In the last week, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and David Cameron have all accused the BBC of failing in its duty to be impartial by being biased towards the Left. It is an accusation made constantly by the Tory Party and their press supporters (at the last election 74% of the press were behind the Tories). As the result of this relentless repetition it is now widely believed that the BBC is biased towards the Left. However, the facts show that the opposite is true - the BBC is biased towards the Right.
To prove bias it is necessary to look at far more than just one story or issue. What is needed is proper research over an extended period.
In August 2013, academics at Cardiff University published their research into political bias at the BBC. Their research was funded by the BBC Trust. They analysed news coverage from both 2007 and 2012 so that in one case there had been a Labour government and in the other the Coalition.
A government is always likely to receive more airtime than an opposition. However, the researchers found a clear bias towards the Tories over Labour. They found that whereas in 2007 Gordon Brown outnumbered David Cameron in appearances by a ratio of two to one, in 2012 David Cameron outnumbered Ed Miliband by nearly four to one. Across the two time periods, Tory politicians were featured more than 50% more often than Labour ones. The researchers concluded that
“the evidence is clear that the BBC does not lean to the Left it actually provides more space for Conservative voices.”
The researchers also analysed the coverage of business and, in particular the 2008 financial crisis. They found that, when covering the crisis, on the BBC
“opinion was almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage. The fact that the City financiers who had caused the crisis were given almost monopoly status to frame debate again demonstrates the prominence of pro-business perspectives.”
The results of the research should not be surprising. The people in positions of influence in the BBC tend to have similar backgrounds to the elites in politics, newspapers, the City and so on. The BBC is a pillar of the Establishment.
It is interesting to note, for example, how differently the BBC treats UKUncut, campaigning for the rich to pay their taxes, as opposed to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, campaigning to cut public spending.
I complained once to the Today program because they described UKUncut as “anticapitalist” – a term likely to undermine their credibility. I pointed out that there was nothing anticapitalist about seeking that the rich pay the taxes that parliament intended. The Establishment worldview tends to be dismissive of a group of leaderless scruffs like UKUncut and I was told not once but twice that the program stuck by its description. Only when I escalated the complaint did the BBC, at the third time of asking, concede or perhaps finally realise what should have always been obvious: that calling for the rich to pay their taxes may be anti-Establishment but it is absurd to describe it as anticapitalist.
The BBC is wary of organisations like UKUncut. The Taxpayers’ Alliance is a pressure group, just as UKUncut is, but the BBC treats it very differently. It is an organisation well-funded by big business, with very close links to the Tory party. Its representatives are very much part of the Establishment and the BBC regularly quotes its views and invites it on to its programs.
The Left needs to challenge the Right over its constant complaints of BBC bias. It needs to challenge the BBC over its bias too.