Saturday 11 June 2016

That was then. This is now

We received an interesting comment the other day on a very old thread concerning how to monitor BBC party political bias. 

Part of the comment struck me as worth expanding on because it contained an assertion which I'm seeing more and more often (from the Left) on Twitter:
The overwhelming objective evidence found from analysing political coverage showed that even during a Labour government the amount of Conservative voices aired remained consistently higher than those on the left and under a Conservative government this increased significantly in disproportionate bias. 
I'm guessing that "the overwhelming objective evidence" in question is that (in)famous Cardiff University study (by various far-leftists and ex-BBC high-ups) which used a ridiculously small sample - just five day's worth of various flagship BBC programmes in 2007 and 2012 respectively (including, bizarrely, only half (7.00-8.30) of the Today programme) -  and 'found' that not only was the BBC pro-Tory-biased and anti-EU-biased but also 'found' that Jon Snow's Channel 4 News was pretty right-wing-biased too!!! (Well, Owen Jones, the Corbynista multitude and, intriguingly, various BBC types on Twitter liked it!!)

As I may just have mentioned before, my own intensive period of research from June 2009-April 2010 covered some of the topics in the Cardiff report and examined every interview with a party politician (some 2,200 of them) on all of the main BBC current affairs programmes over this period (including Today, Newsnight, The World at One, PM, Today, The Daily Politics, The Andrew Marr Show, Broadcasting House, The World This Weekend, Westminster Hour, among others!) - all the results of which can be seen at my old blog. There was nothing 'ridiculously small' about that sample!

Between July 2009 and January 2010 (inclusive), I laboriously counted up all the lengths of all the interviews involving those party politicians and, by further laborious counting, derived a monthly 'airtime' total for each political party.

It's the most precise thing I've ever done in the blogosphere, and what it shows is that there is absolutely no truth whatsoever to the claim that "even during a Labour government the amount of Conservative voices aired remained consistently higher than those on the left". 

In fact, the exact opposite is the the case. Except for the month when the BBC covered the Conservative Party conference, the then-Labour government got more airtime than the Tories every month - usually massively more. 

Strikingly, in 5 out of the 7 months survey the Labour government got more airtime than all the opposition parties combined. 

And, looking back at these figures again, isn't it striking just how little interview time UKIP got back then? 

July 2009
Labour - 60.92%
Conservatives - 24.08%
Lib Dems - 10.82%
SNP - 2.08%
Greens - 0.82%
BNP - 0.76%
UKIP - 0.32%
Plaid Cymru - 0.22%

August 2009
Labour - 6 hours 5 minutes 33 seconds, 52.3%
Conservatives - 2 hours 37 minutes 57 seconds, 22.6%
Liberal Democrats - 1 hour 32 minutes 15 seconds, 13.2%
SNP - 1 hour 7 minutes 6 seconds, 9.6%
Greens - 7 minutes 11 seconds, 1%
Independents - 3 minutes 47 seconds, 0.5%
UKIP - 3 minutes 33 seconds, 0.5%
Plaid Cymru - 2 minutes 42 seconds, 0.3%

September 2009
Labour - 12 hours 25 minutes 26 seconds, 61.51%
Liberal Democrats - 4 hours 5 minutes 10 seconds, 19.98%
Conservatives - 2 hours 52 minutes 1 second, 14.03%
SNP - 19 minutes 35 seconds, 1.58%
UKIP - 10 minutes 52 seconds, 0.86%
Plaid Cymru - 7 minutes 34 seconds, 0.62%
Independent - 5 minutes 16 seconds, 0.43%
Greens - 2 minutes 51 seconds, 0.23%
English Democrats - 2 minutes 47 seconds, 0.23%
UUP - 2 minutes 27 seconds, 0.21%
DUP - 2 minutes 15 seconds, 0.19%
SDLP - 1 minute 56 seconds, 0.13%

October 2009
Conservatives - 10 hours 51 minutes 29 seconds, 43.20%
Labour - 10 hours 42 minutes 41 seconds, 42.61%
Liberal Democrats - 1 hour 45 minutes 39 seconds, 6.99%
SNP - 1 hour 0 minutes 22 seconds, 3.99%
UKIP - 11 minutes 17 seconds, 0.74%
DUP - 9 minutes 2 seconds, 0.60%
BNP - 8 minutes 8 seconds, 0.54%
Sinn Fein - 6 minutes 16 seconds, 0.41%
Greens - 5 minutes 20 seconds, 0.34%
Alliance - 3 minutes 26 seconds, 0.22%
Plaid Cymru - 3 minutes 16 seconds, 0.21%
UUP - 2 minutes 27 seconds, 0.15%

