Sunday 21 February 2016

Not (necessarily) getting it about right

Meirion Jones's citing of a couple of examples of apparently pro-Tory bias in the BBC's coverage of the junior doctors' strike reminds me that Radio 4's Feedback also covered the story - especially how it was reported on Today.

The complaints cited by Roger Bolton weren't, however, just from critics of the government. Critics of the BMA also accused the BBC of bias. Ergo: complaints from both sides!

We often joke about BBC editors going on programmes like Feedback and Newswatch and trotting out their old, favourite, tired and easily-debunked argument, "We get complaints from both sides. Therefore, we must be getting it about right", to any complaint about BBC bias.

Do BBC editors really still say that though?

Well, yes. It's just that they now tend to sound quite a bit more sheepish about it, and have to hedge their uses of it with caveats and additional appeals to trust 

Today editor Jamie Angus gave us a particular fine example of this upgraded BBC defence tactic on Feedback in reply to that criticism of his programme's coverage of the junior doctors' strike:
It's a bit glib in a way to say if both sides are complaining volubly then we're just about in the right place but I do sometimes fall back on that.....Genuinely, my perception is that I'm getting a pretty balanced mailbag. 
As ever, that 'balanced mailbag' actually proves nothing about whether the BBC has been biased or not. One side might have a case, the other side might not. One side might be genuine, the other might be chancing it. One side might provide evidence and reasoned argument, the other might rant, assert and chuck ad homs about. 

BBC editors know that - hence the "It's a bit glib in a way to say" bit of his statement - but it won't stop them using it. They know it sounds superficially plausible. 


  1. As previously indicated, this is so wrong headed.

    Generally speaking the BBC is a left-liberal organisation of the soggy persuasion. It gets criticised from the right and from the hard non-soggy left. It generally does NOT get criticised by the soggy liberal left. Why would they bother?

  2. It depends how many people go to the trouble to complain. Most just switch off and don't care about the 5 million other viewers who are being seriously misled by the information C4 once disclosed that they had an unusually high number of complaints from people with similar views to me - the number was 12 ! and yet it was a particularly nasty anti Israel documentary shown at prime time.

  3. The 'right' complain that the BBC support the 'left'; the 'left' complain that their case isn't being put over hard enough.

    The BBC says that both sides complain so that they must be balanced, yet both sides agree that the 'left' case is being made, they just disagree over the extent.


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