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The BBC is often attacked by the right-wing for having a favorable bias towards liberals and the left-wing. However, studies into the broadcaster’s output and coverage show that the BBC is actually biased against the left-wing of the political spectrum. This claim is backed up by the fact that many prominent political commentators and journalists at the BBC also have a background in conservative political groups.
The supposed left-wing bias of the BBC pertains mainly to criticisms by the right that the BBC has a liberal stance on issues such as immigration, Islam, feminism, gay and transgender rights. This appears to be correct — these issues are treated in a relatively liberal manner by the BBC — but that does not mean that the BBC is a liberal leaning institution.
Rather, the BBC is a neoliberal institution; one that seeks to incorporate a very specific and narrow idea of social liberalism into the centre-right of the political spectrum — to make it appear somewhat liberal and accommodating of alternative opinions and views. The coverage and treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters, and the left by the BBC is the latest testament to the fact that they are biased in favour of this very narrow neoliberal centre-right.
The right-wing and its press, in particular, have for many years been at war with the BBC. They have persistently insisted that the BBC is biased towards liberalism and that the right is neglected, derided and ignored by liberal elites and the broadcaster:
This is mainly based on the fact that the BBC is sympathetic to coverage of issues such as immigration, and minorities. The treatment of these issues has very little to do with liberalism, and can more easily be defined as a bias towards the neoliberal view of the world — one which is ultimately on the centre-right of the political spectrum. The BBC may give liberal coverage to certain social issues — such as those of immigrants, and minorities, but that is because those views fit very neatly into the central idea of diversity that neo-liberalism has increasingly come to embrace. This, in turn, creates a facade of liberalism, but it is far from a true representation of the left.
When it comes to the broader ideas or policies of the left, or anything that fits outside of this very narrow neoliberal center right, the BBC is intensely hostile. The ideas and the policies of the left that challenge the underpinning inequalities inherent to neoliberalism appear to have no place at the BBC. The BBC does not champion prominent issues on the left, for instance: when the coalition came into office in 2010, in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, the BBC failed to challenge the Tory narrative of austerity. In fact, the BBC promoted the government line that austerity was necessary, whereas the general consensus on the left is that it isn’t and never was. By doing this the BBC supported and promoted the neoliberal agenda which allows wealth inequality to continue to grow unchallenged.
Further to this, if the BBC was genuinely a left-liberal-biased institution then surely every Corbyn supporter in the country would be screaming from the hills with sheer delight about the massive amount of positive coverage he — and the center left are getting every day on the BBC.
Yet this isn’t happening — and the opposite claim is being made against the BBC — that they biased towards the centre-right. This is not just a subjective claim, it has been evidenced by large scale studies on the subject.
One such study examined the way that the BBC covered Jeremy Corbyn during this summer’s “leadership contest”. A report released in August this year produced by the Media Reform Coalition jointly with the Department of Film, Media, and Cultural Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, examined television coverage of the attempted Labour “coup” against Corbyn following Brexit. The report didn’t just look at the way Corbyn was reported on by the BBC, it also examined the way his supporters were presented — in order to give a broader picture.
The researchers’ quantitative analysis of BBC News at Six showed that critics of Corbyn were given twice as much airtime as his supporters, and that the issues mobilized by his critics were given a much greater prominence. The report also noted the derogatory language BBC reporters used to describe Jeremy Corbyn, his team, and his supporters.
The research also compared the BBC’s reporting with that of ITV’s evening news, where the airtime allocated to critics and supporters of Corbyn was evenly balanced — and the prominence given to particular issues was less dramatically weighted against Corbyn.
It should be no surprise that the BBC is biased against the left. BBC political coverage is fronted by a range of journalists who have backgrounds in conservative political movements, and groups.
Presenter of the BBC’s Daily Politics, Sunday Politics, and This Week, Andrew Neil, was a member of the Conservative Club whilst studying at Glasgow University — he was also chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students.
After graduating Neil went on to work as a research assistant for the Conservative Party. Neil also worked as an editor for the Murdoch-owned, conservative-leaning Sunday Times newspaper, as well as being the founding chairman of Sky TV which is also part of Murdoch’s News International empire. Neil also served as a contributor for the less than liberal Daily Mail.
The long-serving host of the BBC’s Question Time program David Dimbleby has a background in conservatism. At Oxford university he was a member of the renowned Bullingdon Club — with other famous members including former chancellor George Osborne, and former prime minister David Cameron.
The former BBC political editor and current presenter of the Today program Nick Robinson previously served as the president of the Oxford University Conservative Association whilst studying there.
As well as this, Robinson is a founding member of the Macclesfield Young Conservatives group and served as their Chairman. During his formative years, Robinson also campaigned for Young Conservative National Advisory Committee.
Not only does the BBC clearly favor right-wing journalists — they also seem to be able to mould left-wing ones into being more right wing.
Newsnight attack dog Jeremy Paxman recently declared he is “one-nation Tory”, despite the fact he was briefly a member of the Labour Club whilst studying at Oxford.
A similar change of position occurred to Andrew Marr — who fronts his self-titled politics show, considered to be a flagship of the genre by the Beeb. Marr was once a member of the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (an offshoot of the International-Communist League). At Cambridge University Marr claimed he was a “raving leftie” and apparently had the nickname “Red Andy”.
In 2012 Marr presented yet another of the BBC’s enthusiastic, gushing, and sycophantic programs about the royal family “The Diamond Queen” – quite an odd choice for a man who is/was apparently a proponent of the left.
Of course, the BBC’s current Political Editor, and newly anointed “journalist of the year” (in an event sponsored by Heineken beer), Laura Kuenssberg, is so anti-Corbyn, and so anti-left, that even the right-wing doesn’t even bother accusing her of liberal bias anymore.
Yet, despite all of this hard evidence, the BBC will continue to be accused of having a liberal bias by the right-wing as part of their endless battle against anybody who doesn’t agree with the agenda they set.
The BBC is at best center-right, essentially a neoliberal corporation. One which accepts certain social issues in a sort of liberal manner — but ignores the broader political issues which underpin many of the important problems of our time so as not to disturb the status quo.
Unlike the right-wing, the left can genuinely complain about the BBC being biased against them, as they have the evidence to back it up. And whilst the BBC is biased against some of the issues of the right, it is in favour of the majority of them — a luxury that the left doesn’t have.