Saturday 14 September 2013

Getting complaints from both sides

This week's Newswatch was a special from Glasgow on the BBC's reporting of the Scottish independence debate. 

Presenter Samira Ahmed said that "most of the complaints received by Newswatch" have accused the corporation of "an anti-independence bias"

Some of those were read out :
Why should we, the Scottish people, pay a licence fee to be fed propaganda on a daily basis by an alleged 'neutral' TV channel? 
I am writing with regards to 'Reporting Scotland' and their constant negativity and 'warnings' about Scottish independence. I went into the referendum with an open mind, and the BBC are offering absolutely nothing to viewers like myself, who may be on the fence. 
When it came to the interview with the relevant BBC manager, John Boothman, Head of News & Current Affairs at BBC Scotland, Samira put the bias point to him. 

BBC managers often get mocked on BBC-monitoring blogs for always trotting out the same old line whenever the issue of bias is raised on Newswatch - 'We get complaints from both sides, which shows we're getting it about right'. 

Mr Boothman didn't disappoint in that respect. It wasn't long before he said,
"To be fair, we have complaints not just from one side, from both sides."
When Samira pressed him on the point, he simply replied,
"It depends who you talk to, and it an polarised debate you're going to get complaints from both sides."
And that was that. His expression said, 'Case closed.' Samira moved on.

Now, as I've noted before, there really does seem to be a lot more criticism of BBC bias from the pro-independence side of the argument - as can be seen from the wealth of websites and social media sites that campaign against the BBC on the issue. So the 'to be fair, we have complaints from both sides' argument doesn't necessarily hold water. 

You could have 1,000 complaints from one side, and 30 from the other. Those from one side could be genuine complaints while the ones from the other side could be essentially disingenuous. One side could outline specific, detailed examples of bias, the other could just make unsupported assertions. 

So, there's a quantity and a quality issue with regards to the BBC's habitual 'you're going to get complaints from both sides' defence. 

Plus, just because both sides say you are biased it doesn't necessarily follow that both sides are wrong. One side could be wrong; the other right. 

Still, none of that will prevent BBC editors from continuing to appear on Newswatch and repeating the mantra that 'We get complaints from both sides, which shows we're getting it about right', over and over and over again. They clearly think it's a knock-down argument. 

It isn't.

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