Tuesday 25 March 2014

The perfect bias-free BBC day (Part II)


After Sunday and the Radio 4 Appeal - Mariella Frostrup appealing on behalf of the BBC's Sports Relief - came Sunday Worship (8.05am). 

I'm entirely with Chrish (in the comments) in describing this Syrian Orthodox Service as powerful, and full of interesting information. I also thought the call to prayer/extemporising of Christian song at the end of communion was stunning, and enjoyed the hymns in in Arabic and Aramaic. The weaving of voices - including the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Britain, the kidnapped/very probably murdered Archbishop of Aleppo [a "dear friend" of the presenter Martin Palmer], the Grand Mufti of Syria [whose own son was assassinated by terrorists], and our very own Prince Charles - was well wrought, and the nature of the persecution faced by Christians in the countries surrounding Israel has rarely been so forcefully conveyed on the BBC before. 

The essential message was (courtesy of Ephesians 4):
Be ye angry, but sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your wrath, yet do not make room for the devil. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, together with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Why should a Christian act of service find its place in a post describing an unbiased day at the BBC? Isn't it biased in favour of Christianity and, therefore, against non-Christian religions and atheists? 

To which the obvious reply is that the vast majority of Radio 4's output is secular (despite Thought for the Day each day), so a small space for a weekly Christian service in a country that many listeners (like me) still think of as a Judeo-Christian country is surely acceptable to all but the most intransigent atheist.

As a non-intransigent atheist, I love such services - just as I love hymns, Christmas carols, churches and cathedrals, church choirs, church rituals, baptisms, marriages and funeral services, the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, religious poetry (George Herbert, T.S. Eliot), fine sermons, great works of Christian apology (C.S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters), etc.

I think it's wonderful that Radio 4 broadcasts a weekly Christian Sunday service. So that's going into my idea of a good, unbiased day of BBC broadcasting.

A Point of View (8.45am) might also have a place - as short, intelligent 'think pieces' are perfect for radio.

Regular readers of Is the BBC biased? will, however, be well aware of that list...the one that proved the programme's left-liberal bias in the clearest terms possible: A Point of View went nearly four years without a single right-of-centre presenter. There were plenty of left-leaning ones of course). Only when Roger Scruton came along did that very long, bias-provoked drought finally come to an end.

Since then (August 2013), Roger Scruton has re-appeared but remains the only right-winger in the A Point of View village, with additional left-leaning speakers adding to that list (William Dalrymple, AL Kennedy) to reinforce the programme's overwhelming left-liberal bias.

So for A Point of View to take its place in my 'perfect day' of BBC broadcasting, it would have to very radically address its own failings when it comes to providing a proper range of points of views appropriate to an 'impartial' broadcaster...and that obviously means not just inviting Roger Scruton into the studio for a short run every eight months.

Variety should be the spice of BBC life. A dozen blossoming flowers from the left, a dozen from the right, a dozen from nowhere-easily-identifiable - that would do nicely, wouldn't it?

So, having (in my imagination) listened to Will Self's fourth A Point of View the week before, my imaginary perfect BBC day would have me waking up to the start of a run of talks from Theodore Dalrymple. Imagine that at the BBC! (Hard, isn't it?)

And, yes, Tweet of the Day would definitely be there, representing natural history - regardless of the voting habits of its presenter (if that presenter keeps those political beliefs out of her/her talk about the sand martin, goldeneye, house sparrow, lesser-spotted oddie and rook. Tweet of the Day is a fabulous series. (Should have mentioned that earlier perhaps).

Ah, but could Paddy O'Connell and Broadcasting House (9.00am) ever find a place in my idea of a good, unbiased day of BBC broadcasting? Surely not?

Oh, I certainly used to have a right go at Broadcasting House for bias on a very regular basis, especially in 2009-10 (when I used to call it Gordcasting House on the strength of Paddy's apparent pro-Labour proclivities), then at Biased BBC [in very regular comments] and, yes, we at Is the BBC biased? are still at it [not quite so very regularly], making the case that there's still a problem with bias at BH....

