Is the BBC biased? It’s interesting that in the UK, people generally assume the media to be trustworthy reporters presenting news that is of objective importance. The mainstream print media covers a wide political spectrum, from the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph which present generally conservative views, to the left wing outlooks of the Daily Mirror and The Guardian.
However, broadcasting media is dominated by one huge corporation: the corporation, Auntie, the BBC. 93% of the population of the United Kingdom use a BBC provided service at least once a week. A whopping 256 million people worldwide receive their news from the BBC in some form, that’s a staggering one in twenty-eight. This is an astronomical figure, and the BBC’s reputation and renown for impartiality even in wartime is a key factor in retaining such a wide usage-but in recent years this reputation has come under increasing attack. Is the BBC really a trustworthy source for information with regards to key issues? Put simply, can we trust the news the BBC presents?
The simple answer is yes and no. The BBC’s facts are impeccable the vast majority of the time, and errors are almost exclusively in good faith and corrections rapidly issued. Despite this, the BBC can be sometimes seen to have a subtle agenda, which is often unnoticed even by those in charge of the content produced there-but this bias can be seen to exist.
I recently read Robin Aitken’s fascinating take on neutrality within the corporation, Can we Trust the BBC?. The answer, he concluded, was that it has an agenda which can be clearly seen when empirical evidence is examined; Aitken states that the BBC is:
passionately against racism, in favour of ‘human rights’, supportive of internationalism, suspicious of traditional British identity and consequently strongly pro-EU; it is feminist, secular and allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches
One may query what the problem with that is. Indeed, it is undeniable that several of these things are progressive viewpoints to be applauded, such as the condemnation of racism and upholding human rights. Things such as human rights are all well and good, until you come to the small question of interpretation-how far do you go? Are immigrants granted full rights? Can Parliament suspend rights? What rights do suspected terrorists have? The BBC has to report on these issues as and when they flare up, and when they do it is very hard to do so with an entirely neutral stance.
Aitken’s evidence for this ‘institutional bias’ is multi-faceted. He gives evidence of a suppression of the views of ‘The Despised Tribes’-who include “the whites in Africa”, “Mr Le Pen’s supporters in France”, “American ‘Christian fundamentalists'”, “conservative Roman Catholics”, and “UKIP”. The Irish unionists are also said to have had their views suppressed, the interests of peace in Ireland and the inherent glamour of the republican cause apparently appealing to the BBC more than the conservative nature of unionism.
The concept itself is intriguing to think about. Even such mundane things as the ordering of news stories in an outlet can shape our perceptions of the importance of different causes, the limiting of interview time and omission of important context whilst reporting on the ‘wrong’ viewpoint all help to subtly colour the consumer’s views to the same shade as the BBC’s-that is, “broadly ‘progressive'”. Even this mild trend in the BBC of slightly off centre liberalism would be perfectly acceptable in the odd programme, but it is a universal trend throughout the corporation.
At present the BBC can be read to be left-leaning in a worryingly plausible way. An institution that produces news for such a gargantuan audience worldwide needs to be clear of bias, and, though there are some issues with Aitken’s argument (not least his own failure to sufficiently present the opposition’s view); it is hard to argue after reading and viewing the evidence he gives that the BBC does not need to change. Given the rapidly approaching referendum on the UK’s part in or out of the EU, that change needs to come sooner rather than later.