Wednesday 3 July 2019

Pause For Thought (a post without links)

The BBC says that it's impartial, but large numbers of people simply don't believe it.

The BBC knows that it's impartial. Many people know that it's not. 

So who's to judge if the BBC is impartial or not? And how is the BBC's impartiality (or lack of it) to be judged?

In the past, the BBC was largely its own judge, but - after some strong challenges in the mid 2000s (over its Israel and EU coverage, among other things) - it very briefly instituted counting-style checks.

It then just-as-swiftly dropped such checks for being "unhelpful".

The BBC then stated that it trusted its own editors to maintain the BBC's due impartiality over time - which was, to put it bluntly, little more than the BBC going right back to itself being largely its own judge and knowing best. 

Nevertheless, in the late 2000s and very early 2010s, the BBC launched its own large-scale 'independent' impartiality reviews, which 'found' that the BBC was broadly impartial but needed to do better on some things (like stopping being impartial over climate change). 

Behind those 'independent' reports, ironically, laid largely helpful 'counting' from, above all, Cardiff University.

The main controversy over Cardiff Uni's finding arose over whether the mainly ex-BBC and far-left activist Cardiff researchers cherry-picked their results over miniscule timescales (on one survey, a couple of weeks or so at  years apart) at insufficiently randomly-chosen times (on the same survey, only half a chosen Radio 4 programme when particular, similar news stories were dominating, years apart) 

Other researchers (some ex-BBC, none of them far-left, most of them right-wing), conducted studies over far longer timescales armed with a completist's rejection of randomness (recording every example over days and days, months and months, and years and years) and came up with very different results.

(I was one of them with my comprehensive 2009-2010 '1000+ BBC interviews' ultra-completist interruptions study. News-watch was another, over a vastly longer timescale). 

Anyhow, the BBC has, over the past decade, continued to maintain its total rejection of 'mere counting'...

...except, of course, as regards its endlessly ongoing diversity projects - such as committing itself to counting the numbers of female and male guests on its programmes, etc, and ensuring 50-50 balance - a species of 'mere counting' that the BBC joyously flaunts like an over-exuberant, social-liberal, number-crunching, identity-politics-obsessed peacock/peahen/peawhatever.

(I feel a Rudyard Kipling short story coming on there). 

But the BBC has shifted its ground in the last couple of years or so. It is now (seriously) citing as its MAIN proof of impartiality a few opinion polls (the merest one or two or so) which tenuously appear to show that the public probably thinks the BBC is impartial.

But, as something of a connoisseur of opinion polls about BBC bias, I know that the ground that the BBC's shifted itself onto is brimming and boiling and bebogged with quicksand.

Some of their takes on the poll findings they cite have been questionable at best. And those apparent poll findings are countered by other major mainstream opinion polls, conducted by some of the best-known pollsters, which show (including 'don't knows') that full faith in BBC impartiality is now very much in the minority. 

The detail, however, is irrelevant. The Big BBC Question here is why on earth the BBC thinks that a scattering of dubiously 'helpful' opinion polls is in any way proof of the BBC's impartiality.

Are opinion polls seriously the hill the BBC is prepared to die on in defence of its impartiality claims?

An ever bigger Big BBC Question is: If not (open to question) opinion polls and your own BBC staff's (highly open to question) judgement, then what? 

So what, oh BBC?

Maybe a judicial review is needed to answer that. 

Ah, but, let's not forget, the BBC is now under the charge of Ofcom. The BBC is no longer its own supreme judge. And Ofcom's pack of like-minded, largely ex-BBC-affiliated judges will surely hold their friends to account, won't they?

I put that facetiously, but getting Ofcom to rule on BBC may very well be like getting Jeremy Corbyn's extreme-left, anti-Semitic allies to rule on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Their vision isn't exactly unclouded, is it?

Maybe something is needed to burst those clouds?

As they stay on the BBC News Channel, stay with us...(or stay tuned)...


  1. I decided it would be a good test of bias to check the BBC's coverage of Brexit-related items on its Twitter timeline because they (a) make a conscious decision about what parts of their coverage to include and (b) they summarise what they think we need to know about the coverage. So, I thought - this could be a good test of bias...

