Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Biased Broadcasting Corporation?

Okay I know what some of you are thinking. Members of both main parties (as well as most of the minor ones) criticise the BBC for bias at some point or another. But does that mean we should dismiss all such criticisms or give them consideration?

I remember a while ago when the BBC News website ran an "On This Day" piece about the introduction of the "right to buy" policy. (BBC On This Day: 20 December 1979: Council tenants will have 'right to buy') The "in context" section did not provide a balanced consideration of the impact of the policy but instead was a one sided listing of problems generated, with not a word about the social revolution the policy brought about or its popularity. A complaint elicited the following response:

I have re-read our report on the right-to-buy policy and looked again at the research in the light of your comments. You were quite right to point out that the In Context section of this particular story did not give any details about the take-up of the right-to-buy and therefore appeared rather one-sided.

The In Context section of this report has now been partly re-written and amended to give the story a more balanced perspective.
It seems others have not been so successful in raising concerns about BBC bias in current affairs reporting. Robin Aitken worked for the corporation for twenty-five years and describes some of the attitudes he encountered. (This Is London: What is the loneliest job in Britain? Being a Tory at the BBC) Highlights include:

But by the time I was appointed BBC Scotland's business and economics correspondent in 1981, I had doubts. The BBC in Scotland was deeply antagonistic towards the Conservative Government; our narrative was one of devastating industrial decline and Government heartlessness... But surely if BBC impartiality meant anything, we would have balanced our story by emphasising the growing banking, oil and electronics industries. Instead, we constantly lamented the closure of shipyards and fretted about the ailing Ravenscraig steelworks.
By the time I moved to London to work on the Money Programme in 1989, Thatcherite economics could no longer be dismissed: they worked. The Left's bitterness towards Thatcher, however, was undiminished. The real Britain was recovering, but inside the Money Programme offices it was a gloomy economic winter where every privatisation was doomed and government spending was ruthlessly cut to satisfy wicked monetarists.
John Major had little opportunity to enjoy his success; within months, Sterling was ejected from the Exchange Rate Mechanism and his Government never recovered. The BBC mounted a barrage of negative coverage on everything from the NHS to sleaze. That was coupled with a devotion to the European ideal. I remember arguing with a senior editor about the Maastricht Treaty and saying it was an issue of democracy, not economics. He told me I was mad. As the 1997 Election approached, the Government was constantly on the defensive and the BBC was often happy to do Labour's Opposition work for it.
At a Forum meeting in December 2000, I suggested to Greg Dyke, the new director-general, that there should be an internal inquiry into bias. Dyke, a Labour Party donor and member along with BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, mumbled a muddled reply. As he left the meeting, I overheard him demand angrily of his PA: "Who was that f****r?" At the end of the meeting a reporter from the BBC staff magazine Ariel asked for more details but warned me that "controversial" topics were often spiked. Sure enough, not a word appeared.
If the Metropolitan Police was "institutionally racist", I wrote, the BBC was "institutionally Leftist"... As one senior news presenter told me: "Anybody who attacks the Labour Government is always coming from the Left, and the Tories are written off as insane or - if there's the slightest chance of them getting anywhere - evil." ... What would the BBC have said if the Metropolitan Police, faced with accusations of racism, had held a brief internal inquiry that concluded that there was no problem?

Bias not only stifles public debate; it is destructive for the corporation, too. Adherence to a left-of-centre agenda brought the BBC to its biggest crisis in decades and one I witnessed at close quarters on Today.
In 2007, there is a solid consensus within the BBC on most issues of private morality and, in many cases, public policy. One presenter described the sense of superiority that working at the BBC confers on its staff. "It's the whole thing that 'we know best' and it's our responsibility to educate the poor unfortunates beneath us in how things should be."
Now I'm not going to deny the BBC has produced good quality programmes, because it has. Equally I'm not going to deny its international reputation, especially in countries with less independent media. But it is concerning that accusations of left-wing bias (and I mean "left-wing" not "pro Labour" - it's telling that criticism of Labour is made from the left) routinely surface and are glibly dismissed. These latest accusations are not those of some ranting party member, they are from a former BBC journalist of twenty-five years standing.

The charges of BBC bias aren't going to go away and already some are seeking to use them to reinforce their calls for an end to the licence fee and public service broadcasting. Such a move would be a pity - do we really want another Channel 5, only one was can all receive?

1 comment:

Rexpansive said...

The bias in the BBC is disgusting. I am constantly amazed that the right of centre shows its impotence and inefficacy by tolerating this problem.
When are we going to see some leadership?


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