Friday, October 05, 2007 

Scum-watch: Biased in favour of itself.

It's Thursday afternoon in Wapping, and apart from all the rumours about a possible election and opinion poll reading going on, there's not a lot of news about. The leader writer(s) can't quite stretch out the whole column to be meanderings about will there or won't there be one, so what else can he/she/they fill out with?

Ah yes, the perennial favourite, bash the BBC!

THE BBC has learned nothing from its own confession that it is institutionally biased in favour of Brussels.

The Scum is presumably referring to a report published back in January 2005 that found the corporation needed to make its coverage of Europe "more demonstrably impartial", although it found no evidence of any deliberate bias whatsoever. (Nosemonkey at the time mentioned the report actually found that people perceive the corporation to be biased. Where could they get that idea from?)

A new study shows Radio Four’s Today programme gave FOUR times as much air-time to the commercial Glastonbury pop festival than to the crucial EU Constitution.

This is apparently referring to a study conducted by Newswatch, who rather than being an independent organisation appear to be a team you can hire to prove instances of "bias". On their track record page, they boast:

Our clients have included the Conservative Party, the cross-party think-tank Global Britain, and the Daily Telegraph.

Wow! That's quite a cross-section. They also say:

We have also produced research papers that have been published by the prestigious think-tank the Centre for Policy Studies.

That would be the Centre for Policy Studies that was founded by "Sir" Keith Joseph and err, Margaret Thatcher.

How about the actual study then? Newswatch have kindly provided a 4-page summary on their website (PDF), which details that their research only concerned coverage of Europe on the Today programme from March the 19th of this year to June the 23rd. The Scum then is alleging bias on the corporation as a whole based on the contents of just one news programme.

Oh, and what do you know, the Scum's claim even then is completely wrong:

On June 23, the day that agreement was reached, Today devoted four times more airtime to the Glastonbury Rock Festival than to coverage of the eurosceptic case against the revised working arrangements.

Rather than the BBC giving four times as much coverage then to Glastonbury that it did the entire issue of the reform treaty, it in fact gave four times as much coverage to Glastonbury than it did to the Eurosceptic case against it. Newswatch doesn't mention whether it also gave supporters of the treaty about the same amount of airtime, probably for the reason it seems pretty obvious that this research was commissioned by a Eurosceptic organisation, although which one it's impossible to sure seeing as Newswatch hasn't owned up. It could be UKIP, about whom it says the following:

UKIP, a main conduit of views about withdrawal and further growth of EU powers, was not asked any questions at all during the survey about the revised working arrangements. Remarks by UKIP spokesmen in four appearances by the party occupied only around five minutes out of
238 hours of programming. On the sole occasion when there was a debate about UKIP concerns – relating to whether the EU brought benefits to the UK - the UKIP spokesman was treated unfairly.

Diddums! What exactly is the definition of unfairly here? That UKIP are barking mad and in the words of David Cameron, who has never spoken a truer sentence when he said they're "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly".

Then again, it could be the Centre for Policy Studies themselves:

James Naughtie treated Ruth Lea, the guest who put the case for a referendum, more toughly than Professor Jo Shaw, who argued against one being held.

Really? Ruth Lea just happens to be... the director of the Centre for Policy Studies!

Oh, and if this is the level of critique and analysis, then it seems to have been money well spent:

The programme and its correspondents used biased terminology to apply to the revised working arrangements. From early on, they described the document as a ‘reform treaty’, in line with the EU’s own terminology, but seemingly disregarding the position of eurosceptics, who contended the document was the Constitution in all but name.

Maybe that could be because it's a fucking reform treaty? It doesn't matter whether it was called the EU Sticking A Bottle Up Eurosceptics Backsides' treaty, it's not a constitution because it isn't called a constitution like the previous one was, and if the BBC were to call it one, that would be just as biased and misleading as the Sun and Newswatch's own complaints. About the only really conclusive part of Newswatch's edited report was the following:

This was a period of major EU activity, but coverage of EU affairs on the Today programme slumped to a record low of 2.7% of available airtime for most of the 14 weeks, despite high-profile promises by BBC news management in the wake of the Wilson report that EU-related output would be boosted, and claims by the Director General that it has been.

I can't speak or defend the Today programme because I don't listen to it. If what Newswatch is reporting is true, then it's something than can be looked into and sorted out. The overall problem with coverage of the European Union as a whole though is that to many, include many otherwise political obsessives, it's both boring and at times impenetratble. In order to report on what's going on with a meagre sort of hope that someone will actually listen rather than tune out, it gets reduced to gimmickery. Incidentally, Mark Mardell, the current Europe editor, is one of those BBC journalists that usually does manage to report both informatively and with a levity that others ought to perhaps aspire too. Like the Sun however, Newswatch is looking at coverage of the EU solely through the prism of the Today programme: amazingly, it isn't the be all and end all of the BBC's news output.

Back to the Scum:

The BBC has virtually ignored the debate raging about the new Treaty — despite uproar in all parties and on both sides of the argument.

Rubbish. Just because the Scum's had it on the front page for days at a time because Murdoch is anti-EU for all the wrong reasons doesn't mean that the BBC has ignored it. There have been plenty of reports: a quick search on the BBC News website for "EU reform treaty" has more than four pages of recent articles, going back just to the beginning of September. Prior to that, OpenEurope, a group against the reform treaty had a number of appearances across the BBC's news programmes, calling for a referendum.

The same self-censorship is applied to immigration — another enormous issue not to be discussed in front of the licence-payers.

Now this really is an enormous lie. Just a couple of weeks ago the BBC gave blanket coverage to Cambridgeshire police's Julie Spence's comments on how the influx of migrant workers was leaving her force struggling to cope. It lead the radio bulletins all day, was the third story on the 10 O'Clock bulletin, and the Newsnight gave it top billing, complete with a discussion after their report with "Sir" Andrew Green and the Conservative shadow minister, rather outnumbering the Labour spokesman. Could the Sun be upset because as the BBC often does, it provided a more balanced side of the story than the tabloids did, with Mark Easton's report examining both sides?

It is not just because many of its editors and producers are lefties — though many are.

Guardian reading conspiracy alert!

It is an arrogant, lazy assumption that they know best — and ignorant audiences should not be disturbed by matters beyond their ken.

Completely unlike the Sun, which treats its readers like idiots by talking down to them, insulting them on numerous occasions and reprinting lie after lie after lie, or as on occasions like this, plays them for fools by taking the facts and then skewing them in their favour.

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