Seconds out. Round Four....or should that be 'It's war!'?
The Telegraph's assault on BBC bias continues apace.
Former long-term BBC reporter Robin Aitken has become one of the corporation's sharpest critics in recent years and wrote a book a while back called Can We Trust the BBC? It looks as if he's now published a sequel called Can We Still Trust the BBC?, and that's also the title of a piece of his published in the Telegraph today:
He says that "life within the BBC’s newsrooms can feel hermetically sealed and insulated from reality." The first part of his essay examines how he believes this situation has come about.
One of the reasons, he says, is that most BBC's journalists have jobs for life, "stable careers and little incentive to go elsewhere" - a "stasis" which makes the BBC "a very self-referential institution".
Also, the corporation is protected from its commercial rivals by the licence fee ["£5 billion a year buys a very substantial comfort blanket."] As regards TV, Sky's news presence is "puny", and ITN is no longer a worthy competitor because of "straitened financial circumstances". Moreover, Robin believes that Radio 4 is "the single most influential media entity in the country."
What this means is that the BBC can pretty much dictate terms when it comes to the national debate – and it’s a power it exercises in full measure.
"The so-called Right-wing press is the “other” against which the BBC defines itself," he continues. BBC editors steer away from their agenda and, though they occasional heed the Guardian and the Independent, "what emerges from the loudspeaker is the BBC’s own agenda. That’s why the news priorities in BBC bulletins are so markedly different from the newspapers."
Robin then echoes a point we've made several times at Is the BBC biased?:
This underlines a truth not sufficiently acknowledged – that all journalism is a matter of selection. The running order of the BBC’s main bulletins is not ordained by some higher authority; instead, it is merely the preference of BBC editors.
The BBC selection boards tend to choose people "in their own image and likeness" and, thus, "the system becomes self-reinforcing."
Aspiring young BBC journalists know that they will be expected to show an interest in a particular type of story. So an internal culture is constructed, recruit by recruit, which reinforces an established world view.
Another thing we've occasionally remarked on at Is the BBC biased? [and that people at Biased BBC have observed for years]:
The way the day is structured in the BBC’s main news centre encourages an insidious orthodoxy. Each morning, the senior editors meet to discuss the day’s agenda. A consensus emerges, and because the corporation is fiercely hierarchical, the juniors – nurturing their promising careers – take their cue from their elders and betters. Which is why from morning to midnight, from Today to the Ten O’Clock News and right on down the chain to local radio, the same stories lead the bulletins.
It does indeed.
This amplification effect is what gives BBC news output such enormous clout. More than 90 per cent of us listen or watch the BBC every week. For many people, the BBC is their constant companion – from dawn to dusk it is the background soundtrack in the lives of millions. That is why, uniquely among media organisations, the BBC performs the role of gatekeeper to the national debate. If the BBC doesn’t run with a story then, arguably, it isn’t a story at all.
Robin's essay then expands on some specific examples of how the BBC has handled some recent stories and lists a few of the main subject areas where BBC bias seemed to him to be most glaring.
He ends, however, by noting something which opinion polls are also showing at the moment:
I had first-hand evidence of this recently at the Ilkley Literature Festival. The convenor took a straw poll of the audience I was addressing. Who trusts the BBC, he asked, and who doesn’t? To my surprise, the split was more or less 50/50. OK, it was a self-selected group, but warning bells should be ringing in New Broadcasting House. The BBC used to inspire near-universal trust: it can no longer take that for granted.