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BBC bias

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:52 UK time, Thursday, 22 February 2007

Last weekend, excerpts from a book by former BBC reporter Robin Aitken were published in a Sunday newspaper (link). He wrote that being a Tory in the BBC was "the loneliest job in Britain", and claimed that the ideal at the heart of the BBC, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan , had "all but disappeared".

Naturally I disagree with Robin on this. But tonight I'm taking the plunge and discussing with him and others whether the BBC is institutionally biased (details here). I'll let you know how I get on.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 05:19 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • louis satterthwaite wrote:

how dare the the bbc make our minds
up for us regarding jade goody
I for one will not be giving a penny to red nose day
still you have probably gianed
another millon votes for the bnp

  • 2.
  • At 06:27 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Jose wrote:

We have already had this debate, 333 bloggers said the BBC was biased 2 said it was not.
Ms Bowden refused to answer any of the comments, so what is the point of you bringing it up again?, you never, never admit your left wing bias.
The BBC is the most arrogant, anti-Isreali, anti-Catholic media oulet outside Iran.

And for once please post my comment, it is amazing how you fail to publish comments that don't fit your left wing agenda, shame on the BBC.

  • 3.
  • At 06:29 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Nathan wrote:

I am very unhappy with your report on the United States plan to attack Iran. Here is the link to the article.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/17/AR2007021701172.html

What I am most upset about is the audacity you have as a source of news to discuss another country's military plans in too much detail in an articel to the world, which includes Iran. I know you are probably thinking well even if Iran knows this the plan could still work or maybe it will slightly discourage an attack at all. I do not want more war, but it might come down to being neccessary.

Maybe this case is not a big deal, but I am almost sure U.S troops have died somewhere because of someone's abuse of the free press. It can be abused.

Nathan
A dissappointed American

  • 4.
  • At 06:40 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Andrew Manson wrote:

Your blog has no value, and as a licence payer, I don't feel it's salaried time well spent. Please get on with remedying the decline in value of journalism on the BBC instead of furthering this cult of the individual that so consumes both airtime and webpage.

  • 5.
  • At 07:35 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

"Naturally I disagree with Robin on this."

This is a joke, right? I've long ago lost track of the times I've contacted the BBC with complaints about bias, which - even if I am faithfully promised replies - routinely disappear into a stratosphere from which even a year of persistent phone calls cannot rescue them. (By contrast, a complaint about the cancelling of one episode of "What The Romans Did For Us" got a two page reply within days).

I've even posted many comments here, but have no problems with repeating one persistent complaint, the anti-shooting sports bias of the BBC. In particular, coverage of gun laws always puts the police and govt point of view unchallenged even though all evidence shows them to be wrong.

Can you please explain to me why there is ZERO coverage on BBCi or BBC News 24 of Karim Amer, an Egyptian blogger who was jailed today for 4 years for criticising the Egyptian government and extreme elements within Islam?

His arrest and imprisonment have been condemned by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, and can be seen as part of a wider trend in the region of authorities supressing the free speech of their citizens.

I think this is something the BBC should be reporting. Why aren't you? And seeing as most of the last hour of BBC News 24 has been devoted to the bizarrely fascinating but largely inconsequential Anna Nicole Smith hearing, please don't tell me it's because you're focusing on the UK.

  • 7.
  • At 09:30 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Ray wrote:

If you start asking this question, this can only mean that the BBC IS biased!

So think about this twice before people find out and want to shut you up.

  • 8.
  • At 09:49 PM on 22 Feb 2007,
  • Roger Tagg wrote:

I hadn't heard the latest accusation about BBC bias but I read your web site tonight when I was about to write and ask if the Guardian social service team had taken over the programming of Radio 4.
On my occasional days of working from home I have listened to Radio 4 for "ever" but the past few months have been increasingly dire with only the occasional highlight. Never have I turned the radio off so frequently. We know there are problems in the world but I for one don't want a continual virtually unbroken diet of grim reports and programmes even the plays and short stories are grim. If you want to discuss and I mean discuss let's have more of the Laurie Taylor type approach.

