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Biased BBC?

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The Guardian reports that the Culture minister Jeremy Hunt has accused BBC staff of having a left-wing bias, suggesting that  “it was clear to most people that more BBC employees would vote Labour or Lib Dem than Conservative”.

But given that the Tories mustered just 36% of the popular vote at the last election – while the combined Lib Dem and Labour popular vote was 52% – should this really be seen as a surprise, or indeed a serious problem?

If we factor in the detail that just 65% of those eligible to vote (ie. adult UK citizens, themselves a subset of the British/NI population) actually did so, the figures look even worse. In total, just 10.7 million UK residents voted Conservative – little more than a sixth of the total population. By any measure, voting Tory is a niche interest.

To put it another way if the majority of BBC staff were Conservative rather than Labour/Lib Dem voters, this would make the BBC even less representative of the UK at large than it currently is.

If voting Conservative is a niche interest, then so too, in fairness, is voting Labour (8.6 million votes at the last election, or 14% of the UK population) and voting Liberal Democrat (6.8 million votes – 11%). At the last election, the combined vote for all three of the main political parties was 26.15 million –  barely 42% of the population.

There is, perhaps, a case for regarding the BBC as relatively left-wing compared to the bulk of the British press – but then again most UK voters are significantly to the left of the bulk of the British press. At the last election, while just 36% of voters (17% of the total UK population) supported the Conservative party, 7 of out of 11 daily national newspapers backed the Tories .  The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Times and Financial Times all came out for the Conservatives, with just the Morning Star, Independent, Guardian and Mirror supporting Labour, the Lib Dems, or another party.

A more interesting question, it seems to me, is who actually gets given a platform by the BBC, and on what basis, and how much prime air time their views are allotted within political coverage. The ubiquitous Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political editor, started his adult life as President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and shows little sign of having changed his allegiances since then. Andrew “don’t mention the denialists” Neil, presenter of the BBC’s “Daily Politics Show”, is the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times and has a longstanding relationship with the Spectator magazine. The hard-right commentators Fraser Nelson, Andrew Green, James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips appear so often on the BBC’s flagship political panel shows that one wonders if the beeb is operating some sort of quota system…

If anyone knows of any analysis of how such pundits are selected by the BBC, and the overall political weighting of the views represented on Question Time, Any Questions, the Daily Politics, Newsnight, the Moral Maze, the Today Programme etc., I’d be interested to see it.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 12, 2010 at 11:10 am

Posted in Democracy

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2 Responses

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  1. I think there’s another way to look at this: who works/has worked at the BBC in positions where they are able to influence output. Here’s a list of Labour people:

    Former Chairman Gavin Davies (later Labour adviser)

    Chairman Sir Michael Lyons (previously Labour council chief)

    Former Director General John Birt (later Labour adviser)

    Former Director General Greg Dyke (previously Labour donor and candidate)

    C.O.O Caroline Thomson (previously Roy Jenkin’s aide)

    Head of Political Research Bill Bush (later Labour spin doctor, previously Ken Livingstone’s Chief of Staff)

    Deputy Head of Political Research Catherine Rimmer (later Labour spin doctor)

    Director of Strategy Ed Richards (later Labour spin doctor)

    Head of Corporate Planning James Purnell (ex-Labour Minister)

    Head of Northern Ireland News Tom Kelly (later Labour spin doctor)

    Scottish News Editor Tim Luckhurst (previously Labour spin doctor)

    Political News Editor Joy Johnson (later Labour spin doctor)

    Political Editor Andrew Marr (student Labour organiser)

    Home News Editor Celia Barlow (now Labour MP)

    Head of European Affairs Chris Bryant (now Labour MP)

    Newsnight Producer Phil Woolas (Labour Minister)

    Foreign Correspondent Martin Sixsmith (later Labour spin doctor)

    Current Affairs Reporter Ben Bradshaw (Labour Minister)

    Current Affairs Reporter Lance Price (later Labour spin doctor)

    “Question Time” Editor Gill Penlington (previously Labour researcher)

    In the interests of balance, I’d like to see how many people very obviously associated with the Conservative and Lib Dem parties have held senior or influential jobs at the BBC.

    Hedley Lamarr

    December 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    • Define “obviously associated with the Conservative party”. Define “senior or influential jobs”,

      You will never get an objective answer because your criteria are too ill defined.

      Your own list, which I am sure you worked very hard on, seems rather scattershot. An former aide to Roy Jenkins? Really?

      By all means let’s have a witch-hunt. Let’s purge the media of those who disagree with us. The only question is detention or execution. I suppose in the current economic climate execution is more cost effective.

      JIm Smith

      December 12, 2010 at 4:58 pm

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