...but, speak it softly, I've come round to the view that the programme isn't as bad as it used to be and - above anything else on Sunday 23 March - this particular edition of the programme spurred me into making a PARTIAL defence of that day's BBC broadcasting on an earlier post as....speak it very softly....I thought it was absolutely superb - and I didn't smell even the faintest whiff of bias from it either. No, not even from Paddy.

There was Professor Mark Almond on Russia (fascinating, unexpected), The Sky of Night's Maggie Aderin-Pocock judging Lord West, Dame Ann Leslie and Nigel Havers's explanations of the discovery of gravitational waves (funny), that fine piece on the youth orchestra of Afghanistan (inspiring, worrying), an interview about Magna Carta (informative), and an entertaining paper review featuring a Labour baroness, a Conservative lord and Maggie Aderin-Pocock (balanced). Plus Paddy kept his opinions to himself, and made me laugh on several occasions too.

Diversion: The Magna Carta.

The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta next year prompted the Magna Carta bit...

From BH, I learned that there are four existing copies of the Magna Carta - two in the British Library, one in Lincoln and one in Salisbury. All four will be gathered together for the very first time next year to mark the anniversary.

The copy Paddy looked at was, as he put it, about the size of a tabloid newspaper - if entirely spread out. The Latin writing is brown, and feint on brown paper, using a very compact script. The medieval scribes, the lady from the British Library told us, used many abbreviated words to save space and there are two-and-a-half thousand words crammed into a single sheet of parchment.

There were 63 clauses in Magna Carta. Only three of them are still valid in law today: the very first one, protecting the rights and liberties of the English Church; the one that protects the rights and liberties of the City of London, and other towns, ports and boroughs; and - buried away in the middle, without any prominence - the most famous clause of all, the one that says that no free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land, and no one shall justice delayed or denied to him.

That's what I learned from this particular edition of Broadcasting House. It's the sort of thing that my idea of an unbiased day of BBC broadcasting would (and should) provide - along with the rest of the features of this present edition.

Hopefully, even though I'm using just one day of BBC Radio 4 broadcasting as an example, you're getting a very strong sense of what I want from the BBC - and what I don't want. More tomorrow.


  1. Thanks – what an excellent couple of posts. it’s always trickier trying to come up with positive suggestions and I applaud your efforts.

    Although Sunday is probably the day that I listen least to Radio 4, I do listen enough to say that I agree with most of your comments so far.

    I certainly agree that the Sunday programme does tend to spend too much time focussing on one religion in particular – as evident this week. I too suspect that the views do tend towards the liberal ends of whatever religion is being considered and I’d love to hear more strict/rightish or even fundamentalist voices (if only for my part, for the amusement of hearing them spoken outloud).

    I also enjoyed the farming programme, but as an aside I’d say that there’s something of a soft bias in its presentation of farming as it occurs in this country today. As is usually the case it focussed on the plight of a relatively small ‘family’ farmer – of course these stories are the most affecting and interesting, but when the majority of farmland in Britain is owned by only a relative few (with an average age of a 59 apparently) I think it can lead to a misaprehension of what’s actually going on.

    Given your comments so far you may possibly, be surprised to hear that I too also have a problem with the bias in the pool of ‘go to’ presenters and contributors. I agree that thereis a general (soft) left-liberal bias in the day-to-day programming, which all-too-often can also tend towards the glib. I suspect, however, that this is, in major part, a consequence of the a lazy London/metropolitan bias in general (where everything looks more multicultural than does the rest of Britain). Personally I’d like to get all the BBC’s London based producers in a room, confiscate their address books and wipe their (Beeb courtesy) iPhones, and tell them to start again. I’d probably let half of them ‘go’ while I was at it.

