Saturday 31 May 2014

Is 'More or Less' biased?

Of course the question everyone is asking (well, 100% of the people writing this post anyhow), "Does Radio 4's More or Less have a political bias?", could be answered through statistics (which would be fitting.)

What could be done is to examine all the subjects covered [or all those segments that explore politically-edged subjects] and see whose stats are being debunked/defended in each segment of the show and then infer which side of the political spectrum would most like the programme's conclusions. If more right-wingers than left-wingers, or vice versa, are debunked/defended then a bias might be revealed after totting up the numbers. Sounds reasonable doesn't it?

There is a subjective element brought in by the act of judging which side of the political debate will most welcome the segment's conclusions but if the judging is made transparently it can be disagreed with and the results corrected.

Let's try it out on this week's edition, which began by discussing the left-wing economist Thomas Piketty's use of data. 

Piketty is much preferred by the Left than the Right, given his message on capitalism's failings regarding even widening equality and his calls for a wealth tax. More or Less gave a tentative 'thumbs up' to Thomas Piketty here. That would have pleased the programme's left-wing listeners more than its right-wing ones. So that's 1 for 'the Left column'.

Next the programme thoroughly debunked a politically-charged claim by the housing charity Shelter that "We use as much land for golf courses in England as we do for homes", in order words that the needs of the well-heeled are privileged over the needs of the not-well-heeled - a claim that resonates with left-wingers more than right-wingers. More and Less laid out why Shelter was talking out of its ar.. dark door. So that's 1 for 'the Right column' then.

Next the programme made Today's Mishal Husain look rather silly over the latest "violent video games cause violent acts" debate, when she plugged away at a particular line of questioning and ignored her expert guest's statistical points - and More or Less made it clear that they believe they are sensible statistical points [as, indeed, they are]. The professor was questioning the claim that violent video games may have played a part in causing recent high-profile acts of violence. This argument isn't one that fits into an obvious partisan political framework, though concerns about violent video games have traditionally tended to be more associated with conservative attitudes rather than liberal ones, so that may slot another 1 into 'the Left column'. [Bit dodgy that one though]. 

Then came the Guardian's leaked 'Britain is becoming more racist' report that got such widespread coverage, including on the BBC. More or Less debunked the claim and pointed to failings in the Guardian's reporting of the story. That can be put pretty confidently into 'the Right column' then.

The totals then would be 2 in 'the Right column' and 2 in 'the Left column', which - as far as this week's edition is concerned - indicates a balance of debunkings handed out to the Left and the Right. Which is just how it should be on the 'impartial BBC'!

Of course, to do it properly would entail listening to at least a whole series of More or Less as one single episode isn't enough to judge the matter - as the BBC is itself very keen to point out whenever bias is proven to exist within a single episode of a ongoing series.

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