Stop slagging off this national treasure, says Emma Bartley – you’ll miss it when it’s gone
I really hope Laura Kuenssberg has never visited her page on YouGov. The BBC political editor has a “positivity score” of -29, down from zero last November – which is to say that no one’s ever liked her, and now quite a lot of people actively dislike her.
So what’s their problem? Helpfully, YouGov tells us that Kuenssberg is seen as “biased”, “irritating” and “sneering”. This may be down to her being a woman who talks about politics: her predecessor Nick Robinson gets positivity of +25. But even Robinson is seen by his critics as “biased”.
With Twitter hashtags like #BBCbias, #BBCleftwingbias, #bbccorbynbias and even #BBCequalsfakenews now popping up daily, the idea seems to be taking hold in some quarters that the BBC is somehow trying to manipulate viewers and listeners.
If I were writing about this as a BBC journalist I’d have to investigate in a fair and balanced way, because the BBC’s Charter and Agreement dictate that it has to be impartial. “Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected,” say its editorial guidelines.
Happily, though, I’m just the founder of an obscure political blog, which means I’m able to start with the hypothesis that “saying stuff people don’t like” isn’t the same as “being biased”. And then to phone up everyone I know who’s ever worked for the BBC and ask them why they think everyone reckons they’ve got an agenda.
“I’m always extremely sceptical of BBC bias claims as everyone I worked with was generally too professional to cross that line,” says a former employee who now works for a rival broadcaster. “The ultimate measure for me was always that both sides in politics would always claim we were biased against them – a sign that we must have been sat in the middle.”
This does seem to be backed up by two of the most recent comments about Laura Kuenssberg on YouGov. “She appears to have a biased view, which favours the Conservative Party, especially against Labour,” says one. “Who does this woman work for – the BBC or the Labour Party?” asks another… FFS.
Another producer talks about keeping a “mental log” of who has had what coverage during an election and taking steps to balance it out so that if, for example, the SNP’s Alex Salmond appears on a current affairs show, then the Scottish Conservatives’ leader Ruth Davidson will get airtime within a few days. “There’s a whole department here called editorial policy that we talk to before we do anything political about the weighting of stuff. People will look for an opportunity to kick broadcasters for not being impartial so you make sure you don’t give them a leg to stand on.”
After a while of listening to this sort of thing, I begin to find the neutrality of BBC people slightly irritating – it’s like watching someone taking a pounding in the boxing ring and not even try to fight back. Stand up for yourselves! I want to shout. Don’t you want to tell the Greens where to stick their letter whining about how you spent more time talking about the complete collapse of UKIP in the local elections than covering their modest gains BECAUSE THE VIRTUAL DISAPPEARANCE OF THE PARTY THAT HAS DOMINATED OUR AGENDA IN RECENT YEARS IS CLEARLY FAR MORE RELEVANT TO THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE AND ANYONE WHO DOESN’T REALISE THAT NEEDS TO BE BANNED FROM WRITING OFFICIAL COMPLAINTS UNTIL THEY’VE PASSED GCSE POLITICS? Do you people even know where to find the Caps Lock key?
Finally, one of them does concede a criticism of certain Corbynistas – but even this is disappointingly empathetic. “With some people around Jeremy Corbyn a narrative has taken hold that they’re victims of media bias, which I suppose is easier than facing the fact that their leadership isn’t up to running an effective campaign,” says one. “You can’t get anyone from the Labour Party press office on the phone after about 4pm.”
And yes, I can see that it’s very understandable for people to see reports that don’t reflect their own views, or their friends’, and conclude that this means those reports are biased. Perhaps it’s not even worth engaging with them: we know they’re wrong.
Except that the last time an institution that had huge benefits for my country started getting blamed for everything, keeping quiet and rolling my eyes didn’t really work out for me. So let’s spell out the case for the BBC: while a lot of state broadcasters exist only as a propaganda feed for an oppressive government, here in the UK we are lucky to have one whose only purpose is to inform, educate and entertain us. When more than half of us still view it as our most trusted source of news, I do wonder whether the angry hashtaggers and letter-writers will miss it when it’s gone.
In an odd way, the BBC’s professionalism is its biggest problem: people wouldn’t get quite so upset about what it says if they didn’t know that it has tremendous credibility. And its journalists are too worried about compromising their integrity to descend into the fray.
So it’s down to the rest of us to protect this important public service – if not our democracy. The next time you see the BBC and its employees accused of bias, why not come up with a fair and measured response – such as LEAVE KUENSSBERG ALONE, SOMEONE HAS TO ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS, or WHAT’S YOUR ALTERNATIVE – SKY NEWS? Or a nice, simple NO IT F*^%ING WELL ISN’T YOU MUPPETS.
Emma Bartley founded votesbywomen.com before she concluded from Jill Dando’s YouGov positivity score (+60) that the best way for a woman is to say nothing about anything. Oh, well