Friday 7 November 2014

A Wringing of Hands

All's fair in love and war, but can the same be said for bloggers about BBC bias?

As I'm not at work today and was up early (as usual), I thought I might listen to this morning's Today and chronicle its bias in detail for your delectation. Unfortunately, I couldn't really find any - except, perhaps, for that hands-off Justin Webb interview with Peter Hain (see the previous post).

Now, when I say "unfortunately" what, of course, I should have said was "fortunately" because bloggers about BBC bias aren't supposed to want bias. We're supposed to dislike bias so if we don't find any we ought to be happy about it.

Except, strangely, we aren't. Like policemen we need a steady flow of criminal activity to 'keep us in a job', meaning (as you may have guessed) that bloggers about BBC bias need to receive a regular supply of bias in order to keep our blogs busy (even if our blog's name contains a question mark and implies an open mind on the issue). 

What if we listen intently to an entire edition of Today and fail to find any significant bias though? Should we keep quiet, or should we acknowledge the fact on our blog? 

Ah, but wouldn't that let 'the side' down, wouldn't it? Give succour to 'the enemy' (the BBC)? Disappoint the blog's readers?

Maybe the blogger in question should look harder, listen again more intently. The bias is bound to be there, surely.  

Maybe the Today interviewer didn't challenge a specific statistic from an EU spokesman? Ah, yes, John Humphrys didn't challenge a specific statistic from an EU spokesman this morning. So the blogger could run with that then. 

Ah but...

...John Humphrys actually challenged that EU spokesman on all of the EU's statistics saying that people didn't believe EU statistics. He then badgered away at the EU spokesman over the refusal of the EU's auditors to sign off the EU's budget (for the 20th year, due to fears of EU fraud).

So, no, that line of attack on the BBC won't work. After all, you can't credibly accuse Today of pro-EU bias if John Humphrys has spent most of the interview you're attacking doggedly pushing a popular anti-EU talking point, can you? 

OK Mr Blogger, you're going to have to listen more widely then. Were the other guests on the subject pro-EU? 

Gotcha, BBC!...sort of. A Times Europe correspondent who didn't give any clues as to his own orientation EU-wise can be discounted but look who Today had on to talk about the £1.7 billion EU demand before the 8 o'clock news - Ken Clarke, King of the Conservative Europhiles. No Eurosceptics in sight or sound today. Aha!!!

Yep, could run with that...if I simply choose to ignore the fact that David Cameron's man in Europe, Lord Hill, was on yesterday's Today and Eurosceptic Tory MP David Davis was on earlier in the week (and he's willing to countenance withdrawal from the EU),, I can't really, honestly, in all conscience, run with that after all... unless I point out that no one from UKIP was on Today this week making the 'withdraw regardless' case. Yes, I suppose I could do a push.

Maybe I'm too squeamish. Sod scruples and honest blogging, why not just bash the Beeb with anything that comes to hand? Channel my inner Machiavelli in a good cause? Readers who hate the BBC are unlikely to object. They might (if I'm lucky) even back me up. Hmm.

OK, here's a report from the BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg. He's reporting present-day Russian feelings towards the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It's fascinating, worrying stuff, using Russian 'talking heads' to show where Russian public and official opinion now stands, 25 years on. This is what reporting from Russia should be doing, telling us what most Russians think - however strange and wrong-headed we may find it. Apparently, they like the freedom of travel that followed the collapse of the wall but think the West was mean to Russia and that NATO shouldn't have expanded to their borders and taken away their lovely sphere of influence and superpower status. They blame the war in Ukraine on us too.

Still, what if, channeling my inner Machiavelli, I might try to claim that the views expressed by the Russian 'talking heads' were actually Steve Rosenberg's own opinions? That he - a BBC reporter - was espousing Soviet, Putinist propaganda? It's a big, big, big stretch but, yes, I might (fingers crossed) get away with it. It would be shameless but, hey, all's fair in love, war and blogging about BBC bias, isn't it?

I'll dig around on Google. What's this? He studied Russian at university and spent a year studying in the old Soviet Union. Could I go with the "he must therefore be a commie" angle? No, better not. That wouldn't make the blog appear very credible.

