The BBC just changed a headline to make it less critical of Theresa May’s government

BBC GE2017 rail

Astute readers noticed that the BBC changed a headline of a story on Friday 19 May, to make it less critical of the government. But then later appeared to change it back to the original.

A tale of two headlines

The story, authored by Hugh Pym, reports that the government has chosen to delay the release of key performance data on the NHS until after the 8 June general election. It reads:

Regulator NHS Improvement had wanted to publish data on the scale of hospital deficits but was advised against it by the government.

NHS Improvement said it was “disappointing” the results could not be published until after the election.

The first version of the story bore the headline:

But just a short while later, the headline was transformed to the notably milder:

Although the BBC did later revert to the original headline, it is not the first time the BBC has faced allegations of bias during or before the general election.

BBC Bias

In January, the BBC Trust found chief political editor Laura Kuenssberg guilty of misreporting an interview with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Their ruling stated:

The breach of due accuracy on such a highly contentious political issue meant that the output had not achieved due impartiality.

But Kuenssberg was not censured by her boss at BBC News. Former Murdoch journalist James Harding (now Head of News at the BBCrejected the findings, stating that:

While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding

BBC News reported on the leader of the opposition in the same way it would any other politician. It is striking that the Trust itself said there was ‘no evidence of bias’. Indeed, it also said the news report was ‘compiled in good faith’. The process is now concluded and BBC News formally notes the Trust’s finding.

Not only did Harding refuse to censure Kuenssberg, he applauded her. Praising her as:

an outstanding journalist and political editor with the utmost integrity and professionalism.

Multiple studies have established the problem of Conservative bias in BBC News. A 2013 content analysis of the BBC by Cardiff University found that:

  • The BBC consistently grants more airtime to the Conservatives, whichever party is in power.
  • On BBC News at Six, business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespeople 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.

Meanwhile, studies by the London School of Economics and the Media Reform Coalition have since found a serious imbalance in reporting of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn across the media.

Enough is enough

The BBC, unlike private broadcasters, has a duty to deliver impartial news coverage to its millions of license fee payers. It is patently failing at this task. And just weeks from a general election, this failure could come at a very high price for the UK electorate.

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