Thursday, 28 November 2019

BBC - it's worse than an anti-Corbyn bias

Politicians like to claim that the BBC is biased against them, and the BBC’s usual response is that, as long as all parties are saying that, they’re probably being balanced.  That seems a bit simplistic to me.  Two recent complaints involve the use of archive footage instead of actual coverage of the PM laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and the editing out of laughter when the same PM was asked about the importance of truth in politics.  This week has seen a suggestion that when Corbyn agreed to be interviewed by Andrew Neil it was on the basis of the BBC having indicated to his team that Johnson would be subjected to the same interviewer; a suggestion which it appears may not be true.  Any one such incident ‘might’ be excused as an innocent ‘mistake’, but at what point is it reasonable to highlight an emerging pattern of bias?
Andrew Neil is a tough interviewer, and whilst some of us might enjoy seeing our least-favourite politicians skewered, it would also be nice to see them given time and opportunity to answer a question or two.  And Neil’s questions are often loaded as well.  I remember my English teacher over half a century ago talking about loaded questions, using the classic example of the journalist asking someone “When did you stop beating your wife?”, a question which, however it is answered, leaves the listener convinced that the interviewee is indeed a past or present wife-beater.  Neil’s loading is a bit more subtle than that, but it’s there, nevertheless. 
Take his questions on nuclear weapons or dealing with the leaders of ISIS as examples.  The implication behind the questions is that no-one is fit to be PM unless (s)he is willing to confirm that (s)he would order:
a.    The incineration of millions of civilians in a nuclear strike, and
b.    The extra-judicial killing of foreign nationals in the territory of another sovereign state.
Both are, of course, illegal actions for any government to take under accepted international law, but the demand is that the interviewee give a categorical answer regardless of the complexities of the situation at the time – and the assumption is that there is only one ‘correct’ answer.  This is more than party political bias – this is bias towards a particular view of the world which refuses to accept the validity of any other viewpoint.
I wouldn’t argue that the BBC should treat all world views as equivalent; giving the same weight to an ISIS viewpoint as that of a more general ‘western’ viewpoint would be an absurd requirement (although it might help the BBC in its mission to inform and educate if it just occasionally made an effort to understand and explain alternative viewpoints rather than simplistically labelling their adherents using a catch-all word like ‘terrorists’), but the argument is rather different when it comes to domestic politics.  Corbyn’s world view is clearly not the same as Johnson’s, and the Greens, SNP and Plaid also have their own world views.  Failure to treat all of those as equivalent, particularly in the context of a general election, goes beyond mere bias for a ‘British’ view rather than a ‘foreign’ one and directly intervenes in domestic politics, something which a state-run broadcaster in a ‘democracy’ simply should not be doing.
The BBC is unquestionably biased, but it isn’t as simple as being biased towards a particular party and against others.  It’s more of an insidious, institutionalised bias in favour of one view of what the world is and should be, and it’s a bias which delegitimises alternative views.  And it’s much harder to deal with that sort of bias than a simple party-political one.


dafis said...

BBC has been "defective" as a neutral commentator/investigator for decades. It has always favoured a certain "institutional" line which evolves/modifies itself slowly with the passing of time. That is recognised by a significant segment of our society both here in Wales and in wider UK.

Surprising therefore that there is still only a low support for the removal of the licence fee, cutting the BBC adrift to peddle its biased service to those willing to pay for it. ITV supports its own biased service on a mix of advertising revenue and sale of programmes to 3rd parties. BBC already has a steady flow of production & 3rd party sales which could be grown to support a leaner outfit where fat cats would not be so willingly tolerated ( or the fat cats could get down to doing some real work !)

John Dixon said...

"Surprising therefore that there is still only a low support for the removal of the licence fee, cutting the BBC adrift to peddle its biased service to those willing to pay for it." Perhaps; but I'm not sure that completely giving up on the idea that there should be an impartial publicly-owned broadcaster would be a better outcome...

dafis said...

Perhaps a publicly owned broadcaster might work better in an independent Wales. The current edition, BBC UK, is purely an organ for the hard core of British institutional values and policy stances. A protected species that has become bloated and defective.