    Oh, and as a child of the seventies, Bill Oddie still has so much good-will capital in my bank from the ‘Gunfight at the OK Tearooms’, ‘Ekky Thump’ and (to a lesser extent) ‘The Funky Gibbon’, that he could be an unreconstructed Maoist and I’d still want to hear him broadcast.

    Having said all that, none of this in my view is enough to make up for the relentlessly Establishment / Westminster / neoliberal bent of the BBC news output – and with that I suspect you would not agree.


    Adrian (a Mr. from Brighton).

    1. Thanks Adrian. I really appreciate that - and you've certainly got me thinking.

      This kind of blog can often get bogged down in relentless Beeb-bashing, so it's good to be asked to think in a different way. I've not got much time tonight to do so though, so (to quote Scarlett O'Hara) tomorrow is another day, and the next post will have to wait until tomorrow...

      Funnily enough, it looks as if my idea of a good, unbiased day of BBC broadcasting looks almost the same as what the BBC broadcast this Sunday morning - with the exception of 'Sunday'.

      I think that tendency to focus on the liberal ends of all religions is a sort of BBC Radio 4 default position, whether it be on 'Sunday' or 'Thought for the Day'.

      That makes it so dull.

      'Thought for the Day', especially, is so open to parody that entire websites and Twitter feeds are devoted to sending it up.

      There's one called 'TFTD Abridged, which tweets surprisingly accurate summaries of editions of 'Thought for the Day'. These are some of the latest:

      "There's a lot of grief about. Is it OK to look at it? Let's check the Bible! There are pictures of Mary grieving so it's OK."

      "The Sutton Hoo treasure proves that the dark ages weren't as bad as Nazi Germany. Obviously this reminds me of Cain and Abel."

      "Self-determination was invented by Vladimir Lenin. Isn't that ironic? Also, Jesus."

      "Food is really important. People are just rubbish about buying food. Also, Jesus."

      "Nuns. They're just amazing."

      "Doom! Darwin was totally wrong about birdsong. Spring is great. Birdsong is totally like psalms. Biology is just rubbish."

      "Science says minds and brains are connected. Of course Christianity knew that already. Also, St Paul."

      "Communication. Buddhists do it best."

      "Has anyone mentioned it's Lent? Some people don't have enough food and that's bad. Also, Churchill."


    2. Your point about the BBC's farming coverage is one I hadn't thought about before (probably because I'm a rightie).

      Much of the countryside to the immediate south of Lancaster belongs to a single landowner, the Duke of Westminster. I look out over Lancaster from where I work each day, and can see the northernmost reaches of the Duke's 22,500-acre grouse moor. He owns many a farm around the country, and yet - as far as my researches can tell - he doesn't appear on 'On Your Farm' very often. As a cap-doffing, Northern peasant, I wouldn't mind hearing from him.

      I was very interested in your thoughts about the BBC's general (soft) left-liberal bias. That's how it seems to me - as you know. Plus I agree with your qualification 'soft'...give or take the odd Paul Mason type.

      I can see what you mean about it being caused by a lazy London/metropolitan bias, and I'd love to see that broken too.

      I would add though that the BBC's policy of recruiting through the 'Guardian' - however convenient that may be for a media organisation - may not help either.

      Plus from my weekly 'labour of love/hate', 'Sunday', I'm getting a very real sense that being based in Salford/Manchester - and regularly reporting from there - might lead to more bias.

      Manchester doesn't represent Britain/England as a whole any better than London. Manchester is even more multicultural than London, and far more left-wing (in terms of voting patterns).

      When BBC programmes - as they keep doing at the moment - sample 'vox pops' from the streets of Manchester, those 'vox pops' aren't (I think) likely to be representative of anywhere other than safely-Labour Manchester.

      I'm with you entirely on Bill Oddie. As one or two of my earlier posts may suggest, I love him (in a purely platonic way). 'Springwatch' has never recovered from his loss (much as I've to Chris Packham; indeed, I once warmed so much to an appearance of Chris Packham's at Morecambe's 'The Platform' that I [literally] fainted - though I blame a heavy meal and lots of alcohol beforehand - and a very warm room - for that rather than Chris himself). Bill's quirks, grumpiness and occasional silliness never really bothered me. His left-wing politics even less.

