Chris Grayling is right, the BBC is biased. But not in the way he thinks

Another day, another baseless accusation of left-wing bias at the BBC.

Another day, another baseless accusation of left-wing bias is levelled at the BBC, this time by Conservative Cabinet minister Chris Grayling.

In an interview with The House Magazine, Grayling has accused the BBC of not acting in a way that is “right and proper for a public broadcaster” because its workforce is dominated by a “left-leaning, metropolitan group of people who are disproportionately represented there”.

He added that “they’ve been unbalanced in the debate over the years about immigration, about Europe. And I think they’ve wised up to that.”

Grayling is just the latest right-winger to accuse the corporation of harbouring a latent left-wing bias. Like a game of Whac-A-Mole, as soon as you’ve rebutted one lot of this tripe some one else comes along spouting it. Considering the extent to which the US media has been cowed by the accusation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that conservatives this side of the Atlantic have adopted the tactic too.

Just as with Whac-A-Mole, however, it’s important to bash the ‘bias’ accusation with the hammer when it rears its head – the hammer being reason and evidence (and no, I’m not advocating hitting Chris Grayling on the head).

There isn’t a “left-wing bias” at the BBC. In fact, there is a degree of evidence suggesting bias of a quite different sort.

In August 2013, academics at Cardiff University investigated political bias at the BBC. They looked at news coverage from both 2007 and 2012 in order to analyse coverage under both the previous Labour government and the coalition.

Far from left-wing bias, researchers found a clear bias in favour of Tories. Whereas in 2007 Gordon Brown outnumbered David Cameron in appearances by a ratio of two to one, in 2012 David Cameron outnumbered Ed Miliband by nearly four to one. Across the entire period researchers studied, Tory politicians were featured more than 50 per cent more often than Labour ones. The researchers concluded that:

“The evidence is clear that the BBC does not lean to the left it actually provides more space for Conservative voices.”

The same was true of the corporation’s business coverage:

“Opinion was almost completely dominated by stockbrokers, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other City voices. Civil society voices or commentators who questioned the benefits of having such a large finance sector were almost completely absent from coverage. The fact that the City financiers who had caused the crisis were given almost monopoly status to frame debate again demonstrates the prominence of pro-business perspectives.”

This will sound familiar to anyone who has been watching the BBC’s coverage of the tube strike – not to mention the 50p tax proposal announced by Labour a few weeks back, where just about every “captain of industry” was trotted out to doom-monger about the end of capitalism.

Overall I suspect the BBC is actually quite balanced. If it wasn’t, it’s unlikely there would be so many on both left and right ready to deplore its ‘bias’.

39 Responses to “Chris Grayling is right, the BBC is biased. But not in the way he thinks”

  1. Paul Trembath

    The BBC gets accusations from “both sides”. Accusations from the left are supported by facts and evidence. Accusations from the right are supported by political expediency and the sheer horror that left-of-Fascist ideas get an occasional mention. Ergo, the BBC is not biased?

  2. Gary Barker

    The BBC is dominated by left wingers in the same way the teaching profession is i.e. it’s not and this is just right wing spin people love to believe because it sounds like it should be true. Consider this: the chair of the BBC Trust is former Thatcher minister, Chris Patten, the BBC’s chief political editor is the former chair of Oxford Conservatives, Nick Robinson, the BBC’s chief political presenter is also the Chairman of Spectator Magazine, Andrew Neil and the Question Time chair, David Dimbleby is a former member of the Bullingdon Club. Now, please name one more public face of BBC politics if you can? Paxman is just about the only one and he’s hardly a raving lefty. The Tories have the BBC buttoned up and they know it, they just want you to believe their propaganda.

  3. dougthedug

    “Chris Grayling is right, the BBC is biased. But not in the way he thinks”

    True. The BBC is very, very biased against the Yes campaign in Scotland and is really nothing more than the broadcasting arm of Better Together, the formal Labour/Tory alliance in Scotland.

    That’s not an opinion that’s a fact and you can read the study of the bias done by Dr. John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland here.

  4. Sparky

    “Academics at Cardiff University…”

    Oh, the irony.

  5. Sparky

    Yes, but those people aren’t responsible for putting together the 10pm news or the BBC website. Chris Patten doesn’t sit in the news room deciding whether to run a story, or how to write a piece for the homepage. Similarly, Neil and Dimbleby present discussion shows, they aren’t involved in news reporting.

    It’s not a matter of picking out the ‘public faces’ at the BBC and highlighting their individual views, it’s about the editorial teams as a whole that create programmes. It’s with those people that the left-wing bias sits. You only have to chat with these people briefly to realise that they are not Conservative supporters. They are predominantly young, fashionable, West London centric, with left-of-centre sensibilities. No-one I know who has had any dealings with the BBC disagrees with this characterisation.

