Oh dear, it's "Blimey-this-is-long,-and-I-ain't-gonna-read-it" time again...
But, go on, go on, go on (as Mrs Doyle would say), give it a read. It will only take you ten minutes! (Think of it as being just two ad breaks in the middle of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!).
There's a typically lively and interesting exchange going on over at Biased BBC at the moment
between Tom and many of the regulars at B-BBC.
As all engaging blog exchanges (ideally) should, it's got me thinking. So I'll share my thoughts with you here.
Tom, new to commenting at Biased BBC
, has started his own blog on the subject of BBC bias, BBC News Bias
Thus, he joins the ever-increasing cottage industry of BBC bias-related websites.
However, Tom isn't quite on the same wavelength as me (to say the least), or of most of the contributors at Biased BBC - as the exchanges at B-BBC make clear. He's berating them for being like me.
Still, I find his Mission Statement
quite acceptable (though I wouldn't think of wording it so emphatically), and his first proper post, about the BBC's "Selective Skepticism
", struck a bit of a chord with me. (Fiona Bruce instantly sprang to mind):
On TV news, the same objective is achieved when newsreaders, correspondents, and contributors alter the tone of their voice. You will often hear a news anchor raise the pitch of their voice in an incredulous way. The subtext is "I don't believe this and neither should you". This is an extremely common method for inserting the opinion of a media organisation into news that is supposed to be factual.
David Preiser at Biased BBC has already laid out compelling evidence that the BBC downplayed that particular story, such as to predispose me to agree with Tom here.
However, I part company with him when he speculates as to the reasons why the BBC played down this embarrassing story for the U.S. Democratic administration of Barack Obama:
Could the BBC be pandering to government pressure at a time when the British Prime Minister is negotiating a trade deal with the American government? It would certainly fit.
Aha! He thinks the BBC is in the government's pocket.
That means, in this case, that he doesn't assume (as I assume) that the BBC is instinctively sympathetic to (and, therefore, biased towards) Democratic administrations in the U.S. because of its staff's left-liberal mindset.
I don't buy Tom's explanation for a second.
Still, his line of argument places him in line with a firm strand of public opinion - that the BBC is pro-establishment.
Opinion polls [as reported by Is the BBC biased?] show that line of thought to be equally popular with the point of view which I hold - that the BBC is generally pro-Left in orientation. [The view that the BBC is pro-Right is held by very few people, other than a few outriders on Twitter].
'The BBC is pro-government' line then comes to dominate Tom's subsequent posts.
How the BBC indeed elevates a story - such as today's coverage of Prof Ashton's calls for the lowering of the age of consent - is a live and fascinating issue, and Tom is right to pursue this angle.
But...his choice of story made me recoil, like a cobra before a mongoose! (Oh, I don't like that analogy, but I can't think how to make myself into the mongoose rather than the cobra in such an analogy).
He's chosen to complain that the BBC is being biased against Robert Mugabe...at which point he instantly loses me.
But why? Well, perhaps because I think the BBC should be biased against Robert Mugabe. For the BBC not to be biased against Robert Mugabe (or Kim Jong-un for that matter) would offend my sense of right and wrong. I have an overwhelmingly strong bias against Mugabe. I loathe him, in fact. I don't loathe many people but, yes, I loathe Mugabe.
However, the BBC is supposed to be impartial, and they shouldn't - as Tom argues they do - propagandize against anyone, even murderous dictators, should they? They shouldn't share my loathing.
Or should they?
Oh dear, it's that old debate about whether impartiality is even possible and whether the BBC should, in fact, opt to be on 'the right side' instead.
Not just one can of worms there, but a thousands warehouses only stocked with cans of worms.
I just can't make my mind up here.
Tom can though. He takes the BBC's "anti-Mugabe propaganda" as further proof of their pro-establishment views, and expands on that:
Getting back on point, the BBC has long been a servile supporter of the British aristocracy, as evidenced by their sycophantic coverage of anything to do with the British royal family or Lady Thatcher. For obvious reasons, the left-wing facade of the BBC doesn't extend to denigrating the people with the power to take them off air. Thus, the reason the BBC has been spawning anti-Mugabe propaganda, and elevating these stories to be consumed en masse by a largely disinterested public, is because the British ruling class have told them to.
Well, that's a surprisingly nuanced point. The BBC's "left-wing facade", eh?
My jaw did drop at the suggestion that the BBC has been "sycophantic" in its coverage of Lady Thatcher (so much so that I may have dislocated it). That's very far from my experience of the BBC's treatment of Lady Thatcher, and "long been a servile supporter of the British aristocracy" raises a question in my mind: "Really?!?"
I might have also queried his suggestion that the BBC is "sycophantic" towards the Royal Family, based on my earlier experiences of the BBC, but - despite the utter fiasco of their Jubilee regatta coverage - the Beeb's Golden Jubilee coverage didn't strike me as being anti-royalist (and being an ardent royalist myself, I would have noticed if it had been) and the corporation's royal baby coverage really did verge on the sycophantic - and the fact that I was happy that it did (as I was) hardly helps dispel Tom's point there!
As a result, I'm rather at a loss to explain why the BBC's recent royal coverage has seemed (even to me) more royalist than anti-royalist. I'm still not remotely inclined to think that it's because the BBC is obeying their aristocratic masters though.
Hmm, "at a loss". Ah, I don't like being at a loss (even though I am often at a loss). So, I'd suggest (thinking aloud) that it's because the BBC saw the way the wind was blowing (i.e. in a strongly royalist direction) at the time of the Golden Jubilee and bent accordingly, in the interest of ratings (perhaps) and to avoid being pilloried again (as they were over their excruciating regatta coverage).
