How the BBC leans to the right

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In a fascinating extract from a forthcoming book called Is the BBC in Crisis? Professor Justin Lewis details some of the ways in which the BBC fails in its mission to be impartial.

(I’ve long believed that the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ should be towards the truth, so that when the facts have a left-wing or liberal bias, there should be no need to wheel out the likes of Nigel Lawson to rebut the findings of 97% of climate scientists.)

Anyway, regular listeners/viewers will hardly be surprised to learn that the BBC has a right-wing bias – especially under a Conservative government, because of worries about the Conservatives (who are in power but have no mandate) eviscerating the BBC through the licence fee settlement.

Recent evidence from the most recent BBC Trust commissioned impartiality review appears to support this view. The research, by my colleagues at Cardiff, compared BBC news when Labour were in power (in 2007) with coverage under a Conservative-led coalition (in 2012). The study found, by a series of measures, that ‘Conservative dominance in 2012’ of BBC news was ‘by a notably larger margin than Labour dominance in 2007’ (Wahl-Jorgenson et al 2013: 5).

Beyond the main parties, the study suggested that the BBC is more likely than either ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right, such US Republicans or Ukip, and less likely to use sources from the left, such as US Democrats and the Green Party. But it is the imbalance between Conservative and Labour – by margins of three to one for party leaders and four to one for ministers/shadow ministers – that was most striking, especially since the research indicated that this rightward shift was a strictly BBC phenomenon.

The other interesting aspect of the article is its focus on the way the news agenda (news values) of the BBC also has a right-wing bias. They spend far more time discussing issues of interest to the right (e.g. immigration) than they do discussing issues of interest to the left (e.g. inequality).

I noticed during Party Conference season that the BBC spent much more time reporting the UKiP conference than they did the Green Party one, which was happening at the same time. What’s tragic about this, of course, is that ‘blind testing’ tends to show that twice as many people support Green policies as they do the foam-flecked ravings of the UKiPers. In other words, the BBC should be spending twice as much time covering issues if interest to Greens (climate change, inequality) than they do dealing with UKiP issues (immigration, immigration).

Read more: Extract: ‘How the BBC leans to the right’ – Opinion – Media – The Independent.

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Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? | Environment | theguardian.com

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Here’s an interesting one, from the Graun: Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? In short, the argument goes that, since deniers can’t really back up their arguments with scientific data, and frequently take their views from extremely biased sources (e.g. funded by oil companies), they’ve been banned from Reddit’s science forum. And it turns out that most of the crappy postings were coming from a tiny minority.

Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.

What struck me about this was that the BBC should take heed, too. The Beeb has this infuriating habit of “balancing” its news coverage with just such ignorant, unscientific, unsupported views, on the basis that it can’t be biased. But the question (as always) is whether the BBC has a duty to be unbiased towards two sides of a ridiculous debate (giving equal weight to the idiots/liars) or whether it has a duty to be unbiased towards the truth. Or, put another way, unbiased towards the weight of scientific evidence.

This idea has come up recently in another context, in George Monbiot’s campaign to force the BBC to acknowledge when its contributors are being paid by a lobbying organisation, pressure group, or industry body to have an opinion. This was prompted by a recent “debate” around the question of plain paper packaging for cigarettes. The BBC interviewed a spokesperson from a “think tank” which of course gets at least some of its funding from tobacco companies, a fact that the BBC did not acknowledge when introducing the piece.

For the BBC, they were simply looking to provide the illusion of a debate, when in fact the only people who want tobacco companies not to be regulated are, you know, tobacco companies. The question of how these people sleep at night is never discussed.

via Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? | Environment | theguardian.com.

That sleighbell winter? It’s all part of climate change denial | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

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Here’s an interesting article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, all about the tabloid treatment of the Met Office and their use of “independent” weather forecasters. In another weather-related story this week, a long-term study of weather forecasting accuracy is being proposed, to see just who is more accurate. According to Monbiot, the tabs have been using independent companies, notably Exacta and PWS. The Daily Express in particular has been predicting a Siberian winter on its front page since the summer.

Who are they, and what are their credentials? I have been trying to obtain answers from Exacta since 20 December, without success. Among other questions, I asked whether it is true that the company consists of one undergraduate student and a computer.

PWS was more forthcoming. It admitted that its forecasting record had not been independently audited, and agreed that this was a failing. It also admitted that it does not keep a record of its prior forecasts on its website, which means that the public has no means of assessing its hit rate. But it failed to provide the qualifications or identities of the “independent meteorologists” it uses.

via That sleighbell winter? It’s all part of climate change denial | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Twitter says it’s all #nickcleggsfault

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The rapid responses on Twitter indicate just how much shorter the feedback loop now is for the mainstream media and electors – and how dangerous it can be to attack politicians who are riding a wave of popularity.

