Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Is the BBC biased or not?

Yesterday, The House of Commons debated whether the obligatory BBC licence fee which supports programmes like the 'Blue Planet' and wonderful comedies like 'Upstart Crow', along with Radio 3 and the Proms should continue. They had to debate this due to an online petition signed by many people: "Abolish the tv licence, it shouldn't be a legal requirement" (E-petition 170931 and 200239) 

Overall, the MPs who spoke love the BBC, but only a few speakers got the hidden 'message' in the E-petition that triggered this debate, a probable protest at 'BBC bias'. One MP, Julian Knight (Solihull), who had worked for the BBC tackled the bias issue and shared the following insights:
  • if there is bias at the BBC it is cultural bias coming from the editorial and creative staff themselves
  • it is not due to active bias in the editorial process
  • the majority of those working for the BBC hold globalist, left-wing views, a problem of biased recruitment of certain types of people with 'Guardian reader' worldviews
  • a small minority, who are not Guardian readers, meet up by the coffee machines and 'whisper together' ....
  • the only newspapers in the BBC news editorial meetings are the Financial Times and the Guardian
  • the BBC's overriding aim is impartiality
  • the 'despite Brexit' phrase used on BBC News is being corrected, in updated producer guidelines. It was due to the shock felt by most BBC staff on 23 June 2016 about Brexit.  
One can see BBC newscasters' saying 'despite Brexit' as not being incorrect in itself. Everyone expects some short term negative effects from leaving the EU. However, only people who voted Remain would actually say it, because Leavers tend to consider wider issues than economics.

The challenge is whether the theoretically 'balanced' BBC can recruit in a balanced way from among the full range of creative people (including creative Christians) for mainstream, high profile roles? 

The relevant text of Mr Knight's speech is quoted here:
BBC bias has been mentioned today. I have never believed that anyone has a meeting at the BBC and says, “We are going to be biased today”. No one ever does that. It is below the line—it is a cultural thing, because there are people with similar mindsets and from similar background s. I remember in news meetings being struck that the two newspapers on offer were The Guardian and the Financial Times, and that was it. They were the news sources and leads for the day. I did not ever quite 'get' the idea of story generation coming from a newspaper; it seemed behind the times, particularly in a 24-hour news environment. The Hon. Member for City of Chester said the BBC was “full of lefties”, but there were some right wingers, some Tories, in there—I was one. We had to keep it rather quiet and sometimes meet by the coffee machines, to whisper our disapproval at certain news lines.
There is a real longer-term difficulty with BBC impartiality, which it is reviewing right now as part of its producer guidelines. It is important that it does not over-editorialise and bring in too much comment. 
There is also what I call the “despite Brexit” coverage of economics stories. That does not come from people thinking that they need to do whatever they can to frustrate the will of the British people—that is not the way it has been thought about. Many people in the organisation felt a certain way about the referendum. Quite rightly, they realised that they needed to double down on impartiality at election and referendum times, as my Hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) mentioned, particularly after the criticism that they had following the Scottish referendum. They made a point of being utterly straight. I think many felt a sort of collective guilt that at the time of the referendum, that they could have explained the difficulties that would ensue from areas such as our trading relationships or the differences between the single market, the customs union and things such as European Free Trade Association, but did not explain them enough. That guilt came across in the “despite Brexit” coverage that we had for several months. I have seen a bit of a turning of the dial on that recently. From conversations I have had with people at the BBC, I think they were aware that it was happening but they did not quite know how to pull it back. They have done so now, and it has improved considerably.

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