Anyhow, back to Tom's posts.
His next post
excoriates the BBC for being mean to President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina. He uses this as an example of the BBC "misleading by misquoting".
He shrewdly notes those baffling occasions when the BBC's headline or sub-headline uses quotation marks when the article fails to cite a direct quote where the allegedly-quoted phrase has actually been used.
Sue, myself, Hadar at BBC Watch and plenty of people at Biased BBC have commented about that over the years (especially over the BBC's online coverage of Israel). I'll give him a 'yep!' for that.
He complained to the BBC about the use of the word "elite" in a BBC article about Pres. Cristina, when the lady in question hadn't used that word - and, after complaining, received what we righties so rarely achieve - an admission that the BBC got it wrong:
"Our reader has a point and I have now removed the quotation marks from the story. In her interview, Cristina Fernandez referred to "privileged sectors in Argentina," saying they have done well in history, kept the lion's share and wanted the country to go back to a time when workers were poorly paid. I used ELITE simply as shorthand to "privileged sectors". But our reader is right to point out that there should be no quotation marks around a word the president didn't actually use."
Flipping heck! That's a response most of us old BBC bias hands couldn't even dream of receiving from the BBC! And after just five posts!!
Naturally, Tom takes this as proof that the BBC is propagandizing for the British government. I don't. Not for a second.
If the BBC were propagandizing for the British government over the Falkland Islands, I wouldn't mind though. In fact, I'll add an "If only!" here.
I'll admit that I'm biased on this subject. Very strongly biased.
Being a critic of BBC bias who takes the controversial 'The BBC should be as impartial as it claims to be, but isn't' line, I know very well that I should be resolute enough to assert that the BBC should toe the line on impartiality, even over the Falklands, but part of me doesn't want it to do so. I want it to be pro-British, and that's a contradiction I'm not yet able to resolve. (Not that it bothers me much).
Thankfully, I don't feel I have to resolve it. ("Thankfully"?)
I get really hot under the collar when I think the BBC is bending over backwards to put the Argentinian side of the Falklands issue, or promoting the anti-Falklands War stance, and I think they did promote the anti-Falklands War stance at the time - and have done so ever since - and I think that that they do occasionally bend over backward to give the Argentinian perspective at the expense of the British perspective.
So I don't buy Tom's view here - just as I suspect he's not going to buy mine (though I live in hope). Not for a second.
The familiar question then arises (at least to me): Tom is criticising the BBC for being pro-British in its coverage of Argentina and the Falklands, and I often criticise the BBC for being anti-British in its coverage of Argentina and the Falklands; thus, as the BBC is being criticised from both sides, it must be getting it about right. The question then being, is the BBC right about that?
As I've argued before, no, no and thrice no.
Just because both sides of the argument accuse the BBC of being biased doesn't prove that the BBC isn't biased. There may be (a) vastly more people complaining on one side of the argument than the other and (b) one side may be right and the other side wrong (and, maybe, have the evidence to back it up, while the other has merely bold assertion). I sense that Tom is on the wrong side of both (a) and (b).
However, Tom's most recent post
once more struck a chord (F sharp minor?), as he cites what he thinks is an example of the BBC's tendency to answer its own questions - and, yes, I agree that the BBC does have a tendency to answer its own questions - and to interview itself (BBC presenter + BBC correspondent) far too often, and always consensually.
Tom's example is the push for a war against the Assad regime in Syria - and, again, he's pushing the 'the BBC is a government poodle' angle:
Recently, the British government was pushing hard for war with Syria. In order to convince the British public before a major vote in parliament, news shows were busy making the case for intervention. This propaganda war ultimately failed. The people weren't convinced, and the politicians were forced to concede defeat.
As I was against involvement in Syria, I was glad it was thwarted; and, like Tom, I also felt that the BBC tended towards pushing for our involvement in Syria (on the side of the rebels) and that the rebel side was getting much more of a boost than the anti-rebel side.
Tom cites as an example Victoria Derbyshire's interview with the Turkish foreign minister, accusing her of asking and answering questions that promoted military intervention and speculating (as we BBC bias-related bloggers can't resist doing) that her "pro-government radio bias is presumably why she got her `big break' on television soon after." [Having read years-worth of criticism of Victoria D at Biased BBC for being an anti-Tory leftie, that made me grin!]
Watching the video he posts, I'm not inclined to disagree that Vicky behaved as he says she behaved (up to a point); however, I can only LOL (laugh out loud - not, as I used to think, lots of love) at his conclusions:
The BBC tows the government line on every foreign policy issue from Russia to Argentina (see earlier post). Its purpose is to the convince the British public that what the government wants to do is right. There has never been a clearer definition of propaganda; or a clearer example than the exploits of Victoria Derbyshire.
I really, really don't agree with the first two sentences there (and, Tom, it's "toe the line" not "tow the line").
The BBC's antagonism to our support for the U.S. airstrikes on Libya in 1986 was an early 'BBC bias' wake-up call for me, and the idea that the BBC was pro-Iraq War strikes me as very mistaken.
So why do I share Tom's view that the BBC gave the impression of pushing for intervention in Syria? Because I heard far more rebel voices than pro-government voices on the radio, often given an unchallenged platform - unlike pro-government supporters.
Unlike Tom, however, I put that down to the BBC's pro-Arab Spring euphoria and its tendency to be overtrustful of Islamists.
Like lots of commenters at Biased BBC, Tom has given me lots of fun this Sunday evening. It's good to have your suppositions challenged. So good luck to him in his blogging.