  6. Ivan_Denisovich

    This is an example of wishful thinking and flawed logic. Bias cannot be simply measured by the number of appearances made by politicians in the news. I am party politically neutral but pretty convinced that the BBC is culturally dominated by middle class metropolitan types with a left wing bias. However, much more worrying in my eyes is its hopeless establishment bias. People who represent government and favoured NGOs are given far more prominence than their contribution usually deserves.

  7. Ivan_Denisovich

    I trust that you are able to support your opinion with “facts and evidence?”

  8. Gary Barker

    Oh so you’re suggesting that all the others behind the only ones we can put a public face to are lefties and they only let us see the right wingers to fool us into thinking the BBC is full of right wing Tory toadies? Oh I see. But hang on, Nick Robinson.. He’s the BBC’s chief political ‘editor’.. So does that mean he doesn’t really edit the political news items? Is that just the lefties fooling us again? Yeah I’m starting to get where you’re coming from. Thanks for the Govesque enlightenment.

  9. Gary Barker

    ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.’

  10. Gary Barker

    Chair of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten, former Thatcher Minister, fact. BBC Chief Political Editor, Nick Robinson, former chairman of Oxford Conservatives, fact. BBC Chief Political Presenter, Andrew Neil, Chairman of right wing Tory supporting publication, The Spectator, fact. Your turn, Ivan.

  11. Gareth Millward

    Balance means trying desperately to find either centre ground or giving equal air time to different sides of an argument. In such a position, anyone who disagrees with majority opinion in any form is going to see the BBC as biased. Which is pretty much anyone with strong political opinions on anything.

  12. Sue Jones

    It can be measured also by what is omitted- NOT reported – as much as it can by looking at what is covered and included

  13. Andy

    You put up evidence that clearly shows the Conservatives Party gets favourable treatment from the BBC & then say overall you think the BBC is balanced.

    This is part of the problem. Right wingers complain endlessly about non existent liberal bias at the BBC, whereas left wingers seem reluctant to complain even when they’re getting shafted.

    The squeaky wheel gets the oil. The constant complaining from right wingers does affect the BBC’s output. That’s why they do it. That’s why over the last few years so many ex Conservative activists & right wing hacks have been given pivotal jobs at the BBC.

  14. Ivan_Denisovich

    Forgive me Gary. I thought that Paul was talking about accusations based on ideas. I do realise that in your tribal world, anyone who isn’t for you is against you but I prefer to base my views on what people actually say rather than what tribe they belonged to previously. It is quite easy to come up with examples such as “Red” Andy Marr to counter your argument but surely we would be better off judging the BBC on its content and I sincerely doubt that Chris Patten has much say in that.

  15. Andy

    Imagine the whinging from right wingers if a left wing journalist presented as many political shows as Andrew Neil. He’s hardly a model of impartiality is he, & nor is Nick Robinson.

  16. Ivan_Denisovich

    And if 10 reports show Cameron in a bad light whereas just two covering Milliband are positive…

    I am not saying that this happens. I am just pointing out that the method is intrinsically flawed so useless in this context.

  17. Gary Barker

    Oh I see, you weren’t looking for facts at all. You were just saying, say something I’ll dismiss. Perhaps you could provide evidence to support your claim that Andrew Marr is “Red”, as I have done with all my examples, besides of course ‘because he is, ner ner’.

  18. Gary Barker

    Did you not read, Sparky’s enlightening post? Neil and Robinson are only there to fool us into thinking the BBC is right wing, while the rest of the BBC (all faceless lefties), pull their strings and he knows this because all his mates, who can’t be left wing, who work at the BBC, tell him so. But hang on.. If Sparky’s mates aren’t left wing and work at the BBC and only left wingers work at the BBC, how does that work? Sparky.. Help! Those insidious lefties under the bed have made me pretend I’ve found a flaw in your argument..

  19. Matthew Blott

    I agree. I wish more on our side would point this rather than just proclaim it isn’t left-wing. As a strategy stressing the impartiality of the BBC is ineffective as Tories will always retort “well they would say that wouldn’t they”. I hate the way political debate is conducted in this country but we are where we are and you need to make a lot of noise unfortunately. As the saying goes, a lie is half way round the world before the truth has its boots on.

  20. Andy

    Andrew Marr – who in the run up to the 2010 election asked Gordon Brown whether he was addicted to painkillers, based on something he’d read on a blog.

    Then the following week asked David Cameron “You’re on a roll aren’t you?”

    Yeah, a real “Red”.

  21. Sparky

    Nowhere did I say that ‘my mates work at the BBC’. That’s how it works.

