Monday 27 April 2015

Why Cardiff University's claims of BBC 'right-wing' 'impartiality' are not to be believed

The work of Cardiff University's Media department is continuing to provide comfort to BBC supporters in 'refuting' claims of a left-wing bias at the BBC and to be cited as 'proof' of a right-wing BBC bias by some left-wingers (especially on Twitter). 

Cardiff's 2012 report, 'proving' the BBC to be right-leaning, anti-European and anti-Islam (yes, I know!), was expertly debunked in a Civitas study by David Keighley and Andrew Jubb.

David and Andrew got into the statistical nitty-gritty of the Cardiff study and found it wanting. (I provided a summary here.)

The worrying thing about that Cardiff report though - with its fatally flawed and, frankly, bizarre methodology - was that it went on to form the academic underpinning of the major BBC-funded Prebble Report into BBC impartiality, which found (by and large) that, yes, the BBC is impartial. 

Statistical trashing is all very well, but the ad hominem approach seems to work better.

The lead authors of the original report, part-funded by the BBC, were: Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Richard Sambrook, and Mike Berry. 

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen was director of the Prebble content analysis project, and worked previously for the European Commission on a report investigating how the media were reporting the idea of greater European integration and why the UK was sceptical about it. She's also written for the far-left Red Pepper

Richard Sambrook was the former Head of BBC News until 2008.

Mike Berry, who acted as chief spokesman for the report, is Greg Philo's partner-in-arms at the campaigning, far-left Glasgow Media Group. He's not a fan of Israel - to put it mildly. 

Yes, ad hom arguments are generally considered fallacious, but if these people's methodology has been shown to be highly dubious (at best) and their findings seem to fly so insanely in the face of reality, then - given their backgrounds and beliefs - maybe there really is something to be said for the ad hom approach after all, don't you think?

Later, the top bod at the Cardiff Media department, Justin Lewis, earned the admiration of some on the Left by using those original findings to condemn the BBC for being right-wing.

Playing the man rather than the ball, I then checked ol' Justin out and found him to be very left-wing too (the kind of professor who is openly anti-capitalism and thinks Muslims get a raw deal from the British media).

Curiously, however, he exempted (not explicitly, but by not mentioning them) the BBC from that latter criticism (well, could he really pretend otherwise?) and he writes articles with titles like, A monster threatens UK broadcasting? It's Sky, not the BBC. Hmm.

Why am I regurgitating all of this recent history again? Because the Cardiff profs are back.

The Guardian has published their latest election 'findings' (repeatedly) and left-wingers on Twitter are linking to it gleefully, saying it disproves charges of left-wing bias at the BBC.

The first of those Guardian pieces found that David Cameron was granted "by far the most airtime of the party leaders in the first two weeks of the campaign" by the media as a whole, but praises the BBC specifically for focusing more on policy than their rivals. 

The second of those Guardian pieces - a piece I'd urge you to read as a masterful example of studiously biased academic reporting - found that "BBC and Sky News’ election coverage featured Conservative sources speaking for longer than those from other parties" but that Channels 4 and 5 gave the Tories even more airtime. [Ed: Tory 'Channel 4 News'? Jon Snow on Cardiff Uni's Line One!] 

Even this leftist-outpouring-dressed-in-the-cloak-of-academic-'impartiality' was honest enough to report something that must really have stuck in their throats to have to report: They described the BBC as "an outlier", in that the BBC gave "more time to Miliband, who made up 24.3% of time leaders were speaking on screen, compared to 21.9% of time for Cameron". 

Still, "Nigel Farage appeared in more image bites on the BBC than David Cameron", so that's evidence of BBC pro-UKIP bias, eh?

The Guardian pieces as a whole, however, were consistent with the spirit of the 2012 Cardiff report and Justin Lewis's later comments. They portrayed the broadcast media (Channel 5, Channel 4, ITV, BBC) as essentially right-leaning, but - despite some criticisms - the BBC came out as the least biased of all (if still right-leaning).

And who were the Cardiff University authors of these two Guardian pieces? Former BBC head of news Richard Sambrook and his colleague Dr Stephen Cushion. 

Now, Dr Cushion is new to me. Is he a Cardiff Media department with a non-BBC background - unlike Richard Sambrook? 

