It was unsurprising to find that right-wing newspapers were pompously pointing fingers at the BBC’s apparent liberal-left bias, using a few odd examples, when its impartiality report came out yesterday.
The Sunday Times said: “the bias has extended across drama, comedy and entertainment, with the corporation pandering to politically motivated celebrities and trendy causes”. The Daily Mail: “BBC comes under fire for institutional left-wing bias”, adding that, “senior figures at the corporation were forced to admit it was guilty of promoting left-wing views and an anti-Christian sentiment”. But as its media correspondent Torin Douglas points out:
In fact, the report doesn’t reach that conclusion – though it does quote people who hold those beliefs – and it also reflects concern over programmes associated with the Make Poverty History campaign, notably The Vicar of Dibley. In fact, the report is a remarkably frank dissection of the BBC’s attempts – and difficulties – in maintaining impartiality in the 21st Century, across its wide range of outlets and programmes.
Former political editor Andrew Marr said the BBC is “a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large”. All this, he said, “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC”.
I don’t know the figures for other groups but ethnic minorities are not over-represented at the BBC. The corporation releases figures on this sort of thing and the numbers are around 9-10%, which reflects the UK but is deeply unreflective of London. Then it comes down to a decision on whether the BBC should recruit the best person for the job (from a pool of applicants) or seek to reflect the ethnic make-up of Britain. If anything, the Beeb seems to have a bias against recruiting too many ethnic minorities.
But there’s two main points to be made.
1) The main report actually signals an official move towards ‘radical impartiality‘ as Peter Horrocks called it last year. I was invited to an internal BBC debate about that remember? As I’ve said before, the BBC should focus less on radical impartiality and more on being informative. The ‘radical impartiality’ initative partly comes from an internal BBC realisation that the consensus on certain issues is shifting and they can do nothing to control that. So they have to invite people on with more radical views. I think this is short-termist thinking.
2) Not enough is said by liberals about the BBC’s more blantant right-wing bias, as Johann Hari did recently. This is dangerous for the left because it means BBC producers will become convinced they have to move further to the right in order to get to the centre-ground. Liberals don’t get annoyed enough about right-wing bias because we see it everywhere, especially in the printed press.
For example, when the Comission for Cohesion and Integration report came out, a feature in BBC news kept referring to it only as “the report” without mentioning the authors or the context, and concentrated only on the troubles local communities faced when new immigrants from Poland moved in. It’s a good, recent example of producers trying to condense a complex debate into a 2 minute package that focuses only on one aspect (and that too coincidentally negative towards immigration). Liberal-left bias at the BBC? Pah!
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