt at the stake but its baleful influence on political and social topics has become plain. On Brexit in particular, the BBC is unashamed to promote its own line through its choice of news items and commentators.

The Spanish Inquisition was set up in 1478 by a Papal Bull issued at the request of King Ferdinand, following his conquest of the whole of Spain. Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity but many paid lip service to their new religion whilst honouring their own in secret. The first focus of the Inquisition was on rooting out these “false Christians” but attention shifted to Protestants and to Roman Catholics who did not comply with the Truth as defined by the Inquisition. Thought control was effected through direct intimidation (or elimination) of heretics and through the banning of unapproved publications.

It did not have control of a major broadcasting organisation but just think what the Inquisition could have done with the BBC. However, the parallel between the Spanish Inquisition and the BBC is much stronger than in just seeking to enforce a monolithic set of approved opinions and values.

The Pope had no control over the Inquisition but as time went on it became apparent that the king did not have much either. It was the king who selected the Inquisitor General and at the outset the state provided the funds he needed. But by confiscating the property of those who came before it, the Inquisition soon became financially self-reliant. These confiscations were in theory on behalf of the state but in practice were retained by the Inquisition. Thus with its own source of finance and only infrequent jousting over the appointment of a new Inquisitor General, the Inquisition gained increasing independence from the monarchy. The ultimate manifestation of this independence was in the eighteenth century when the Inquisition started to interfere politically. One minister of the crown who wrote in support of the pre-eminence of the monarchy was denounced by the Inquisition and dismissed from office.

As The Enlightenment took effect in the rest of Europe, in Spain the Inquisition became an increasingly strong force against change. The Intendant of Seville and Andalucia in 1767 who developed a programme of educational reform was arrested by the Inquisition, disappeared for two years and following a secret trial, banished to a monastery for eight years more. Conflict between the Inquisition and politicians escalated until in 1813 it was abolished during a period of political and social instability.

The Spanish Inquisition was a public body which sought to define how people thought, in what it genuinely believed was their interest. It was accountable to neither state nor Pope, largely because it had its own source of income. It was prepared to promote a political position counter to that of the government.

The Inquisition had to be abolished because it had become corrupt, not in terms of money, but in terms of power. This is probably the ultimate outcome of all such bodies, making it essential to reform or eliminate them when they develop an independent sense of mission and accept leadership only from within themselves.

How about the BBC?

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