Tim Montgomerie is Editor of ConservativeHome.com. This article also appears in this morning’s Business.
Fox News has transformed broadcasting in America. It is loved by US conservatives as much as it is hated by the mainstream media. In the last few weeks it has been essential viewing for anyone who wants to escape from the BBC’s one-sided coverage of the unfolding Middle East tragedy.
Mainstream media critics deride Fox’s ‘fair and balanced’ catchphrase but it’s not an inaccurate description of the cable network’s output. Fox has provided full coverage of the attacks on Lebanon. Like its old media rivals it has broadcast all of the heart-rending scenes of devastation from Beirut and Qana. It does not just balance it with a few reports of Israelis hiding in bunkers, however. It provides context. Fox has, for example, probed Hezbollah’s links with Iran and has alerted its viewers to the possibility that this conflict is part of a much more serious proxy war between Tehran and Tel Aviv.
Fox has also subjected the United Nations to heavy scrutiny. Can we believe, it asks its viewers, that a new peacekeeping force will protect Israel after six years of UN failure in southern Lebanon?
Veteran BBC journalist Robin Aitken has promised to do for the BBC what Bernard Goldberg’s ‘Bias’ did to CBS. Aitken served as a BBC reporter for a quarter of a century and has accused it of an “unconscious, institutionalised Leftism.” “I was surprised to discover how many of my colleagues were active members of Labour or the Liberal Democrats,” he told a recent edition of The Telegraph. “They cannot bear President Bush because he’s a Republican and an evangelical Christian,” he continued. “I long for the day when I hear a reporter say something sceptical about the UN.”
While the BBC is programmed to avoid partisan bias – carefully ensuring that Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat perspectives are fairly represented – its deeper biases are left unchecked.
On the international front the first fundamental bias is against Israel. The most famous example of this came when a BBC reporter explained how she wept at Yasser Arafat’s death. The fact that Mr Arafat was a terrorist hardly featured in a report that contained little objectivity and a great deal of the emotionalism made famous by the BBC’s Fergal Keane.
Anti-Americanism is bias number two. The BBC’s coverage of the New Orleans flood was widely condemned in America. No attempts were made to explain the US system of state government to viewers. All blame was put on to Bush’s shoulders. The BBC headlined with stories of rape and mass looting at the time but never corrected these stories when they were shown up to be grossly exaggerated. The land which is richer and more scientifically advanced than the countries of Europe is routinely presented as unsophisticated by the BBC.
The BBC hardly hides its disdain for the Bush-Blair war on terror.
British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are known to be unhappy at the
ways in which their efforts at reconstruction hardly receive any
attention. Noone could deny that the situation in places like Baghdad
and Kandahar is grim but the nation’s public service broadcaster fails
to balance stories of existing difficulties with an analysis of the
consequences of failure.
Defenders of the BBC cite the Corporation’s criticism of Tony
Blair’s stewardship of the war as proof that it is not politically
biased. But the criticisms invariably come from a left-wing, anti-war
perspective. BBC reporters struggle to ask what might be called ‘right
wing questions’. Soon after David Cameron had abandoned traditional
Tory support for lower taxation and public service reform he was
subjected to a very tough interview on the Today programme. Can voters
be sure you have changed? Isn’t this new policy inconsistent with what
you were proposing at the last election? Those questions were the
questions of the establishment. Missing was an attack from the right.
‘Doesn’t Britain need lower taxes to compete with the world’s tiger
economies?’ ‘Isn’t school and hospital choice an essential way of
forcing public service workers to improve their performance?’
The representation of Christians in BBC soap operas. The desire to
break taboos in the drama output. The telephone number salary that is
paid for Jonathan Ross to shock and awe. The ways in which the BBC
crowds out start-up businesses by pricing independent competitors out
of the market. The lists of BBC faults is a long one but the chances
of reform are small as long as the Corporation continues to enjoy the
confidence of the public.
The BBC is unlikely to be brought down by political reform.
America’s conservative politicians – like their British counterparts –
were too afraid to take on the privileged position of the mainstream
broadcasters. CBS, NBC and ABC were brought low by the bloggers and by
the Fox phenomenon. Bloggers and Fox trailblazed new ways of
presenting the news. Technology will do the same to the BBC. Britons
will increasingly enjoy alternative sources of news and they will
consume those alternatives in huge numbers.
I am planning to write a ten point briefing on the top ten biases of the BBC. Suggestions for those ten biases would be gratefully received in the comments thread.