The BBC’s right-wing bias has an obvious origin, and a renowned professor just cracked it wide open. The University of Glasgow’s Greg Philo was speaking at an event called ‘Media bias and big political events’. And the person who Philo charged with setting the BBC on its current right-wing path was none other than Tony Blair.
Setting the BBC’s record straight
Philo shared his thoughts on the rise of Blair’s ‘New Labour’ and the effect this had on the political landscape:
One of the consequences of the rise of Tony Blair, and Mandelson, was an almost evacuation of the political space in Britain.
Because once Tony Blair moved the Labour Party to the right in essence, the bulk of what was seen as legitimate political conversation in our country was now a space between the Labour Party, which was on the right, and the Conservative Party.
And he then discussed the impact that political change had on the BBC:
The BBC, which is supposed to be public – supposed to be representing a range of views – interprets its rubric as being simply to report what goes on in parliament. So if parliament is substantially to the right… then the BBC sees no reason to report that section of the population which are on the left.
Even if there is a huge number of people who want left-wing policies in some areas.
Stacking the broadcaster with ‘right’ minds
The right-wing shift in parliamentary debate acknowledged by Philo was followed by appointments to the BBC that suited that trajectory. Rona Fairhead is currently the head of the BBC trust. Fairhead is an old ally of George Osborne and was a board member of HSBC until this year. Fairhead recently announced plans to step down from the BBC role, so she can continue her work in the private sector.
Furthermore, James Harding is the Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC. Harding previously worked at The Times, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
So after the BBC’s ‘range of views’ contracted to suit the narrowing of parliamentary opinion, it stacked the highest positions in the broadcaster with people who reflected that ‘tunnel’ thinking.
Enter Ed Miliband
It was this political and media landscape that the Labour Party’s previous leader Ed Miliband entered. He arrived with popular policies, raising the minimum wage, cutting tuition fees, freezing rail fares. But the establishment was stacked against him. And it showed.
As Real Media‘s Tom Barlow explained at the event, the coverage of Miliband, and the Labour Party, in the run-up to the 2015 general election was far from fair:
Labour had three times more negative lead articles than they had positive, where the Conservatives had more positive than negative.
And the BBC takes its lead from the press. So when the BBC takes its lead from the press in terms of news, especially around elections, certain things get pushed up the agenda and certain things get pushed down.
In all polls around the general election, it was widely recognised that the two key issues for people were the economy and the NHS. So they should have been given… roughly similar amounts of press coverage and TV time.
In fact, the economy got more than triple the amount of coverage. So what does that say? Again, the Tories were seen as being strong on the economy.
And the NHS, which Labour was seen as strong on, was completely under-reported. Especially during the very last week of the election.
Barlow based his assertions on analysis carried out by Election Unspun.
The spin isn’t working anymore
But the establishment’s sabotage of Miliband had unintended consequences. An overwhelming amount of Labour members replaced him with someone even more left-wing, Jeremy Corbyn. And a Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) coup against Corbyn less than a year into his leadership failed, too. In fact, he was returned to office with an increased mandate.
Philo noted a similar effect with the Scottish independence referendum. A fierce anti-independence campaign was mounted by politicians and the media. But support for independence rose from 28% to 45% as a result.
He asserted that this was partly due to some people bypassing the mainstream commentators, and using social media to directly discuss the issue. Furthermore, he applauded the use in the independence campaign of “face-to-face contact” and talking to people to challenge the false claims made by the media.
Now to scale the rest of the mountain
But there’s still a problem, Philo said. And that is how to create left-wing platforms in the mainstream press itself. He claimed the Labour Party needs to open up lines of communication with media outlets willing to report on its policies. And he urged the public to use the small platforms currently available in the media to get their views across. He noted that local radio, phone-in programmes, and letters pages are platforms people can use to challenge the media line. Philo concluded:
Attack, attack, attack them.
Phone, complain, get in, argue. Because it’s our media. We own the BBC. The most important communications system probably in the world is the BBC. We own it, it’s ours. Get on it and insist our views are heard.
The sociologist, who is partly responsible for the success of the Glasgow Media Group, clearly laid out why the media is in such a sorry state today. And he advised where we go from here.
If we want a media that represents us all, particularly as we are the ones footing the BBC’s bill, we should heed his words.
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Featured image via Real Media/Youtube
[Editor’s note: This article was updated at 15.45 on 31 October. It previously suggested Rona Fairhead remained on the board of HSBC. It has been updated to note that she stepped down from that role this year.]
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