BBC Bias

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently carried out a largely negative coverage of the political reactions to the Daily Mail's -- a popular conservative British newspaper -- controversial and widely-discussed article on the political relationship between of Ed Miliband and his Marxist father, Ralph Miliband. (Ed Miliband could possibly become Britain's next Prime Minister in 2015.) The Daily Mail itself then accused the BBC of propagating its own political bias on the very same issue.

Predictably, the BBC has said that it 'ensured both sides had the chance to express their views.' That's a stock response from the BBC. Even the wording remains pretty much identical each time it's expressed or published. This is understandable when you consider how many times the BBC faces the accusation of political bias. Despite that, the BBC is a tax/license-funded 'public service organization.' That means that different standards should apply to its output when compared to a newspaper like the Daily Mail.

What's strange about this ongoing and long-term debate about 'BBC bias' is that -- strangely enough -- the BBC has often admitted to it. The BBC has even been explicit about the precise political nature of that bias. In the last decade or so I've heard -- on the radio -- ten or more confessions (as it were) of that political bias from various BBC bigwigs. For example, the BBC has often been described -- even by its supporters/fans -- as being 'liberal' as well as being 'left-liberal'. What's more, the BBC has describe itself in such ways. Despite that, at other times those admissions -- if that's what they are -- of political bias are wholly denied.

Presumably the BBC contains people who are philosophically literate. And because that must be the case, then at least some of its employees must know that it's virtually (theoretically/philosophically) impossible for a news agency and broadcaster not to be biased in some small or large ways.

For example, as many people have put it, bias is shown in the very selection of stories which are covered as well as by those which are deliberately ignored. And even within that context we can add the fact that this bias includes which aspects of these already-selected stories are themselves selected.

Here's my own example of bias. Take the BBC News website, in which most of the news pieces are very succinct and deal mainly in quotes and factual detail. In other words, of all the BBC's news output, this website is perhaps the least biased. Yet take the example of Tom Symonds -- the BBC's Home Affairs correspondent -- and his very subtle and sly editorializing on the departure of Tommy Robinson from the English Defence League or EDL (an anti-Islamist and counter-jihad movement). I'll leave the reader to decide how the following quotes can be construed:

".... marches attended by men and women who say they are working class..."

"Officially the EDL denies being racist..."

"Their [Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll] departure has weakened the movement, and its mobilization of anti-Muslim working class sentiment."

Another personal experience of BBC bias occurred with the well-known BBC journalist and writer Mark Easton. In this instance I heard him pontificate for five minutes or more on the ceaseless and unpolluted glories of (unrestricted?) immigration on BBC Radio 2's "Jeremy Vine Show." I decided to pick him up on what he said by emailing him. To my surprise, he replied. He wrote back saying:

"I was not making an argument about the pros and cons of immigration itself..."

In fact Mark Easton had done precisely the opposite of that. He didn't offer a single criticism of any aspect of mass immigration. In response to that reply I repeated my criticism in a return email. And, even more surprisingly, he replied again. However, this time the political nature of what he had said was made much more explicit:

"I do think it is shocking that, a significant minority of people in Britain don't think immigrants who live and work here quite legally should be able to use the NHS and other public services."

Mark Easton also told me about the 'climate of prejudice and xenophobia at that time' (in the 1960s) and that the 'British have a very negative attitude towards immigrants compared to other European nations.' Now that could be classed as a simple after-the-fact elaboration. Nonetheless, those views were still there -- if not so explicitly -- in the original BBC programme; despite Easton's claims about 'not making an argument about the pros and cons of immigration.' In fact he put a very 'pro' position on immigration in the programme and the following emails only made his political position even more explicit.

None of this is surprising, however. Of course, Mark Easton has political biases. In may even be the case that was he said is true or politically valid. So why then hide these biases or political positions through such silly dissimulation? And what is true about Mark Easton is of course true of the BBC as a whole.

It can be said that the BBC is attempting to do the impossible. What I mean by that is at one and the same time the BBC wants to both hide -- or disguise -- its political bias but also to fully express it. Yet this certainly isn't impossible. There are many ways it can be done. Political academics (like the now deceased Ralph Miliband) often do so by adopting the academic style: by including copious footnotes and references as well as a self-conscious lack rhetoric and polemics. BBC journalists do something similar but also add to all that a biased news-selecting process. Another gimmick, as it were, is to quote the words of the person or group one is politically against. That way the BBC can say, in its own words, that it has 'ensured both sides had the chance to express their views'. Neat. But all that depends on which words the BBC selects or chooses. It could indeed quote, say, a 'racist', 'Islamophobic' or 'far-right' politician. However, it could quite easily quote him saying something deemed extreme or inarticulate and then disregard all the positive or moderate stuff.

More on the Daily Mail

One thing that was largely ignored by the BBC -- and utterly ignored by most other media outlets -- is the fact that the Daily Mail justified its position both on Ralph Miliband himself and on his (possible) influence on Ed Miliband. Of course the argument that Ed Miliband is himself a Marxist is fairly difficult to justify. Nonetheless, the Daily Mail didn't claim that he's an outright Marxist in the way his father was. It only claimed that Ralph Miliband has influenced his son in specifically political -- and indeed Marxist -- ways. Indeed one can endorse certain Marxist theories or views without thereby being a (full) Marxist -- as many people do.

Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail's editor, said that the newspaper justified its article in terms of a speech Ed Miliband gave at the Labour Party conference on the 24th of September, 2013. He said that this speech prompted the article.

More specifically, Dacre referred to Miliband's references to land seizures and price fixing -- two policies characteristic of Marxist regimes (including the Soviet Union). This is not to say that non-Marxist regimes have never carried out such measures. Nonetheless, it can be still argued that even if the government which does so is not Marxist (strictly speaking), the said policies are still Marxist/communist.

Another way in which BBC bias was shown was with its fixation on the Ralph Miliband diary entry written when he was seventeen. It's as if the BBC -- and many others -- think that Ralph Miliband stopped being a Marxist when he was eighteen. That clearly wasn't the case. He was a Marxist until his death. He even wrote his last Marxist book, Socialism for a Sceptical Age, just before he died. (It was published in 1994.)

Of course when Ralph Miliband continued to express his Marxist views he didn't do so in the prose style of a seventeen year old. In fact, he became an academic. Despite that, he expressed largely the same views only in a different way -- in the style of a Marxist academic. That is, in the pseudo-scientific/objective style of any academic trying to propagate -- and in a sense sometimes disguise -- a particular ideology or political position.
I doubt that anyone would have made such a fuss if the Daily Mail had published an academic version of what Ralph Miliband said when he was seventeen. Yet he said and believed almost exactly the same things right up until his death in 1994.

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