The BBC’s apparent left-wing bias


by Sunny
20th June, 2007 at 4:24 pm    

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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  1. Jagdeep — on 20th June, 2007 at 4:54 pm  

    They all have it in for the BBC, the Times, Telegraph, the Daily Mail — to their fevered imaginations it is the brothel out of which Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Black Mischief’ anxieties are writ large as Africans and Asians conspire to spread voodoo as homosexuals and transvestites plot to look the other way as Muslims in the basement of White City plot the downfall of Western Civilisation.

    Right wingers really whine like bitches alot these days, don’t they?

  2. ZinZin — on 20th June, 2007 at 4:58 pm  

    Right wingers really whine like bitches alot these days, don’t they?

    Right-wing whingers should be a term of abuse used by liberals and lefties. In their minds anyone claiming a state benefit has a better standard of living than themselves.

    Chris Moyles an example of right-wing bias? Bad taste bias is more apt ditto Little Britain with it homosexual writer and performer Matt Lucas.

  3. Alex — on 20th June, 2007 at 5:04 pm  

    I wonder what on earth “politically motivated celebrities” are?

  4. Bishop Hill — on 20th June, 2007 at 5:25 pm  

    I must say, I don’t think any of you actually really believe that the BBC has a right wing bias. But if you truly do, we should be able to agree that privatisation is the best course.

  5. ZinZin — on 20th June, 2007 at 5:30 pm  

    Bono and Chris Martin come to mind. They can’t write a decent song between them, but they expect us to believe that they can save the world. ;)

  6. Vasey — on 20th June, 2007 at 5:43 pm  

    “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.”

    Yeah, and? It’s the BBC, not the LBC.

  7. Gump — on 20th June, 2007 at 6:10 pm  

    Following on from above…
    How is there a bias against recruiting ethnic minorities if the figure they have (9-10%) is reflective of the UK?

  8. sahil — on 20th June, 2007 at 6:21 pm  

    “How is there a bias against recruiting ethnic minorities if the figure they have (9-10%) is reflective of the UK?”

    A disproportionate number of ethnic minorities apply to the BBC. Hence their no. should be > 10% if all applicants have the same abilities.

  9. septicisle — on 20th June, 2007 at 6:31 pm  

    I mostly agree – does anyone remember the reports after Kamel Bourgass was found guilty, which hardly bothered to mention that there was no ricin found and that his alleged co-conspirators were innocent? It was some of the worst, least questioning journalism I’d ever seen on the BBC. The Home Affairs team on the 10 O’Clock News also increasingly comes across to me as right-wing; Margaret Gilmore seemed appalling so, as does Mark Easton now.

  10. Riz — on 20th June, 2007 at 6:39 pm  

    off point, I used to like the BBC News but they spend too much time introducing upcoming stories and switching between newscasters/presenters and their stories lack depth. Now its C4 news nearly all the way, with Newsnight still ruling the top spot. I am getting old.

  11. Jagdeep — on 20th June, 2007 at 7:48 pm  

    OT — Sunny, what’s the lowdown on the successor to Piara Khabra in the Southall Labour Party? (may he rest in peace)

  12. Vasey — on 20th June, 2007 at 7:51 pm  

    “A disproportionate number of ethnic minorities apply to the BBC. Hence their no. should be > 10% if all applicants have the same abilities.”

    I’m going to have to ask you to show some numbers for that because when I went for an interview at the BBC I can’t recall a single ethnic minority amongst the pool of applicants that day.

  13. Bishop Hill — on 20th June, 2007 at 10:08 pm  

    That’s an interesting point about ethnic minorities applying in disproportionate numbers for the BBC. Since the Beeb is, IIRC, required to have a diversity policy which requires them to ensure that their staff mix reflects the ethnic mix of the UK, presumably it is irrelevant (a)whether ethnic minorities apply in disproportionate numbers or even (b) if they are better qualified/suited to the job.

    Quotas bite back?

  14. Sunny — on 20th June, 2007 at 10:27 pm  

    Bishop, most people will apply for jobs with companies they can easily travel too. I don’t doubt that people all over the country apply to the BBC but my feeling is that since the org is based in London, a higher than 10% of candidates will be of ethnic minority background. This may be lower due to cultural reasons (they may not see the BBC as an org for them) but generally this is changing.

    Now the question is, should an org recruit on talent or to reflect ethnic mix? Right wingers love to say that talent should be the only criteria, but this seems to apply only when ethnic minorities apply in very small numbers. What if ethnic minorities apply in large numbers? What should be the position then?

