It almost seems trendy to dislike the BBC nowadays. At times, I feel as though I am the only one left in the country who still loves it and believes that society in the UK would be worse off without them informing, educating and entertaining the nation.
The most prominent criticism of the BBC is centered around the idea that the BBC is politically biased in some way. According to a recent poll by BMG Research, 40 percent of people agree that the institution is biased, yet disagree on which way it leans politically. 41% of self identified left wingers believe that it leans to the right, whereas 52% of those on the right believes it is left wing.
This perfectly demonstrates the problem with the BBC bias debate.
How can an institution be politically biased when people can’t agree on who it is biased in favour of? The fact there is so much confusion about which way the BBC politically aligns strengthens its credibility in my eyes as a ‘down-the-middle’ broadcaster, which equally scrutinises each side of the political spectrum.
I think that the perceived BBC bias comes about in large part because the BBC is legally required to be impartial. Unlike a US cable news station like Fox News or MSNBC, which are allowed to be brazen in their political stances, the fact that the BBC by law have to be politically neutral means that a lot of their content is open to interpretation.
Leftists can point to when David Cameron replaced Andy Coulson as his press secretary with the then-editor of BBC News, Craig Oliver as confirmation of its right wing bias, whilst conservatives can be outraged at Emily Maitlis’ on-air rants about Dominic Cummings and see it as a BBC journalist trying to project their own personal beliefs as fact.
A report by the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford recently found that BBC is ‘very widely used across the political spectrum’ and is ‘the most popular source of news among both Conservative and Labour voters’. Because the BBC is not a political echo chamber like some television networks across the pond, the BBC scrutinises all sides and receives a large amount of the criticism back from all sides as a result.
Bias is difficult to measure and often subjective, but for me personally I believe that the BBC does a good job. I like the fact that Nick Robinson, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, can grill Matt Hancock on the rise in coronavirus deaths, and the following day, interrogate Keir Starmer on his effectiveness as Labour Party leader.
A healthy democracy is measured by the freedom of its press, and I believe that the United Kingdom is an excellent example of a country in which reporters can freely probe public figures and demand answers to tough questions. Could you imagine living in a country such as Saudi Arabia, where journalists are imprisoned for questioning members of the political establishment?
This isn’t to say that the BBC doesn’t have an ethos – to call the BBC an organisation void of an ideology is wrong.
Upon leaving the BBC, John Humphrys wrote in his memoir that the BBC has an ‘institutional liberal bias’ and this is somewhat true. The BBC cares about social issues and social mobility, evidenced by the fact that in 2018 they appointed Ben Hunte to be their first LGBT correspondent, and have run numerous diversity and inclusion schemes aimed at increasing the number of BAME and disabled employees.
Whilst the BBC is culturally and socially liberal in their organizational structure, to categorically dismiss the BBC as an reliable source of news for this reason would be illogical.
Of course, the BBC has values, but it is certainly not party political in the sense that it favours the government over the opposition, or vice versa.
Ultimately, you would be misguided to believe that the BBC is straightforwardly left or right wing. It is left wing in the sense that it is staffed largely by a London intelligentsia of socially liberal humanities graduates, but at the same time is a conservative institution, entrenching tradition and maintaining continuity with their deference to the monarchy and formulaic radio segments like ‘Thought for the Day’.
Britain has thus far avoided US-style hyper-partisanship, and this is in large part thanks to the BBC, which still dominates UK political coverage and gives all sides of the political spectrum a fair hearing.
People like to complain a lot about the BBC, but it says a lot when during the coronavirus pandemic, the BBC recorded ‘significantly above-average audiences’. At the end of the day, the BBC is an institution people just seem to love to hate.