Here’s an admission which will doubtless cheer the Chairman of the Conservative party : I work for the BBC and I’m biased.
Every day, I do my best to ensure that I do everything possible to protect my employer, and its main source of income. I’m proud to take sides when it comes to defending the licence fee. Yep, biased through and through.
Before I continue, I should put this into context. Because despite my fierce support for what critics call the “TV tax” these are my own views, and not those of the BBC. Because anything else might be seen as biased.
Confused? Well, me too. But not surprised to see a senior member of the Government suggesting that the licence fee could be scaled back unless the BBC behaves exactly as he’d like it to.
Grant Shapps has expressed concern about transparency within some of the BBC’s processes, in particular citing the huge payoffs given to some former executives. Well I’m as concerned as he is. It’s the kind of argument that’s easy to win, and makes a cheap headline.
What’s harder to argue – and even more difficult to measure – is Mr Shapps’ claims of bias within the way the BBC reports news stories. Curiously, he finds himself in agreement with some of the more vocal campaigners on the Left, who say the Corporation virtually ignored the debate on the passage of the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament.
The trouble with “bias” is that the term is often confused with “balance” – and the notion that some people have that broadcast news should somehow represent both sides of the story in equal measure. A few weeks ago a local councillor complained on Twitter that the BBC’s coverage of the teachers’ strike was unbalanced because a report focussed on a mum who was angry at having to keep her children off school for the day. The reality was that it made a great picture story for TV. When combined with the extensive reporting on local radio, online and network outlets, the overall reporting couldn’t have been more balanced.
Grant Shapps is no stranger to crying foul at large organisations. Last month he complained to the United Nations for publishing a report that suggested the Spare Room Subsidy (Bedroom Tax) was in breach of human rights.
Such “warnings” about the BBC by the presiding Government of the day are nothing new, not least in the run up to an election. But Mr Shapps’ comments are also timely, as the Corporation starts the journey towards Charter Renewal. This ancient process is done in tandem with deciding a new Licence Fee settlement.
It’s interesting that Grant Shapps has chosen to suggest that the BBC has somehow failed to modernise and is stuck in the last century. Perhaps he’s forgotten the current settlement – penned by his own party – which saw a triple whammy of a Licence Fee freeze, coupled with 20% cuts across the organisation and the Foreign Office offloading the entire World Service operation to the Corporation to be funded by, yep you guessed it, the frozen Licence Fee.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not pleading poverty. And thanks to some pretty robust campaigning, the audience probably hasn’t noticed the effect of the cuts. Apart from a networked show on local radio each evening, fewer unique stories to each region for the current affairs stand Inside Out and the decimation of regional reporters for Five Live. I could give you plenty more examples.
I can live with attacks from all sides of the political spectrum when it comes to funding. But suggesting – through an article in a newspaper that supports your side – that there’s a real issue of bias is simply nonsense. Every day, I have calls and emails from people attempting to steer an angle on stories. I’d like to think I handle it all with due impartiality.
Even if the presiding Government is holding a gun to my head.