Political bias in the media is nothing new, and I'm not even the first person this week to suggest that the BBC are as susceptible to it as any tabloid or broadsheet newspaper. An online petition currently boasting over 40,000 signatures condemning the BBC's failure to adequately cover the Green Party's successes in the recent elections, coupled with some 1200 complaints regarding the matter made directly to the BBC have certainly put the issue into the public domain.
I have to confess that, perhaps naively, I feel really let down by the BBC over this. In my youth, I looked to the BBC for fair, factual, concise and impartial reporting of current events. Everyone knows that the Daily Mail is the go-to paper for sensationalist right-wing
gibberish articles. Likewise, the Guardian has a reputation for being lefty and having a distinct whiff of muesli and yoghurt about it. But the BBC.... they were supposed to be the ones firmly on the fence, carefully presenting the facts without any intentional swing to one political side or the other. Even the staff's identity cards proclaim that first and foremost, they are to strive to be independent, impartial and honest!
Historically, criticism of the BBC has been that of a liberal-left nature - in fact, as recently as July 2013, senior Trust members stated that they felt issues relating to immigration and the EU had been represented with a definite liberal bias, and prior to that a 2007 report on Safeguarding Impartiality again focused on steering away from any left-wing tendencies towards a more central position.
Well. In the wake of the 2014 UK local and European elections, I can definitely say I fail to observe any trace of liberal lefty influence.
A crude example of this; a quick visit to the BBC News home page to type "UKIP" into the search box returned 897 news article results from the last 6 months (3rd December 2013 to 3rd June 2014). Repeating the same search for the Green Party yielded just 247 results.
Taking the media-wide coverage of UKIP's "success" at the recent elections at face value, one could superficially justify this by saying that UKIP have done So Very Well and really have caused a political earthquake... Only, they haven't.
UKIP still have no MPs (granted, this may yet change at the next general election). Nevertheless, they still don't have overall control of a single council in England, Wales or Scotland. Having 163 councillors up and down the country is much less impressive once you break that down into there being only 1 or 2 in the vast majority of towns and cities. They have not even established ground as the official opposition in any area, whereas the Green Party are now the opposition in Solihull, Liverpool, Islington, Lewisham and Norwich. Couple this with the Green Party's presence of 162 councillors across 56 councils, and it becomes immediately apparent that the much more established role of the Green Party at least equals the newly gained territory of UKIP. What earthquake?
But WHERE is the BBC coverage of this?
Looking at the specific guidelines drafted for the 2014 elections by the BBC Editorial Guidelines board, there should have been:
"impartial and independent reporting of the
campaign, giving fair coverage, rigorous scrutiny and due weight to the
policies and campaigns of all parties and candidates."
Please excuse me while I laugh until I cry.
Stepping away from the BBC News website for a moment, I was dismayed to see Nigel Farage on the Andrew Marr show this Sunday, enjoying a very pleasant chat with the host. A little bit of banter, some gentle teasing about whether or not Farage will challenge Nick Clegg for his Sheffield constituency in the general election next year - not a trace of the usual roasting given to prominent politicians on this programme. With Andrew Marr's help, Farage came across in a very good light indeed. "What a pleasant bloke. I'd like to go for a pint with him." choruses the mindset of the electorate. The conspicuous lack of a manifesto for the European elections should have been a red flag to all and should have been subject to "rigorous scrutiny". Instead, we may as well have been watching a popular quiz show for all the camaraderie displayed within.
Even Question Time has fallen into this trap, having welcomed Nigel Farage no less than 16 times since 2009, while Natalie Bennett and former-Green Party leader (and current MP) Caroline Lucas total half that number of appearances between them. Once again, UKIP have no MPs but the Green Party do.
No, accusations of pro-UKIP, anti-Green media bias are not exclusive to the BBC. But the other media outlets are not publicly funded by a licence fee, and the BBC's own charter and specific guidelines explicitly pledge to deliver bias-free reporting. Consequently, I hold them more accountable for the obvious - and it is obvious - right-wing slant to the recent election coverage.
Should they have ignored Farage and UKIP altogether? No, because that wouldn't be "fair coverage" or "due weight" either. But to have completely sidelined the Green Party by lumping in results with the "Other" category, by giving ten minute interviews with defeated Liberal Democrat members immediately after the Green Party pushed them into fourth place in the European elections, by publishing daily articles on the antics of UKIP candidates, members and supporters and thus keeping UKIP more on the population's radar than any other party - that has wholly and entirely deviated from their own guidelines.
I strongly suspect that a "rigorous scrutiny" of the BBC's election coverage guidelines compared to the actual output from the past two months would demonstrate a gross deviance and generate many more than the current 1200 complaints on the matter. In an age where two-thirds of the eligible electorate didn't even bother to show up and vote, the role of news media in communicating the policies and values of each and every party cannot be underestimated. As a publicly funded body, the BBC owes its readers and viewers a truthful representation of who will offer them what, and not some circus act propaganda for who will, inevitably, turn out to be a very dangerous party with some very dangerous ideas.