Er, no. He was brought in by the BBC to work on two BBC Trust impartiality reviews into the reporting of post-devolution Britain and three BBC-funded reports into 24-hour news.

And as for the three other Cardiff Uni people credited on those Guardian articles as helping with the latest research - Richard Thomas, Allaina Kilby and Marina Morani - well, here's PhD student Marina (on the Cardiff Uni website).

I'm going to quote the whole of this because I suspect you'll enjoy it.

I haven't made this up. This isn't satire. This is the real thing:
It has commonly been noted how Italy shifted in the last decades from being an emigration country to a migrants destination. The presence in the peninsula of a few million of immigrants calls for the urge of communication means that take into account the contemporary multicultural society.
In recent years a number of “intercultural media” – newspapers, magazines, radio programs, websites, online TV – have been created in order to provide alternative sources of information and new representations avoiding the use of cultural stereotypes and stigmatizations which too often affect the mainstream media language.
Among various initiatives, the study will focus on a selection of independent websites where foreign origin together with autochthonous Italians are engaged in producing and sharing information, news, video, stories, experiences, expectations.
In the first phase of the research I intend to build a comparison between the image of the immigrant population emerging in national media and the alternative social representations that these progress media aim to construct and promote.
In the second phase I will analyse the contents of the most effective online projects in their attempt to offer diverse representations on immigration issues. With regard to methodology the main methods will be critical discourse analysis and content analysis of written and audiovisual texts. An important part will be dedicated to the narrative and rhetoric multi-modal constructions.
The use of language here not only counters cultural stereotypes and generalisations but also turn them into new positive representational worlds where “the immigrant” is regarded as persona and “active subject” of the media production.
Well, I think we know where she's coming from! (And Mike Berry, Justin Lewis & Co. would surely approve).

As for Allaina Kilby...well, here's one for David Preiser (and it's based on her university thesis): Jon Stewart has made us laugh at politics – and restored our sanity. (Nothing 'incriminating' UK-wise though so far). 

And as for Richard Thomas (who writes discourses entitled From Executive Remuneration to the Living Wage: Pre and post-crisis discourses of income distribution on UK television news), well, just allow me to quote his Twitter blurb:
Richard Thomas @rich_thomas99
Writer for All Out Cricket. Doctoral researcher into income inequality, wealth and poverty in the media.
Call me a running-dog capitalist lickspittle if you like, but I'm guessing where he's coming from too - and checking out the rest of his Twitter feed I'm sticking with that hunch.


A university media department stacked with BBC insiders and leftists produces a couple of studies of BBC bias which find that the BBC is the least biased broadcaster, even though it has a right-wing bias.

And some people still think that ad hom critiques are always wrong?


  1. Jon Stewart has made us laugh at politics – and restored our sanity

    Restored her smugness, maybe. How unbelievably ironic that she writes a whole essay on how objective Stewart is and mocks both sides equally, yet the feature photo is of him at his "Rally to Restore Sanity" event where he and his friends spoke about wanting Congress to work together - to promote Obama's agenda. That was the event where he spent hundreds of thousands of somebody's dollars in a failed attempt to stop the Tea Party from taking over the House of Representatives. Political activism thinly disguised as comedy.

    I laugh at Allaina Kilby and mock her for her obsequiousness.

  2. This is valuable and worthwhile analysis Craig. I hope people see it. It just shows how easily the most outrageous falsehoods can be disseminated and believed.

    There’s a fine line between an ad hominem “ (of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining” and providing essential background information so the reader can put contentious opinions and allegations into context.
    I think there needs to be an element of gratuitousness for the ‘playing the man not the ball’ ingredient to qualify as an out-and-out ad hom.

  3. The irony being you'd rather believe a neo-liberal think tank with a vested interest in getting rid of the BBC rather than a bunch of lefties with no such agenda.

    I also presume you have conveniently forgotten Jeremy Paxman is a committed Tory and so is much of the BBC hierarchy and that quite a few staff behind Question Time have left to go work for UKIP. I could go on forever.

    1. 'I could go on forever'

      That might be worthy of challenge, but maybe it's better to stay grateful for small mercies.


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