News-watch

Is the BBC Biased?

Is the BBC Biased?

The answer is that on one particular subject – the coverage of EU affairs – it most definitely is.

For 15 long years, News-watch has been investigating. Our reports deploy the most robust analytical methodology and demonstrate that, for example, over the treatment of withdrawal from the EU, the Corporation’s coverage is outrageously limited and skewed.

The latest report, focusing on the European elections in May, shows that during the entire campaign on the Corporation’s most high-profile news and currents affairs programmes, no supporter of withdrawal was asked a single question about the topic.

Instead, the focus was relentlessly – to the point of persecution – on whether those who supported withdrawal (UKIP of course) were racist, incompetent or corrupt.  The latest full report can be read here.

Over most of those 15 years, the Corporation’s senior management and Trustees have disgracefully refused to engage with this research.

Instead they come up with a whole series of stonewall defences. This includes bunging loads of licence-fee cash to their media chums and former employees  in academia to write rival reports. But their methodology, as News-watch demonstrated conclusively in a Civitas paper, is lamentably poor.

In the process, it has become abundantly clear that despite their protestations, Corporation news mandarins do not have the faintest idea of how to measure their own output. Their approach relies principally on bluster and insults.

So it was with great interest that I watched the latest defence against the recent big guns Tory attack  when call me Dave and George Osborne accused the BBC of bias and exaggeration in its coverage of the Autumn statement.

The response of the BBC press office?   “We’ll undoubtedly get more criticism from across the political spectrum as the election gets closer, but we’ll keep doing our job.”

Well golly. In other words, sometime in the next six months until the General Election, the Corporation will receive another complaint from someone from the other side of the political fence.

A defence, it seems, based on a new-found capacity of serried ranks of 180 in the Press Office to foretell the future.  The sybils at Delphi would have been envious.

In fact, this argument – that because the BBC is criticised from all sides, it must be doing something right – is perhaps the oldest weapon in the Corporation’s armoury, wheeled out with wearying predictability.

News-watch records show the first use of the tactic back in summer 2000.  In response to a report, they produced two letters by listeners one attacking John Humphrys for pro-EU bias, the second for his anti-EU bias.

There was no additional commentary, but incredibly, Corporation chiefs believed both that it was an-ace-of-hearts trump card, and that it showed that Humphrys could not be biased towards both sides of the argument simultaneously – so therefore he must not be biased at all.

A moment’s reflection shows that such ‘logic’ is utter tosh.   One of the viewpoints could be correct and the other completely wrong.  There is no way of judging the credibility of the two viewpoints chosen. There might have been hundreds more letters supporting one perspective than the other, yet both are given equal weight. And one might have been based on robust fact and research, the other purely on impression.

The second defence, said by media pundits to be ‘unprecedented’, was that the BBC Press Office moved to tackle the Sun newspaper head on , issuing line-by-line rebuttals of two editorials.

The Sun December 2 leader said that, despite pledges of reform, the numbers of senior managers earning more than the Prime Minister continued to rise. The next day, there was a follow-up, this time calling for the licence fee to be scrapped, accusing BBC bosses of handing top jobs to friends of friends, and it tearing into what is said were the ‘left-wing prejudices of this Guardian-reading elite’

The BBC response was every bit as limp as its attempts at fortune-telling described above.  The principal defence – presented without a scrap of supporting evidence but as if it was  unarguable fact – was that the BBC provided ‘programmes and services which the public love’ and a claim that, ‘…at just £2.80 a week per household the BBC provides excellent value for money.’

Well that’s alright then. And as BBC Director of Television Danny Cohen (salary £327,800)says, we must not dare criticise.

On senior management pay, the defence was a classic Watergate ‘non-denial denial’ that perhaps would have made even Nixon blush. The press office said: “…senior manager numbers fell again last year from 445 to 410”. But that was not even the point the Sun had made. The specific complaint was that 91 senior managers earned more than the PM.

