Saturday, 29 October 2016

Classic 'Newswatch' interview with a BBC editor

Toby Castle

We often joke about BBC editors always 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." The joke (such as it is) only works because it's true. They do say that, again and again. 

The BBC's coverage of the clearing of the Calais migrant camp was the main topic on this week's Newswatch. Two complaints were read out criticising the BBC for broadcasting the views of a 'racist' member of the public and then three criticising the BBC for having a liberal bias and being over-emotional on the migrants' behalf. Samira Ahmed twice acknowledged that "the majority" of those complaining were complaining about the latter (the BBC's liberal, pro-migrant) but that still didn't stop the BBC editor, Toby Castle (Deputy News Editor, BBC News), from starting his interview with Samira by saying: 
Well, I think your viewers prove there are two very differing views of the BBC's coverage and I would say that that reflects that we're actually getting it right.
The fact that Newswatch aired samples of both types of complaint doesn't show that the BBC "actually" got it right at all. The two types of complaint are different in character. The first is weak; the second is strong.

The first set of complaints basically came from a few people who don't like hearing views they disagree with and want the BBC to restrict the broadcasting of such 'offensive' views. The second set of complaints (from the majority of Newswatch complainants) came from people arguing that the BBC has betrayed a systematic liberal bias by reporting emotively and one-sidedly on the migrant issue - a much more substantial type of complaint. 

It's a lazy response to say that getting 'complaints from both sides' proves BBC impartiality. It does no such thing. In fact, the striking prominence given to the very callous-sounding 'racist' man in news reports - a prominence the liberal viewers were complaining about - might be considered as evidence for the majority's view: The BBC were pushing someone who makes the anti-mass immigration viewpoint look cruel and stupid.


  1. Since Mark Mardell has abandoned Godwin's Law, I think I will as well and remark that Hitler was criticised by both Communists like Stalin and Conservatives like Winston Churchill. So it seems Hitler must have got it about right (according to BBC logic). :)

  2. The two types of complaint are different in character. The first is weak; the second is strong.

    Exactly. And other people are finally starting to notice.