Saturday 14 September 2013

Controversial stuff

Here are some investigative high japes for you, concerning the BBC's use of the word 'controversial'. 

The BBC's use of the word 'controversial' is itself controversial - well, at least in BBC bias-hunting circles - as some BBC bashers (including yours truly, from time to time) claim that BBC reporters use the word to cast a biased cloud over things of which they themselves disapprove. 

The underlying assumption here, if I think about it, seems to be that calling something 'controversial' makes it sound suspect. Which it does.

For example, if you call someone 'a historian' no value judgements are implied and no one will immediately think better or worse of the historian in question as a result; however, call them 'a controversial historian' and the listener/reader will immediately be primed to listen to that historian in a different way - a less immediately trusting way.

Now, the counter argument argument to that is that some things - and some people - just are controversial, in that they cause controversy, or that they are the object of genuine controversy. 

This shouldn't, in itself, be a controversial point, as it's pretty self-evident - and it's on this ground that the BBC tends to defend itself. 

So it might (or might not) be interesting to list the things the BBC describes as 'controversial', just to test the hypothesis that the BBC uses the word in a biased way. 

As I've deliberately not tested this out already, it will be as big a surprise (or non-surprise) to me as it will be to you. 

How to test it? Simply type 'controversial' into the BBC News website's search engine and check all the news results. 

Er...(gulp!)...well not all the news results, as there are 37,817 of them. 

OK. Let me just write down all the things described as 'controversial', starting from today and working backgrounds until I get bored rigid, and let's see what happens. A full-blown, rigorous academic study will have to wait.

Here goes.

Well, I'm bored rigid already, even though there are just over 37,700 to go.

So a mere six days' worth of data - but feel free to continue the survey for yourselves ad infinitum - and what do we find?

Some things that might back up our (rightist) claims of BBC bias but, frankly, quite a few others that don't; indeed, to be fair, most, if not all, of the things in this list can fairly be defended as being, objectively-speaking, 'controversial'.

Well, that was an interesting experiment anyhow, as I'm sure Rachel Reeves would agree.

Oddly, I feel like having an early night tonight though. As Ian Katz would say, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

[Had it proved BBC bias, I probably wouldn't have been snoring though.]

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