In response to the criticism of recruitment and left-wing bias, the BBC argued “We appoint people from a wide variety of different backgrounds – including newspapers from across the political spectrum” It was unclear from the nonsensical sentence construction (or course the BBC doesn’t appoint newspapers to its roles) whether this meant appointments were advertised across a range of newspapers or that journalists from various newspapers were subsequently appointed by the BBC.

This, of course, is an equally unsubtle variation of the two-complaints- from-different-sides prove balance argument. I have no doubt that, somewhere in the Corporation, if you dig hard enough and deep enough, in some dusty corner, there are those who have worked for the Daily Mail. But as this book by former BBC correspondent Robin Aitken brilliantly pointed out, they definitely do not cancel out the liberal-left bias.

Photo by hans s

BBC charter must not be renewed until pro-EU bias ends

BBC charter must not be renewed until pro-EU bias ends

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, initiated an hour’s debate in the House of Lords about biased BBC coverage of the EU. His main demand was that the BBC Charter is not renewed until the bias is rectified, and his key point that despite repeated assertions to the contrary the BBC simply does not cover the withdrawal perspective fairly or adequately.  The debate can be read in full here: Click here

The peers’ collective words on this vital topic have gone unreported – especially by the BBC. Lord Pearson of Rannoch referred centrally in his contribution  to a News-watch report that said that says that the BBC’s Prebble report (which gave the corporation’s EU coverage a virtual clean bill of health) was unprofessional and ‘incestuous’.

Lord Pearson asserted in conclusion:

“So I ask the Government not to renew the BBC’s charter until they are satisfied that it is capable of fulfilling it. This afternoon, I have dealt only with the BBC’s coverage of the EU. Similar criticisms could be made of its coverage of immigration and manmade climate change, at least. In conclusion, I trust that the Government will ensure that the BBC’s editorial freedom is preserved, but with that freedom must come the fulfilment of the great ideals of its charter. I beg to move.”

Photo by Euro Realist Newsletter

BBC Prebble report into EU coverage ‘not worth paper it is written on’

News-watch has written a paper for Civitas, the respected think-tank,  that shows that the Prebble report into the BBC’s EU coverage ‘is not worth the paper it is written on’ and was not independent.

The Times says that the Civitas paper demonstrates  that  ‘the clean bill of health for the BBC (given for the EU coverage by Prebble) “raises serious questions” about the impartiality and competence of the BBC Trust, the oversight body that commissioned the study’.

The Civitas release about the report is here:  http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/PRprebble.html

The full report is here: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/impartialityatthebbc.pdf

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees  to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’,  leading Eurosceptic MPs Kate Hoey and Philip Hollobone have said.

The complaint – based on research by Newswatch – centred on an edition of Newsnight last January which covered David Cameron’s decision to announce a radical overhaul of EU policy to include a referendum on withdrawal.

Mr Hollobone, who has written to BBC Trustees attacking heir ruling, said: “The programme featured 17 Europhiles pitched against one person who supported withdrawal. It was blatant imbalance.

“Yet the BBC says this did not matter because this was not a major news event and they were

therefore gauging reaction to the proposal from politicians and those affected by it. That’s the sort of sleight of hand excuse that shows that the BBC complaints process is completely rotten and stacked against complainants. They make the rules, they interpret them and they kick out most of them on the most spurious reasoning.”

A succession of top BBC executives, including former DG Mark Thompson, and more recently former head of television news Roger Mosey, have admitted that BBC EU coverage has been totally biased against the withdrawal case.

Mr Hollobone added: “Our complaint showed in detail that on the day of this major development in EU-related policy, this edition of Newsnight did not properly take into account the withdrawal case, and indeed went to absurd lengths to stuff the programme full of figures who wanted to shoot down both the idea of a referendum and the case for withdrawal.

“In terms of BBC coverage it was thus par for the course, but the Trustees have now performed a farcical series of contortions to argue the programme was fair”.

