On BBC Question Time (BBCQT) on 22 November, the BBC yet again demonstrated favouritism to the voices of big business over those of ordinary working people.
Another panel leaning heavily towards big business
But absent from the panel were representatives of workers, union or otherwise. And Labour’s Clive Lewis surely cannot be a sufficient counterweight to a Tory minister, a right-wing journalist, a Tory-supporting business, and a former business representative.
This week's #bbcqt panel – we're on @BBCOne and @bbc5live from 10:45pm tonight – Conservative MP Karen Bradley and @labourlewis @IcelandRichard, Broadcaster Trevor Phillips and @JuliaHB1 pic.twitter.com/kxN5zt0cl7
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) November 22, 2018
Meanwhile, people might acknowledge Trevor Phillips’s former position as a Labour representative on the London general assembly, or as chair for both the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality; or that, even though Phillips comes from business, the John Lewis Partnership is worker-friendly and employee-owned.
But both remain voices of the business community, whether framed as benevolent capitalists or not. And in a country of nearly 67 million people, there should be a greater range of opinion debating issues that affect all citizens.
Evidence of business bias
This isn’t just a one-off occurrence, though. Because there’s a consistent saturation of business representatives in BBC coverage.
Mike Berry of Cardiff University has documented this. He found that:
In both 2007 and 2012, across all programming, business representatives received substantially more airtime on BBC network news (7.5% and 11.1% of source appearances) than they did on either ITV (5.9% and 3.8%) or Channel 4 News (2.4% and 2.2%).
And when examining the BBC Six O’Clock News alone, he noted:
business representatives outnumbered trade union spokespersons by more than five to one (11 vs 2) in 2007 and by 19 to one in 2012.
Case study: the global financial crisis
As Berry suggests, during critical moments in British economic history, this imbalance has skewed the public policy debate in favour of business-friendly solutions.
For example, Berry notes how, during the most recent financial crisis:
The table below shows the sources featured during the intense six weeks of coverage following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Note that union voices commenting on the crisis are virtually non-existent relative to business and financial-sector representatives – many of whom arguably caused the crisis.
He concludes that:
Considering the impact of the issues on the UK workforce, and the fact that trade unions represent the largest mass democratic organisations in civil society, such invisibility raises troubling questions for a public service broadcaster committed to impartial and balanced coverage.
Other academics agree
Dr Tom Mills of Aston University argues along similar lines in his own research, believing that the general trend in BBC coverage is:
towards the interests and perspectives of powerful groups in society, especially those in Westminster, Whitehall and the City.
The BBC routinely allows politicians, political commentators and business elites to define the political and social agenda. This has arguably played some role in bringing us to the current political and constitutional crisis in which we now find ourselves.
The Canary contacted the BBC for comment but it had not replied by the time of publication.
The BBC needs a revolution
The weighting of BBCQT panels seems to fit in with a wider pattern of bias towards the business establishment, as the 22 November edition demonstrated.
It is difficult for the public to make informed decisions if it does not receive a variety of opinions. And unfortunately, that is the case today, with the mainstream media bombarding us with the opinions of one privileged community and sharing just a narrow ideological perspective.
It’s time we radically reformed and democratised the BBC.
We need your help ...
The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.
Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.
We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.
Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?