Whether it will have any effect on the readers either of Twitter or of the newspapers is harder to tell. Clearly, Twitter has never been the favoured stamping ground for Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express or Daily Telegraph readers. And it is unlikely that any of the papers' editors will be taking notice of what it says.

via Twitter says it’s all Nick Clegg’s fault in ironic swipe at newspapers |
Technology |
guardian.co.uk
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New Statesman – Cloud control

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Interesting angle on the global warming debate from the New Statesman, in which Bjorn Lomborg dares to suggest that the environmental pressure group consensus on what to do about climate change is wrong. He points out how the discourse in the media is being controlled, with the use of words like “denier” and “sceptic” acting as sticks to hit people with. Use the word “denier” about somebody, and you’re immediately aligning them with the neo-Nazi holocaust deniers.

Lomborg argues that the cost of cutting carbon emissions as radically as some propose (including The Guardian newspaper, with its 10:10 campaign) would actually cause more damage than the predicted rise in global temperatures.

Anyone who reads science fiction will already know about some of the more radical weather engineering solutions (look at Kim Stanley Robinson’s series of three books, for example), and Lomborg argues that pumping sea water into the air to whiten the clouds is one idea worth considering, which would cost a fraction of the unrealistic and unreachable carbon emissions targets.

The researchers conclude, remarkably, that we might be able to cancel out this century's entire global warming with 1,900 unmanned ships spraying seawater mist into the air, at a total cost of about £6bn. When the benefits from averted warming are calculated, this is the equivalent of doing more than £2,000 worth of good with every pound spent.
[…]
Marine cloud whitening would obviously not solve every aspect of global warming. But it would achieve more, much faster, than any plausible carbon cuts could ever do, and at a fraction of the price. If we are concerned with solving global warming, then we have a moral obligation to research what we could achieve with this technology.

James Murdoch hits out at BBC and regulators at Edinburgh TV festival

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Delivering the prestigious MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, James Murdoch (youngest son of Rupert – wonder how he got his job?) has attacked both the BBC and Ofcom, complaining that they’re stifling the media market in the UK.

James Murdoch hits out at BBC and regulators at Edinburgh TV festiva.

The context here, of course, is that News Corporation wants to start charging for online content, and have been complaining for years that the BBC distorts the market by providing so much news for free. This is the position of many other newspaper groups.

On the face of it, this is a reasonable enough complaint, but if you think back to our discussions about what newspapers do well, you’ll recall that they’ve not been good at breaking news first since the General Strike of 1926. The BBC delivers a peculiar product: they go out of their way to appear “balanced” and unbiased” and they spend very little time analysing the background to a story or giving editorial opinion on a story – both of which are things that newspapers have always done very well. If you want someone to take sides, read a newspaper.

Now the so-called “balance” of BBC reporting can be ripped to pieces by anyone versed in deconstruction techniques, but the question of its existence is really down to us. As long as we continue to trust the BBC and remain willing to pay the BBC Tax (Licence Fee), the BBC is fine. Most people think it’s doing a good job. Furthermore, countries around the world look at the BBC with envy. In the current media market, the BBC is able to continue to make programmes, continue to innovate technologically, and – most importantly – continue to keep the rest of the media honest.

The crucial point is that if it wasn’t for the BBC’s attempt at “balance”, we’d be surrounded by biased reporting under the influence of powerful advertisers. If you don’t think that’s true, look at the YouTube clip above about a Fox news report that was quashed when a powerful corporation sicced their lawyers on Fox and advertising dollars were threatened. When you own 25 TV stations and rely on advertising for your profits, this is inevitable. You can spend hours on YouTube looking at Fox News reporting. Some of it is preposterously bad, beyond satire. Some of it is frightening and seems to come from a very dark place. The Obama “terrorist fist bump” is a case in point.

Speaking of very dark places, this appears to be where James Murdoch lives. He repeatedly uses the phrase, “State-sponsored news” when describing the BBC. To deconstruct that for a moment, we’re more used to hearing the phrase “state-sponsored” in the context of terrorism. “State-sponsored” is what you expect from North Korea, Libya, and other states in the so-called “axis of evil”. Even to see the world in these black and white terms (that there is such a thing as “evil” opposed to the “good”) is to live in a comic strip.

“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it,” he said.

“State-sponsored news” is what you used to get in Communist Russia, when the daily newspaper called Pravda (“Truth”) was put on display for all to read – even those who couldn’t afford to buy it. For Murdoch to equate the BBC with this kind of thing reveals a world view that is distorted to the edge of madness.

These people seriously want to crush the BBC and replace it with Fox-style news. Now, I don’t particularly love the BBC. If you reduced my licence fee in proportion to the amount of BBC output that I actually consume, I’d probably end up paying about £10 a year for a bit of Radio Five Live, Doctor Who, the web site, and the occasional documentary. But I happily pay the extra £100 because the BBC is still one of the aspects of life in the UK that’s good, something to be proud of.

