Saturday, 8 April 2017

Marking our own homework

The BBC’s Newswatch programme explored the difference between the way complaints will be dealt with by the BBC’s new independent external regulator Ofcom, the body that, from Monday, is replacing the BBC Trust. 

“Now, who decides what constitutes impartiality, balance and accuracy in BBC news reports?” asks Samira Ahmed “and passes judgment when those values have been infringed”

She spoke to two media experts, Professor Steven Barnett, Professor of communications at Westminster University, and Stewart Purvis former chief executive of ITN and a former partner at Ofcom.

Formerly a complaint would go to the BBC Trust, explained Steven Barnett, adding: “which, despite the name, in my view at least, was actually a pretty independent body [..] the perception was that it was just  - once again - the BBC.” (Marking its own homework, as Samira put it earlier.)

Initially your complaint will still go to the BBC, and “if you then want to escalate it” it will ultimately be dealt with by Ofcom, said Professor Barnett. 

Samira pointed out that the BBC chair wants a scientific approach to this (analysing bias) but Stewart Purvis says we want human judgment involved. We want people to take account of the context, background and a series of factors before the regulator comes to a decision. 

Samira said it would be good if the BBC did a proper ‘head count’ of people on panel shows and the amount of airtime. “I’ve heard complaints about people being talked over and not getting their fair share”.

“You’ll always get complaints from people who see the news through their own lens” 
opines the professor of communications. 
Particularly on some of the big issues like the referendum, Brexit, the Middle East, which is the ones they get the biggest lot of complaints” 
“You can count the number of minutes as much as you want - you can count the number of heads, you can count the number of times on different sides that someone is for or someone is against. In the end it is going to be a matter of judgment.” 

“It’s going to politicise Ofcom in a way that it hasn’t been before. It’s going to put it in the firing line. It will put it under pressure from those that aren’t great friends of the BBC, I’m thinking in particular of the major publishers, and some of those who are the major critics of the BBC. Once Ofcom comes down, which they will, on the side of the BBC, I suspect we are going to see more criticism of Ofcom than we have seen so far.”

Actually, as far as I’m concerned, that’s all fine and dandy. Apart from one or two tell-tale signals.

In search of a credible snapshot of Steven Barnett’s own “lens” (other than just his appearance, which, let’s face it, he looks like a lefty - let’s see if he ‘talks like a lefty’ and quacks like one) what does one do these days but turn to Twitter. So, through his Twitter feed thing, he makes no secret of the fact that he’s the academic variety of your bog standard, lesser spotted anti-Brexit, anti-Islamophobia, anti-Trump, pro-refugee, liberal lefty.

I just thought, if the media is entirely in the hands of left-wing media studies professors, what hope is there for “impartiality”, now and forevermore.

Now, I’m the first to admit, and I think arch stopwatch/calcuator specialist Craig would agree, that your stopwatch findings aren’t the be-all and end-all of bias evaluation.  But they are a significant  indicator of what the BBC deems “right’ or ‘wrong’. 

For example, no-one in their right mind would be happy if the BBC suddenly felt it had to give an equal platform to (insert something that’s universally considered to be beyond the pale) say, advocates and opponents of paedophillia, or Islamic State. 

But when it comes to areas and opinions where the left-liberal consensus that dominates the media gets a more generous slice of the BBC’s platform than opposing or contrasting views, which might represent a considerable number of viewers, then your stopwatch gauge comes in handy. Not everyone shares the same view on what is or isn’t ‘beyond the pale’. Especially on issues such as the ones Steven Barnett cited, viz: Brexit and the Middle East .


  1. For academic read "pro-globalism polemicist".

    Quite astonishing levels of anti-Brexit hysteria shown on Barnett's twitter account. He really believes there will be:

    "Gridlock on the roads, massive border delays, failing IT systems. Welcome to the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain."

    ...and also naive to think that such things have never happened while we have been in the EU (short term memory failure is another Remainiac trait).

  2. "For example, no-one in their right mind would be happy if the BBC suddenly felt it had to give an equal platform to (insert something that’s universally considered to be beyond the pale) say, advocates and opponents of paedophillia, or Islamic State."

    The appropriately named "Beyond Belief" invariably manages to give equal weight to the Islamic point of view, despite the UK's head of state taking her authority from a 'Christian' god and the crown appearing in all the symbols of state and government being surmounted by the Christian cross. Not only that, the Islamic line is never challenged, the classic being when an imam openly declared that death was the punishment for apostasy and Ernie Rea said ne'er a word.

  3. BBC staff 'discussing' BBC staff with BBC guests chosen by BBC staff agreeing old BBC staff were pretty impartial but the new lot where BBC staff end up best watch their step.

    Getting from the human side of BBC complaints to the human side of of ofcom will be a hoot.