Ok, I take part of that back, having seen the article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6386613.stm. But any chance of reflecting that in your TV coverage?

Straw man...

"A Sunday newspaper"?

I see through your feeble ploy. By following your link I was able to determine that the newspaper was the Mail on Sunday.

Should you be spending the licence fee advertising a privately-owned newspaper? Examine your conscience, man!

  • 12.
  • At 12:33 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Jon Panton wrote:

Just a brief comment. I was listening to radio 4 news at 6pm today and started to think about how one story was reported: the story of Michael Meecher joining the race for the next leader of the labour party. The reporter rallied off a few of his proposals, such as re-nationalising the railways, rising the minimum wage to over seven pounds, putting more resources into renewable energy and checking our partnership with the U.S. The reporter then mentioned that Meecher was "far left" in his views. I beg to differ, I'm sure that if people were asked on the street about these issues, a majority would agree. Even if a questionnaire was contructed and people were asked whether they would be happy to pay a bit more tax if these policies were addressed and cured, a majority would say yes(although I have not conducted a study so I can't tell for definite).

Why are these issues deemed "far left"?

Does not the public have a say? Or is the BBC sucked into a neoliberal ideology which promotes an agenda promulgated by massive financial institutions and certain academics from places such as Chicago University (to name a few)

The BBC is funded by the public, why deem publicly minded policies as "far left"?

I argue that what normal people really want is not a "far left" view. The BBC does a disservice to the majority of people who fund it if they report it in this way

I argue that social policies are not “far left”. The only reason they are labelled in this way is because we have become such a market orientated society and left institutions of power have too much influence on how stories are reported.

Please, BBC, provide a service to the British people. Dont wilt to semantics used by institutions which are so adverse to an egalitarian and fair society.

  • 13.
  • At 12:35 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Wrong question. That BBC is biased is for me a foregone fact of life. I listen to everything I hear on it with a filter which acknowledges that whatever is said is likely skewed towards a Eurosocialist view suggestive of the politics of France and Germany, not the UK. The real question is does it know that it is doing it or is its bias so ingrained in the corporate culture and the way BBC constructs its material that it isn't even aware of it. It is too easy to take it for granted that those in whose charge BBC has been placed during this era understand the difference between objective disengaged journalism and editorial slanting of the news. It's not that BBC was once more conservative, it was more objective. I have written to HYS on many occasions pointing out the vast array of techniques BBC uses to spin its stories to its own liking, for example its incessant insistance during the last few days that the pullout of about 1500 British troops from Basra to be sent home is indicative of a political breech between the governments of the US and UK despite the vehement denials by both governments. One seemingly new one is BBC's recent propensity for sensationalization. I don't know why this is happening now but it's possible that it wants to attract the affections of its captive audience in the UK by appealing to its basest interests and instincts so as to reduce any pressure to eliminate its near monopoly in British broadcast media. We've been bombarded lately by a slew of trite subjects BBC wishes to engage its audience in such as Anna Nicole Smith, Brittany Spears, Is marriage dead, the 9-11 conspiracy theories, the political editor's skill at flipping pancakes, etc. I think there is only one real cure for all of this and the Hutton report missed it entirely because it assumed that the current management and staff are salvageable. I disagree, I think BBC needs a complete overhaul from top to bottom and that means 100% replacement of its personnel. Not kidding.

  • 14.
  • At 09:24 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Fran Waddams wrote:

Peter

I attended last night's event, and very enjoyable it was too. Thank you for your part in making it so.

I'm one of the people who broadly agrees with Robin Aitken's point of view, so I'm interested to read that "naturally (you) disagree with his point of view."

Why 'naturally'? What is wrong with looking honestly at the issues Aitken raises and asking whether there might not be some truth in them?