What we need to resist – with every fibre of our beings – is the occasional attempt at political interference in the BBC. The scandal over the “sexed-up” dossier is a case in point. Politicians should keep their noses out of the BBC’s business. We pay for it, we pay for them, but we don’t pay them to run the BBC, we pay them to run the country.

Furthermore, banish from your mind the very idea that you need to get rid of the BBC to make news that’s worth paying for. Newspapers have never been in the business of making a profit from the cover price. The cover price of a newspaper barely covers the cost of printing it, let alone all the journalism inside it. Journalism has always been paid for by advertising. To blame the BBC for the loss of advertising revenue is a complete red herring. The advertisers have gone elsewhere because it’s more efficient to target a consumer searching for Acme Gadget on Google than it is to advertise that Acme Gadget to a mass of people who aren’t in the market for one right now.

Mass market advertising disappears as soon as you find a better way to deliver targeted advertising.

Now, the BBC isn’t perfect, and I don’t think they should be delivering – for example – “nice”, dumbed-down, simplified narrative dramas, which is what you get when you try not to offend advertisers. Instead, they should model themselves after HBO and other broadcasters who don’t need to chase advertising, and deliver nasty product like The Wire and the Sopranos. On the other hand, they need to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, because we’re all paying for it. It’s not easy being the BBC, but I’d rather live here, in Adams Family Britain, than the dark place occupied by James Murdoch.

Read the full text of his speech (PDF) here.

Read David Simon on how Pay TV liberates TV drama.

And just for balance, Clarkson shows a bit of contempt for his (studio) audience.

There should be no right of reply for fascists.

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We’re being treated at the moment to the unedifying sight/sound of the BBC bending over backwards to be “balanced” in its reporting of the British National Party and their two European Parliament seats.

The Beeb are being careful not to criticise the BNP in any way. They’re also chiding other guests for making statements about the BNP to which the BNP are not able to respond. The problem with trying to be “unbiased” when dealing with fascists is that you end up sounding like the fascists have a fair point.

The BNP are a racist party. Other media outlets, not hamstrung by a need for “balance”, have investigated BNP members and reported their clear, recent, blatant racism. On the 31 May, for example, The Guardian reported on the abhorrent views expressed by prospective BNP candidates:

[T]his month the veneer slipped when it emerged that a Salford-based BNP candidate in the European elections had set his Facebook status to read “Wogs go home”. Eddy O’Sullivan, 49, wrote: “They are nice people – oh yeah – but can they not be nice people in the fucking Congo or… bongo land or whatever?” O’Sullivan, who also joined an internet group called “Fuck Islam”, denied that the comments were racist and insisted they were made in private conversations between individuals.

Ah, the “private conversation” defence, meaning that it’s okay to be racist as long as it’s with your racist friends. We’ve heard this defence from Ron Atkinson (who used the N-word when he thought the mic was off) and Carole Thatcher (who used the Golly-word when she thought she was among friends). It’s like saying you only stole the money because you thought you weren’t going to get caught.

So the BNP are nasty, racist, vicious people who are taking advantage of some people’s ignorance and convincing them that “immigrants” are to blame for the recession. The truth is, if you arse around at school, boil your brain with booze and fags, and leave with no qualifications, then somebody from India or China – from anywhere – who has worked hard and applied themselves throughout their lives is going to get the job, and you aren’t.

The BBC’s producer guidelines call for “comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage”. That the BBC have interpreted this to mean that the BNP get to pretend they’re not fascists and nobody is allowed to say otherwise is a travesty. Comprehensive coverage would include the views of the vast majority of people in this country (somewhere around 59 million) who didn’t and would never vote for the BNP. Authoritative coverage would mean reporting the facts about their not-so-hidden racist views. And being impartial doesn’t mean that you can’t report the truth. I’ll impartially tell you right now that it’s not raining outside my house at the moment, but the “balanced” view of the BBC would involve finding some nutter to say that it is.

They did this, you’ll recall, with the MMR vaccine scare. For literally years, they reported the nutcase minority view that MMR could cause autism as if it held equal weight with the reasoned scientific view that it did not. This caused no end of confusion and has led to the worst rates of Measles etc. in living memory. There are still people around who doubt that MMR is safe, thanks to the BBC’s “balanced” (but completely wrong) reporting.

Here’s the BBC’s mission:

BBC mission

To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.

Our vision
To be the most creative organisation in the world.

Our values
Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.
Audiences are at the heart of everything we do.
We take pride in delivering quality and value for money.
Creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.
We respect each other and celebrate our diversity so that everyone can give their best.
We are one BBC: great things happen when we work together.

I’ve added emphasis to the words “independent”, “honest”, and “celebrate our diversity”.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s about time the BBC grew some and called the fascists what they are. Whether they’re in the studio to “defend” themselves or not. No right of reply for fascists: wrong is wrong.