  22. Gary Barker

    Oh yes silly me, you said this ‘No-one I know who has had any dealings with the BBC disagrees with this characterisation’, thank you for helping me discredit the nasty lefties under the bed who were trying to subvert your perfectly fact based argument of somebody Ii know said this and that proves it as fact.

  23. trollthriller

    If you have better evidence all you need to is produce it.

    Your anecdotes do not data make.

  24. Cole

    Espect more of this nonsense from the government. They’re just trying to intimidate the BBC in the run-up to the election. Not too difficult to figure out what they’re doing.

  25. Ivan_Denisovich

    I agree that anecdotes do not data make. I never said that they did. I simply pointed out that number of appearances is not necessarily indicative of bias and provided one logical and reasonable argument as to why that might not be the case. I don’t really care about tribal politics nor the desperation of those who practice it to interpret any data that they can find in a manner that suits their cause. I do worry about the BBC’s establishment bias which I think is more important than any alleged left or right bias and I do agree with Sue Jones above.

  26. trollthriller

    Next time bring data.

    Your assertion of “People who represent government and favoured NGOs are given far more prominence than their contribution usually deserves” proves baseless.

  27. Ivan_Denisovich

    Or what? You will throw me in the gulag?

    My observation is not proved either way. Your disagreement and your demands do not constitute proof.

    At the risk of appearing repetitive, the data behind the claim in this post don’t prove it as simplistic statistics rarely do. I have made that point and advanced an alternative theory as to why both left and right claim bias.

    Are you over 16?

  28. trollthriller

    You have advanced a notion without any substantiating evidence. That is called “fiction”.

    I am over 16. So I’m now at risk of being accused of conducting internet paedophilia with you as your reasoning demonstrates you’re not.

  29. Ivan_Denisovich

    Not providing substantiating evidence on demand to aggressive ideologues is not he same thing as not having it.

  30. trollthriller

    Sir does not require a larger blade on his spade. Sir should cease digging.

  31. RoyBoffy

    I’d love to know what an “unbiased” BBC would look like according to Grayling & Co. A bit like Fox News maybe?

  32. Ivan_Denisovich

    Andy Marr has himself said that he was known as Red Andy at Cambridge University because of his far left politics at that time. I don’t dislike the man nor do I find him especially biased, which is the relatively simple point that I was trying to make to Gary. I judge Marr on what I observe, not on his previous history as a socialist activist. I take the same approach with Nick Robinson and Andrew Neal.

    I agree that the Gordon Brown painkillers thing was not Marr’s finest hour and he has admitted to it being his biggest regret in a Guardian interview. Making a mistake does not make him a Tory.

  33. treborc1

    Blair is a socialist, Brown was a socialist, Miliband is a socialist and so is the BBC dear god if these people are socialist then so was Thatcher.
    New labour, Blue Labour and One Nation Labour are all built on the ideology of conservatism.

    The idea that MIliband for god sake is to the left is laughable, and the BBC will always follow the ideology of the party in power.

  34. blarg1987

    Well the BBC had the same number of complaints from left and right winger people about the bias of Thatchers funeral so one can conclude it is around about middle.

    You can’t really say that other media outlets are shining examples of political neautrality, how many newspapers or other news channels report heavily on their own internal scandals? Dd we hear the Mail scutinise Paul Dacres pay increase after the Ralph Miliband controversy? Sky News on the Murdochs possible involvement in phone hacking etc?

    If you think the BBC is left wing what do you consider channel 4’s views? considering they in some programmes they do could be considered more left wing?

  35. blarg1987

    What we should ask is not if the BBC has left Wing bias, but have other media outlets become more right wing over the decades.

    The results would be interesting to see as from this an informed discussion can be had and we should ask why this is happening is it people with money buying up papers for ideological and political gain.

    Or are we becomming more right wing as a nation out of choice etc.

  36. Peter Wild

    Was it the Telegraph’s left wing bias in operation when they revealed Chris Grayling got the tax payer to pay for his flat because 17 miles to Epsom was too much of a commute?

  37. Fuzzles

    “Overall I suspect the BBC is actually quite balanced. If it wasn’t, it’s unlikely there would be so many on both left and right ready to deplore its ‘bias’.”
    The BBC refused to run a DEC appeal for those in Palestine a few years back, after a huge attack because they said because of politics and didnt want israel to look bad. So nope gonna have to disagree, not balanced at all.

  38. Amazinglyso

    The BBC has only just recently begun broadcasting lightly-socialist footed political debates whilst the rest of their television programmes, conservative period dramas. Many people associate left-wing political values with fundamentalist communism yet is nothing more than anti wealth-inequality protestors, myself included. How can something of tantamount Left Foot Forwardness be so equality-biased and yet so media divided by forgotten social class division is beyond me.

  39. Fur Beasty

    Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a “one-nation Tory”.

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