BBC bias

A former Director General has stated that the BBC did have a “massive bias to the left”, He admits that many BBC journalists struggled to understand Margaret Thatcher’s popularity with many voters, refused to see Euroscepticism as a serious political position and did not want to handle issues like immigration.

He is right to say bias to the left rather than pro Labour. There were many interviews during the Labour years that put Labour Ministers on the spot, just as surely as the BBC put Conservative Ministers on the spot. However, they were attacked for the wars in the Middle East, for their links with the USA, for failing to spend enough on a range of services and projects. The BBC did not take seriously the attacks of those of us who said the government were spending and borrowing too much, or who provided a critique of their approach to the banks and financial crisis,seeking an alternative to nationalisation.

The BBC does have an institutional tendency to think that most public spending is good and more is better. It does have a wish to look for a government solution to every ill. It finds it difficult to understand that some of us are Eurosceptic not because we are little islanders but because we dislike too much government. We are sceptics of the Brussels bureaucracy and legislative machine, not of our geographical or cultural position.

The BBC can show its new enthusiaism for impartiality by ensuring some interviews are conducted from the standpoint that there is no government answer to a given problem, or that any likely government answer will make it worse. It can show it by exposing the waste, incompetence and excessive intervention that characterises so much EU government. If it does so it will find a large number of new friends.

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27 Comments

  1. Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    JR: "There were many interviews during the Labour years that put Labour Ministers on the spot, just as surely as the BBC put Conservative Ministers on the spot."

    Putting a Labour minister 'on the spot' to drive policy further to the left, and putting a Conservative minister on the 'spot' with an aim to drive policy toward the left bias is not impartiality.

    Since the Labour party operates on the 'left' of the political spectrum such bias will benefit the Labour party at the expense of other 'rightest' parties.

  2. Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    There is another bias. Climate change. The BBC is biased and it's against the charter.

    They base their decision on 'a group of scientists told us'

    Who are these scientists?

    They won't tell us. However, as a guess, they are mired in the climate gate affair.

  3. Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I have been sufficiently motivated to complain about bias and factual inaccuracy on a handful of occasions. Caught red-handed (sic!), the BBC attitude is unfailingly smug, attempting to deny the inaccuracy and the slant in reporting it "justified". These events are recent: the bias remains. It is so deeply ingrained in the whole organisation that it is impossible to root it out. The only way to achieve that would be to establish a different organisation altogether in competition with the BBC, but with a similar remit of Reithian ideals, now long lost in left wing parody. The new organisation would be given the World Service contract as a symbol of its impartiality. BBC funding would be sharply curtailed, with a clear timetable to move to a subscription basis.

    • Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      Please be clear what you are wishing. Slash the licence fee and you will axe half the country's great orchestras, Test Match Special and Springwatch. The BBC would soon become a global news and current affairs organisation positioned well to the Left of CNN, catering for a large audience so disposed. The new rival organisation would be non-viable so instead of a repositioned BBC we would have next to nothing. We cannot all afford Sky and subscription websites that cost two thirds of the entire licence fee. Better to try to change the BBC's culture back to where it once was, hard as that may be.

      • Posted September 3, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        If the BBC cuts the areas you prefer that creates the opening for a competitor to supply them. TMS is not expensive programming (we've lost free to air coverage of much sport already on TV – and TMS coverage is already provided on a pay access basis abroad) – nor is Springwatch. The Proms and BBC orchestras can be treated in much the same way as the LSO and Edinburgh Festival.

        If the BBC ends up a Marxist news organisation it will soon lose its audience which will simply become diehards only. The Morning Star was published throughout the Cold War while never having anything more than a tiny readership. Among newspapers the Mirror seems to be suffering some of the sharper falls in circulation, while the Guardian and Independent have narrow and declining circulations. People soon tire of propaganda when they have the opportunity to understand that that is what they are being subjected to.

  4. Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The 2006 charter agreement with the previous government included:

    # A redefinition of the BBC's "public services" (which are considered its prime function):

    * Sustaining citizenship and civil society;
    * Promoting education and learning;
    * Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
    * Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities;
    * Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK;
    * Helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services, and taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.

    # The BBC must display at least one of the following characteristics in all content: high quality, originality, innovation, to be challenging and to be engaging.
    # The BBC must demonstrate that it provides public value in all of its major activities.