But still...hmm, yes, it's very, very naughty, but I might just be able to get away with it after all. Readers might not actually bother to listen to the report, despite me linking to it, and even if they do they might still be inclined to join in the attack on Steve Rosenberg simply because he's a BBC reporter, and anything goes as far as they're concerned. Or they be very kind and not comment at all, refraining from dissenting from my outrageous attribution of those Russian opinions to Steve Rosenberg himself out of sheer politeness or an understandable unwillingness to appear to be stepping outside of the blog's groupthink (which, as we all know, we must never, never do).

No, I still can't bring myself to do that though. It would be wrong. It would be dishonest and unfair to Steve Rosenberg, whose report was excellent. I'd feel the need to wear sackcloth and ashes if I did so and I much prefer wearing comfortable modern, middle-aged-man-type things. I prefer a clean blogging conscience too. 

What to do then? I suppose I'll either have to post nothing about this morning's Today (other than the thing I've already posted) or, if I'm feeling less cowardly and don't want to feel as if I've wasted three hours of my life, post some piece saying that this morning's Today was OK, bias-wise, whilst still wringing my hands about it like a Guardianista. 

Hmm, what to do?


  1. I'd like to register my disgust at the way this story

    was dealt with on Today (Radio 4) this morning.

    Whilst this is undoubtedly a very sad story, the useless Humphrys did not put the case for a wronged young man who was subject to a devastating r*pe allegation that would have completed destrpyed his reputation and his happiness.

    Who knows what the truth was? But that is what trials are for in such circumstances.

    Just because this poor young woman was mentally disturbed doesn't mean the injustice done to the young man can be ignored.

    Dan Read

    Whatever happened to the BBC's commitment to "balance"?

    1. That's a fair point. Wonder what the man's lawyers thought of it?


  2. Yep....the BBC can't be biased because somewhere in the torrent of material they broadcast is some that is entirely free of that much cherished and sought after bias. I see your point. The BBC is a bit like Hamas who are not really terrorists…well they kill the odd Jew but you know what…they also run schools and feed the needy….so that’s OK then, Hamas are really quite good guys.

    The BBC spins relentlessly on the EU, immigration, climate, Islam and anything anti-Western but you suggest a few moments when they do the job right means we should forget all that. The BBC isn't biased then. Good call.

    Not sure where I stated the Today programme was completely biased today based on selected references as evidence of that total bias.

    Let’s have a look at some of the points I examined…..

    The Hain interview was dire, not being an interview at all really….a Labour politician getting a free ride…as so often happens. No bias there then.

    Humphrys failed to tackle what was a major point that the EU official made several times...a point that was obviously very important to the official ...and as such a claim is in fact one of the central arguments about EU membership it might have been a critical claim to challenge. The point about the auditors is an old one that is noteworthy but not as relevant as claiming we benefit so massively from membership of the EU which was a blatant piece of propaganda.
    Bias or just bad journalism?…note, nowhere in the post did I claim it was bias…merely that the challenge hadn’t been made.

    Rosenberg pushed the idea that Russia was surrounded by enemies and it was the fault of the EU and NATO...He reported as if the Russians have a justified cause…war in Ukraine is a result of Russia’s seething resentment at NATO and the EU moving closer…..EU sanctions are a new Berlin Wall we are told.
    There is not other side to the story which would have balanced it out…it seems it is perfectly acceptable to Rosenberg, at least he raised no objections, for Russia to invade the Ukraine if it doesn’t like who the Ukraine gets close to.

    As for suggesting that I was seriously suggesting Rosenberg is a pinko commie red under the bed...well...get a sense of humour. You've read into it what you wanted to rather than what was clearly just a bit of knock-about.

    Look beyond the ‘words on the page’ …the intended message we are meant to take away…with no balancing report from the ‘other side’ what other message can you take other than Russia’s aggression is due to the actions of the EU and NATO…there is no discussion about the rights and wrongs of EU and NATO actions...they are just ‘wrong’.

    How can people understand the issues, and judge them for themselves, when we get 5 minutes of what is something Putin could hardly have scripted better himself.

    Whatever Rosenberg’s own feelings are, if he presents one side of the story that is unacceptable. Bad journalism is just as damaging as intended bias.

    Nuance and deeper meanings are there, if you look and understand.

    'Sod scruples and honest blogging'?

    Yep. That'll be right.

    1. Hello Alan.

      Not sure where I stated that the BBC can't be biased because some of their material is free of bias. Or where I said that such bias-free patches make us forget all the actual bias. Or where I said that you stated that the Today programme was completely biased today. I stated none of those things.

