The Guardian has reported that the BBC Trust is to carry out an impartiality review in light of accusations that the BBC has a ‘liberal bias’. The review will focus largely on religion, immigration, Europe as well as possibly looking at the BBC’s coverage of Islamophobia. The review will be led by former ITV chief executive and current World in Action editor, Stuart Prebble.
From the Guardian:
“The BBC's news coverage of religion, immigration and Europe is to be scrutinised in an independent review following accusations of liberal bias.
“Lord Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, said the review was an acknowledgment of "real and interesting" concerns from some quarters about the impartiality of the BBC's news coverage.
“The BBC's coverage of controversial topics including immigration, religion and the European Union will come under the spotlight in the review, which is expected to be published in early 2013. It may also include coverage of Islamophobia.”
Patten said that the decision to focus on particular topics in the review was “because they are subjects we have had criticism from time to time about breadth of voice issues”
“It is the fifth impartiality review by the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, and follows an internal 2007 report that described a "largely unconscious self-censorship" that led to certain opinions being routinely under-represented.
“The review will examine whether the BBC has improved the impartiality of its news coverage since that report, called From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel. The 2007 report found no evidence of a conscious bias at the corporation, but said senior BBC figures acknowledged a tendency to "groupthink" which often led to an unconscious liberal slant on big issues.
As the Guardian states, accusations of a left-wing bias from outside the BBC have been accompanied with admissions from BBC staff about editorial biases. “A Daily Mail leader column last week accused the BBC of double standards, claiming it "consistently attacks Christianity (though never Islam)".
“Presenter Andrew Marr admitted in 2003 that the BBC held liberal preoccupations, but claimed the rest of the media was similarly guilty of bias. Mark Thompson, who stepped down as BBC director general in August, told the New Statesman in 2010 that the BBC had a "massive bias to the left" when he joined 30 years ago.”
Debates on the BBC’s impartiality have been ongoing and are particularly pertinent given that despite being largely regulated by Ofcom, the BBC has jurisdiction over its impartiality and accuracy. Despite concerns over bias, the BBC’s 2012 annual report illustrated high levels of trust in the BBC’s news coverage. A debate was recently sparked by The Commentator over the BBC’s editorial leanings and its consumption of national daily newspapers, after it emerged that the BBC purchases more copies of The Guardian newspaper than other titles, Daily Telegraph, Independent and the Daily Mail. The Commentator is run by Robin Shepherd, Director of International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. The HJS last year merged with the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think tank which is mentioned in the Spinwatch report, The Cold War on British Muslims. The Commentator looked specifically at the BBC’s coverage of the Middle East conflict concluded that the findings ‘confirm’ that the BBC has an ‘anti-Israel bias’ as “The Guardian takes a number of assumptions for granted...Israel is wrong”. However, as we argued, The Commentator’s analysis overlooked the combined totals for right-leaning and left-leaning papers. Adding the columns together, the Indy and Guardian account for 103,538 and the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail for 104,521, almost a thousand more copies of right over left leaning papers. We also highlighted instances of anti-Palestinian bias such as was illustrated in the Mic Righteous case, the ruling on ‘Death in the Med’ and its refusal to screen the DEC Gaza Appeal in 2009.
The most detailed analysis of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been conducted by Professor Greg Philo and Dr Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group in their books on the topic, Bad News from Israel (2004) and More Bad News from Israel (2011). Phlio and Berry studied news reports of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shown on prime-time BBC1 and ITV1 news bulletins between September 2000 and April 2002 and in the second edition, coverage of the Israeli offensive in Gaza in December 2008 to January 2009, as well as the Israeli attack on the flotilla to Gaza in May 2010.
The studies reveal the extent to which a pro-Israeli bias features in news bulletins, from the disproportionate amount of coverage – as measured quantitatively in lines of news – given to the Israeli perspective, the sequencing of news stories, in which the Israeli perspective is presented as a ‘response’ to Palestinian violence thereby misinforming the viewer's perception of victim and aggressor, and the language used to describe each side in the conflict such as ‘retaliation’, and ‘military’ or ‘civilian’ targets . Philo and Berry found that Israelis were given ‘twice as much coverage’ on news bulletins than Palestinians and that there was a near-total absence of historical background in news reports adding to viewer confusion over occupier and occupied.
The BBC’s treatment of religion recently came under the spotlight after a BBC radio presenter, Roger Bolton said that the BBC’s treatment of Christianity was less sensitive than that of other religions. However, as outgoing General Director of the BBC, Mark Thompson has argued on several occasions, Christianity’s much deeper history in the UK as compared to other religions which are largely minority, immigrant backgrounds puts it in a different context.
The BBC’s review of its coverage of Islamophobia will be particularly interesting with the background of a number of studies illustrating the overwhelmingly negative coverage of Islam in the media as well as the levels of Islamophobia in wider society, as illustrated by organised far-right, anti-Islam groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party.
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