From Newswatch to News-watch...
...and the preliminary findings of a characteristically compelling and comprehensive study of the BBC's general election coverage by David Keighley of that fine blog - and the no-less-fine Conservative Woman.
David's survey focuses on the BBC's coverage of EU-related issues during the 2015 election, looking at (a) how much time was devoted to the subject, (b) how each of the four main political parties fared at the BBC's hands over this issue and (c) whether the Today programme's business news coverage gave a fair and balanced overview of EU matters.
He examined every edition of Today, The World at One, BBC One's News at Ten and Newsnight between 30th March (the start of the election) and 10th May (three days after the election). - so there was no cherry-picking and no Cardiff Uni-style mass of distorting quirks. Just the kind of survey I approve of!
Here then are David Keighley's findings (so far):
1. Pro-EU bias in Today's dedicated business coverage
For me, the closing section - the one looking at whether the Today programme's business news coverage provided a fair and balanced overview of EU matters - strikes me as the most damning.
There were 18 occasions when the subject of an in/out EU referendum was discussed during the programme's dedicated business spots. The guests broke down as follows:
14 saw the in/out referendum as a threat or a worry2 said it was a matter for the government but indicated that they supported continued EU membership2 took a 'neutral' positionand0 guests supported withdrawal
The ‘drip, drip, drip effect' of this kind of thing over a very extended period of time can easily be imagined.
The other striking thing looking at the outlines of of each of those 18 interviews is how often Simon Jack asks asks his guest something along the lines of, "Wouldn't an EU referendum disrupt your business plans?" That line of questioning keeps cropping up, insistently, and it's only by recording each and every interview that such a pattern of behaviour becomes clear and can offer concrete evidence of something which smells very strongly (to me) of bias. Drip, drip, drip.
2. Bias by omission in the amount of time devoted to EU-related matters, esp. the in/out referendum
The good thing about such surveys is that they make it possible to quantity certain things that, otherwise, could only be guessed at.
Were you to guess how much time a significant subject like Britain's relationship with the EU was given by the BBC (out of the 130 hours of available programme time covered by David's survey) what would you guess? The answer turns out to be 3.1% (4 hours), suggesting (to David) that the BBC is failing in its commitments, made after the Wilson report, to treat coverage of EU-related matters as important.
3. An overall failure on the BBC's part to explain to the audience what each political party's policies meant
First, some striking snapshots: Did you know that Ed Miliband wasn't asked about his EU-related election policies on any of these four programmes at any time during the election? Or that no direct questions about EU withdrawal or policy were put to Nigel Farage by either Mishal Husain (on Today) or Evan Davis (on Newsnight)? Or that on the day of the launch of the UKIP manifesto, more focus was on telling audiences that Mr Farage had called the 2010 manifesto ‘drivel’ than conveying what was in the 2015 version. (Yes, I remember that).
Secondly, a summary of David's findings for each party:
For the Conservatives, questioning focused on whether uncertainty about the EU would have adverse effects on trade and whether the referendum was a move to placate anti-EU backbenchers. No attempt was made to ask them why they wanted a referendum or what such a referendum with mean for voters and the UK.
For Labour, the questioning - despite some adverse questions - was "superficial and limited" and unchallenged platforms were given for Labour figures to attack their opponents.
For the Liberal Democrats, pretty much the same applies as with Labour (except less adverse questioning).
For UKIP, though party speakers did get to make points about the EU, most of the BBC's questioning focused on the party's competence or attitudes towards immigration and race.
There are outlines of all the interviews and features covered and they are well worth reading in full to feel the cumulative force of the BBC's election coverage.
The preliminary report itself is only 27 pages long, so not a long read. A more detailed study will doubtless emerge in due course, digging deeper into each of the features outlined here.