Bias at the BBC
Balance is for the birds, “debate” absurd. And the Beeb’s policy is just so many meaningless words.
When defending itself in public, the BBC makes much of its claim to be “balanced”. The problem is: not only is the concept of “balance” dodgy in the extreme — a tool for inserting whatever tinfoil conspiracy theory takes the fancy of editors — but the BBC does not apply its own rules even-handedly. A lack of balance when it comes to balance, so to speak.
Now read on…
In the pink corner, today, we have jane, who will be arguing that the BBC is biased in its coverage of minority issues and bordering on not fit for purpose. And in the very blue corner, we will have Mr Raving-Bigot, who will explain how the BBC is doing no more than abiding by its patriotic duty to weed out all the freaks and weirdos wilfully polluting this Land of Soap and Tory with their Equal Opps Opsession.
So that’s sorted. We have balance. Let us bow our heads in reverence, light the debating touchpaper, and stand back in anticipation of the inevitable fireworks.
“I’m from the BBC and…
“…that doesn’t represent our position and…
“…you can’t just create balance by inserting any old tripe that happens to disagree with a thing. That’s not argument. It’s…it’s just contradiction.”
Oh no, it isn’t!
“Oh yes, it is!” (I trust, dear reader, you will appreciate what i did there).
Balance is King
Anyhoo: the claim that every conversation, every story must be balanced, and the accompanying unstated implication that such balance must be binary is the weakest of intellectual gruel! So weak that i now spend a portion of my every waking week wondering when BBC managers will institute a class action against the clearly incompetent educational institutions — the posh schools and fancy universities — that so clearly failed to inculcate even a rudimentary sense of rational coherence during their formative years.
Binary balance. Every argument has two sides. Not three. Or four. Or many. Each such side must be boiled down to what those in charge consider to be its most extreme forms. Thesis. Antithesis. No shade of subtlety. And hopefully, eventually, some sort of all-shake-hands-and-agree-to-differ Synthesis. This is Hegelian Dialectic for the kindergarten: the raising up of rigid, philosophical theory over reality and the messiness of actual people’s lives. They should be burning their degree certificates as we speak!
This is Hegelian Dialectic for the kindergarten: the raising up of rigid, philosophical theory over reality and the messiness of actual people’s lives.
Except, of course, they won’t. Because it is a plausible excuse and cover for bigotry. It sounds good when called out by politicians. And somewhere, perhaps, in the depths of the dark starless night, it provides succour to the soul for these poor agonised BBC executives.
Even if, as thought paradigm, it is about as well-thought-out as buying a one-way ticket for a place on the first spaceship to the red planet, hereinafter to be known as Musk Zero.
It is why, in two recent pieces, simple basic reporting was sabotaged in favour of editorial exposition that turned news into features. It’s a slightly artificial distinction, but one most journalists will get. Back in September, BBC Online put up a simple report of unanimity amongst parliamentary groups which, shocked by the apparent anti-trans views of Liz Truss, came out en bloc to condemn her.
That’s as simple a piece as you might ever write: bunch of noteworthy people call out Equalities Minister: Minister bites back. Or no comments. Sorted! That is news, which comes with its own internal balance provided. And that, as far as i and others familiar with this piece are aware, is what was originally written.
Until someone in editorial decided it needed BALANCE. So stop the presses: update the code! And hey presto! We have a spurious balance introduced that explains why some women (not even a majority) have issues with reform of the Gender Recognition Act. This was no accident, no careless journalist at work: but deliberate sabotage by their bosses. Which is also why folks taking potshots at the Beeb’s LGBT correspondent, Ben Hunte, should really lay off. This wasn’t him!
Fast forward to this week. Another simple piece reporting the fact that a trans teen, backed by the Good Law Project, is taking the NHS to task for failing to provide timely healthcare has had “balance” inserted in the shape of the LGB Alliance. Which is sorta balance. In the sense that the LGBA provide the answer to the question: “If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, which ice giant planet, rhyming with anus, are LGBA from?”
Another simple piece […] has had “balance” inserted in the shape of the LGB Alliance. Which is sorta balance. In the sense that the LGBA provide the answer to the question: “If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, which ice giant planet, rhyming with anus, are LGBA from?”
Because they are so far outside any LGBT consensus and community — insisting your LGB organisation is, well, actually all LGB is so passé — the cold of deepest deep space holds no fears for them. For liquid helium courses through their veins.
And in polite conversation, the terms “insertion” and “LGB Alliance” should not share the same par, never mind sentence!
Again, my understanding is that their contribution was tacked on after: so, second time of asking, PLEASE leave the journo alone! They weren’t even “obeying orders”. Because chances are, the amend was added long after they filed their piece.
Inconsistent , incompetent — or just hypocritical?
But still, the dialectical balance achieved here is plain nonsense. Like, somewhere, i guess, out there in the ideological wasteland, are folks who regard harm incurred by women as they seek to control their fertility as “deserved”. Yet for some reason, i see no great rush by the BBC to platform such folks when doing pieces about health, or abortion rights.
They do not “balance” every issue. Worse, when it comes to trans-related pieces, it is very clear what news demands balance, what does not.
Check out their recent online reporting of the Maya Forstater case: or indeed, the Keira Bell case. Both are pretty relevant, since like the Good Law Project case, they are stories about legal proceedings. Notice anything missing?
Yes. That’s right. Balance. A trans point of view. Because even though these cases impacted directly on every trans person in the UK… the views of the trans community on them were, apparently, not relevant enough to report.
Make your complaint heard…
So, by all means, complain away at the latest BBC excrescence to hit the netwaves. Expect, when you do so, to be fobbed off with a good dollop of patronising guff about balance.
And when they do, take care to write back, to the Beeb, to Ofcom, to your MP and even, if they will listen, your cat, explaining how arbitrary is the application of this doctrine and how — oh my! — whenever balance is needed, it seems to be in stories with even a slight chance of being positive for trans folk.
Coincidence? I think not.
And no: i’m not up for a balanced debate on that conclusion.