Even more revealing was Jean Seaton's comment that "she doesn't want the BBC to be balanced, she wants it to be right". This encapsulates the problem that so many of us perceive with BBC output reflected from comedy, to drama, to News and current affairs output.

Policy makers at the BBC believe that they stand for 'right' - without realising that their concept of 'right' has a very definite and very identifiable flavour to it.

You yourself gave excellent examples of this as you conceded that the BBC was unaware of the strength of public opinion on immigration and on Europe.

That you recognise the lapse in this instance is good, but you need to examine seriously why the lapse occured in the first place.

Aitken has suggested that it happened because there is a culture of accepted 'goods' at the BBC - in which Eurosceptism and concern about high levels of immigration did not appear!

Should you really be dismissing Aitken's observations so lightly when you yourself have admitted a lapse which could only have arisen within a culture of pre-judged rectitude such as he describes?

I was encouraged to hear that the BBC wishes to engage more seriously with its license fee payers, and I'd suggest that more meetings like last night's be set up so that interested parties can express support and concern directly to representatives of the BBC.

  • 15.
  • At 10:35 AM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

Don't you think 'Question Time' or 'Any Questions' would have been a more transparent forum for this discussion?

A tiny metropolitan audiance at a central London art gallery is not going to create much of a debate.

A cynic might think you don't want much attention paid to this topic.

I thought you BBCers got training on how to deal with anyone who disagrees with you.

What you do is practice a smug condescending grin in front of the mirror, and remember whatever you do that you are unaccountable to the people who are forced to pay your wages.

  • 17.
  • At 01:23 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • jim-uk wrote:

The only people who don't think the BBC are bias are those who work for it, for everyone else it's pretty much common knowledge. The BBC is increasingly out of touch with those who fund it, with the licence fee now feeling like a forced political donation.

If those at the top can't see this then maybe they need to be replaced before BBC news becomes the lefts answer to FOX news.

  • 18.
  • At 02:05 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Seth Mowshowitz wrote:

I have already written to Guy Smith et al at the BBC to complain about the Conspiracy Files series. My complaint is that the BBC has drawn a line in the sand dividing those who question the status quo and those who do not. Before the show even aired they had by default labeled those who question the status quo as 'conspiracy theorists' and proceeded (in the first episode) to paint this group as paranoid, biased and irrational people. Many of the people they are categorizing in this way are respected authors, journalists, historians and engineers offering legitimate observations. When did these people become conspiracy theorists? By making this sweeping generalization the BBC is (wittingly or unwittingly) selling the public on the idea that the official version of events should not be questioned. They are in effect saying that we should all quietly accept that our government and our media are doing their jobs responsibly and that no dissent is necessary nor any action required. I wholeheartedly disagree. This kind of thinking is dangerous and counterproductive. Furthermore the relentless use of the term 'conspiracy theorists' is not a fair and balanced use of language, it is divisive.

I for one have come to be wary of trusting the BBC's editorial commentary, although I still greatly respect the work done by its journalists around the world.

  • 19.
  • At 02:33 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • beloml wrote:

Fortunately, others have done the research for you already.

Just go to beebwatch, biased BBC or Last Night's BBC News to get your answers. That's where many of your former viewers are.

  • 20.
  • At 03:51 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

jim-uk wrote:

"The only people who don't think the BBC are bias are those who work for it, for everyone else it's pretty much common knowledge."

That, frankly, is utter nonsense. Don't mistake the opinions of bloggers and those who post on here for the opinions of the public at large. Repeating it ad infinitum won't making any more true.

  • 21.
  • At 05:45 PM on 23 Feb 2007,
  • Max wrote:

Any source of news that you choose to look at is going to be biased. Before a piece of news gets delivered to the public there are many factors that influence its release:

For example, who funds the news organization, the opinions of the people themselves, cultural views etc. etc. It's just a simple fact of human life that pretty much everything is going to be biased in some way. (and you must be especially wary of organizations that claim to be objective)

That's why it is important not to just blindly absorb information; we must also think critically about the information that we receive.

