BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg made what many will consider to be a ludicrous comment in her recent interview with Press Gazette:
I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC.
So Kuenssberg suggests her dedication to “impartiality” knows no bounds. But her reporting has been beset with allegations of severe bias from BBC viewers, concerned with her balance. Back in May, a petition to sack her for pro-Conservative bias gained 35,000 signatures in a handful of days. 38 Degrees removed the petition after politicians and the mainstream media peddled a fake smear campaign against its supporters.
Kuenssberg’s interview with Press Gazette follows the media organisation awarding her ‘Journalist of the Year’. She also said:
Everybody has to be part of the BBC because everybody has to pay for it. That is our precious jewel and I guard nothing more important than our impartiality.
Kuenssberg is right. Everyone does pay for the BBC through the license fee. But the claim that everyone is a part of the BBC seems like a stretch of the imagination. Licence fee payers have no control over how their money is spent. People do not vote openly for which journalistic endeavours get funding. That is decided in closed board rooms by executives.
The BBC Political Editor also praised what she sees as diversity in the mainstream media:
they want to enjoy all the fantastic variety of goods we have to feast on in the British press and I wouldn’t change that for a second.
But the UK scored 38th in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, lower than Ghana, Tonga and Belize. Reporters Without Borders cited “media ownership by conglomerates” as why Europe “seemed to be on a downhill course”.
Contrary to Kuenssberg’s claim, it appears a lack of plurality contributed to the UK’s low ranking. And a YouGov study found that British people perceive their press to be ‘the most right-wing in Europe’. Correspondingly, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK controls a third of our national newspapers – 70% of which are owned by just three companies.
The “fantastic variety of goods” Kuenssberg speaks of looks like different shades of neoliberalism to many.
The BBC’s own reporting
Like her comments in the interview, the Political Editor’s reporting does not appear to reflect reality. Des Freedman of Counterfire responded in the following way after Kuenssberg won Journalist of the Year:
The Press Gazette British Journalism Awards, which have just announced that the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, is their ‘journalist of the year’, is sponsored by Heineken. There must have been an awful lot of it splashing around when the judges were making their decision.
Apparently, the thing that swung it for her was her fantastic coverage of the EU referendum: “In a tumultuous year, she rose to the challenge and made the story of Brexit her own.”
This is quite an accolade given the fact that she is the leading voice of a broadcast system that treated the Brexit debate purely as an argument amongst different Tory factions in which Labour, women and issues beyond talk of immigration, business and the referendum itself were largely absent.
However, I do believe that Ms Kuenssberg does deserve an award given her unflinching loyalty to the project to diminish Jeremy Corbyn in the eyes of her viewers.
The New Statesman conducted analysis into broadcaster coverage of the EU referendum that supports Freedman’s point.
It analysed the main evening bulletins on the BBC, Channel 5 (5pm), Channel 4 (7pm), ITV, and Sky News (10pm). The findings showed that, while Remain and Brexit voices were balanced, a huge 71.2% of political sources were from the Conservative Party, compared to just 18.4% from Labour.
When questioned on alleged bias, the BBC claims it is “impartial”, saying:
The BBC is impartial and our journalists put their personal views to one side when they join the corporation. Our editorial guidelines on impartiality and conflicts of interest can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/impartiality
But a lot of academic evidence says otherwise:
- A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and Conservative-leaning in its coverage.
- The London School of Economics and Political Science found strong media bias against Corbyn, claiming the press had turned into an “attackdog” against the opposition leader.
- The UK’s public service broadcaster gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the Labour coup, according to content analysis from the Media Reform Coalition.
For many BBC viewers, Kuenssberg claiming she would rather “die in a ditch” than compromise the BBC’s impartiality is beyond comedy. The BBC needs to stop merely insisting it’s impartial and start offering counter-evidence to the series of damning reports into its coverage.
– You may like to make an official complaint about BBC bias here.
– You might also like to remind Laura Kuenssberg very politely about her responsibilities as a public service broadcaster.
– Support The Canary, so we can continue to step in where mainstream outlets like the BBC fail.
Featured image via Wikimedia