November 2009
Labour - 7 hours 44 minutes 21 seconds (41.1%)
Conservatives - 6 hours 25 minutes 11 seconds (34.1%)
Liberal Democrats - 2 hours 16 minutes 19 seconds (12.0%)
SNP- 1 hour 15 minutes 4 seconds (6.7%)
UKIP - 29 minutes 10 seconds (2.6%)
Greens - 16 minutes 34 seconds (1.5%)
Sinn Fein - 9 minutes 35 seconds (0.9%)
Independents - 8 minutes 1 second (0.7%)
Plaid Cymru - 4 minutes 59 seconds (0.4%)

December 2009
Labour - 56.20% (7h 49m 56s)
Conservatives - 29.01% (4h 2m 40s)
Lib Dems - 11.65% (1h 37m 30s)
SNP - 1.21% (10m 13s)
UKIP - 0.99% (8m 25s)
Independents - 0.65% (5m 40s)
Plaid Cymru - 0.29% (2m 46s)

January 2010
Labour - 54.81% (12h 13m 18s)
Conservatives - 22.81% (5h 5m 13s)
Lib Dems - 12.65% (2h 49m 19s)
SNP - 2.25% (30m 10s)
Sinn Fein - 1.68% (22m 49s)
UKIP - 1.44% (19m 28s)
DUP - 1.22% (16m 34s)
Independents - 0.90% (12m 1s)
Greens - 0.60% (8m 4s)
SDLP - 0.48% (6m 46s)
Alliance - 0.46% (6m 18s)
TUV - 0.46% (6m 18s)
Respect - 0.24% (3m 16s)

Of course, that was then and this is now. UKIP gets a lot more airtime these days. The Conservatives are now the government and the BBC, I don't doubt; will have been inviting them on more than their political opponents (even before the present EU referendum debate). 

But how much so?

I half-regret not monitoring these airtime figures in the months after the 2015 election to see just how much more coverage the Tories got than, say, Labour - if they got more coverage. 

I only 'half-regret' it because I've got absolutely no intention of ever putting myself through such a wearying (if strangely enjoyable) monitoring exercise again - even if such a monitoring exercise has now proved its value by totally disproving a much-tweeted assertion about BBC pro-Tory bias from the Left. 

Maybe, if there's still a Conservative government in 2019, I might return to the fray and seriously monitor this issue again for, say, a couple of months (and not during the party conference season) in order to test how things stand under a Conservative government as opposed to a Labour government. 

It really would be fascinating, I think, to see if the Tories are dominating the BBC's airwaves to the extraordinary extent that Labour did when they were in power (in a non-referendum period, of course). 

In the interests of democracy, that is surely a question worth investigating. I probably ought to step up to the mark and do it (in 2019 - if, post-referendum, the government hasn't completely fallen apart to such an extent that the fixed-term parliament act is overridden, an election has been held and Jeremy Corbyn (or John McDonnell) is PM).  

What questions would it answer? Well, questions like:
  • Did Labour rule the BBC waves back then simply because they were the governing party? (The 'pro-establishment' v 'pro-Left-biased' question). 
  • Would a similar survey show as much of a 'bias', airtime-wise, towards the Tories in the latter stage of their term in office? - and if so, what would that prove? (and if not, what would that prove?)
  • Is the BBC biased?


  1. You know, I feel almost as though we have moved beyond bias analysis! Battle lines have been drawn. If you go on the Guardian site and read their articles, it's clear they simply don't accept the right of people to have opinions that diverge from the standard pro-migration, pro-EU left-liberal line. Easton published his thesis on the BBC website setting out that politics is about the masses and politicians accepting a certain objective truth, that people like him are able to identify. When you are faced with such extreme opposition, it becomes clear that they simply will not accept attempts to encourage impartiality. The BBC's shamefully pro-Remain coverage has made this clearm (and Sky and ITV have been almost as bad). It is only now in the weeks leading up to the vote that we even hear the voices of Leave. The ONLY time I have heard Leave be able to put their case TV media without it being barracked, blocked or drowned out with interruption was the ITV 3 v 3 debate.

  2. I would suggest that even the numbers from the general election in May 2010 onwards would be evidence enough. After all, the BBC certainly behaved as if it was a Tory Government (nearly always referring to it as the 'Conservative-led Coalition'). Just about the only times the BBC ever treated a LibDem as part of the ruling Government party was when they needed to grill somebody over a policy they didn't like and wanted to highlight a potential Coalition Split!, or when assembling a Question Time panel when they could claim that a Labour, SNP, Leftie comedian/celebrity, Lib Dem, and Tory panel was not biased 4:1 to the Left because the Lib Dems were in government with the Tories.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.