28/10/2013 2 Comments
Grant Shapps recently got himself into the news with what appears to be a thinly veiled threat to the BBC to become more right-wing in its reporting or face losing its funding. This was, a few days later, followed up by an Opinium/Observer poll, which showed that there was a, not large but still significant, public perception that the BBC’s reporting had a left-wing bias. This was their graph:
The view on what is left and what is right is quite subjective though. If you read the Daily Mail every day and then read a BBC article it probably does seem left wing (it probably seems like extreme Communism) and if you read the Daily Mirror every day it probably seems very right wing.
It might therefore be useful, when interpreting the data, to take into account the newspapers that people read. What does that look like? These are the 2013 January circulation figures for all UK newspapers with circulations above 100,000. The divisions by Right, Left or Not Obvious are my own.
|Title||Right-Wing||Left-Wing||No Obvious Political Persuasion|
If you want you can put the Independent as left-wing, (which it is in terms of issues like climate change, less obvious whether it is politically), either way it doesn’t change the overall picture much. The press is overwhelmingly right-wing:
If we take into account the information that is fed to people by the newspapers they read, plus the huge campaign from Tory politicians and the right-wing media to convince people that the BBC is a left-wing organisation, the only surprising thing in the poll is that more people didn’t find left-wing leanings in the reporting of the BBC.
But rather than a simple poll of people, why not actually look at all of the political reporting the BBC does and actually analyse whether it gives more time to the views of the left? Well that would be a huge task, far beyond the capacity of this blog. Fortunately it wasn’t beyond the capacity of Cardiff University and the most comprehensive analysis I have seen on the subject. Yes, from all their research they found no left-wing bias.
I want to move on to my personal view on the BBC but before I do, I need to make a (possibly) surprising admission – I actually don’t consider myself particularly left-wing. The red in my ears came a long time before the blog and is no way a reflection on a political persuasion. I actually consider myself a fairly neutral individual who has unfortunately awoken in a very right-wing world. If I found myself in a country governed by left-wing idealists and dominated by a left-wing press, perhaps my criticisms would run the other way.
I would not be BlueEaredBunny though – as I said, the ears have nothing to do with it. My position is simply that I will do my best to base my opinions on the best available evidence. At this time that position makes me slightly wary of the Labour Party and entirely conflicted with the Tories.
In this position though, I too take big issues with BBC reporting. Not because I am worried about their lack of impartiality, but because I see their need for impartiality above all else, as completely obliterating their objectivity.
Take for example, the subject of climate change. In one corner, we have science and in the other we have the political ideals of the right-wing. The BBC, in its desire for impartiality above all else, reports both sides’ arguments with equal weight and this narks me because, on the subject of climate change, I don’t feel those two sides should be represented equally. I understand the BBC’s position of needing to remain impartial but seriously people, this is important stuff and on a matter of science, scientists saying one thing and George Osborne saying the opposite should not be reported with equal weight. The best scientific minds, the people with the most knowledge of the subject, are telling us we must act now and George is telling us it isn’t a priority.
A quote from Michael Shannon it in the excellent film Take Shelter puts it better than I could:
There is a storm coming! Like nothing you have ever seen! And not a-one of you is prepared for it!
(If you haven’t seen that film, you should rectify that soon.)
Moving on from climate change, reading Stephanie Flanders’s BBC articles over the past few years has also narked me because although I rate her ability as an economic journalist very highly, her reporting seems to have often be constrained in a way that says, economists say this but the government says that. (And understandably, the Labour Party says something wishy-washy that no one really understands.)
Add immigration or welfare into the argument and the trend continues. We have evidence on one side and political ideals on the other. On each subject, the BBC reports both sides of the argument with equal weight, desperate to maintain impartiality over objectivity.
You might conclude from that that I think the BBC is rubbish. Wrong. I think the BBC panders to politicians too much but they do a fantastic amount of good outside of politics. Let’s think about their wildlife documentaries for a moment. Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, Africa, The Frozen Planet. The list goes on and on. But I’m not just listing the best BBC wildlife documentaries – I’m listing the greatest wildlife documentaries that have ever been created by any television company ever.
The sole reason that we have those programmes, and many other great programmes in other fields, is due to the way that the BBC is funded. Take way their funding and make them rely on adverts and everything would change. Making Planet Earth was never about getting the best return on investment. If you were to rely on advertising revenue, you would make far more money by just making more reality TV programmes with C-List celebrities than you would by paying some poor camera crew to sit in the Antarctic winter for months filming emperor penguins balancing an egg on their feet.
My thoughts are this: Programmes designed to maximise revenue are available everywhere, we are almost drowning in them, but those designed to be more than that are only available on the BBC. Yes their political reporting annoys people from both sides simply because we give them a mandate of impartiality over objectivity.
Yet when we see all of the good they do in other areas, that is a small price that we all have to live with and it is definitely a price worth paying.