      On the Peter Hain interview, I'd ask you to read my previous post if you have the time. It goes into the matter in some detail.

      On the interview with the EU official, you do have a point. A questioning of those figures would have been good journalism, and John Humphrys clearly didn't have the facts at his fingertips. You were right to point that out. And you certainly didn't mention bias.

      The auditors point may be an old one but it is highly relevant to the present row as they've just refused to sign off the EU's accounts for twenty years and John Humphrys pressed the official hard on that, exposing (and laughing at) his attempted sleight of hand - which is to his credit as a journalist, is it not?

      I still think you misrepresented Steve Rosenberg reports by putting the words of others into his mouth, as if he'd actually said them himself.

      You wrote:

      "Steve Rosenberg, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent...tells us that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a disaster leading to war and conflict. The Soviet Empire was a peace keeper that meant the world could relax in the knowledge that having a Soviet jackboot on your neck and AK47 toting insurgents murdering anyone who didn’t agree with their world view was in fact a welcome sign of a benevolent regime much preferable to the unconstrained freedoms that would allow an outbreak of the nightmares that come with democracy, free speech and liberty."

      Well, no he didn't tell us that. He really, really didn't. At all. You read into it what you wanted to.

      I don't think Steve Rosenberg "pushed" the idea that Russia is surrounded by enemies and it is the fault of the EU and NATO. I think he simply reported that most Russians believe that. This report was about just that - what most Russian believe. That's all it sought to report. I don't think, even reading between the lines, that he was "justifying" their grievances.

      Not every report needs to cover all the angles, or give the opposing side. This one didn't need to "raise any objections" to any of the things the Russians were saying. Other reports could do that and have done that. I must have heard scores (if not hundreds) of such reports and interviews over the past few months, including reports focusing purely on the views of the Russian opposition or purely on the opinions of non-Russian Ukrainians,

      I also think that people who follow the news [most Radio 4 listeners] will not only have have heard the other side, including all the arguments against/criticisms of Russia, but will also have taken many of them on board. Such people are more than capable of mentally processing this kind of report and fitting it into jigsaw of their understanding of the Ukraine situation. Most Radio 4 listeners are unlikely to start listening to reports on major stories like this with a blank slate after all. I certainly didn't listen to it as if it came out of the blue.

      The fact that the 'talking heads' in Steve Rosenberg's report sounded as if they were spouting Putinesque propaganda is, I presume, that they believe in Putin's propaganda and that Putin's propaganda works so well because it appeals to what they want to believe - or so it seems to me from reading about it (often beyond the BBC).

      So you didn't like my knockabout joke about your knockabout joke about the pinko commie? Oh well.

      "Nuance and deeper meanings are there, if you look and understand", as they say on the X-Files. (Sorry, another knockabout joke there.) There's enough genuine BBC bias out there without having to dream it up.

      Enjoy the fireworks!

  3. I basically agree with you Craig in your analysis.

    The problem with the BBC is that they have poisoned the wells of public broadcasting by promoting - with no pretence of balance - political correctness, mass immigration, Islam and a number of other things that are having a very negative effect on this country.

    It's sad. I used to listen to the BBC World Service back in the 1960s and remember when it was committed to promoting freedom and democracy at a time when the enemy of democracy was Soviet Communism. Now the enemy is Sharia what does the BBC do? - it promotes Sharia more than it opposes it.

    Dan Read

    1. Thank you, Dan.

      I'm an 80s teenager. I was a very keen BBC Radio listener at the time (Radio One and Radio 4, only shading into Radio 3 around 1990). I think by that stage the BBC had already shifted in the other direction. Promoting freedom and democracy against Soviet Communism had rather taken a back seat by that stage.

      The BBC has certainly been responsible for promoting political correctness, mass immigration and Islam. I think that's indisputable, though, somehow, the mass of BBC bias bloggers out there (of which I've been a part) seem to have failed to really make the BBC squirm on such matters.

      Some BBC figures apologise for their past errors - with the emphasis firmly on THE PAST - but all three of those biases which you list remain genetically-programmed (so to speak) into the BBC's output.

  4. Unfortunately on that BBC Today programme broadcast yesterday, John Humphrys claimed that the EU Commission accounts had never been signed off as accurate or balanced. This is a classic myth, and completely untrue.

    See my article and video about this:


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