Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why do I still listen to the BBC?

It's the absence of ads.

There are interesting paradigms for free-to-air media, but they mostly involve advertisements. I can't take the audio ones. It must be inadequate filters in my ears. I'm fine at whiting out the visual noise but someone gabbling about the latest must-have silver-plated electronic dog-hair clippers drives me insane.

Of course the BBC is not immune. Despite the enormous income it gets from a captive audience, it still has awful trails and puffs. Then it spends a significant amount of time threatening people with dire consequences for not buying a television licence. Generally however, the quantity of such ghastliness is smaller than commercial media.

However, in contrast to many of the commercial media, it increasingly does an appalling job. We (the audience) actually find it quite easy to disentangle positive bias (of the `this man is not called Adolf, but he does look rather like Hitler and, although he's not frothing at the mouth now we'll light him so that he looks like he is' style). What we can't deal with is the `missing data' bias. If the Beeb chooses not to report something, we have to work to find it. That's difficult both because it entails extra work and because you have to look for what isn't there.

All this is a long wind-up to this from Biased BBC (and Newswatch):

Newswatch spent fourteen weeks prior to the European Council meeting in June monitoring Radio 4's Today programme for balance in their coverage of the run up to the EU reform treaty ...involving minute analysis of over 240 hours of material.

... it turns out that Today's coverage of the EU Reform Treaty was far from comprehensive, and that what coverage there was was biased, unimaginative and plain sloppy.

Some highlights from the Newswatch summary:

  • This was a period of major EU activity, But coverage of EU affairs on the Today programme slumped to a record low of 2.7% of available airtime for most of the 14 weeks, despite high profile promises by BBC news management in the wake of the Wilson report that EU-related output would be boosted, and claims by the Director General that it has been;
  • On June 23, the day that agreement was reached, Today devoted four times more airtime to the Glastonbury Rock Festival than to coverage of the eurosceptic case against the revised working arrangements. Coverage of the eurosceptic case amounted to only seven interviews (22 minutes and 40 seconds of airtime) over the entire 14 weeks;
  • UKIP, a main conduit of views about withdrawal and further growth of EU powers, was not asked any questions at all during the survey about the revised working arrangements. Remarks by UKIP spokesmen in four appearances by the party occupied only around five minutes out of 238 hours of programming. On the sole occasion when there was a debate about UKIP concerns – relating to whether the EU brought benefits to the UK - the UKIP spokesman was treated unfairly;
  • BBC correspondents, in their reporting of the moves towards the new treaty, regularly articulated the negative sentiment within the EU about Britain’s reservations, but very rarely explained or even mentioned eurosceptic concerns. On some occasions, BBC Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond, the biggest contributor to Today’s coverage of the revised treaty document, appeared to push the EU perspective on events disproportionately, to the point of bias;
  • The case for a referendum on the new working arrangements – which, according to polls was supported by 80% of the UK electorate - was handled sparsely, unfairly and ineptly. There were only two dedicated interviews on the topic. In each, there were elements that contravened BBC editorial guidelines. James Naughtie treated Ruth Lea, the guest who put the case for a referendum, more toughly than Professor Jo Shaw, who argued against one being held.
  • Coverage of EU affairs in general
  • in the 14 weeks of the survey was mainly outside peak programme listening hours, with evidence that negative EU stories were regularly placed in the 6am-7am slot.

It's a sad comedown for a once great institution that this sort of rubbish goes on. Having said that, it's been going on for some time. You might read Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald to get an idea.


Anonymous said...

Amaze the BBC. Vote online about the EU at Vote Yes or No to Free Europe Constitution.

Colin said...

"James Naughtie treated Ruth Lea, the guest who put the case for a referendum, more toughly than Professor Jo Shaw, who argued against one being held"

"McNaughtie" is a known party member of the BPC and his very presence in the BPC is a beacon to Nu Labor and anti-democracy.

Clovis Sangrail said...

What is the BPC?
All I can find on Google is the British Potato Council and much as I deprecate Naughtie and his overt espousal of Labour I don't regard him as a potato.