In the wake of the Prime Minister’s 18 April announcement of a snap general election, BBC Newsnight ran a programme entitled ‘Election Special 2017’. Rather than a policy-focused review of potential candidates, however, it became a party political broadcast for Theresa May and the Conservative Party.
The 18 April instalment of BBC Newsnight was balanced heavily in favour of neoliberal and conservative voices. In an hour-long show, featuring 15 political/media interviewees, just two put forward a pro-Corbyn position (Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, and journalist Paul Mason). And the programme barely referenced Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This is consistent with the findings of a 2013 content analysis of the BBC by Cardiff University. The study found that:
- Whichever party is in power, the Conservative Party is granted more air time.
- On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than 5:1 in 2007 and by 19:1 in 2012.
- BBC coverage of the 2008 financial crisis was dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators critical of the finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage:
Nothing has changed.
The view of voters
The programme featured voters in Barrow. Unsurprisingly, voters in Barrow felt exactly the same way about Jeremy Corbyn as all but two of the BBC Newsnight guests:
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) April 18, 2017
Later, the show tweeted the segment out as a distinct point – along with a string of other negative moments from the show:
There was a notable change in tone when discussing the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives:
On this too, the BBC has form.
A 2013 report by Electronic Intifada made devastating findings against Raffi Berg, online editor for BBC News. The investigation found Berg instructed journalists to skew reports on Israel-Palestine in favour of Israel. While over a hundred Palestinian civilians lost their lives during Israel’s eight day assault on the Gaza strip in 2012, Berg was emailing journalists with ‘guidance’ to maintain a pro-Israel tone in their reports. Berg is still in his role. And nothing has changed.
BBC bias is real and dangerous
The problems with the BBC start at the top. The BBC Trust is chaired by Rona Fairhead, a long-time friend of former chancellor George Osborne. Before being appointed by culture secretary Sajid Javid, Fairhead worked as a cabinet office member for the Conservative government. She even served as a business ambassador for David Cameron while also serving as chair of the BBC Trust. It would be fair to describe her as a Conservative loyalist. Prior to this, Fairhead led HSBC bank while it became the money-laundering centre of the financial world. HSBC only escaped charges for money-laundering after a personal intervention by Fairhead’s old friend, Osborne.
The Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC is James Harding, a former employee of the Murdoch press. He was editor of The Times newspaper when it exposed the identity of police blogger ‘NightJack’ by hacking the blogger’s email accounts. His legal team then covered up the hacking during a court case against the action. Harding has also gone on the record as ‘pro Israel‘.
This is the calibre of the figures responsible for hiring the news teams, presenters and journalists who will report the news.
No surprise then that we end up with hyper-partisan political editors like Laura Kuenssberg, and skewed coverage as witnessed on BBC Newsnight’s election special.
Turn it off
Such coverage has real-world impacts. It encourages vast swathes of the UK electorate to vote against their own interests; and against the interests of their loved ones and communities. Skewed coverage distorts our view of ourselves, each other, and what’s possible for us as a country. And that’s why it’s time to turn it off.
– Register to vote in the 8 June general election.
– Discuss the key policy issues with family members, colleagues and neighbours. And organise! Join (and participate in the activities of) a union, an activist group, and/or a political party.
– Read more from The Canary on the 2017 general election.
– Read and support news outlets who hold the powerful to account. Here are some we recommend. Please add more that you like in the comments:
The Canary, Media Diversified, Novara Media, Corporate Watch, Common Space, Media Lens, Bella Caledonia,Vox Political, Evolve Politics, Real Media, Reel News, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, The Meteor, Salford Star, The Ferret.
Featured image via screengrab