    There are two major issues with the BBC: one is bias, the other is barefaced lying: in this the BBC employs a combination of distortion, misrepresentation and total omission to deliberately give a false picture of what is actually happening. However the Orwellian 'public service' objectives of the BBC could easily be deployed to justify this behaviour: if the BBC revealed the behaviours which characterise certain 'communities' both in this country and their alleged homelands, it would no doubt lead to society becoming less civil. As for education, there are very many Humanities departments in our universities which like the BBC interpret their educational remit as cultural grooming.

    There is plenty of accurate and informed opinion on the web which in addition will frequenty provide a detailed analysis of specific programmatic output enabling the BBC's distotions to be accurately calibrated. Nevertheless, the BBC is still reaching vast swathes of people who are less experienced, less intelligent and less enquiring and painting in their minds a wholly false picture of reality which apart from anything else is bound to affect their political views.

  5. Posted September 2, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    BBC bias? – institutionally endemic I think are the words. Why? Because of whom they recruited all those years ago, young aspirants, full of dreams of a better world implanted by LSE beardies, and who, along with the luvvies etc, are now responsible for 'balance'.

    You can see and hear it in the slant and autocue text of both News and Current Affair programmes.

    It will never change whilst the BBC is funded by a TV levy on the public at large.

  6. Posted September 2, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    It is difficult to argue with the aspirational aims (*) noted above. However to my mind the key question is 'why should the every member of the general public be compelled to pay for all this?' The BBC should, in my opinion, become a subscription service allowing people to select the channels they wish to have and enjoy that which they enjoy.

  7. Posted September 2, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    "The BBC does have an institutional tendency to think that most public spending is good and more is better."
    Not hard to see why given the obscene over-indulgence of the senior management!
    Apart from editorial impartiality of breadth and tone it would be refreshing to see some of the old interviewing hacks replaced with new blood. When an 'anchor' host is paid a very high salary the danger is that they feel the need to perform theatrically to justify it. Paxman is a caricature of himself, Wark is often strident and too intrusive, Sopel is curmudgeonly and Maitlis is a waste of space.

    Carrie Gracie – salary £92k by her own admission to George Faulkes – is one to be encouraged and there must be several others who with proper guidlines would help solve this definite problem.

  8. Posted September 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood the BBC must have some value. Sell it to reduce government debt.

    The UK is the only country in the world where consumers pay an hypothicated tax for buying a TV.

  9. Posted September 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Both you and Douglas Carswell post very polite critiques of the BBC however, for those of us who actally watch it from time to time the bias is certain and its prejudice without doubt.

    After 13 years of Labour who could be suprised and, given that its own funding is based upon a socialist model how could they risk not being supportive of the state system and against the free market model.

    The only way forward, unless the Tories are to spend more than a few years with this uneasy relationship, is to privatise the BBC and let those citizens who wish to pay for their services do so.

    In much the same way as the BBC feel uncomfortable at having the prospect of competition thrust uppon them so should the Tories feel uncomfortable in forcing many of their their citizens to support the BBC against their will

    • Posted September 3, 2010 at 1:38 am | Permalink

      I suspect the key is to ensure competition for "their own game", so that Mark Thomson can't criticise Sky and Murdoch as an excuse for failure to perform. A channel that produces news to a more impartial standard, with programming to match, including significant home sourced content.

  10. Posted September 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The Beeb is long past its "Sell By" date. Scrap the licence fee, which will be popular with many voters, and raise some money by selling it off. It currently seems to be the only arm of government (though it's supposed to be independent, I know…) that is not facing some major cuts. Its senior management, of course, pretend that they are facing the axe and so produce all manner of rumours about cutting services and salaries for its top stars, but it's just so much alarmist waffle at the moment. Surely, given Mark Thompson's latest comments on the BBC's leftist bias, it cannot be left to meddle and promulgate political bias in its current form?

  11. Posted September 2, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    I'm not holding my breath!

  12. Posted September 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Like you I consider Margaret Thatcher was a rare breed, an honest politician, and that is why I revered her. She did her best for this country.

    The great pity is she did not get on top of the EU issue which in the end ensured her demise.

    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      If I remember, the reason for her demise was that the men in suits quite rightly recognised that her creative days were past, and had been replaced by a dogmatism that was increasingly unpopular.
      They judged that she would have gone on to lose the next election, and I suspect that indeed she would.

  13. Posted September 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    "We are sceptics of the Brussels bureaucracy and legislative machine, not of our geographical or cultural position."

    Does this mean that you believe Brussel's is capable of meeting the aims and expectations of the various different peoples in a manner that can be termed "representative", and to a degree that can be termed "effective"?

