04 August 2008

Biased BBC Bollocks

Biased BBC have published a letter to the editor. Although this is a rant by a friend of the blog rather than the blog itself, and got a rather frosty reception, it does bear most of the hallmarks of B-BBC coverage. ANDREW MCCANN complains that BBC journalists behave like journalists (losing interest in the US presidential race after the primaries), he castigates the BBC for events beyond their control (Republicans “shuffling off stage left” by finishing their primaries), he makes wild and prejudiced associations (Obama’s “paternal ancestry” – which to their credit most readers considered beyond the pale) and is upset that the BBC does not kow-tow to his “preferences”, he is either clueless or openly lies about the BBC’s coverage (exclusive preoccupation with race and gender, which just, isn’t, true), he misinterprets coverage (reading “beauty contest” as praise) and, constantly, he imagines what the BBC editors in his head would think and presents this as fact. This letter is an extreme and hilarious example, but is by no means atypical.

Sometimes Right

Obligatory concession: It’s not bias, but the BBC can be really crap. Their regular accusation of “bias by omission” is a difficult one to refute, and one that might well hold some water. However, the only way this could be proven is with an extensive comparison of BBC reporting with other sources, both left-wing and right-wing, and excluding foreign or special-interest media (American issues will be more covered by American media, Eastern Eye will run more India stories, and paranoid, Islam-obsessed right-wing bloggers might have more on Preachers of Hate). To my knowledge, B-BBC hasn’t got round to this any more than I have.

One area where the BBC does, in my opinion, go wrong, is in its coverage of “MMGW/AGW”. There is very little mention of the arguments against it, if any, and sceptics’ positions are largely unrepresented. Biased-BBC’s demand that the BBC ignore environment stories or actively create doubt by mentioning the sceptics’ view in every article on anything to do with carbon dioxide is ridiculous, and indeed they are always rather vague as to whether global warming is not happening or just not man-made. But essentially, they are right – however strong the scientific consensus and however unscientific the opposition, the BBC should make an effort to present both arguments.

Another problem with BBC “impartiality” is the embarrassing clumsiness. This article includes religious arguments for ‘Hudood’ rape laws and secular arguments against them. Two sides are reported, one for and one against, so there is a form of “balance”. But not only does the BBC (understandably) omit this kind of demented minority opinion from the West, it omits any debate within Islam. This gives the impression of an argument between rapist-coddling Islam and civilised secularism. There are far more than two sides to this story, and in omitting them, the BBC misrepresents the nature of the dispute while seeming not to take sides. This is of course, more right-wing bias than left, as it perpetuates the idea of a “clash of civilisations”.

Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a similarly ham-fisted approach – for many issues, the BBC adds one vaguely contextualising sentence right at the very end. When Palestinians kill Israelis, the last time Israelis killed Palestinians is mentioned and visa versa. That way, everyone knows that Palestinians and Israelis both kill each other. This is a rather fatuous over-simplification, but B-BBC, of course, are only upset when Palestinian crimes are given any kind of “justification”. However, with retaliations for retaliations for retaliations, the BBC can only do so much. If it goes one event back, two back, or three back, there will always be a cut-off point where one side’s actions are put into context and another’s not, and the pro-Israelis and anti-Palestinians in the right-wing “blogosphere” will continue to complain until the BBC wholeheartedly endorses their position.

Sometimes Only Half Right

After I started at big school, I was expected to write essays that answered the question at the top of the page. In B-BBC’s case, this is particularly easy, as they only have “BBC” and “Biased” to include. They still fail, regularly, to do so. Many posts are about the BBC, but fail to show any kind of political bias, others are about a political issue with a rather tenuous or even imaginary link to the BBC. These tend to say less about the blog’s mindset and more about the mindset of blogs – we are angry, space must be filled. In their case, this tendency falls into three categories, Imaginary Bias, The Truth Is Biased and I Hate Them So Much.