  • 22.
  • At 11:26 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Gareth Edwards wrote:

Yes the BBC is biased but not in the way most of the bloggers have represented it.

I see the bias of the journalist as the main problem. You and the other news gathering and media organisations can no longer look at any topic or event objectively. Why? Because you are so desperate to create a splash, to have a headline to get scoop or get on a few minutes ahead of the others.

The effect is the focus on the sensational, the need to find an angle, inability to accept information at face value (you have to get at the "truth" after all) and search for bad news because it is more interesting than good.

I find it hard to watch or listen to any news broadcasts from any source anymore. USing the internet allows me to bypass the whims of the editors and to seek different views on the same topic (e.g. Washington Post vs Daily Telegraph). It does help to understand better some of the whys and wherefores of what happens around the world.

Gareth

  • 23.
  • At 11:31 AM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Ali Abas wrote:

Is BBC funded by Baathists or Islamiist please ?

  • 24.
  • At 12:18 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • D Cawley wrote:

It has been a gradual process over several years, but I have moved from a position of trusting everything the BBC broadcasts to one where I have to make a mental check that the interpretation of the facts is reasonable. Yes, I certainly believe there is bias. I would also criticise the BBC for frequent sensationalism and exaggeration. Too often there is as much air time given to the extreme minority view as there is to the middle of the road majority view. Political interviews frequently start from the position that the politician is a perpetual liar, out only for himself. Similarly many scientists are assumed to be evil, scheming to create a radioactive world populated by genetically engineered zombies or some such rubbish. So, too often we don’t get the sensible, balanced view and interviews rarely get to explore the middle ground.

Some interesting comments here.

My experience is that the BBC is far better at giving a balanced view than either print newspapers or other news websites; it also tends to give more depth. It's not perfect, but in my opinion does an excellent job.

  • 26.
  • At 01:35 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Rvvm wrote:

I notice you did well at the Royal Television Society Awards Peter.

Maybe you'll start listening to some of the valid criticisms levelled at you from now on.

Stop the dumbing down for a start.....

  • 27.
  • At 01:56 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Nik Miller wrote:

You 'naturally' disagree? Which part of thinking about it before you 'naturally' disagree are you averse to?

Just to pick one subject, the BBC is the most anti-Zionist, anti-semitic and pro-terror rag currently playing the heartstrings of the liberal left.

Your coverage of the Middle East is absolutely shocking not only in its partisanship but also in its propagandising.

Last Tuesday in Israel a major terrorist attack was prevented, a large bomb found in a pedestrian precinct on a busy shopping evening, and the three responsible arrested.

There was not a word of it mentioned anywhere on the BBC.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, the arrested named the commander who had coordinated the plan and provided the explosives and he was subsequently confronted, armed with an assault rifle, and in the ensuing firefight killed by IDF troops.

The headline ran 'Palestinian killed in Israel ambush', the article concerned contained next to no context for this strike, nor the fact that he was armed at the time he was stopped by the IDF.

The following day there is a headline of Peretz's binocular blunder and a 'human interest' piece on hardships in Gaza by, of course, Alan 'Nazi' Johnstone.

Still no mention of the thwarted bomb attack, and much lower level coverage of the 18,000 rounds, 240 anti-tank missiles, two suicide bomb belts found and 23 people arrested in Egypt with plans to strike against Israeli civillian targets.

The regular qassam missile strikes are not reported, however, if Israel strikes against Gazans it is always headline news with a mention that "crudely made rockets" have been in use (but no mention that they randomly target civillian areas).

During the riots in Jerusalem following the attempts to fix a damaged structure you printed the line 'Violence has broken out at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque after Israeli police moved in to break up crowds of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters.'

Please explain how the violence broke out AFTER the police moved in to stop the stone throwers?

In what definition of 'violence' is stone throwing not violent?

Surely the police moved in to curtail current and prevent further violence?

