Also from the Sunday Times comes an article on the very theme of this blog from Andrew Marr. It is (as you might expect) a justification of himself and the BBC:
I'll try to summarise it:
Everyone has political views, but those views (especially party-political ones) are ones BBC journalists have to repress. Staying impartial while reporting on emotive issues isn’t easy but it has to be done. Every Sunday morning he has to remind himself that political partisans of all persuasions pay their licence fees and that they have the right to have questions asked to politicians they like and dislike in a fair way as well as the right to complain if they spot bias in his interviewing of those politicians.
This goes much further than simply avoiding party-politicised statements. As I prepare for my interviews each week, working with my editor Rob Burley, I try to think my way into the viewpoint of people I disagree with. I remind myself they are sincere. I challenge my own instincts and try hard to see things from somewhere else in the landscape. If it means that I’m sometimes playing devil’s advocate (for the devil isn’t wholly diabolical: he also pays his licence fee), then that is part of the job.
The serious story is that broadcasting impartiality is becoming much harder both to achieve and to defend. The old left/liberal/right distinctions are now complicated by passionate and fiercely held arguments over manmade climate change, Israel, Scottish nationalism and, of course, Brexit.
Brexit’s the toughest one of all. Is there unconscious bias in words such as “soft” and “hard”? If you report that a strawberry grower is worried about a lack of Latvian farm workers, should you balance this with a fisherman wanting to reclaim Dogger Bank? Tone of voice, choice of adjectives — you have to think about this every moment you are on air. In my team, we argue it out adverb by adverb, semicolon by semicolon.
He then argues that "this Rubik’s cube of disagreement" is even trickier as the country "seems angrier and more divided than ever before" and relentless, self-righteous partisanship is now commonplace, especially on Twitter. For such people impartiality is boring and takes second place to winning the argument. They just know they're right and know that the BBC is dead against them. Many are abusive and "volcanically angry" towards the BBC "on the basis of so little fact". But the BBC is there to provide a quiet, calm place "where complex and serious arguments can be had, and where people’s bona fides is accepted", and his own views will remain repressed until he leaves the BBC.
Well, this blog will continue to provide a quiet, calm place where Andrew Marr & Co. are regularly scrutinised to see if such fine words are actually translated into reality. On the basis of quite a lot of fact, it's evident that the BBC frequently fails badly on the impartiality front. They may not mean to but they do. And sometimes they do mean to. So on we go.