    This mirrors another debate. The BBC Newsround programme was recently accused of spending too much time interviewing non-white kids from London schools. That of course reflects London. Other people were saying the BBC should reflect the rest of the country. Sure, but its unlikely a BBC team will quickly head to Newcastle for a quick package that needs to be produced within 2 hours with 5 min of footage. So should the BBC then ignore non-white kids in a local area so it can represent whites? Should programming also reflect ethnic diversity in quotas? I think the right is very hypocritical in this debate.

    On whether the BBC has a right-wing bias. Like a liberal bias, I don’t think its institutional as much as individual producers. But the left says little of it when it should say more IMO.

  15. Sunny — on 20th June, 2007 at 11:15 pm  

    I just realised this post should have been called apparent left-wing bias instead of right-wing. whoops.

  16. Puffy — on 20th June, 2007 at 11:43 pm  

    What proportion of BBC staff were privately-educated I wonder? Bet it’s far in excess of the 5 per cent or so in the population as a whole…

    Race is a chimera – class is the thing.

  17. Jagdeep — on 20th June, 2007 at 11:56 pm  

    The BBC Newsround programme was recently accused of spending too much time interviewing non-white kids from London schools.

    That’s a beauty. What gnarled up little bitter and twisted proto-bully sits there scratching his balls in rage because of the number of darkie children in Newsround? That’s something deeply pathological. Pathetic whining saps.

  18. Don — on 21st June, 2007 at 12:07 am  

    …its unlikely a BBC team will quickly head to Newcastle for a quick package…

    There is actually a BBC in Newcastle, you know.

    In fact, if it were less metro-centric it might well reflect the prevailing mix in whichever centre were competetive enough to get national air time, be it Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol or Glasgow. Or Truro, come to that.

  19. j0nz — on 21st June, 2007 at 1:46 am  

    Jesus christ sunny. Even left-wing labour supporters acknowledge the left wing bias. What other news organisation would report an Afghan suicide bomber, who kills 3 innocents, with the headline Nato Kills Civilian?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6759309.stm

    ok, ok, perhaps the indy, mirror, and guardian…

    The daily mail for the lefties

  20. Sunny — on 21st June, 2007 at 2:25 am  

    j0nz, you think it may be something to do with the fact that while suicide bombers are quite regular there, killing of innocent Afghanis by Nato forces isn’t?

  21. Bishop Hill — on 21st June, 2007 at 6:40 am  

    Right wingers love to say that talent should be the only criteria, but this seems to apply only when ethnic minorities apply in very small numbers. What if ethnic minorities apply in large numbers? What should be the position then?

    I think that as a general rule employers should be able to make their own minds up about who to employ. Nobody is bothered about the ethnic mix at Sky, so why is a it a big deal with the BBC? Privatise it and the problem goes away.

  22. Refresh — on 21st June, 2007 at 8:58 am  

    I want to know what left wing and right wing means in terms of the coverage of Iraq and Iran.

    Is it that by being right wing, we would free the armed forces to kill and maim without question?

    Or we should allow the government to lie to us? Or that we become willing advocates of murder on a grand scale?

    Does anybody understand the difference between Nato forces killing innocent civilians and suicide bombers doing the same?

  23. Refresh — on 21st June, 2007 at 8:59 am  

    correction: “in terms of the coverage of Iraq and Iran” should be Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

  24. justforfun — on 21st June, 2007 at 9:18 am  

    Does anybody understand the difference between Nato forces killing innocent civilians and suicide bombers doing the same?

    Isn’t it a matter of intent? if looked at from those of us that remain alive.

    For those that are dead, it is the same.

    Refresh – I agree with your sentiment – why is this a Left Right issue?

    Justforfun

  25. brachyury — on 21st June, 2007 at 9:25 am  

    ‘radical impartiality’
    Do you remember the debate a short time ago over housing policy (waiting lists vs greatest need)? Well I thought the BBC implicitly showed its opinion when it invited Nick Griffin onto Newsnight to support waiting lists.
    I personally lean towards waiting lists myself– but the BBC tarred me as a racist (and the Labour MP whos’ name escapes me) by choosing NG as a representative of my view.
    I’m pretty sure a lot of Muslims must feel similarly when they get some muslim brotherhood or HUT loony on to represent them.
    Indeed as I was leaving for work the other day I heard that 5Live were having NG again followed by someone from Respect.
    ‘radical impartiality’ eh?

  26. Katherine — on 21st June, 2007 at 3:28 pm  

    “I don’t think any of you actually really believe that the BBC has a right wing bias”

    Bishop Hill – so when Sunny says he doesn’t believe the BBC has a left wing bias, you disbelieve him? Do you think he is lying, or what?