    In short, were Brussel's a little more efficient; would you deem it to be "legitimate"?

    Reply: No, it means what it says. I want less government not more efficient government from the EU

  14. Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    It is irritating that the BBC has this "left" (I would say instead "educated middle class") bias. It would be interesting for someone to add up all the new money that each and every day Radio 4 wants the government to spend. The BBC website also continuously publishes what amount to press releases by NGOs (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, RSPB) without any real critique.

    On the other hand, without the BBC we might well have a situation like America where the news is dominated by Fox "News", courtesy of Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has a ridiculously powerful presence in the UK and without the BBC his media interests would dumb down the political debate in the UK as has happened in the US. I would take middle class propaganda over Murdoch propaganda any day.

    • Posted September 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      What I notice, wab, is that commercial broadcasting has much the same sort of bias. Not so much educated middle class as lazy – just copying out what the cuttings file has in it already, as it were, without doing any serious finding out or thinking. This is as much because of deadlines as a fear of seeming unPC. Leisure to reflect is what is missing. Only when they have finally brought their own civilization crashing down will they have that.

  15. Posted September 3, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    The Conservatives attitude to the BBC is totally frustrating. The only way to reform the BBC is to break it up and sell it. Without that radical approach no reform will be achieved, sure the institution will back pedal a bit to ensure its own survival for a year or three but then all the old faults will re-emerge and come back to haunt the politics of this country.

    This is a clapped out institution way past its useby date, time to give it the chop.

  16. Posted September 3, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    As usual, everybody talks about the BBC as one organisation when it refers to bias, separate the 2 sides out, the entertainments and public service side is the best probably in the world, but the news department is where all the bulk of the criticism is pointed. so as I have been saying now for a while and agree with Robert George break it up, but only into 2 pieces Entertainment / communication and the news. Let the news go private lets see if without our money thay can be as massively staffed as they are now, let's see if they can fly first class and use 5 star hotels everwhere.

  17. Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Here's an example. A few months ago the BBC reported that a trail of Camels were delivering tablets of salt to Timbuktoo. The ancient trail was in jepardy because of global warming. This news item made the national news and was broadcast on the website.
    At the end of the article, the owner of the business delivering the salt said, (I paraphrase), 'The trail is old and camels are inefficient. We've bought some trucks and now we're making good money. It takes days instead of weeks to deliver the salt.'

  18. Posted September 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I sent a complaint to the BBC recently concerning the Story of the Iranian woman who was alledgedly about to get stoned for adultery. It was only after speaking with an Iraqi colleague of mine and validating what he said with some internet research that the woman had already been punished for her adultery (though I did not agree with the lashes she was given I hasten to add) that the stoning was to be administered for the murder of her husband and fraud connected with his estate in collusion with her adulterous affair accompplice. This information was missing from the BBC report. Also what was missing is that this type of "Justice" is a regular occurance in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern Countries – so why focus on Iran? A publicly funded institution always has a tendency to adopt the views of those who supply the money – namely the Government, not the Public.

  19. Posted September 4, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I thought Quentin Letts described the position very eloquently on Any Questions this weekend.

  20. Posted September 6, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The TV Licence is the most draconian tax of all. Council Tax is considered a bad tax and in a way it is but simply because other taxes on incomes are too high so ability to pay is affected heavily by other taxes. Taxing residential & commercial property is not in itself a bad idea as it encourages efficient use or downsizing. Whilst Insurance premium tax might seem unfair because many forms of insurance are compulsory in order to perform a particular activity however these are a choice, you can choose to OWN a car but leave it in a garage uninsured and untaxed.

    You cannot do the same with a TV, in order to simply own television receiving equipment your household must pay TV Tax (even if you do not watch the BBC) To top it all off, the BBC are so inept at cross-referencing that when a TV Licence is under one name and another person occupying the same dwelling buys a TV they send nasty letters about not having a record of a TV Licence IN YOUR NAME at that address without checking if there is one in someone else's

  21. Posted September 7, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    And if it doesn't change – what then?

    After Thatcher got to power the BBC electricians union picked on Dr Who and forced it to scrap an entire series. The point being that the BBC does not want or care to look for new friends.

    Having said that it must maintain it's impartiality.

    So what is needed is to take it's already over bloated news department chop it in half and give the budget to news organisations that are dependent on commerce and the business sector.

    Having 2 independent news organisations with equal and opposite bias is surely the best solution to the problem of never being able to have an unbiased single news solution.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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