Saturday 12 September 2015

Ground rules

(h/t the ever-vigilant David Keighley of News-watch and Conservative Woman)...

Parliament held a debate this week on matters European referendum related, and issues relating to BBC bias (naturally) arose. 

'Shouldn't the BBC be obliged to be independently monitored during the forthcoming election?' some asked (including Bill Cash and John Redwood). 

Indeed, they then pushed for legislation to 'make it so' (as Captain Jean-Luc Dehaene of the Starship European Enterprise might have said). 

You can read the whole thing on Hansard (and it's surprisingly fascinating), but I'd just like to focus on one paragraph from Bill Cash's speech: 
It is rather strange that the BBC was somewhat dismissive of News-watch, an organisation that runs a comprehensive analysis of all news programmes - who goes on, what questions are asked and the whole conduct of the BBC output. I am afraid that it seems to me that the BBC was somewhat dismissive of that, to say the least. I believe from what I have heard that the BBC does not in fact have its own monitoring system. If it does not have its own monitoring system, how is anybody to know whether or not it has been impartial, because that is like looking for a needle in a haystack? We do not have the facilities to be able to conduct the analysis for ourselves, but the BBC has £5 billion and I would have thought that was the least it could do.
That's always seemed to me to be a vital point, and one that the BBC keeps being allowed to slither away from.

Being publicly-funded, the BBC ought to have a system in place to monitor its 'impartiality' and that monitoring should be transparent. 

It doesn't have such a system in place though, it seems (or if it does the BBC is so opaque that no one knows about it!)


I think it's safe to say that the BBC's 'impartiality' will be monitored more closely than ever before in the run-up to the EU referendum, which is all for the good. 

The more people do such monitoring (thoroughly and fairly) the better, because the BBC has such a huge output that a small number of people watching it simply won't be enough.

Though I don't intend to keep banging on about BBC bias forever (or even beyond the next few years), I intend to stick around long enough to play my part, but things will need arranging so that we aren't all looking in the same places. 

And rules about scrupulous honesty must be accepted by all. If any set of results show no bias (or, unlikely as it is, bias in the opposite direction) we must say so. 


  1. They have box-tickers instead of monitors. Rules in place, compliance monkeys to make sure they appear to be followed. As long as they can play the numbers game, they don't technically need an internal monitoring system. Of course, that depends on what one thinks the goals should be.....

  2. This site (and one or two others) does a fine job in highlighting obvious BBC bias in detail. Thank you Craig for your continuous hard work and dedication.

    My question to everyone reading this is: “What are we going to do about it?”

    With Craig’s permission I’d like to suggest a pragmatic approach for how to deal with the bias of the Beeb’s news and current affairs output.

    This post is about general strategy and the second moves on to specifics. Apologies for the length of the 2 posts!

    1. The Short-Term – What can we realistically hope to achieve with the BBC in the next 3-6 months and what methods could be used?
    2. The Longer-Term – Addressing inherent and systemic bias and correcting this via legislation.

    The purpose of the two-pronged approach is essentially carrot and stick: we need some real change quickly and it’s our collective fault that many of us haven’t addressed this properly before now. This leaves us limited options and I suggest that legislative remedies will not be available to effect the changes needed in the short time available before the EU Referendum.

    However the short-term methods of Phase 1 should have the backing and threat of Phase 2: the potential dismantling of the Corporation’s current structure and the BBC’s loss of its existing cosy way of life.

    Like many of my fellow-countrymen I’m not quick to anger but I can be pushed just so far. For decades I supported the BBC’s independence and even backed it when it came under attack, despite the attacks coming from those with whom I disagreed.

    Regrettably I’ve now come to the conclusion that my once-loved BBC is not the animal it used to be in days gone by, when it could be respected by most people. In fact it’s now so far gone that radical surgery will be required.

    With Craig’s permission my next post will put forward a couple of practical ideas on a possible ‘Phase 1’ – ways in which all interested people could participate in helping the BBC towards a short-term and partial fix to the overwhelming bias we’re all seeing in their output on a daily basis.

    And maybe all of you could add to this with your own ideas. One of us is sure to come up with something which Craig and everyone else likes!

    Here are a couple of ideas for the ‘Phase 1’ plan to tackle BBC News & Current Affairs endemic bias in the short-term. I’m sure other correspondents will be able to add to this with their own ideas for practical measures which could be applied.

    In the House of Commons last Monday night, several Honourable Members made the point that they thought that BBC staff are unaware of the depth and breadth of the bias which comes out in their daily reporting. I tend to agree, despite the fact that these staff are highly-paid and are supposed to be intelligent.