However, by far the worst I have read so far was an article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6254691.stm) in which the phrase "The Israeli press is speculating that the appointment of Majadele will allow Mr Peretz to rally support among Palestinian citizens of Israel ahead of party elections in May." was used.

This is a glaring error as there are no Palestinian citizens of Israel, only Israeli citizens of Israel. There are, however, Israeli Arab citizens to whom I can only assume you are referring.

This appears to be a direct assault upon Israel and an attempt to delegitimise her status as a sovereign nation in the opinion of the BBC and can not be seen as anything other than deliberate and premeditated.

So is the BBC biased? I think maybe just a little, either that or, as most Jews and Israelis tend to think, downright anti-semitic.

I write constant complaints regarding this to the BBC and never receive a reply, how about an opportunity for Alan Johnstone or his equally nefarious counterpart Jeremy Bowen to field our questions and justify their reporting style?

Or better still how about releasing the Balen Report that tens of thousands of license payers' money is being spent to keep under wraps, despite the fact that their money paid for it in the first place.

Somehow I don't think you wil post this, as much as I would like to see other posters' resoponses I would be pleased just to receive one from you, my E-Mail is n.w.miller@dunelm.org.uk.

Nik Miller, Tel Aviv


  • 28.
  • At 07:43 PM on 24 Feb 2007,
  • Richard Marks wrote:

My greatest dislike of BBC bias isn't so much the news, it's the drama and comedy output. When was the last time the BBC (radio or TV) commisioned a right of centre drama? I really can't think of one.

And it's not so much that I object to bias, the Guardian is highly biased and so is the Telegraph, both great papers but they are aware of their bias and I can choose whether I want to buy it or not.

The really sad thing is that a more balanced BBC would be a fantastic force for good, prompting real informed debate, a much wider range of strong drama and perhaps the comedies would be funny again!

  • 29.
  • At 05:17 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • James wrote:

Jose, 333 bloggers on here may have agreed - but this place is infested with right wing "email a link to like minded fellows" types that simply don't reflect the British public.

Tony 'left of centre' Blair for 10 years, remember?

  • 30.
  • At 11:30 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Dr. Richard Furness wrote:

The coverage of plans to upgrade the national gas transmission system is consistently biased towards big business. Yesterday a local public meeting was held at Corse in Gloucestershire to discuss the National Grid plans to ruin and pollute our valley. In fairness, the BBC did attend and I was interviewed. However on today's web page where the meeting is briefly reported links are given to National Grid but not to the protest groups. Why is this always the case?

All we have ever asked for is the same chances at publicity and the the right to openly to present an alternate case. Why is this not given? And why on the few occassions when I have been interviewed is the last word always given to National Grid? Fortunately the upcoming Public Enquiry in April gives us to redress this bias. National Grid are often on TV, on the radio and in the papers. The alternate view does not have the same privileges and the BBC (and others) have not afforded us the same amount of coverage. For example, unlike NG, we have NEVER received any national coverage.

It has been difficult to convince media people we really do have a case, and for NG and the media's benefit we really DO have a case. The National Grid plans and thir overall strategy are flawed and somewhat illogical. Our environment and our beautiful countryside will suffer as the result of other people not thinking clearly and only in the financial interests of NG. They always cloak their case as being in 'The National Interest'.

We are supposed to live in an advanced democracy, but the 'powers that be' and the media responsible for upholding such democratic rights often work to a quite different agenda.

  • 31.
  • At 11:46 AM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • David Albion wrote:

Is the BBC biased it most certainly is.Censorship in never reporting items of value from near and far is rife when the item is reported in another media.The staffing on the news and other programs causes me to comment in being positive in discrimination are the selectors of newsreaders now actively discriminating against Englishmen and women.There is in case you've missed it an ever increasing number of us that now refuse to be called British but to be called English which we are.The percentage of non english news readers and presenters far exceeds the appropriate figure.Today on Andrew Mar the Scots presenter introduces another scot who is an actor then another scot a comedian and then a Kenyan of scots descent.Is there no room for us as on the last QT when Dimbelby refused to defend and speak for England shame on him.When such comments are made by panel members the time for us to say enough is here.

