BBC News: Balance And Bias

Former Director of BBC News James Harding

Because it is not reliant on advertising or on subscriptions for income the BBC need not always pursue the popular option.  Therefore, it can offer a wider variety of TV and radio programmes than the commercial channels.  This is as true of news and current affairs programmes as it is of any entertainment show.  The BBC does not have to broadcast pseudo-debate garbage similar to Sky News’ ‘The Pledge’ and does not have to broadcast continuous angry bigot phone-ins similar to most of the output on commercial radio station LBC.  

The BBC could rely on intelligent, informative news and current affairs shows that explore a variety of perspectives and always seek to give a complete analysis rather than thrusting created controversy at the viewers and listeners.  It could choose relevant and intelligent participants over professional screaming heads and trolls.  It could choose quality over news-as-entertainment.  Sadly, BBC news and current affairs almost always choose the latter options.  

An example of the BBC evading intelligent discussion is the fact that the Question Time panel almost always has a fifth element drawn from the malodorous bag of professional right-wing think-tanks.  The think-tanks are agenda driven cons that eschew facts and present fallacious arguments to support extreme free-market ideologies.  

(ex-)Tax-Payers’ Alliance, Centre For Policy Studies and CapX/Unherd on Question Time

Question Time also prefers to give a platform to far-right screaming heads and professional trolls rather than to a guest with useful information or to a guest who is representative of the public on a particular issue.  Working-class activists are denied a voice.  The best the marginalised can expect is a pop star or a footballer.  

Far-right screaming heads on Question Time

On a programme like Question Time the invitation to a professional confidence trickster rather than a genuine representative voice is a consequence of both a desire for dumb (populist) entertainment and of an overwhelming infestation of bubble-dwelling establishment junkies among management and decision-makers.  BBC managers and producers marginalise spokespersons for the people.  The in-house normalisation of elite-only perspectives has become ingrained.  

For news broadcasts, facts should always trump (no pun) opinions.  The confusion between facts and opinions should be left at Fox News.  Sadly, fact-checking – live or post-comment – has declined in quantity at the BBC.  Guests and interviewees, including politicians, know that they can spout a list of lies and inventions that will probably not be challenged.  It is the responsibility of the interviewer and their colleagues off camera to ensure that the lies are challenged immediately and the facts broadcast.  This responsibility is shirked because there is a culture at BBC News that chooses to not value accuracy and facts highly enough.  Facts are merely on a list of options to use.

The lack of challenge to a false statement is partly due to an obsession at the BBC that all opinions should be broadcast.  This is not ‘balance.’  An opinion that includes lies and/or is informed by lies is not a valid opinion.  Responsible broadcasting is the antithesis of letting everyone proclaim whatever garbled fraudulent tripe they want to.   Balance does not mean allowing any professional troll, any performing seal, to make a living out of deliberately dishonest anti-logical arguments with the intent of suffocating rational, informative discussion.

Performing seal – library photo

Radio 4’s ‘Today’ show remains determined to eschew didactic analysis and instead focus on pie throwing.  No matter what topic an intelligent guest wishes to talk about, the production team will find a worthless pseudo-adversary to mount a dumb pointless rebuttal.  This is not balance.  It is an insult to the listeners. 

At BBC News there is a deliberate misunderstanding of the meaning of and the structure of balance in a news programme.  The (possibly wilful) ignorance of the meaning of balance in broadcasting puts silly entertainment ahead of any attempt to inform the public and it denies a thorough investigation of the issue being discussed.

BBC biased?
BBC News has been accused of bias by many observers of varied political hues.  The most vociferous condemnations occurred during the first Scottish independence referendum campaign (accusations of anti-independence bias) and during the first UK general election this year (accusations of anti-Corbyn bias).  Although they are understandable observations the veracity of the bias described above is doubtful.  The bias that does exist is not specifically anti a particular political outlook or party.  The bias is an ingrained almost intrinsic partiality to support the establishment.  This continuity bias is an inevitable consequence of BBC News being rammed full of the trained protectors of the elite produced by the private school conveyor belt.

An interesting and gormlessly stupid residue of the BBC’s ignorance of true balance is its apparent sensitivity to accusations of bias aimed at it from the far-right.  The “left liberal elite” BBC cliché is a standard push-point howled by UKIP and others as a tool to try to re-position the BBC’s acceptance of where the middle-ground in the political spectrum lies.  The false nature of such accusations is obvious but BBC News chooses to use these complaints in its defence against accusations of bias directed at it from a left-of-centre perspective: “We are accused of bias from both left and right” is a common refrain used to dismiss genuine and lucid complaints.  This stance is lazy, dishonest and insulting.

BBC News is stuck
The BBC is criticised more than other broadcasters because it is publicly funded.  It is under constant pressure from right-wing media and the Murdoch broadcasting empire because they cannot control it.  The Tories’ ultimate objective is to destroy the BBC.  Thus, it is understandable if the BBC is fearful of being radical and challenging with its news output.

Years of selective recruitment have narrowed the range of perspectives in senior BBC positions.  Not only is there limited knowledge of which views on political issues need to be broadcast but there is also ignorance of this lack of knowledge: Unknown unknowns.

Local BBC news is less diminished by the aforesaid narrow range; there, recruitment has been focussed more on ability than on which school the applicant attended.  Conversely, at 5live, packed full of alumni of the best private schools, the news bulletins emit rhetoric that would sit comfortably in a Paul Dacre editorial.

BBC News is stuck in its current predicament.  It can change but the evolution won’t be smooth.

The Sound Of Silence

Related blog: Harding resigns

BBC News: Balance And Bias

5 thoughts on “BBC News: Balance And Bias

  1. […] Every mainstream British TV channel, radio station and newspaper uses free-market think-tanks to supply “experts” for group debate, analysis and opinion pieces.  Sometimes these voices are presented by the media as corporatist perspective on the topic being discussed but often they are cast as “independent” voices.  The latter scenario is fraudulent and deceitful; the media outlet hosting the think-tank member is sometimes party to this deceit, sometimes not.  If the media outlet is unaware of the fraudulent independence claim then sheer laziness coupled with misplaced urgency to get someone to comment are the causes of the error.  The think-tanks know that most media outlets are hurried and desperate to get a talking head on quickly to compete with other outlets, and the former have nurtured contacts with gullible staff so that there are always think-tank voices ready and available.  The BBC is particularly culpable with the ease on which the free market think-tanks are able to get themselves airtime as false “independent” voices.  (see BBC News: Balance and Bias) […]

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