The Truth Is Biased

Self-explanatory. A story irritates the bloggers, is covered on the BBC, and they scramble to find an something that might look like bias in the coverage. For example, somehow the BBC is responsible for a far-left Israeli group giving cameras to Palestinians to film attacks on them by settlers. Such is its rage at the BBC for receiving this film, that the blog doesn’t even get round to condemning the attack. It does manage to slip in two racial slurs against the victims in the final sentence though. This is one of many occasions where it is the story that upsets them rather than anything vaguely to do with the BBC. Unless you consider the BBC responsible for what post it gets from B’Tselem.

Imaginary Bias

Biased BBC seem to have a firm idea in their head of exactly what “Beeboids” look like – a bizarre hybrid of the liberal lawyer in ‘King of the Hill’ and a six-foot black drag queen in a blonde wig, naturally with a degree in Media Studies and a lifetime subscription to either the Guardian or the Socialist Worker. They proceed from this assumption by imagining what the BBC’s opinion will be for the various events that have incurred their wrath. Once, they interpreted the presence of two entirely unrelated stories as a conspiracy to get cannabis legalised. Beeboids love drugs, you see. In an extreme example of this, they see a neutrally-worded, even slightly sympathetic analysis of Israel’s difficult situation. This naturally clashes with their expectations of anti-Israel bias at every turn, so, rather than assume it is a neutral, maybe even sympathetic article, or even just a token gesture to impartiality, they decide the BBC must be gloating.

I Hate Them So Much

A lot of posts centre around BBC waste, drug convictions, or audacity in asking for money. Whatever your views on the tellytax, it doesn’t really show a bias towards anything except having money. Similarly, a bias towards the odd spliff or two is not a political one. However these posts do perpetuate the weird idea of a BBC employee that the bloggers have in their head, and raise the general level of anger. It also provides ammunition for their weird conspiracy theories. Possibly the weirdest side of this is the idea that anyone who posts any kind of disagreement is themself a “Beeboid”.

What Journalists Do

Of course, much of the simplification and sensationalism boil down to one simple explanation, that BBC journalists are, like all other journalists, journalists. They act like journalists, they write clumsy, melodramatic headlines , they simplify stories, they speculate prematurely and they occasionally fuck up completely in the hope of a scoop. But this is not bias. This is not even shoddy journalism. This is pretty much standard for the profession. Occasionally, as with this story on the murder of two Israeli security guards, the BBC is attacked for not reporting a story even if it was not reported by any other mainstream British media – except, in this case the hard-right, pro-Israel Independent.

Insufficient Right-Wing Activism: This also contains three sub-categories: Giving Credence, Insufficient Mudslinging and ‘Terrorist’.

Giving Credence:

Every now and again, a report surfaces by some loony-left organisation who believes that MMGW is happening or that asylum seekers might be valid human beings, or some nutcase claims that Gollywogs are racist. The BBC, being a news outlet, reports this report as having been reported. This is not known as “printing”, “broadcasting” or “publishing” but as “giving credence”, because naturally the BBC agrees 100% with everything anyone in its reports says. One such gripe is that the BBC reports the same story as the Independent. The story explicitly mentions that a large amount of food is thrown away before its sell-by date, and could be better managed (implying sell-by dates) or stored. Yet the report’s authors apparently didn’t take into account the sell-by dates. The BBC is biased for not reporting this largely irrelevant point.

Insufficient Mudslinging:

Very often B-BBC’s claims are that the BBC fails to dig up enough dirt on the authors of the report or that it fails to report their loony-left bias. By contrast Migrationwatch, an independent organisation with no agenda, is regularly slurred as “right-wing”. However a search on google of the terms: "left (wing OR leaning OR of centre)" (think-tank OR commission OR committee) site:news.bbc.co.uk uncovers 229 results, whereas "right (wing OR leaning OR of centre)" (think-tank OR commission OR committee) site:news.bbc.co.uk uncovers 129. It seems that the BBC is almost twice as eager to denounce lefty think-tanks than right-wing ones.

The BBC is sometimes castigated for not speculating along the right lines. For example, following a hammer attack by Asian youths on a white schoolboy, the BBC is accused of “downplaying” and “suppressing” the racially motivated nature of the attack. Read the report, however, and the boy was specifically targeted, making a personal motive more likely. For Biased-BBC, however, any crime by an Asian on a White person is automatically racially motivated, and the BBC is somehow obliged to report it as such. With a so-called “faith hate” crime, B-BBC expect the Beeb to announce the religion of the perpetrators before a list of suspects has even been drawn up. Quite simply, the BBC is left-wing for not speculating prematurely in line with their prejudices.

This gets particularly nasty when Palestine is involved. The BBC reports on an illicit border crossing, everyday life in Ramallah or some children linking hands, and is castigated for not mentioning terrorism. It seems the BBC should mention terrorism every time it mentions Palestine, so even if the story is nothing to do with terrorism, about a peaceful protest, or largely unrelated to the conflict with Israel, we must be reminded that Palestinians are Hamas-electing anti-Semitic terrorists. Straight out racism is rare on this blog, but this is a clear example.


Biased BBC is regularly up in arms over the use, or rather non-use, of the word ‘terrorist’. Absurdly enough, they usually claim that these people are not “militants”, “gunmen” or “bombers”. While I understand their objections, the idea that the BBC is biased for failing to use a pejorative, vaguely-defined, highly emotive term in favour of coldly descriptive terminology is laughable, as is the idea that not calling it ‘terrorism’ makes deliberate attacks on civilians sound any better. The standard counter-claim is that there are two possible interpretations: “terrorist” or “not a terrorist and therefore a freedom fighter”, and that by avoiding the word, the BBC sides with the latter. Essentially this is a fallacious claim that, by not actively endorsing one side, the BBC is actively endorsing the other. The BBC is in fact choosing to tacitly (very tacitly, considering the equal absence of the term “freedom fighter”) endorse one side rather than explicitly endorse another, which is exactly the right decision. Furthermore, the BBC regularly repeats the word in the form of direct quotes, and makes no effort to dispute its usage. Such is B-BBC’s rage on this issue that they even apply it to attacks on military targets that, by most definitions, clearly do not constitute terrorism.

There are two more interesting arguments however: that the BBC uses ‘terrorist’ for the London Bombings and 9/11, and that the BBC regularly changes the words of (usually Israeli) sources to remove the word. The first definitely displays a double standard, however double standards are not proof of political bias. The aims of the terrorists behind them are not up for discussion. There is no debate that could possibly be slanted by such a powerful word, and no debate as to whether the attacks were terrorism (even if you believe they were organised by MI5/CIA/Mossad/Lizardmen). There is no side to take one way or the other. Of course, it could be argued that in doing so, the BBC values British lives more than Israeli ones, but even in that case, valuing your own people’s lives over foreigners is, again, typical journalistic practice.

This article was offered as evidence for the second. Except for a quote from a politician and an eyewitness statement, the Israeli sources had been put mostly into indirect speech, the Palestinians mostly quoted directly. In doing so, the BBC changed ‘terrorist’ into ‘militant’. Biased BBC argued that the BBC was attempting to whitewash the attacks (incidentally aimed at soldiers rather than civilians). However a closer look at the article in fact shows a leaning towards Israel. In direct quotes are Matan Vilnai’s opinions on the attack and a possible fuel blockade and half a threat, a vivid Israeli eye-witness account and Islamic Jihad’s explanation. In indirect quotes are Hamas’ denial, Islamic Jihad’s admittance, and most of the facts of the attack, put into indirect quotes to avoid excessive inverted commas and any implication of distrust. These facts come from exclusively Israeli sources. Whether you think the BBC is right to trust Israel to this extent or not, doing so is hardly anti-Israel bias.

How Dare They Have Guests!

