I recently took part in a Radio Five Live discussion about the BBC. I was the critic of the BBC and someone from The Guardian (naturally) was its defender. Sounds balanced? Not a bit of it. Throughout the whole interview I was intensely questioned and interrupted while The Guardian’s representative was given softball questions. I make no great complaint. I’ve got used to such treatment but the biased interviewer/ anchor is one of the most prominent ways in which bias is manifested. In addition to presenter bias there are choice of topics which receive attention, promotion of unrepresentative voices of opinion, unnecessary polarisation and simplification of arguments and general mischaracterisations.
Dan Hannan records his own latest experience of BBC bias on his Telegraph blog. Up against two Europhiles – who are introduced as impartial experts, Dan Hannan is introduced as a fierce critic of the EU. Dan then reports how the BBC presenter "listened to the Euro-enthusiasts in respectful silence, but took exception to almost everything I said." John Nott-style Dan walked out of the interview – read the rest of Dan’s account here.
As we mark 50 years of the EU it is important to remember how the BBC has systematically been sympathetic to the EU. The Wilson Report of 2005 concluded that the BBC was systematically Europhile. The report found that negative stories about the EU – including budgetary fraud – were significantly underplayed by the BBC. Robin Aitken, in Can We Trust The BBC?, notes that "during the European elections of 1999, in more than 250 hours of main national news coverage by the BBC, not a single Labour Eurosceptic had appeared on air." Five years of BBC monitoring by Minotaur found an overall 2-to-1 bias in favour of Europhile speakers and "scant analysis" of Eurosceptic alternatives to the current direction of the EU.
Meanwhile a TNS poll of all 27 member state populations (17,443 people in all) by Open Europe finds widespread Euroscepticism:
"Across the EU as a whole, 28% think the EU should have more powers than it has now and that more decisions should be taken at the European level. 23% think the EU should keep the powers it has now, but should not be given any more. 41% think the EU should have less powers than it has now and that more decisions should be taken at a national or local level. In the UK the equivalent figures were 11%, 27%, and 58% – a clear majority for taking powers back."