There is an ongoing debate about the nature of bias in the news.
Some people actually believe that their favourite news source (paper, TV channel, web site) is not biased – that it has some objectivity.
Others know that this is a laughable idea based on the reader/viewer’s own cognitive bias.
Nothing seems to kick up my twitter friends so much at the moment as the perceived bias of the BBC News.
Many people are posting their disgust at the absence of coverage of their demonstrations, or perhaps of how biased the coverage of Prime Minister’s questions is, and they are often exaggerating or quite wrong about this…jumping on a bandwagon without examining the evidence.
Likewise some staunch defenders of the BBC seem to obsess about ridiculing these exaggerations and blanket statements dismissing them as “lazy memes” yet also avoiding the evidence of a long running bias, and more recent abject stance towards the Overton Window the BBC itself helped to move to the right.
Paul Mason has highlighted this following his being “eased out” of Newsnight for stepping outside the window to the centre left.
This is all arguable – and ripe for better debate – what it is not, is dismissable. Unless of course you are part of the group that wants to maintain the status quo and the position of that damn Overton window.
To help illustrate where some of the reality lies I take you back to my own experience of being a freelance sound recordist for both Channel 4 and BBC news during the miners strike of 1984. From the safe distance of over thirty years, some of the bias has now been quietly admitted to.
Take an example of picture editing, of which I was a first hand witness, that got the miners at Port Talbot steelworks picket justifiably riled. So frequently did editors decide to belittle miners and big up the police that they turned an HTV emblazoned Volvo upside down as it sat up the lane from a miners family support meeting in the Valleys.
For those unfamiliar with the strike and Thatcher’s determination to destroy the union that had previously humiliated a conservative government, -a tiny bit of background to just one month in South Wales:
At the height of the strike in South Wales an idiot strike supporter dropped a rock from a motorway bridge on a “scab’s taxi”. It killed the driver. This was a disaster for those two individuals and their families, and a shame and hammer blow to the miners, tarred with the brush of that one man’s insane act. The media quite rightly gave the incident massive coverage.
Some weeks later, me with the picket strictly limited to 6 people allowed anywhere near the steelworks gates, I was pointing my mic at these massive lorries bringing in coal to beat the strike – (not these actual lorries – much older ones)
The M4 convoys had police protection on a large scale, but most had no tax discs, many had bald tyres, and all of them enjoyed swerving at speed to make the pickets jump out of the road.
The police did their best to stop us filming this for C4 news. They got in the way as soon as we focused on the lorries windscreens (they had just heard the pickets shouting “SHOW THEY HAVEN’T GOT TAX DISCS”).
Then we were deemed to be inflating the picket number above 6 so we were forced to leave (camera, sound and director somehow counted as pickets).
But S4C showed our footage at least – of these terrifyingly fast moving huge lorries swinging past the pickets – as part of their news coverage.
HTV on the other hand were also covering the strike at that time. The HTV footage of the road-illegal lorries was shot from a different spot.
Nice and safe for the camera crew, easy lunching nearby…
The difference was dramatic and I suggest it was not some random decision to use the POV of someone who had dropped a rock killing a taxi driver. It very neatly made the lorries and their drivers look like potential victims.
So before any commentary is added, without any sharp interviews, the scene is already set by the imagery of nominally the same event.
“Photographs don’t lie? – nothing lies so effectively.
This well known image is taken from Orgreave. It unwittingly reflects an early reality from the strike.
Initially local police did the policing of the pickets, including in South Wales where the Valleys loyalty meant that the police would not arrest or assault their mates and neighbours in the NUM for no reason, they policed the picketing as per the law but would not go further.
This was not helping Maggie and the establishment objective – to destroy the power of the unions and do it by crushing the miners. So they introduced new laws and practices. Infamously they made “suspicion of travelling to a picket line not of that person’s employment base” an arrestable offence.
This law was written in such a way as to be a licence to prevent any car travel,
(many police states stop short of writing that power into law).
They also did another thing that the news media never reported. They moved police forces from one area to another – so Yorkshire police were camped in South Wales, Notts Police in Yorkshire, and so on. This broke the loyalty to geographic worker community and made the police feel like advance brigades in a war.
The BBC news showed the infamous “Orgreave riots” in their main bulletins as miners throwing rocks and attacking static lines of police and police on horseback – then, the police on horseback charging back. That little “slip” of an edit helped shape the public opinion of miners as scum who attack policemen whilst speech editing helped show Scargill as their raucous Marxist leader.
The reality of Orgreave was the other way round.
The police charged a peaceful static line of miners and they then charged back.
This photograph did not make the news mainstream channels at the time. It shows a photographer being attacked as part of that police charge.
No outrage from the BBC?
Of course not, they had already towed Maggie’s line with the shameless editing and much more. To go back on their version of events would make them look self contradictory and ridiculous. So even sympathetic journalists in the know stayed quiet, just let it ride.
Back to the present day and people wanting to disect bias in the BBC coverage can focus on (just for example) Laura Kuennsberg, James Landale or Nick Robinson patronisingly sneering at Jeremy Corbyn or sycophantically interviewing their mate, David Cameron in his kitchen.
Looking at their linked Wikipedia profiles – Isn’t it strange how none of them have ever been in poverty, had to get their nails dirty, fight for union rights, or budget in order to buy a pint of milk? Instead they have been cosseted in a path of privately schooled entitlement, that holds the promise of a place in the Lords or at least a major gong.
Hard to see Paul Mason as anything other than a temporary “token northerner” gesture in that line up isn’t it?
This is not new.
BBC News is not, and never has been, about “truth”…
(though some of course must be used)
No one wants the truth – including you. That would be way too uncomfortable, messy and loose ended…no, we want our news to keep us all on the level path.
The TV news is part of a system of entertainment under the guiding control of the establishment (which includes Labour governments) and has been since its inception.
And congratulations if you know who these people are and what connects them:-
Joseph Albert Pease, 1st Baron Gainford
George Herbert Hyde Villiers, 6th Earl of Clarendon
John Henry Whitley
William Clive Bridgeman, 1st Viscount Bridgeman
Ronald Collet Norman
Sir Allan Powell
Philip Inman, 1st Baron Inman
Ernest Simon, 1st Baron Simon of Wythenshawe
Sir Alexander Cadogan
Sir Arthur Fforde
Sir James Fitzjames Duff
Norman Craven Brook, 1st Baron Normanbrook
Lord Hill of Luton
Sir Michael Swann
George Howard, Baron Howard of Henderskelfe
Marmaduke Hussey, Baron Hussey of North Bradley
Sir Christopher Bland
Lord Michael Grade
Yes, that’s right – it’s a game of spot the blue collar worker,
the blue party member
and the team of blue blooded, establishment protecting, board of governorship chairs of the BBC since 1930.
Gavyn Davies is highlighted as an exception because as a multi-millionaire he was surprisingly more Left wing friendly than most, and resigned after the Hutton enquiry was used to bring the BBC back to heel, (and how that has succeeded!), after it dared to criticise the Blair government for possibly “causing the death by suicide” of David Kelly for trying to reveal the truth about war-based Blairism.
It isn’t about Party bias!
The establishment has successfully pulled the two longest running Labour governments in my lifetime to heel. They spied on Wilson to the point of sending him into a paranoid state, and they successfully turned Blair into a privatisation and greed-friendly true blue (and now advisor to David Cameron). The establishment:
you may be sick of hearing the word and unable to truly define it, but whatever it is, it is always seeking to remain in control, always wanting to win more, always in power, and always playing the little people off against each other…
The BBC not biased?
bury another miner – he’s got balls on.