On hearing an interview with Billy Bragg, B-BBC were enraged that someone with Billy Bragg’s disgusting beliefs should be allowed to speak on a programme. They neglected to mention, let alone disagree with, anything he said on air. Similarly, they were upset about an interview with Chuck D. I am genuinely confused as to what the BBC should have done: cut Chuck’s mic the moment he said anything controversial, transformed an interview on music into a section of Newsnight or refused to have left-wing guests for fear they might bad-mouth her Majesty. I am not aware of Chuck’s exact words, as typically for B-BBC, the report contains no quotes or links. This report is particularly sloppy however, as it obviously involved no research whatsoever – Chuck D is described as a “gangster”, and despite pouncing on his vague associations to an occasional anti-Semite, Professor Griff is conspicuous in his absence. In fact, they mostly seemed upset that a rapper was on the clever-people’s radio and that he was given a chance to praise Barack Obama.

Holocaust Denial on the License Fee! Now that really does sound terrible. The BBC not only gave someone who has openly challenged the validity of the Holocaust a platform but paid his expenses to use it. Read the post in question though, and it turns out he wasn’t even talking about the Holocaust, but about 7/7, and in the context of a programme on conspiracy theories. Again, the BBC is held responsible for opinions which were not even expressed on its programme, castigated for not smearing its guests, and most worryingly, criticised for allowing opinions to be expressed. In short, the blog objects to undesirable guests being “given a platform”, even one that will naturally provoke scepticism, and without even disputing their opinions. I stopped seeing this as a joke when I read the phrase “allegedly innocent”.

Worthless Ingrates

Possibly the most worrying articles are the ones where the BBC runs a slightly right-of-centre story, and Biased BBC complain that it didn’t go far enough. For example this article mentions polar bears, and is therefore deranged environmentalism. No matter that the report described by the article actually plays down the threat to polar bears, B-BBC read “polar bear” and decide it’s Marxism. Sometimes, of course, it’s just quite funny, like when the BBC praises Conservative policy and receives a swift rebuke for being too left-wing.

But sometimes the blog is downright dishonest. They attack the BBC’s article on the Jewish mass exodus from Iraq shortly after the creation of Israel. The chief grounds for this are laughable – refugees pining for the old country is hardly unusual, nor is old men pining for the days of their youth. Indeed, an old man missing home is rather a strong indictment of those who forced him to leave, and the sane parts of the Israel lobby would surely appreciate some attention for the “Jewish Nakba”. But B-BBC spin this, not just as a whitewash but as a hoax. Israelis not wanting to go back to modern, war-torn Iraq hardly rules out missing the Iraq of their youth, yet exactly this claim is used to accuse the BBC of all but fabricating the article. When the BBC romanticises Israel in classical Zionist terms, this is one of many fiendish euphemisms like “mass migration” and “political realities”. The blog claims: “Any news on what form expression of that [anti-Semitic] sentiment took? Any news on the riots and pogroms?...Not from the BBC.” Yet the article specifically mentions the “Farhoud massacre.” A sympathetic piece raising awareness of a modern Jewish tragedy fails to come down hard enough on the blog’s perceived enemies, and is branded anti-Semitic propaganda. Biased-BBC even lies, quite openly, about its content.

The preconception that the BBC is too liberal is behind most of Biased-BBC’s complaints. Starting from the assumption that the BBC is run entirely by gay anti-Semitic cultural Marxists makes it very, very easy to read left-wing bias into largely neutral and even slightly right-wing articles, to interpret normal journalistic behaviour as convoluted conspiracy, or failing those, simply imagine what the BBC is thinking and accept that as bias. Reasonable rules of thumb such as the presumption of innocence are considered pro-terrorist. But with a few of their claims, there is something insidious and nasty. The key to this is the regular accusation of “moral equivalence” and “moral relativism” – i.e. that the BBC impartially treats all political standpoints as equally valid and impartially reserves its own moral judgement. The BBC fails to use nasty enough language, it fails to censor and slander its guests and sources, and it fails to label entire peoples as anti-Semitic terrorists. If the BBC chooses not to express one opinion in strong enough terms, this is bizarrely seen as wholeheartedly embracing the opposite. This is not a case of B-BBC’s contributors being so right-wing that the centre looks like Communism. This is an outright demand that the BBC actively endorse their shrill, prejudiced and dogmatic views.