Monday, June 18, 2007

BBC too liberal: so let's not end world poverty

A report released by the BBC claims that there is insufficient partiality in certain areas of their programming. I would probably agree; at times. Curiously there are two instances singled out on the BBC's website: the Make Poverty History narrative embedded within one Christmas special for The Vicar of Dibley, and their coverage of Live8; while Andrew Marr is described as having an "innate liberal bias". The report concludes, according to the summary, that impartiality is "not necessarily to be found on the centre ground".

I found this report, or at least the bits extracted, as rather odd in a number of ways. Firstly, while endorsement within programming of ideas by favoured characters is persuasive, one does not get the sense that all programming supports the Make Poverty History cause; instead there are a number of narratives that could be called persuasive being run across the board. Having watched Spooks and Judge John Deed, I find them anti-government; Eastenders is often a vehicle for social marketing [highlighting the problems facing parents of babies with Downs Syndrome for example]; should all of these be balanced and how?

On the specific issue of Live8, perhaps news coverage prior to the event gave more time and focus to Bob Geldof than Gordon Brown, Tony Blair or the concurrent summit. But there is also a sense here that it was clear who had some form of mass support. If staunch critics had been given airtime, to say that the UK should keep its money and ignore the Third World, what effect could this have had upon the BBC's image?

While impartiality is a worthy goal, it is questionable whether anyone can be impartial? While BBC Trustee Richard Tait argues in the press release that one of the 12 principles must be that "Impartiality is no excuse for insipid programme-making", is this not actually the likely result of the criticisms? It is claimed that these standards will shape every sort of programme, of every genre, so will this limit the ability of drama writers to tackle controversial topics unless they present a balanced view?

Finally though, the greatest evidence for partiality, which seems unmentioned, is the cynical stance which Tony Blair was talking about last Tuesday; where the journalist simply adopts the attitude that all politicians are lying. While this is not descriptive of all coverage, it is questionable how that type of interview measures up against two of the key elements that those questioned denote impartiality: [Let us hear different people giving their own stories in their own words 80%; Stand back and ask critical and rigorous questions of others 71%]. I can imagine a few politicians would argue that the first element is usually overshadowed by the latter! And for evidence, independent of any ideological position, see this clip!

No comments: