Is there a bias in the journalism at the BBC?

When I first read BBC Business Editor Robert Peston’s comments about right wing bias in the BBC I must admit I was taken aback.

When I first read BBC Business Editor Robert Peston’s comments about right wing bias in the BBC I must admit I was taken aback. Accusations of BBC bias are not exactly new, but I had never heard the perspective that the BBC panders to right wing newspapers before.

Peston stated: “There is slightly too much of a safety-first [attitude]. If we think the Mail and Telegraph will lead with this, we should. It’s part of the culture.”

And: “The safest thing is to go with what the newspapers are going with, even at a time when the influence and power of newspapers is radically declining.

Weakness of the licence fee

As I have never worked at the BBC I have no idea whether this is true or not. Even if it’s true, I’m not sure it reflects a bias to right wing newspapers and ideas as such. The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (whether you’re a fan or not) are two of the biggest selling newspapers in the country—perhaps BBC bosses are trying to pick stories that they think are most interesting and important to their general audience?

It is certainly a different opinion—criticisms have been made before about a lack of impartiality but mostly from a conservative viewpoint that the BBC has a liberal bent. Radio 4 Today Presenter John Humphrys famously said that the organisation was broadly ‘liberal’ and had not been sufficiently sceptical on issues such as the European Union and immigration in the past.

Perhaps this argument over bias is one of the weaknesses in having a state broadcaster paid for by the taxpayer. If you’re paying a licence fee for a service ultimately you want it to reflect your views and concerns. So even if the BBC are or trying to be completely impartial you will inevitably still have people who feel their political beliefs aren’t being represented fairly. 

Be upfront

But politics and journalism do not exist in a vacuum. Journalists are human beings with strong beliefs, opinions and worldviews. In this wannabe hack’s opinion the best way to deal with this is just to be upfront about it. Of course every journalist should report the facts honestly and accurately but a journalist’s thoughts on an issue will be subjective and this may come across in their reporting. We should embrace this and simply acknowledge that many news stories will come from a certain point of view.

For example, when I read the Guardian I know I’m getting a left wing liberal perspective, similarly when I read the Telegraph I know I’m reading a newspaper that is conservative in its outlook. The BBC is supposed to impartial but in its long history it has been accused of being decidedly partial many times.  I expect those on both the right and the left could bring up examples to support their argument.

Personally, I think the BBC has presented a somewhat biased attitude towards certain issues like the EU in the past. Similarly to John Humphrys, I think they were not ‘sufficiently sceptical’ of the idea of ever closer integration.

If there is a bias at work though, be it conservative or liberal does that mean it’s unfair for the BBC to be licensed by the British public as a whole if it does not represent all views fairly?

But what do you think? Does the BBC have a bias? Is it a left or right wing bias? Or does the BBC get it right most of the time? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: Steve Punter – And the Question Is / Flickr