  • 32.
  • At 05:17 PM on 25 Feb 2007,
  • Viscount Monckton of Brenchley wrote:

The BBC's coverage of climate change has been relentlessly one-sided. The UN itself is now reconsidering its more alarmist projections. It is time for the BBC to reflect this movement of the scientific consensus away from alarmism.

  • 33.
  • At 01:38 AM on 26 Feb 2007,
  • Mike Aziz wrote:

Bias has becomes part of our everyday's lives. Form judges making their rulings to referees or umpires officiating the games. BBC also put some bias reports to make the news feels attractive.

  • 34.
  • At 05:53 AM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • Stu wrote:

BBC =anti American, anti conservative, anti christian, anti Jew, pro muslim, pro immigration, pro leftist.

No the idea that the BBC still considers itself a news agency and not an agenda driven socalist rag is very amusing to me.

  • 35.
  • At 01:57 PM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • ben corde wrote:

There's hardly a programme worth watching on the BBC any more.Every programme seems to be about pushing the rotten politically correct left/liberal agendas of minority groups down our throats.One particular area of disinformation is global warming, the presentation of which is totally biased.None of the opposing evidence is ever presented and in fact global temperatures have gone down in the last ten years.We no longer have any faith in the BBC as an honest broker of world events.

  • 36.
  • At 03:47 PM on 27 Feb 2007,
  • Ben Moss wrote:


Yes this is true. The B.B.C is indistinguishable from the Guardian.

I for one would prefer the service to be scrapped. We spend the same on the B.B.C as we spend on the Royal Navy. And, what do we get for it?
Leftwing bias and Propaganda.

The 'Service' costs a fortune and clearly has it's own agenda
Beware B.B.C Or you will find yourself not fit for purpose.

  • 37.
  • At 06:32 AM on 28 Feb 2007,
  • J. Moore wrote:

As it is sometimes said, "The facts have a liberal bias." There's a reason why most intelligent people are liberal-- on both sides of the Atlantic, I might add. Are the conservatives in the audience attempting to suggest that the BBC should hire a small cadre of young-earth Creationist gun-nuts, for the sake of balance?

I'm glad to have read many of these comments...

but I'd say the BBC was fairly right wing, but not as much as most British media.

The BBC has a history of censoring the left - just ask the "Man in the Mac" with his Xmas tree stamp - doing the bidding of MI5 to remove "subversives in the media".

As a Director-General once said "Oh, they’re all the same to me, they’re all commies."

Left Wing indeed!!

  • 39.
  • At 12:01 PM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Robin Aitken wrote:

Peter Horrocks did indeed debate bias with me in public in February - since when the BBC has determinedly ignored the points raised in my book ('Can We Trust the BBC?'- Continuum). This is odd and, I think, somewhat shameful. The BBC is, rightly, committed to the idea that it should be a public watchdog, when institutions, or individuals, fail in their duty in some way. Now we have a situation where I, as an ex BBC employee, have raised in a level-headed and non-sensational way, what I believe to be serious failings in the department Peter leads. If this was any other institution we would expect the BBC to interview the author of those complaints and begin to debate the issue; because it is the BBC itself which is under scrutiny the Corporation's news machine goes into denial and simply blanks the whole issue. This is quite wrong. The BBC makes much of 'accountability' on its website and as the recipient of £3billion of public money annually it jolly well should be accountable. But it seems absolutely determined not to be, in this instance. Could it possibly be that the BBC is actually scared of debating this issue knowing itself to be on weak ground?

  • 40.
  • At 02:17 AM on 28 Mar 2007,
  • Max wrote:

Dear Mr. Porter,

Your feeble explanation in "Part of the Conspiracy (2)" received comments a bit to hot to handle eh!. So you dumped that and leave the first part only on for debate. Really?
Max.

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