    We could therefore give them something to think about. Regrettably I don’t feel that Members of Parliament are the right people to do this on their own. Witness Bernard Jenkin MP on the Today programme interviewed by Jim Naughtie on Tuesday morning. Naughtie clearly felt that Jenkins’ criticism was beneath contempt. And this is the man who is about to be given a roving BBC brief on the EU Referendum. Heaven help us….

    I therefore feel we need to inundate the BBC with the views of normal citizens and licence-payers from all political persuasions. Perhaps if they saw the sheer volume of views about BBC bias, they might pause for thought.

    In recent months I’ve read this and other specialist websites which clearly detail and demonstrate BBC bias and which have hundreds of readers’ comments. I’ve also been reading the daily comments sections of the major newspapers (including the Guardian) and various other news and current affairs sites. Almost all the comments dealing with the Beeb are complaining about its bias.

    If all the people who complain on these sites were to complain to the BBC, at the very least the Corporation couldn’t ignore the strength of feeling on this subject. I’m happy to post the online link to the BBC’s complaints dept specifically for News and Current Affairs. The emails they receive are allegedly circulated to all staff in News and Current Affairs each morning.

    Nearly half-a-million twitterites and other ‘instantly competitive-compassionate’ people signed a government website petition following the photo of the poor 3-year old who lost his life in Turkish waters.

    Why can’t we launch a more thoughtful petition asking the Government to introduce compulsory guidelines for fair and balanced reporting from the BBC, with some form of oversight and penalties? It could also state no confidence in the Trust as a suitable mechanism of ultimate adjudication. 100,000 signatures leads to the Government having to debate it in the House or give good reasons why not.

    To give just one small example of the kind of thing I’m proposing in the Phase 2 legislative stage, all staff in what the Beeb now calls ‘newsgathering’ and current affairs should attend compulsory re-training as to what constitutes balanced reporting and programme-making. This would include the fundamentals of having all viewpoints represented, by inviting those with opposing views onto each programme.

    This re-training would also include the ‘explanation’ that BBC News and Current Affairs is not funded as a campaigning organisation. It’s there to present us with facts and also to question those who are in positions of power or influence, in order to bring out all aspects of a story.

    The reporters’ own views should not appear in words, vocal inflection, facial expression or in any other way, because they’re reporters. They’re not there to make or shape the story in their own image. If that’s their ambition they should run for Parliament, or they should seek employment with an appropriate NGO or charity in which case they’ll have no problem being invited onto the BBC all the time.

    This needs to be kept separate to Petition No.1, and would propose that the Government immediately decriminalises the offence of non-payment of the licence fee, making it a civil matter.

    In order to drive the point home, I suggest the petition should explain the reason behind it. Something like : “In light of the BBC’s continued long-term and institutionalised bias in its News and Current Affairs output, it is no longer reasonable to prosecute those whom it no longer serves with fair and balanced reporting of national and world events.”

    This would result in a dramatic fall in revenues and present the BBC with a major problem in collecting fees via civil prosecutions. The idea is to hit the BBC where it hurts most – in the pocket.

    I have other ideas but for now I’ll shut up and open it to the floor. Please restrict these to practical short-term ideas.

    You never know, we may actually be able to help to effect change, rather than just complaining about where we are now.

  5. The BBC use the "Grant Method of Impartiality Measurement". I measure my own partiality and find myself to be impartial. No ifs, not buts.

    1. Thanks Grant. I needed a laugh before steeling myself for the Andrew Marr Show...!

  6. Thank you, David. Lots to think about there.

    Just imagine if everyone who complained about specific examples of BBC bias on newspaper websites and blogs like this also (simultaneously) sent a complaint to the BBC, the BBC Complaints department would be overwhelmed.

    Complaining online isn't TOO time-consuming (once you get the hang of it), though it can be very frustrating when the replies come through. The BBC just doesn't want to admit bias, though they will sometimes concede lapses in accuracy.

    But, yes, when we've got a fair point - and I think there are an unusually high number of genuine complaints to be made about the BBC at the moment - then we should all complain online to the BBC as well. We are fully entitled too, and it wouldn't be being vexatious if we have a point.

    I am trying to add a prominent link to the BBC Complaints department to the blog to help people do so, but I've not quite worked out how to add it yet. It's not proving as easy as it should be. Hopefully, you'll see it soon though.

    On the petitions question, there are quite a lot of petitions out there about the BBC at the moment (pro and anti). None of them seem to be getting very far. Even the big 'Save the BBC' one on 38 Degrees has stalled at around the 400,000 mark (way below the famous 'Save Clarkson' petition).

    Some do read quite badly though, so there's undoubtedly a space for a more thoughtful petitions which we could help promote. (I haven't seen one I've wanted to promote until now).


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