      Your point of view - that the BBC is relentless Establishment - is a point of view I've been made to think about a bit in the last year or so (through a certain 'YouGov' poll I keep quoting, and from an anti-Establishment blogger [Tom] who tussled with both us and 'Biased BBC' {and I think rather more amicably with us!}.

      That poll said that 17% of us think the BBC is biased against the Right, and only 4% think it's biased against the Left - good news for my way of thinking [except that 17% remains very low]...but 16% of people [i.e. almost a dead heat] agree with your point of view that the BBC is pro-Establishment - and thanks to you I've got a better grasp of why.

      What though, in 2014, do you mean by 'The Establishment' though? If you have a spare few minutes I'd love your take on this.

      Is the BBC relentlessly pro-Westminster? Yes. I agree with you there, wholeheartedly. That Westminster bubble needs bursting.

      Is the BBC neo-liberal? Your suspicion that I won't agree with you there is correct!

      Best wishes,

      Craig (a Mr. from Morecambe).

  2. A few points from your comment Craig:

    His Lordship will be likely taking a few hundred thousand pounds a year of subsidies to maintain those grouse-moors too.

    I’d say that (roughly) my view of the Establishment is a term that covers those who have, or are assumed to have, a degree of authority in the state and workings of the UK.

    Members of which I’d include (in no particular order): the royals (and aristochracy), the judiciary (and barristers), the Lords, senior figures from the Commons. certain ministries of state – particularly the MoD, FCO & Treasury, the Army ‘top brass’, the security services, luminaries of the City of London and the CoE and Catholic churches, other public bodies (National Trust, arts councils etc).

    Increasingly too I’d include the ‘economic’ establishment – executives and CEOs of the major banks, the big-four ‘accountancy’ firms, a few investment houses and large companies (some of which, like John Lewis and M&S, seem to obsess the Beeb). You can add to this the major regulators (Ofwat, Ofcom, Competition Commission etc).

    I would previously have included the high-ranking police, but the Hillsborough, Lawrence and Plebgate enquiries have finally forced at least a hint of some healthy skepticism into the BBC’s interaction with them.

    Certainly the BBC are far more likely to accept without challenge the statements and assurances from members of any of the above groups than they would from anyone else, and any ‘mistakes’ are always made ‘in good faith’.

    A couple of recent cases I think show the kind of soft soaping I’m talking about (in another comment shortly…)

  3. Firstly, there’s the coverage of the Edward Snowden NSA/GCHQ spying revelations. When the BBC wasn’t ignoring it completely, they were blandly accepting the ‘nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-fear’ assurances of May, Hague & (particularly) Malcolm Rifkind that everything was all completely legal, above board and properly regulated.

    Patently obvious questions remained unasked -‘How do we know that someone hasn’t leaked this stuff already?’, ‘If this is all so damaging to national security, why has no one been sacked or resigned for allowing a twenty-something in Hawaii to have so much access to it?’, ‘How have these revelations actually put national security at risk like you keep claiming Ms. May?’, ‘Which of these revelations were you aware of and which were you not Mr. Rifkind – you are supposed to be monitoring this you pillock?’,).

    I think the most obvious, and glaring, example of Establishment bias, however, is one that I think you’ve already addressed: the far from even-handed coverage of the Scottish independence referrendum.

    Research from the University of the West of Scotland, which is, as far as these things go, pretty rigorous, shows a clear bias against independence in the way the BBC has reported the situation. The BBC first attempted to ignore this research, then tried to rubbish it and put pressure on the institution to withdraw it – actions which speak volumes for their lack of impartiality on this matter. Their behaviour is especially bizarre when it’s put in the context of their usually very uncritical reporting of most publications from think-tanks and tame professors. This week’s huge coverage of the NHS apparently losing up to £7bn a year to fraud and error being a case in point. It’s based on very tenuous assumptions, but made the headlines throughout the day (see https://fullfact.org/health/fraud_cost_nhs_panorama-30819 ).

