Saturday, 15 April 2017

Introspective post

Does the BBC read blogs like this? And does it react to what we write?

The company I work for is assiduous in monitoring social media for adverse comment, so it's hardly difficult to imagine that the BBC keeps an eye on sites like this from time to time (even if just for amusement). And lower-lying BBC people especially are bound to Google themselves.

In the early days of this blog programmes like Broadcasting House and Sunday actually used to link to some of our pieces on their official BBC websites (which they must have found by searching for reaction) - at least until we became too critical of them. And an edition of BBC Correspondents Look Ahead alluded to one of our posts. Other than that though it's mainly been hints and suspicions - except for some complaints that have paid off (though that's obviously not a question of them reading us voluntarily). 

Commenters at sites like Biased BBC have often wondered whether BBC News website articles (in particular) have been surreptitiously edited in response to criticism there. Given how 'surreptitious' the BBC can be, it's very hard to know whether such 'stealth-edits' really have come about because of alert BBC eyes monitoring critical blogs, or whether such changes have  merely been coincidental and either (a) self-motivated or (b) prompted by direct complaints. (And they certainly wouldn't tell us if they had 'stealth-edited' such a piece). But, nonetheless, it's certainly a real possibility. And, as I say, why wouldn't they?


Such thoughts also struck me after the BBC bumped up the distressing story of Hannah Bladon mid-morning this morning, a couple of hours after we posted (again) about their failings over the coverage of the story - the BBC having 'buried' the overnight news of Hannah being named and the growing tributes to her deep inside the less-read sections of the BBC website. Why would a story that the BBC had 'buried' overnight (even after Hannah's name was made public shortly after midnight) - and been so reluctant to fully report - suddenly get brought to prominence and the young woman at its heart finally given the proper humanity due to her unless someone - some website maybe? - had shamed someone at the BBC into doing the right thing?

Now, even if this isn't the case (and it very well may not be the case and the BBC could just have been catching up with most other media outlets), it still remains the right thing for blogs like this to do to keep on pointing such shameful BBC behaviour out, just in case someone at the BBC does pass by, reads the criticism, takes it on board and then acts on it.

We can only live in hope.


I also had that strange (paranoid?) sense that we're being read on the sly by the BBC whilst listening to this week's More or Less, which also engaged in a spot of introspection. 

The feature focused on the question of whether fact-checking of the kind More or Less engages in is a pointless exercise because people who don't want to believe the programme's 'facts' not just don't believe their 'facts' but might actually go the other way and become even more resistant to the 'truths' More or Less is telling them about. Such 'fact-checking' might, therefore, 'backfire' on the likes of More or Less. 

What made me think they were talking about this blog was that Tim Harford framed the programme's angst in the context of complaints about BBC bias, implicitly including complaints against his programme - and, as regular readers will know, this site has been particularly intent on nailing More or Less over its biased Brexit coverage. So it's evidently 'people like us', if not explicitly us, that Tim had in mind - though he employed the classic 'Complaints From Both Sites' defence during the programme. 

Even then I wasn't really thinking that he actually meant us until a passing comment about people getting vexed about More or Less's coverage of EU cabbage regulations. That was something we did write about, to the detriment of More or Less. I can't find any evidence that anyone else on the internet wrote about that at More or Less's expense. 

The upshot of More or Less's introspection was that they should try and avoid the 'backfire' effect by refraining from treating those they are debunking as idiots ('Coco the Clowns' you might say) and try instead to ingratiate their 'facts' with us by intriguing us by them...oh, and by using a 'debunking handbook' by Stephan Lewandowsky which Tim recommended. (This turns out, on Googling, surprise, surprise, to be a handbook mainly to debunk 'climate sceptics'). 

All I can say to this is that if you are reading this at More or Less, well, hello and thanks for reading us. 

And please don't forget that your cautionary psychological tales apply to you too. You too aren't free from the failings and the cognitive biases you evidently think 'people like us' are prone to. You don't float above the rest of us. You're not disembodied Platonic souls, immune to the kind of things Daniel Kahneman writes about, anymore than we are.

You might think of yourselves as the impartial guardians of truth but don't you need watching too? What if your facts, however true, are skewed by 'groupthink'? What if your chosen 'facts' are highly selective, however unconsciously? What if, say doing the EU referendum, your coverage was overwhelmingly tilted, also however unconsciously, to 'help' one side (the Remain side) - as I think it indeed was? Was that really you just telling the truth, spreading the facts, in a neutral, dispassionate fashion, merely governed by 'a bias towards understanding' (as Nick Robinson put it), or was that you, perhaps despite yourselves, betraying an actual, heavy (pro-Remain) bias? And maybe we 'BBC bias-bashing' types aren't wrong after all?


  1. I stopped watching the BBC decades ago, so have not contributed to their coffers for a long time. Now I hardly even listen to the BBC for news on the radio. They are not just biased, they are completely smug about it.

    The only option is to split it into two (to avoid a private monopoly like their current public monopoly), sell both parts off and make both the parts revenue stream pay-to-view. Then those that like the BBC can pay for it (as they do now) and the rest of us will be free to watch something else without being forced to subsidise the BBC.

  2. I find More or Less a particularly reprehensible programme. They make out its about facts and figures, but keep straying into matters of interpretation - and they always seem strongly motivated to undermine Brexit and Trump. Looking forward to their "Could North Korea really harm the USA" doubt concluding that is very unlikely.

  3. You may be onto something with this line of thought Craig. The, predictable, trolls on B-BBC seem to have gone quiet recently.

    Perhaps(???) they are now just monitoring and taking notice?

    I'm not holding my breath!

    1. Unfortunately there was a post overnight (seldom a good time) from one of the newer claimed bbcphobes that seemed almost designed to allow them an incursion.

  4. Surely some Beeboids have a Google alert set up to notify them whenever a new post or article about them appears. As for reading this blog, who knows? Unless you have a list of BBC IPs, or a Beeboid actually sticks his/her head above the parapet, I don't know if it's every possible to say for sure. What we do know is that others read your blog and will link to it elsewhere, which will gain attention, or will even file a complaint just from reading one of your posts. The BBC does take note of coherent, succinct, well-reasoned complaints, and will make corrections because of them. We've seen it happen.

    As for 'fact-checking', the BBC's track record on which way that swings speaks for itself. It would be shocking if More or Less was any different.

  5. You can see in the piece TH does the BBC trick of building False-narratives.
    eg he gives little evidence that hearing debunks generally reinforces the bad facts
    Bizarre that he brings wacky conspiracy theory projector Stephan Lew into the prog.
    TH's original FT article is more sound and doesn't mention Lew or debunking

    Did you spot the bit at 9:15 where they mimick Paul J Watson ??