Sunday 11 August 2013

Zero further coverage

Commenters Bob Nelson and 1327 on the Biased BBC open thread noted that "The BBC’s crusade against zero hours contracts a few days ago appears to have come to an abrupt halt (as has the opposition’s outrage)" and speculated that this might be because "The Guardian, The Co-operative Bank and several Labour councils use them" - something that only emerged as the story snow-balled.

I must admit that I saw, heard and read the initial onslaught of BBC coverage, but failed to notice that the story had gone away again...until I saw their comments.

Much of the BBC's coverage occurred on August 5th, with four articles appearing on the BBC News website that day, Radio 5 Live doing a live Breakfast Call on it and Today making it their main story, with. Newsnight also covered it, as part of their 'cost of living' coverage.

Thereafter, it all went quiet again. At least on the BBC.

News outlets from The Times to the Financial Times, from the Sun to Channel 4 News, however, reported the Labour Party's own use of zero hours contracts on August 8th-9th.

You might reasonably have expected the BBC News website at least to post an article about that development (given their interest in political angles), but they didn't.


Was it because the story had taken a turn against their friends in the Labour Party (as they suggested at Biased BBC)? Or was it just a case of them having binged on the story one day and then thinking they'd covered it...full stop...time to move on (as happens with so many stories)?

And there I was going to leave it, but... could be because they'd already covered the story back on 31 July...

...or at least BBC London covered (part of) it, 'breaking' an FOI request they'd put in and reporting the results in conjunction with the left-leaning Resolution Foundation [not that they said the Resolution Foundation was 'left-leaning'].

However, given that it was a local news bulletin and that the video on the BBC News website would have been on its 'London' page, few people are likely to have seen it and, were you wondering, no party affiliations [for the councils concerned] were mentioned during the report.

So, where does this leave us? Confused?

Well, the BBC is clearly interested in reporting the 'zero hours' story. As proof of that, it has actively initiated some aspects of the story. It gorged itself on the story on 5 August and then went cold turkey thereafter, even while other new outlets (including the Guardian) kept plugging away at it.

Why the BBC went cold turkey remains mysterious to me. I'm torn between thinking that it's 'cock-up' territory (they move on so quickly from stories) or 'conspiracy' territory (that they lost interest when the Co-Op, Labour and the Guardian found themselves in the frame).

Please feel free, as ever, to make your own mind up.

Addendum 18.10

One test of BBC bias here is, obviously, to test how they reported the story - and the best test case is surely the Today programme. 

The 8.10 spot on Today on Monday began with Evan Davis interviewing Rochelle Monte, a lady who works on a zero-hours contract. Evan left the question open at the start of the interview as to whether it was a good thing or a bad thing, but Rochelle was downbeat about it and would have left listeners with the feeling that zero-hours contracts bring far more negatives for the employee than positives. 

Evan then talked to Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), whose report, claiming that four times as many people (around a million) were on zero-hours contracts than official figures suggest, was the starting point for today's (and Today's) coverage. Mr Cheese trod a middle path between denouncing and supporting the scheme.

At 8.49 Evan returned to the issue, talking to Vidhya Alakeson, deputy director at the Resolution Foundation [a "think tank that's been thinking quite hard about this"], and Colin Angel, policy director at UK Home Care Association, discuss the ethics of zero-hour contracts. Mr Angel was there to defend zero-hours contracts and Evan duly placed him in the dock, questioning him more sharply than Vidhya [who Evan then re-introduced as having "thought quite hard about this"]. Vidhya has plenty of concerns about zero-hours contracts, so was placed in the opposing camp to Mr Angel here. Evan interviewed her (to begin with) as if she were an impartial expert, echoing her words as as she went along. Evan then went back to challenging Mr Angel, putting his question from an anti-zero-hours standpoint. He did, finally, put a counter-question to Vidhya Alakeson and then challenged her, using the BBC's freelance model as his example. So, listeners did get both sides of the argument but one side of it (Vidhya Alakeson's side) came out of it less challenged than the other (Colin Angel's). 

On top of the earlier segment - a woman with strong reservations about these kinds of contract and an expert who sat on the fence on the issue (ever so wisely) - that clearly gave the edge to those opposing zero-hours contracts. It may, therefore, be described as 'moderately biased'.

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