    [Also http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/john-robertson-oliver-huitson/interview-bbc-bias-bullying-and-scottish-referendum for starting point on the BBC responses to the research.]

    Robert Peston seems particularly fond of drawing attention to the ‘dangers’ of independence, never once mentioning that there are ‘dangers’ of staying in the UK (i.e. continued austerity, continued squandering of oil revenues, and leaving the EU if the Tories get their way on a referrendum. This latter eventuality, of course, may or may not be a ‘danger’ – but the BBC is happy enough to portray it as such when it made such a fuss about Barroso’s comments that an independent Scotland would not be able to join, whilst simultaneously ignoring comments from the Spanish and many others that they would).

    I’ll send you more considered thoughts as to why I think the BBC shows neoliberal bias shortly, but in framing most debates, economic or otherwise, within the bounds of the narrow Westminster context, I can’t see how it could fail to be.

    Could you point me in the direction of any of the exchanges you had with anti-establishment Tom? I don’t want to rehash anything you’ve already covered.

    1. Yes, they were here:

  4. Craig (a Mr. from Morecambe).

    Please explain what "neoliberal" actually means. I mean, this is a standard slur I see get slung by grauniadista types against... well, most anything they disagree with.

    Oh, and the BBC is The Establishment.

    ftumch (a Mr. from Lancashire o'er the sands - ie, I am considerably more Northern than Craig. Winter is coming).

    ps, R3 this week on Michael Nyman. Loved the film, love the music. V baroque


    Just my case for a good day on BBC. (Add some In Our Time and More or Less.. and bingo)

    1. damn!

      Ignore the "Craig (a Mr. from Morecambe)." at the top of my post, i cut and pasted from notepad. I only did that so I could maintain the thread style.

      Oh, and I don't think that bingo should be included to make a perfect bias-less bbc day... though, thinking on it..... hmmmmm

      ftumch, aye

    2. Oh yes, 'More or Less' and 'In Our Time', and 'Composer of the Week'. All of them.

      And if you're in a Baroque mood over the other side of the bay, some catchy Rameau...

    3. Awesome! Thanks Craig. I am a baroque kinda guy. I like you sir, even if you are a soft southern b*st*rd!

  5. The recent Desert Island Discs featured a nurse who was working in Tigre 84/5 at the same time as Michael Buerk did his piece that got Geldof going with his Live Aid stuff.
    It started out pretty well, but I rather felt that she was being asked to revise her opinions at the time that Buerk was a ghoul, and Geldofs song wrong on so many levels.
    Buerk asked her "what having to choose who lives and who dies does to you!"...or such.
    That said, I could have lived with Kirsty seeming to get the nurse to give her blessing to the whole Live Aid thing...until the nurse said that she has dropped her Christian "faith", and is now a Buddhist.
    My point-why does Kirsty Young then assume that the BIBLE should then be dropped for the Bhagavad-Gita or what have you? The lady is spiritual, and has a faith from her parents...why isn`t she allowed to drop the heftier "Complete Works of Shakespeare" instead-or at least offered the boon to drop in the first place?
    Typical lefty Arts Council fakes...Shakespeare is sacred-Jesus and the Jews have nothing to add!
    Who`s going to tell the secular zealots at the BBC that Shakespeare makes a lot more sense if you DO know your Bible....as if they give a hoot!

    1. Yes, it was fascinating hearing her initial thoughts on Michael Buerk and 'Do they know it's Christmas?' and how she changed her mind.

      That is an interesting point about Kirsty's dropping of the Bible rather than Shakespeare, as if that were the obvious thing to do. I do think that's suggestive of her and the BBC's way of thinking about such things.


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