He added: “The BBC complaints procedure is clearly not fit for purpose because no-one involved is genuinely independent. It exists to protect the BBC’s back rather than the proper investigation of bias. It’s time for major change”.

Kate Hoey said: “I have grave concerns about how the BBC is going to be impartial during the coming debate on our relationship with the EU and a referendum.   Chris Patten as a former EU commissioner really must prove he has left his Europhile position behind him and that he can ensure genuine impartiality”

Read the Newswatch-researched complaint here.

Photo by rockcohen

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

Newswatch reports show that Today does not give EU ‘come-outers’ the chance to properly air their case.
When they do appear they are usually bracketed with ‘Loonies’, or given no chance to explain their support for leaving the EU.
Today presenter Evan Davis continued the tradition when he interviewed this week (November 18) Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes about his decision to support UKIP in the 2014 Europe elections. Mr Sykes – who announced his decisions to the Daily Telegraph – said he had decided to resume his political donations because UKIP was the only party clearly campaigning for withdrawal from the EU. But on Today, Evan Davis conducted in an interview that was so crammed full of interruptions that the longest Mr Sykes was allowed to speak was 94 words, about 35 seconds. In an interview lasting five-and-a-half minutes, Mr Davis interjected 35 times…once every 10 seconds.
The transcript here reveals the full gory story.  Read for yourself .
Of course it’s the job of a Today presenter to be adversarial and political donations must be subjected to scrutiny. But this was battering ram questioning that would have been appropriateif Mr Sykes was contemplating an illegal act rather than giving to a mainstream political cause he believed in.
The transcript shows that that Mr Davis deliberately set out to prevent Mr Sykes from explaining either his decision to support withdrawal as a political cause or his reasoning why he thought current policies do not chime with public opinion. It was only the third interview of a clear supporter of withdrawal in the latest Newswatch monitoring period, which is running from mid September until the EU Council meeting in December.

Photo by Astral Media

Newswatch surveys: Since 2005, Today has carried only six minutes a year of those who support EU withdrawal talking about the subject

Newswatch has been monitoring the Today programme for approximately 6 months of the year since 2005. It is the longest-ever, and most detailed, research project of its kind. In the latest survey period it has been established that withdrawalists talking about withdrawal took up minimal programme time.
That fits in with longer-term trends. Since 2005:
Total feature airtime in monitored programmes: 137,479 minutes
Airtime devoted to EU coverage: 9360 minutes
Total number of EU-related speakers: 3441
Withdrawalist Speakers
There were exactly 100 appearances by speakers who were identified as supporters of withdrawal.
Of these, 73% were UKIP, 13% Conservative Party, 7% BNP, 3% Labour Party, 2% were vox pops,
and 1% from Veritas.
Just over half (37 out of 73, equating to 37%) of all UKIP appearances were from Nigel Farage.
Speakers who discussed Withdrawal
58 Speakers of the 100 made an argument for withdrawal as part of their contribution, (with the
remaining 42 commenting on other EU matters but making no case for withdrawal).
Of the 58 speakers:
41 (70.7%) came from UKIP;
10 (17.2%) were from the Conservative Party,
3 (5.2%) were from the BNP,
2 (3.4%) were from the Labour Party
2 (3.4%) were from vox pop contributors.
 Words spoken on withdrawal by withdrawalists
Total words spoken on withdrawal by withdrawalists between March 2005 and June 2013:  6786
At 140 wpm, this equates to: 48 minutes and 27 seconds. That is six minutes per year in the monitored
periods (half of the total output).
This is 0.5% of total EU coverage, and 0.035% of total airtime available on Today.
Word Counts by Party for those who discussed withdrawal
The 6786 words spoken by withdrawalists who discussed withdrawal can be split into the following:
BNP:  115 Words (1.7%)
Conservative Party: 1042 words (15.4%)
Labour Party: 141 words (2.1%)
Vox Pops 29 words.  (0.4%)
UKIP:  5459 words (80%)

Latest Newswatch report: Today ignored UK Withdrawal from the EU, but gave multiple airings for those who want stronger EU ties.

