Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Are the BBC biased?

Within the last few days, I have heard many accusations made against the BBC of bias. Some claim that the BBC is intentionally choosing to misinform, mislead or under-represent certain groups within our society. Others accuse the corporation of political bias, interestingly each party on occasion claims this, so what can we categorically say on this issue? I thought I'd share my thoughts in this post.

Firstly, let me say that I think that 99% of these claims are without merit and are often made carelessly, with very little understanding of what bias actually is, so this is where I will begin.

When a shocking crime occurs and is reported, the BBC may report it as shocking or disturbing. How else could anyone describe the murder of children or rape of the elderly or infirmed? no one would call the BBC biased when reporters describe these crimes as shocking, however if a reporter claims that the death of a Palestinian civilian at the hands of an Israeli solder is shocking then the BBC can expect to receive complaints from some who are 'pro-Israel'. Why is this?

Its fair to say that it is practically impossible to report many stories from a completely neutral perspective. How can any journalist write or broadcast a story without including the human element? Should they even try? In fact, if we take out the human element, there is often no story left. Anyone who wants to tackle the issue of bias must dig much deeper than mere terminology.

Consistent reporting of error despite correction or constant portrayal of one point of view without affording a right to reply to those of a different persuasion, these things could be correctly identified as bias. So is the BBC biased?

Well I''ve worked with the BBC now for over three years and I'm yet to encounter bias in any great (or intentional) detail. Yes, the corporation has made mistakes but to claim, as many groups do, that the BBC is 'institutionally biased' is simply not true.

As a Christian who chooses to worship within more evangelical circles, its amazing how many times I hear the BBC, bad mouthed from public pulpits and speakers. It seems as though certain Christians are not prepared for any other voice to be heard apart from theirs. As the BBC holds the principal concept of 'free speech' at its core, perhaps its no wonder that fundamentalists see the BBC as morally defunct.

I think that anyone who wants to understand the BBC's position on bias only needs to consider how news teams reported the recent Hutton/WMD/sexed up story. Here, the news reporters themselves became the story. Yet the BBC still reported accurately and fairly regarding both themselves and their colleagues even though the corporation appeared weak in how it had dealt with this issue.

The result of the Hutton report was that all programme making staff were obliged to attend training sessions on editorial issues. Hardly the actions of a corporation which cares little about accuracy or bias? No the BBC continues to demand the highest levels of integrity and impartiality from its staff, even if this inevitably fails in isolated instances.

So why can't the BBC's critics learn from the corporations own example? Rather than throwing cheap words around to people with 'itchy ears', why not raise their issues through the BBC itself? Christians claim to be under-represented in the media yet they are the only people who can do something about it. Do they think that the BBC will approach them for their outreach related news or community based faith events? The BBC doesn't have an agenda against Christianity or Churches. It just doesn't hear from them very often.

I know the issue runs much deeper than this post. I haven't even mentioned 'balance'. Balance allows people with 'polarized views' to have their say by 'balancing' that point of view at a later time, or in a later programme. This area is much more complicated especially for my little blog.

Anyway, I hope that my post is of use to anyone who cares about these issues although I suspect some may think that I am biased in favour of the BBC :-)

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