Fury, just absolute fury, this morning, as the TUC’s senior economist Duncan Weldon is appointed Newsnight economics editor. “BBC liberal bias! It’s so unfair!” scream conservatives, of course. But wait! “It’s the BBC’s Right-wing bias that is the threat to democracy and journalism,” says Owen Jones over at The Guardian. Yes, the BBC, biased both against the Left and the Right. No wonder it’s so unpopular.
Well, let’s take a look. I tweeted about this earlier and received an extraordinary barrage of “facts” proving what the person tweeting them already believed, so I am armed to the teeth with “facts”.
Another “fact”: Tories get more time on the BBC’s news coverage than do Labour.
A third “fact”: in its online reporting, the BBC is more likely to agree with The Guardian than it is with The Daily Telegraph.
A fourth “fact”: Eurosceptics and business leaders get disproportionately more time on the BBC than do Europhiles and trade union representatives.
I don’t know, or greatly care, if those “facts” are true (Martin Robbins does a good job of looking at some of them, over at Vice). But what’s interesting about them is that none of them are contradictory. The BBC might be stuffed to the gills with Islington liberals. It might also give Tories more time to expound their views. It also might challenge those views more robustly in its online coverage AND it might be pro-business and anti-Europe, all at the same time. When people go looking for “BBC bias”, they find it, and – amazingly – they never find the “facts” that makes the BBC biased in their favour.
Poor old Duncan Weldon is a case in point. He might be the bastard love-child of Che Guevara and Arthur Scargill for all I know, or he might have been working for the TUC to pay the bills until he could get his dream job at the Adam Smith Institute. But Right-wingers grab him as evidence of Newsnight’s incorrigible Common Purpose/Frankfurt School communism, while Lefties rant on about Nick Robinson’s history as president of the Young Conservatives, or Andrew Neil. Neither even notices the other side. It’s just so obvious that the BBC is biased against whatever it is that I think that it’s not worth asking any more questions.
There’s no such thing as a totally impartial journalist or in fact a totally impartial human being, obviously. No doubt the BBC does come down in certain ways on certain subjects. And, of course, let’s not pretend that “the centre” is always the right place to be: false balance is pernicious, and it’s silly and damaging to pretend that, say, an anti-vaccination nut job should be given equal time to an epidemiologist in discussions of MMR. Sometimes there is a “right” and a “wrong”, not merely a “Right” and a “Left”.
But I am always wary when someone on the Left says that X is biased against the Left, and someone on the Right says that X is biased against the Right. Could it be – possibly – that the large, multifaceted BBC is, broadly and complexly speaking, sprawled roughly in the centre, but when you view it from the Left it looks like it’s to the Right and vice versa?
• PS: Ed West, late of this parish, would want me to point out that the BBC can be biased outside of its news coverage: by having lots of Lefty comedians on the Now Show, and so on. I actually think he’s probably right that BBC comedy is pretty Lefty, awful Top Gear aside, but I suspect that’s true of comedy in general, too.