Subject of the day on Twitter (at least on many of the accounts that I follow and interact with) was BBC bias. Not accusations of institutional leftist bias, which is the the more common criticism, but instead claims that the BBC in fact genuflects to the Establishment and forces of conservatism. The idea that the BBC is riddled with liberals and agents of the left is actually a clever lie perpetuated by the right as a means of policing our state broadcaster.
Well, it’s a theory.
These claims originate from an article by Owen Jones, who now writes for The Guardian (a move which was as inevitable as Lassie coming home). To support his argument he points out that Chris Patten is the Chairman of the BBC Trust; the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson was once chairman of the Young Conservatives; Andrew Neil works there and Stephanie Flanders used to work there but has quit and taken a job with JP Morgan (because, obviously, it’s just not possible to work for a bank and hold anything even approaching left wing or liberal views). Damning evidence there. Conclusive stuff.
OK, so that’s not entirely fair. He does point out a number of other indicators including research by Cardiff University claiming to show a greater representation of Conservative politicians on BBC news than there were Labour politicians on the news when Gordon Brown was prime minister. He also names some other journalists and staff who have either worked for right wing newspapers at some point or have moved onto roles working for senior Conservative Party figures.
All of this may well be true, but it’s a huge leap to claim, as he does, that “the BBC is stacked full of right wingers”. Owen is very much to the left of the political spectrum, so of course he views the BBC as being right wing: pretty much everything is to the right of him. It’s a bit like standing at the North Pole and complaining that everything is south. Of course it is, but only from where YOU are standing.
At the other end of the political spectrum (although they agree on a lot more than either would care to admit) is Peter Hitchens who maintains the polar opposite view: that the BBC is riddled with left wing, liberal, metropolitan types and that the type of people they tend to recruit ensures that such viewpoints seep into nearly every BBC production. Hitchens recounts a number of examples to support his claims. Again, as with the instances highlighted by Jones, I don’t doubt the veracity of any of them. But Hitchens, like Jones, makes claims from his own idiosyncratic viewing point – here, the far reaches of pure conservatism. Hitchens is standing at the South Pole and complaining that everything is north.
Both of them, as far as I can see, get a fair amount of appearances on the BBC. So cry me a river.
The BBC is a monolithic beast that produces a huge amount of television, radio and web content. Some of that content might be produced by left-leaning individuals and it might show. Some of it might be produced by those of a right-leaning bent and it might show. Generally speaking, taking all its output into account, it does a fairly good job of remaining impartial and balanced when it matters.
But then, I would say that. I’m a centrist standing on the equator, with the ability to look north and south.