This piece is not to have some kneejerk defence of the BBC because I am of a liberal persuasion. I am also not a media and communications expert. This is my armchair appraisal of the BBC, and most pertinently, its news programming.
My appreciation for the BBC came when I first watched the superb award-winning documentary The Corporation. For anyone who hasn’t watched it, watch it:
In it, there is a segment on what happens to news when it is compromised by corporate money (in the example, if I recall correctly, it was FOX News doing an investigative report on Monsanto who then threatened to pull their advertising, so they didn’t show it and it ended in a court case with the reporters). From this, I realised that news and information is so easily compromised by money. When information concerns elections or health or science, things get serious.
I came to think that if you lose something like the BBC, you lose a lot. More than you might think. This is why I am happy to pay for the licence fee every year.
The BBC is constrained by its charter:
The BBC Charter is a royal charter setting out the arrangements for the governance of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
An accompanying agreement recognises its editorial independence and sets out its public obligations in detail.
The initial BBC Charter established the BBC in 1926, and has been renewed upon expiry ever since. It and each subsequent royal charter has run for ten years, except for the charter from 2006 to 2017, which ran for eleven years.
It was run by the BBC Trust, but the regulatory function recently moved to the regulator, Ofcom:
The BBC Trust was the governing body of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) between 2007 and 2017. It was operationally independent of BBC management and external bodies, and its stated aim was to make decisions in the best interests of licence-fee payers. On 12 May 2016, it was announced in the House of Commons that, under the next Royal Charter, the regulatory functions of the BBC Trust were to be transferred to Ofcom.
Ofcom can have teeth. For example, in FOX News’ failed attempt to set up in the UK, when they were only getting 1000 viewers a day, they were fined twice by Ofcom:
Murdoch also briefly brought Fox News to a bemused Britain. The US channel gained fewer than 1,000 UK viewers a day and was twice fined by Ofcom in 2017, once for the way frontman Sean Hannity commented on Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In other words, the BBC is bound by regulatory frameworks and organisations, and a charter, that codify its objectivity and impartiality in a way that other news organisations aren’t. An interesting Newsweek article on the subject included:
A study carried out by researchers at Cardiff University, who analysed BBC news coverage from 2007 and 2012, concluded that conservative opinions received more airtime than progressive ones. However, those findings contradict a 2013 report by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank which claimed that the corporation is biased towards the left.
On balance, the evidence supports the BBC’s claim of impartiality, albeit with occasional missteps. In its 2018 report on the BBC, broadcasting regulator Ofcom examined 69 complaints of alleged bias and concluded that none were in breach of the due impartiality requirements of the Broadcasting Code.
However, bias is often heavily subjective and thus difficult to measure. What is certain is that more and more British viewers are losing their faith in the BBC as the high watermark of impartial public service broadcasting.
The reason all this is important is because it doesn’t make the BBC just another state broadcaster, like RT is for Russia abroad – a propaganda station for the Russian state. Instead, the BBC is independently controlled and regulated – i.e., it is independent from the government – and it is independent from corporations, their power and their money. This means that it should be one of the best cases of news independence around.
I recently posted a media bias chart that broadly placed the BBC in the centre and I claimed that the BBC was about as close to the centre as you could reasonably expect it to be. I was met with this comment in the thread from 90Lew90, to which I will react interlinearly (I’m not wholly certain of their definite political persuasion):
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