    Here you go – I’ll say it – I think the BBC has a right wing bias. Don’t believe me? Why?

  27. Bishop Hill — on 21st June, 2007 at 8:18 pm  

    Katherine

    There are two reasons I say this.

    People on the left seem to claim that the BBC is right wing when there is some prominent news story where the BBC is accused of being left-wing. It strikes me as a defensive reaction – a negotiating position if you like.

    The other reason is that you never hear anyone on the left calling for the BBC to be sold off/ senior management fired/ etc etc. If you think it’s right wing, and I think it’s on the left, let’s just agree to abolish the licence fee. At least neither of us is paying for it then. We should both be happy with that. (If you really do believe what you’re saying).

  28. Sunny — on 21st June, 2007 at 8:37 pm  

    If you think it’s right wing, and I think it’s on the left, let’s just agree to abolish the licence fee

    Errr no. The answer to a bad situation would be to correct it, not make it worse. Privatised stations not only end up dumbing down further, but inevitably move to the right even further.

    The solution here is to force the BBC to higher editorial standards, not sell it off. The market will not deliver better news.

  29. ZinZin — on 21st June, 2007 at 8:43 pm  

    This is going nowhere. The only biases being proven here are the commenters.

    Those who accuse others of bias reveal their own.

  30. Rumbold — on 21st June, 2007 at 9:46 pm  

    “Privatised stations not only end up dumbing down further, but inevitably move to the right even further.”

    That rather suggests that the private channels are responding to public demand; not everybody supports the Islington world view.

  31. Sunny — on 21st June, 2007 at 10:51 pm  

    That rather suggests that the private channels are responding to public demand; not everybody supports the Islington world view.

    Not necessarily. In an increasingly fragmented market, as is the case, news stations are forced to respond by becoming more sensationalist and dumbing down news as entertainment so they can get the widest possible audience. The market for proper coverage becomes so small that its then not sustained because proper journalism requires invesment. Just look at the poor state of broadcast news in America as a good example. HEaven forbid that was to happen here.

  32. nobodyshero — on 22nd June, 2007 at 4:38 am  

    The only bias the bbc has is against good taste. Is The channel boring or what. Listen virgin media bring back sky news others wise im getting a satelite dish

  33. Bishop Hill — on 22nd June, 2007 at 8:07 am  

    Sunny

    But if you think it’s left wing and I think it’s right wing, how are we going to correct it?

  34. Rumbold — on 22nd June, 2007 at 8:33 am  

    “In an increasingly fragmented market, as is the case, news stations are forced to respond by becoming more sensationalist and dumbing down news as entertainment so they can get the widest possible audience.”

    And the BBC has not dumbed down? Just look at most of their programmes:

    - One which promotes gambling
    - Hidden camera show
    - A number of reality TV shows
    - Programmes with Graham Norton on
    - Eastenders all the time

    Why does ‘dumbing down’ mean that a channel instinctively moves to the right? Is your position on the European constitution similar- that the people do not know what is best for them? Would you argue for the retention of the BBC’s licence fee if it was right-wing?

  35. Cassandrina — on 22nd June, 2007 at 10:09 am  

    Do what I did – threw my TV out and sent a letter to the BBC about bias and dumbing down. Just before I left for the Middle East I got a 2 page letter from the BBC denying all my claims.
    2 month later an independent report accused the BBC of dumbing down.
    On my return nearly 2 years later I had 18 months of harrasment and threats on my lack of a TV and licence. 000′s of others have also gone through this process and the BBC will not publish the figures.
    Only the BBC Radio World Service and BBC3 radio perform as to mandate – BBC Radio 4 is the most bigotted and biased programme spreading political correctness like a virus – they will not mention the BBC report except in passing and have even got worse since it was made public. Try to get them to mention the SNP and Alex Salmond. Total disgrace.

  36. justforfun — on 22nd June, 2007 at 11:28 am  

    Only one question

    Kirsty Walk – what is the explaination for her?

    Justforfun

  37. Arif — on 22nd June, 2007 at 11:55 am  

    As it happens I also believe the BBC has a right wing bias. But not in any carefully editorially driven way, just a generally exaggerated trust for the honesty of the powerful and their good intentions. It also seems to me to be frightened of lobby groups enough to be careful in presentation on different issues, and sometimes that makes its reporting seem left wing or right wing to me, depending on the issue.

    But generally it provides enough breadth of information for me to at least sometimes disagree with the way it presents the news, usually because it provides a context which seems misleading. I probably get the knowledge tp believe it is misleading, because other reporters in other stories have previously taken a different editorial line.

