What is bias? Some would say the misreporting of political news is a form of bias. The coverage of the Named Person court case would be a good example.
A lack of balance in political debates would also be considered a form of bias. Most people would accept that one side having more representation than another, whether in terms of the number of participants or time allotted, was an example of bias.
Persistently loading news bulletins and headlines with stories sympathetic to one side in a political campaign and inviting commentators from news outlets known to be politically partisan, might also be viewed as a form of bias.
The BBC is guilty of all of the above. In Scotland the beneficiaries of the lack of balance is Unionism. In England the beneficiaries are establishment figures who are seeking to topple Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
This weekend a study emerged that claimed to show media bias against Jeremy Corbyn. The most severe criticism was reserved for the BBC.
Below is a short passage from the Independent newspaper.
“The BBC was especially criticised in the report, which found reporters in its main evening broadcasts used more “pejorative language” to describe Mr Corbyn and his supporters. However, the research did not look at the wider range of BBC political journalism which appeared outside of these times.
“BBC journalists used language deemed by the researchers to “emphasise hostility, intransigence and extreme positions” more frequently in these programmes, such as the words “hostile” and “hard core”.
“In addition, almost twice as much unchallenged airtime was given to people criticising Mr Corbyn than his allies on the BBC, the report found.”
There have also been accusations that the BBC has deliberately ignored rallies held by the Labour leader who is currently engaged in a leadership contest with rival Owen Smith. Smith’s campaign speech last week was broadcast live and in full on the BBC news channel.
A failure to cover events or news stories evenly was a recurring theme of the independence referendum. I lost count of the number of times a story broke that was favourable to the Yes campaign but never seemed to generate headlines on the BBC. The practice persists to this day.
Scotland’s flagship news programme is Reporting Scotland. Most Scots get their daily intake of political news from the tea-time show fronted by Jackie Bird. Indeed for a lot of people, Reporting Scotland is their only access to political news. But the programme frequently ignores political news stories of significant interest.
Cast your mind back to the breaking story of the Royal Navy frigates. MoD officials appeared in front of a House of Commons Committee and basically couldn’t confirm a start date for construction of the vessels that played a significant part in the Unionist campaign during the independence referendum.
That same week Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley implicitly gave his support for a second independence referendum, conceding that Nicola Sturgeon had a mandate to call such a ballot.
Neither of these stories made it onto Reporting Scotland. The programme’s editor, when quizzed on why they had been omitted, tweeted the following reply.
More recently were the comments from Spain’s Prime Minister regarding the UK’s forthcoming Brexit negotiations. A former colleague of mine, Paul Kavanagh, revealed on his Wee Ginger Dug blog that Spain’s foreign minister had issued comments favourable to the Scottish government’s stance on Scotland’s EU membership in relation to Brexit.
“Last week, as reported in this blog and in my column in the National, there was a major new development when the Spanish foreign minister stated that he expects Scotland to become independent within a few years and put a second indyref into the context of a UK being dragged out of the EU under the influence of the political extremists of UKIP.
“There was no whiff or suggestion of any Spanish veto. Yet there was silence from the Unionist media and likewise from the BBC. It was a perfect example of bias by omission.”
There is no excuse for this story not to having been a major item on Reporting Scotland. The programme is no slouch when it comes to headlining EU membership stories based on comments from the Spanish government when they are deemed unfavourable to the SNP, as can be seen below.
Last Thursday another significant story failed to make it onto the flagship programme when the Director of Virgin Banking, Hugh Chater, told a Holyrood Committee that Scotland’s financial sector stood to benefit enormously in the event of Brexit.
Chater’s remarks were reported by BBC Scotland’s radio show Newsdrive but, incredibly, failed to merit a mention on that evening’s Reporting Scotland. This was despite a short clip of the same committee hearing featuring in an item on the EU presented by Douglas Fraser.
Bias by omission is difficult to prove. SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell discovered this during the independence referendum when he pressed BBC Scotland chiefs to explain why a key statement from international ratings Agency Standard & Poors had been omitted from the station’s news coverage. He never did get an explanation.
Sometimes it’s not what is reported that matters … but what isn’t.
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