The latest News-watch report shows that Today went out of its way to give those who were opposed to change in Britain’s relationship with the EU – including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – multiple platforms in which they had clear time and space to advance arguments in favour of their views, including the hotly disputed claim by Europhiles that 3.5m jobs would be lost if the relationship with the EU was fundamentally changed. This assertion went unchallenged by the Today presenter.

BBC Trustees reject Newsnight EU bias complaint

The BBC Trustees have yet again flatly rejected claims that their EU coverage is biased.
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone and Labour’s Kate Hoey filed a complaint about an edition of Newsnight on January 23, when David Cameron announced his policy of holding an ‘in/out’ referendum.
The programme contained just one ‘come-outer’ (UKIP’s Nigel Farage) ranged against battery of 17 studio guests and contributors who were in different ways against the referendum, in favour of staying in the EU or increasing its powers. The Trustees say this was ‘fair’ because the programme was considering the political context and implications of the issues raised by Mr Cameron and therefore the number of supporters of withdrawal was immaterial.
Philip Hollobone Newsnight complaint here: 
BBC response here: 
Transcript of Newsnight programme here:
Is the BBC properly balanced and impartial in its reporting of complex issues such as the EU, immigration and climate change?

Is the BBC properly balanced and impartial in its reporting of complex issues such as the EU, immigration and climate change?

For more than 15 years, Newswatch has been investigating BBC output using a systematic process of transcription logging and detailed analysis. The answer, in certain key respects – especially with regard to the EU – is a resounding and disturbing ‘no’.
Especially prominent in the data is a consistent and systematic failure to investigate or allow or even facilitate the articulation of the arguments in favour of withdrawal from the EU.
Yet the corporation refuses to engage with the research, or to conduct truly independent assessments of its own. Its tactics are rather to attempt to shout down or ridicule those who disagree with it.
The purpose of this site is to provide an internet platform through which issues of BBC bias can be properly aired and understood.
Emphatically, it is not a ‘bash the BBC’ platform, and it has no political axe to grind.
But the corporation must also recognise that in this area, it is often its own worst enemy.
This is because there is a collective refusal, from the Trustees downwards, and across the entire complaints process, to allow genuinely independent investigation of bias claims.
The only exception to this came in 2004/5, when in the interregnum between Labour-appointed chairmen of the then Governors, Lord Ryder, the Conservative peer, as acting chairman, commissioned a report from Lord Wilson of Dinton, the former cabinet secretary. Lord Wilson’s Commission was made up of leading figures with a cross-section of views about the EU. It found extensive evidence of bias and warned the Corporation that it must radically improve carry more, and more varied news about the EU.

Photo by winnifredxoxo

Hot off the Press: Latest Newswatch EU Survey Covering Summer 2013

Newswatch’s latest survey shows that the BBC continues to ignore the case for withdrawal.
Only 513 words in 13 weeks of the Today programme were ‘come-outers’ talking about their views about withdrawal. That was only 0.7% of the EU output.
There were only six such contributions, despite this being a period when the topic of withdrawal was central to the political agenda as David Cameron began negotiations for treaty change and UKIP secured 25% of the poll in local elections.
Today also failed to ask Conservative contributors about their attitude towards EU withdrawal. It was estimated during the period that one third of Conservative MPs had come to support withdrawal, but those who appeared were asked only about renegotiation. The report shows how the main thrust of Today’s coverage was to show that there was a return – possibly to a worse level than at any point in Party history – to Conservative infighting over the EU. Today continued to present Euroscepticism in all its forms through the prism of ‘Conservative splits’ – as it has done for the last 14 years of Newswatch reports.
The full report can be read here.