Wednesday 26 July 2017

Nice try

David Jordan

Two very senior voices from within the BBC bubble - David Jordan, the BBC’s director of editorial policy and standards, and Ric Bailey, the BBC's chief political adviser - have penned a rare and important joint piece for a somewhat out-of-the-way pro-public-broadcasting media site called headlined Impartiality and the BBC – 'broad balance' in a two-horse race. It concerns the BBC's coverage of the EU referendum.

It's a thoughtful piece, well worth reading. And it's refreshing to read: 
We are never keen on the argument that being attacked by both sides shows you must be getting it right. It’s quite possible to be wrong in two different ways, so we always take such criticisms seriously. In any case, few issues only have two sides, so teetering in the middle of the proverbial see-saw is seldom the right place.  
That said, after reading the piece through, what will you find to be its main message? 

(Shall I save you the trouble?) 

Well, get the smelling salts ready folks. Its message can be summed up like this: We think we got it about right

(OK, you can put the smelling salts away now. False alarm!). 

Yes, alas, despite all its welcome hand-wringing, it ends up being wholly and depressingly complacent, always giving the BBC the benefit of the doubt and painting the corporation in the most favourable colours. 

Typically, David and Ric dismiss 'stopwatch' monitoring of BBC coverage and place their trust in the BBC's good judgement. 

Ric Bailey

For them it's all down to the judgements of individual BBC editors to measure the 'balance equations' within their particular programmes.

That, of course, doesn't answer the question of how those individual editors are to police their own editorial decisions. 

Nor does it answer the question of how the BBC's coverage overall can be judged. 

To be blunt, I trust stopwatches more than I trust BBC editors. I don't see why we should take on trust the BBC's claims that their editors - people like Ian Katz - are unbiased. I used my stopwatches on Newsnight during the referendum and found it was far from even-handed. 

It's also characteristic of such pieces that our two brave BBC bigwigs give examples of what went right (eg. an interview with Douglas Carswell) but don't give examples of what went wrong.

Plus they place complete trust in their own reality-checking process - something that continues to ring alarm bells with me. The BBC sitting in statistical judgement on hot topics of political controversy, and doing so under the banner of impartiality, is a much more questionable proposition than our two BBC high-ups seem to realise. 

So, nice try guys but it really isn't washing.


  1. What a fascinating exercise in throwing everything at a subject, including the kitchen sink. Much of it is rehashing the usual defense talking points, but the Complaints From Both Sides thing was especially galling.

    At first, I was prepared to be refreshed that they dared suggest that just because they get Complaints From Both Sides it doesn't automatically mean they're getting it right. Of course then they went on at great lenght to explain how they did.

    Nor did the BBC shirk its responsibility to analyse the competing claims of both sides. Extensive use was made of Reality Check, the BBC’s fact-checking brand, in TV news bulletins, as well as online.

    No, sorry, this is utter BS. Complaints about accuracy and detail are not the only kind they get, and it's dishonest for them to pretend it's the case. As for Fact Check, well, we know how that turned out. Bias by omission, bias by perspective, bias by contextualizing. Dateline London panels aren't addressed here, nor is the 'Brexageddon' programming with no pro-Brexit equivalent, nor is the referendum vote night coverage.

    Sometimes the stopwatch isn't the best judge, but sometimes it is.

    This reads like they had a whole list of 'the usual moans', with a ready list of defensive talking points. you can tell they sat down and went through some sort of checklist.

    They make an interesting point about a referendum being a different animal to cover than other elections, as it's a single issue. Brexit isn't a single issue so much as it is a collection of specific issues, but fair enough.

    But none of what they said addressed the issue of Laura K. with quivering lip and near to tears, Dimbleby croaking as he told us that sterling had crashed, the obvious anger and disappointment from so many Beeboids out in the field, Nick Robinson basically insulting 17 million people, with every single other reporter repeating his script, sometimes almost verbatim.

    Nothing in the article addresses complaints about anything except 'fact checking' and time allotments, really.

    Fail. I wonder if there's some way to email a rebuttal to the editors.

    1. No obvious means of reply. Very BBC.

      Maybe one could ask the journalism(sic). editors?

      But there may be exemptions, or bannings. Totally BBC.

  2. Soon as the BBC brought in Reality Check I predicted it would be used overwhelmingly to propagandise for Remain, for soggy left politics and for mass immigration. That's what it's been used for by and large. Although a lot of times it has tried to rule on predictions which, by definition can't relate to "reality" since they relate to something that hasn't happened yet.

    1. It was always going to be 'Echo Chambers' all over again. It's almost as if they have a specific plan for the coverage, and here we see they admit they deliberately set these things up specifically as a line of defense.

  3. BBC and BBC discuss BBC on BBCphilic outlet few have heard of and the conclusion is the BBC can do no wrong.

    Colour me shocked.

    This smacks of playing to a very small crowd indeed.

    I bet a room full of MPs were well impressed at the slide with at the top.

  4. "...We think we got it about right..."

    The customer is supposed to decide this not the seller. This doesn't work when funding is through taxation- the punter is required to pay no matter what TV he watches.

    Instead of seeking to carefully weigh opposing viewpoints; moving to a subscription model would be fairer to both supplier and customer (the BBC could produce what it liked unhindered by shouts of 'balance' whilst the customer can take their £150 elsewhere should they be dissatisfied).

  5. All my adult life I've seen the BBC as something to be proud of. That changed following their coverage of the referendum and it's aftermath.

    The BBC'S anti-Brexit bias seems so incontrovertibly obvious to me, that when I heard someone asserting the exact opposite on the train in from Blackheath shortly after the referendum, I had great difficulty restraining myself from interjecting. I was particularly surprised because the woman in question appeared the educated type for whom truth is important. She was, however, a typical remainer, with one child at Westminster College and the other working at PWC. (I wasn't intentionally eaves-dropping guv, honest!

    Having read the book 'All out war...' about the Brexit referendum campaign, I can only assume she must have only tuned in on the days when the BBC coverage was intended to give more air-time to the leave argument. Apparently rules about balanced broadcasting are stricter at some times than others, so, in an effort not to fall foul of this obligation, there was a period when the BBC operated a day on, day off policy. That is, one day favored remain, the next, leave.

    As someone who believes in being fair and honest, I tend to scrutinize my conclusions before pronouncing as a matter of course. (Embarrassingly I still have to admit to getting carried away on social media on a couple of occasions.) Since this incident I've tried even harder to be objective.) So, when I say the BBC has been supremely biased against Brexit, I do so with complete confidence.

    Their dismissive response to an official complaint from MP's recently, was shocking in its arrogance.

    Today, in a six hour period, the remain position advocating the need for a transition period followed most likely by scrapping Brexit altogether and remaining in the single market, keeping freedom of movement and the rule of the ECJ, has been repeated ad infinitum. I saw the Leave argument made once. Possibly twice when I left the room for a few minutes!

    I will be demanding action. I hope others do too. Nothing less will suffice if you care about the BBC.


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