As the UK enters one of the defining moments of its history, the BBC‘s role to impartially inform the public has never been more vital. But during Newsnight on November 15, it didn’t just fail, it didn’t appear to even try.
No attempt at balance
We’re often told BBC bias is a myth. The BBC gets attacked from left and right, and so apparently it must be balanced somewhere in the middle. As a result, those on the left who criticise it are regularly dismissed as paranoid fantasists who imagine a vast conspiracy to exclude them.
Explain then why all seven guests on Newsnight on 15 November were linked to the Conservative Party, or hold conservative politics?
During one of the most tumultuous days in British political history, the BBC didn’t have one Labour party voice on the show, or anyone from the left.
The BBC even proudly promoted its line-up for the evening:
TONIGHT: It's been quite a day in Westminster and it's not over yet…
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
Join us and our stellar line-up of guests to break down what it all means
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 15, 2018
So who were they?
- Journalist Craig Oliver, who served as David Cameron’s director of communications after replacing his disgraced predecessor Andy Coulson.
- Journalist Toby Young, who’s voiced some interesting opinions on eugenics.
- Associate editor of the Daily Telegraph, Camilla Tominey – a long-term sycophant for the Royal family, whose own website describes her as a “regular commentator on the BBC”.
- Michael Heseltine. He served under Margaret Thatcher and was a former deputy prime minister under John Major.
- Oliver Letwin, former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under David Cameron, who once claimed parliamentary expenses for a broken pipe under his private tennis court.
- Peter Bone MP, arch Brexiteer and member of the socially conservative Cornerstone Group, dedicated to “traditional values”.
- Journalist Rachel Johnson, former conservative member and sister of Boris Johnson who defected to the Lib Dems in 2017 over Conservative policy on Brexit. So, although not a Conservative member any longer, she’s certainly not a left-winger.
The BBC could argue that this panel was balanced between remainers and leavers and not along party lines. Or it could argue that the programme’s focus was on a battle within the Conservative Party, requiring only Conservative insight.
But could it find nobody outside the right wing to comment on these dynamics? And why should the BBC exclude the opposition parties from a Brexit discussion that affects us all at a critical stage in proceedings?
The online reaction was understandably one of disbelief and anger. Aaron Bastani of Novara Media got things underway:
7 guests on #newsnight – 7 Tories. Yes, really.
This isn’t political comment, it’s a sitcom.
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) November 15, 2018
And on the show’s discussion regarding the Conservative’s Brexit performance specifically, he said:
Four conservatives assess the Tories performance on #Newsnight
Welcome to BBC impartiality: white, westminster, establishment, right wing. pic.twitter.com/iQV3o8d1kM
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) November 15, 2018
Tom Kibasi, of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), also highlighted the narrow demographics of those talking about Brexit on the show:
Kirsty Wark is having a discussion on the future of the country with three white men, each over 60, two of whom live in the same postcode. And all members of the Conservative Party. #diversity #Brexit #Newsnight https://t.co/4TDobLv07c
— Tom Kibasi, IPPR (@TomKibasi) November 15, 2018
Faiza Shaheen, of the think tank Class, pointed out wider problems of public representation on the BBC beyond parties:
Brexit expert panels on #newsnight last few nights have someone to reflect on markets/ business, Westminster politics and Brussels… what about workers and the general public?!!
— Faiza Shaheen (@faizashaheen) November 15, 2018
This is getting boring
This latest incident comes just days after accusations that Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis spread falsehoods about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
If the BBC is fed up of being called biased, there’s a simple solution: stop making choices that make it perfectly legitimate to argue that it is. When the future of our country hangs in the balance, the public broadcaster has a duty to provide a balanced variety of voices – not just 50 shades of the Tory party.
– Join The Canary, so we can keep holding the powerful to account.
– You can contact the BBC about issues with its broadcasting here.
Featured image by BBC Newsnight/YouTube
Fund our Investigations Unit
You can help us investigate corruption, expose injustice and uncover the truth.
As one of the only independent investigations units in the country, we work for you – but we need your help to keep going. We need to raise £10,000 to continue our groundbreaking investigations. Can you chip in?