Tuesday 30 October 2018

Dinner Party

Just imagine that you're at a dinner hosted by the director of the ResPublica think tank, Phillip Blond ('the Red Tory'), and his guests include Leavers and Remainers. What would happen if they got round to talking about Radio 4's Today and the question of BBC bias? Well, thanks to his Twitter feed today, we're in a much better position to guess. As I found it a very interesting Twitter discussion, I'll share it with you here.

Look out along the way for a frostly intervention by a prominent BBC reporter (a dinner party pooper!):

Patrick O'Flynn: R4 Today headlines say that in elections in the German state of Hesse "the Greens did well". No mention that so did AfD. Not referring to them won't make them go away you know!
Phillip Blond: Really, @BBCr4today is progressively less illuminating. It must be editorial. Their journalists are clever. The really striking news is that recent migrants to Germany are voting for AfD but its probably too complex for them to cover.
Tim Montgomerie: I’m now been a ex-Today listener for five days and, on reflection, it’s the lack of illumination on almost any topic (as much as the bias) that makes me glad to have finally broken free.
Phillip Blond: I don’t think the BBC is biased, I just think in too many news programmes it’s merely mediocre, conventional and unilluminating. @BBCr4today is a tragedy though, it fell from a high place into essentially the relentless broadcast of confused and poorly educated cosmopolitanism. I think the perception of bias is real though, but I suspect that stems less from intention and more from never ever seriously charting the evolution of points of view which differ from the conventional liberal middle class take in the wealthier parts of London.
Tim Montgomerie: The biases are to ‘the State must do something about X’ rather than ‘how can X best be solved?’; to short-term gloom rather than to long-term context; to politics; to supranationalism; to liberalism over conservatism...and any bad news from Trump’s America over bad news from within Brussels’ empire (esp from Italy).
Phillip Blond: All cogent points to which I think broadly - yes I concur.
Neil Marshall #FBPE: It is strange how members of the alt right don't ever own up to the alt right bias of the BBC. It is at its most overt in the output of the pro-Government, pro-Brexit, @BBCr4today programme. That it is not operating within the remit of its Charter is a national scandal...
Phillip Blond: Ardent Remainers and Brexiters both think @BBCr4today is heavily biased against them - but I hear no evidence of such,  but what I have never heard is a good segment explaining polarisation, nationalism, the challenge to liberalism etc hence folk never feel spoken too, hence bias.
John Carins: The BBC tries to hide its bias. The BBC has an agenda. I base this on two things: I'm retired and I watch/listen/read a lot of the BBC's output and the body language and demeanour of the host/journo gives them away.
Phillip Blond: I think it’s more that they are overwhelmingly staffed by people of the same value set rather than any explicit bias, but I do know what you mean.
Katie: Agree about #bbcr4today. A flagship programme that’s sunk into terminal decline.
Phillip Blond: Very few things are terminal, and good counter-revolutions happen.
Tim Montgomerie: There has to be an awareness and understanding of the decline though. One particular response from within the programme to me terminating my listening was so truculent that I’m not sure there’s much appreciation of their problem at all.
Phillip Blond: It’s hard for any institution to respond to attacks in the middle of a national crisis which it feels impelled to try and speak to. You can only really change what you love, & I do love the BBC. Alternatives to it are heinous, but it is very poor in too many ways and it needs help.
Stanley Budge: You haven’t seen how they (don’t) report Pakistani Muslim grooming gangs then.
Phillip Blond: A difficult subject that hasn’t been tackled in any serious way by the BBC.
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC: I suppose I am poorly educated or confused but the phrase “confused and poorly educated cosmopolitanism” strikes me as a tiny bit sinister.
Phillip Blond: It’s not intended to Rory, I just think we have an elite group with a narrow and overwhelmingly liberal value set struggling to report on changes and people that lie beyond their own understanding - which in a national broadcaster is a problem. To speak seriously to this, the injunction for balance in debate and neutrality on facts doesn’t really work in a very value fragmented polity, instead I think we need in-depth accounts from such positions rather than shallow accounts of them from liberals. 
Bridey: Absolutely. I have experience in the BBC and it’s the sort of place people openly talk to colleagues about the ‘horrors’ of Brexit absolutely confident that their views are reciprocated. No needed to be guarded there in case you meet a different opinion.
Phillip Blond: Again I don’t mind people having strong views, we just need national broadcasters to have a genuine mix of values and to allow this plurality to express itself on air but to raise the tone and deepen the debate and keep us together even in our disagreements.
Bridey: What makes it worse, they bang in endlessly about diversity in their workforce but it’s so arse-clenchingly obvious there is no diversity in their world outlook.
Phillip Blond: This is the point - we need an evident diversity of values in a plural national broadcaster which currently is probably not there.
John Carins: I agree about the staffing. Recruiting from a similar value set is going to create a "bubble" of like minded people who reinforce their values and potential bias. Is it not time that we the public know the political leanings of BBC journos. I suspect the majority voted remain?
Phillip Blond: I voted remain but I understand and want to engage further with those who did not - again I support and love the BBC but it needs a new method to speak to and defend plurality.


  1. Yes, an interesting discussion, but what is Phillip Blond on about here?:

    "I think it’s more that they are overwhelmingly staffed by people of the same value set rather than any explicit bias, but I do know what you mean."

    I can have my pro-Leave, pro-referenda, pro-populist views but if I was a BBC reporter it would be completely unacceptable I think for me to allow those to influence my coverage in the way BBC personnel allow their values to affect their coverage. There should be balanced, non-sensationalist coverage and the BBC should resist pressure from campaign groups like the People's Vote. Whether the bias is "explicit" or "implicit" it's intentional I believe. BBC reporters really think Brexit is everything the Guardian says it is and have been determined to do their best to stop it.

    That said, one thing I noted today - I almost fell off my chair as the BBC referred to the Chancellor's last budget before Brexit occurs. It was almost as if they accepted the approaching reality of Brexit...about the first time I've ever heard the BBC admit that. No doubt Adonis and Campbell have already submitted their complaints.

    Does this signal that the BBC has finally accepted we are leaving? Perhaps. After all the BBC is a news organisation
    and it will look absurd if it tries to maintain we might yet reverse the Brexit process up until the moment it happens.

    Or perhaps they felt the need to do a bit of "balancing" after their absurdly biased support for the People's Vote Campaign.

    1. Yes, well, they can afford now to say,"The last budget before Brexit occurs..." because they know full well that, thanks to Theresa & Ollie, no genuine Brexit will be taking place.


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