    My approach was simple: I look at the first ten Brexit-related tweets. I then marked each tweet on a scale of from -5 for tweets that projected an extremely negative view of Brexit to +5 for tweets that projected an extremely positive view of Brexit (with 0 being neutral). Of course, this is subjective marking but I doubt if you took 100 people off their street their average view would be that distant from mine. The average for the 10 stories was (drum roll) MINUS 1.2. There were 2 "neutral" stories (because of balanced remarks) - the other 8 were all negative. There were no positive stories about Brexit (the sort of stuff you might expect an impartial broadcaster to include e.g. "signs that EU is prepared to negotiate with new PM", "US Ambassador: Brexit outlook is good", "Experts query whether we really owe £39billion" - absolutely no positive stories of any kind)

    Here are the tweet headlines:

    1. "Brexit: Liam Fox blames MPs over Canada deal delay"

    Mark: -1

    2. "Lib Dem leadership rivals defend anti-#Brexit t-shirts in European Parliament"

    Mark: -2

    3. "Boris Johnson accuser may appeal '£350m #Brexit claim' ruling"

    Mark: -2

    4. "Jeremy Corbyn: "The best thing would be to go back to the people and let them decide which way we go" on #Brexit, the government is now "an irrelevance" Theresa May: "Labour want to block Brexit, and that would be a betrayal of the many by the few" "

    Mark: 0

    5. "Jeremy Corbyn questions the government's preparation for a no-deal #Brexit, saying manufacturers have warned of a "direct link between politicians talking up the prospect of no deal, and British firms losing customers" "

    Mark: -2

    6. "Jeremy Corbyn leads on Brexit and chancellor's warnings about cost of no deal. Does PM think he or Boris Johnson is right?"

    Mark: -2

    7. "Annunziata Rees-Mogg on Brexit Party MEPs taking a salary - “I am here to do a very serious job - of course I am paid a salary to do a job” “That is outrageous - you are a fake out there doing a job" Brexiteer Labour MP John Mann"

    Mark: -1

    8. "Labour MP John Mann on a future Brexit vote in parliament “I am not going to vote for Revoke, I would never vote for Revoke” He says some in the EU will “shift their position at the last minute” and there will be a deal"

    Mark: 0

    9. "Former Tory minister Sam Gyimah on Brexit: “The idea that it is somehow Remainers that are standing in the way of our Brexit being delivered is not true - something like 28 hard core Brexiteers voted against Theresa May’s deal every time” "

    Mark: -1

    10. "German ambassador to the UK @GermanAmbUK says language learning will be "indispensable" for inspiring young people to be "outward looking and open" after Brexit "

    Mark: -1

    There were far more negative tweets further down the timeline and very little that could be construed as positive. I think a larger sample would return an even higher negative figure.

    1. That's the way to do it!

    2. I should have said "BBC Politics" Twitter timeline.

    3. And here's an example of a positive pro-Brexit story the BBC could publicise on their twitter timeline if they wanted...but the chances of it appearing are close to zero.

      Arch-Remainer George Osborne was over 6% out on his "recession if you vote Leave" prediction. The economy has grown 3.3% since the Brexit vote, in a time of huge uncertainty thanks to May's mismangagement of our withdrawal, whereas Osborne predicted (lied? - if he never believed it, he lied) that the economy would LOSE (!) 3%.

  2. It isn't just the BBC. They nominally get regulated by Ofcom (ha!), but then there all those other regulators for water, energy and education. Who regulates them?

    And then of course there is the EU Commission above them all. Sitting in the middle is our parliament with their invisible B****cks to Britain T-shirts, nominally accountable to us, (ha!), doing what the Commission tells them to do, (nothing to do with us guv!), and letting the regulators do diddly-squat, (nothing to do with us guv!)
    At least when we were ruled by kings we knew where to direct our milkshakes.

    1. There are also three great threats to our democracy: Ofcom (whose remit looks set to be widened to internet sites, like this one, given the huge powers for enforcement of PC values, while it ignores the extremist broadcasting from international satellite channels on our TVs in the UK), the Electoral Commission (which has a policy of differential application of the rules, depending on who is the perceived culprit - so always favouring leftist parties - and who is turning a blind eye to industrial scale electoral fraud and corruption in certain communities), and finally the Equality and Human Rights Commission (yes, we can all cheer as it investigates the Labour Party for anti-semitism but (a) its findings will be as wet lettuce leaf as Chakrabati's and (b) this will create a precedent for investigations into other parties, e.g. the Brexit Party, where you can be guaranteed the finding of guilt will be on a monumental scale).

      Personally, I would advocate all three quangoes be abolished.

      Replace the EHRC with a Personal Empowerment and Opportunity Commission, dedicated to ensuring people have full opportunity to realise their potential. Perhaps invite Jordan Peterson to chair it. :) This Commission could maybe investigate the internship corruption and nepotism we see in centres of elite power like the BBC. It could investigate whether Universities deliberately sabotage the careers of people with non-Marxist, non-liberal or non-left opinions. It could require corporations to explain their discriminatory policies against non-minority persons.

      The Electoral Commission can just be abolished and we can return electoral management to the courts and Parliament. We have seen huge growth in fraud and corruption under the Electoral Commission so it can be shown to have failed.

      As for Ofcom, do we need a broadcast regulator? I don't think so. We need to embed free speech rights not bind them in chains.

      Another one we need to look at is the Advertising Standards Authority. Originally it was just a trade body, but previous governments have legislated into a statutory body. Why?

      We just need general legal principles governing exercise of free speech. These can be written into law.


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