BBC bias – Every week, it seems, the BBC is under attack from one side or another. Most recently they’re in a twist over pay for women. Just this week came the weird spectacle of Today presenter John Humphrys being no-platformed by a Tory minister, of all people, for sexist remarks over the phone.John Humphrys on the Today programme - is there BBC bias - by Charles Harris

A few days ago, the Today programme prevented a female, presenter from interviewing another because she’s a feminist, and would presumably be biased. Leading to a mildly odd inversion where an emergency stand-in, on the phone at home, interviewed the interviewee, who was sitting in the Today studio. It’s all getting a bit fraught.

Of course, none of this is new. People have sniped at the BBC for a long time – although the first really sustained bombardment began under Margaret Thatcher in the 80s. Tory MP Peter Bruinvels called it the “Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation. Thatcher herself once said “I have fought three elections against the BBC.”

BBC bias – angry websites

If you suspect a whiff of self-serving here, it’s certainly interesting that most of the articles about BBC bias that pop up on Google come from politicians who strangely don’t like to be criticised. Along with tabloid newspapers (aha!) who are in direct competition with the BBC and its news website.

Tracey Couch government minister BBC biasTo which nowadays we can add a slew of angry websites such as BiasedBBC (the clue is in the name) and News Watch. Not to mention right-wing lobby groups such as the Centre for Policy Studies.

Then again, as the BBC are the first to point out, they can’t win, because here come more missiles from the left – accusing them of everything from racism to Zionism. And of course, gender inequality.

The BBC’s standard get-out-of-jail card is that the attacks come from both sides, so therefore they’re doing something right. Of course, the obvious rejoinder is that they could equally be doing everything wrong.

What’s going on?

I’ve just written a satirical thriller that puts the knife into the defects of our Machiavellian tabloid journalists, with sideswipes at police and politicians along the way.

So I suppose it’s only fair that I look for a moment at whether similar faults lie in the BBC. After all it is still the most trusted news organisation in the country – if not the world. And it prides itself on its balance and fairness – very British indeed.BBC bias by Charles Harris

Words are a writer’s business – and we shouldn’t bandy around strong words like “bias” lightly. So what is actually going on here?

First – with the help of nice Mr Google – it turns out that many accusations of BBC bias are actually based on minor errors of judgement or factual mistakes which were rapidly corrected.

Nevertheless, nobody can deny that Auntie BBC pays women less and that for all the recent improvements, it’s still easier for a black person to get a job in the canteen than behind a senior desk or on camera.

Fear of BBC bias leads to BBC bias?

But the most important bias, seems to be the in-house fear of bias itself. This leads to a bias towards the centre and a knee-jerk need to ensure that every argument is automatically countered.

The first can be seen on BBC’s flagship show Question Time. The Green Party recently analysed a number of episodes and found that Labour and Tory Question Time with David Dimbleby BBC bias?politicians were given far more time to speak than any other guests, however prestigious or erudite.

This “BBC bias towards the centre” has been picked up by broadsheets such as The Independent, and showed itself most obviously in the banking crisis – where the vast majority of economic experts on our screens came from the same pool of firms who, it could have been said, got us into the mess in the first place.

The thinking is that if you’re in the centre then you can’t be biased, because you’re not at the extremes.

The second is different and can be seen in its treatment of such issues as the environment. If you can’t find a centre, then you balance the arguments.

So, for a long time, every climate-change scientist had to be balanced by a climate-change sceptic However, some issues don’t deserve to be “balanced”. If the facts are – as is the case – 99% solid, it isn’t balanced to bring in a climate-denying nutcase to rubbish them. It’s actually wrong.

Something similar could be said to have happened with Brexit, whatever you think of the result. To ensure “balance” the Beeb allowed the liars and wing-nuts as much air-time as those with more reasoned arguments – from both camps, I should add.

Good old British compromise

Then, in a blinding flash, it occurred to me, what this reminded me of.

When I was taking my A Levels, we were taught Standard Exam Technique for essays. This involves a very simple format. First you state the question (such as “What caused the First World War?”). Next you divide your essay into three parts.

The first part goes “On the one hand… X.” This is followed by “On the other hand… Y.” Finally, you write “The answer lies somewhere in the middle.”

A good old British compromise.

Suddenly it all becomes clear. This, in a nutshell, is the current BBC. This is how you treat every issue, however clear-cut: “On the one hand X + on the other hand Y = the answer lies somewhere in the middle.”

So, maybe there isn’t so much real BBC bias. The place is simply full of good little ex-students using the Standard Exam Technique they were taught at school.

Whether it’s right for the 10 O’Clock News or not.

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