    I also don’t like the way the BBC and most other channels select news, somehow focusing on some conflicts and injustices to the exclusion of others. However it is sometimes BBC documentaries which first raise my awareness of those other conflicts.

    If I have a right to make demands on the BBC as a license-payer, I would argue for a greater degree of transparency (eg a policy) on how news is selected and packaged for broadcast, which explains its rationale and can constantly develop. If it were developed by some sort of open process, it would end up reflecting something about the “values of society” which would be interesting in itself. And if we wanted we’d all be able to pinpoint where we disagree much more meaningfully than saying “right wing bias” or “lapse of judgment”.

  38. Sunny — on 22nd June, 2007 at 1:15 pm  

    Sunny

    But if you think it’s left wing and I think it’s right wing, how are we going to correct it?

    My solution would be that it thinks more carefully and radically about how it presents the news and how it packages that programming so that:

    1) the focus is on informing the viewer about context and all the different arguments
    2) acknowledge the bias in the position they’re taking. so for example, coverage of live8 should have taken alongside coverage saying that: ‘implicit within our coverage is the assumption that live8 is a good thing and that this is how Africa will be helped. But now we’re going to challenge those assumptions’.

    I also think the reporters should be from all walks of life, cutting across class, gender and regions especially… that enforced diversity would be the only way to ensure there is lots of different opinion and the news is varied enough.

    And, as Arif said, transparency on how news is selected and what news is selected given the competing headlines.

  39. Rumbold — on 22nd June, 2007 at 2:16 pm  

    “I also think the reporters should be from all walks of life, cutting across class, gender and regions especially… that enforced diversity would be the only way to ensure there is lots of different opinion and the news is varied enough.”

    What a ridiculous statement.

    If someone criticized Pickled Politics for having too many British Asian males as commentators, we could quite easily point to the diverse range of comments made by the likes of Kulvinder, Jagdeep, Muzamdar et al.

    The BBC should give up any pretence to impartiality, be privatized, and then it can operate as the high-quality, left-wing channel that you want. If there is enough demand for that sort of thing, it will be fine.

  40. justforfun — on 22nd June, 2007 at 3:08 pm  

    Can we just have the news and not reporters opinions. Why do reporters think we want their opinions? We just want the facts – and then we can make up our own minds about the aurgements for and against any thing

    Is that too much to ask or is it an old fashioned view?

    Justforfun

  41. sonia — on 22nd June, 2007 at 3:31 pm  

    are we so naive to think ‘news’ also doesn’t have some sort of ‘frame’ applied to it? face it – news ‘filtered’ through a human brain has ‘opinion’ in it at some level.

  42. Muzumdar — on 22nd June, 2007 at 3:50 pm  

    I’m afraid that Kelvin McKenzie is right when he depicts the typical white Brit:

    “You just don’t understand the readers, do you, eh? He’s the bloke you see in the pub, a right old fascist, wants to send the wogs back, buy his poxy council house, he’s afraid of the unions, afraid of the Russians, hates the queers and the weirdoes and drug dealers. He doesn’t want to hear about that stuff (serious news).”

    This is why all the papers and news outlets that veer to the right have higher audiences and circulations.

    For all you intelligent folk that post here, whether a news channel is right/left/Marxist/Stalinist etc is irrelevant as you are able to use your critical faculties to think for yourselves.

    However, your average bloke who gets all his news from The Sun, The Mail or some other Murdoch source is too thick to think for himself….And this is why McKenzie’s statement still holds true today.

    Thanks.

  43. justforfun — on 22nd June, 2007 at 3:58 pm  

    I take your point Sonia – that every reporter is human on some level ;-) and so their ‘opinion’ will come through in the facts they choose to report. It has just got to the stage where all newspapers are just opinion pieces and no facts, and now the main news channels are going down that route too.

    Opinion pieces and analysis have their place, but when they are the total output from any news source, then we have allowed ourselves to be turned into consumers of our own prejudices. Who believes a word in the Guardian, who believes a word in the Telegraph, who reads the Independant at all? Is the daily Mail a newspaper at all? The readership of these papers are people who want to re-affirm their own world view , not people who want to find out about the world – and now news channels are going down the same route. The fact that we can discuss the biases of different broadcast newslots accross the channels is a sign they are getting politized. I now watch Newsround with my children – very little comment.

    Justforfun

  44. The Informer — on 22nd June, 2007 at 6:41 pm  

    Muzumbar is a bigoted bore with a fine line in ridiculous generalisations.

    Also a statement that rings true to the very day

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