On Thursday I clicked on a link on Reddit which was supposedly a blog about how the BBC had arranged for Shadow Foreign Office minister Stephen Doughty to resign live on its Daily Politics programme just before Prime Minister’s Questions (or to be completely accurate, 4 minutes after he had resigned by email). I got a 404 error, so found a cached version via Google. I thought the contents of the blog were interesting enough to share on my blog, which I did here. Being honest, I did think a lot of people would be annoyed by the story as I was, but I never expected the reaction it got. Pretty quickly, people starting retweeting the blog and in 24 hours, this blog got more page views than it got in the whole of last year. The story was reported on the websites of most of the newspapers and it has now ultimately resulted in the Labour Party putting into a complaint to the BBC about the way it reported Doughty’s resignation.
Reaction to the story was quite mixed. Again, being honest, it was mostly divided along the lines of whether or not you support Jeremy Corbyn or not. If you don’t support Corbyn, you probably didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
One observation I would make is that political journalists in particular thought this was a total non-story. Their basic reation was “So what? That’s just good journalism”. I think the main reason for that is that they have inside knowledge about how journalism works, particularly in politics. Those of us who aren’t journalists, although we may suspect this is how things are done, don’t know for sure, and so this episode was a certain drawing back of the curtain, and what we saw, we didn’t like.
I think my settled view on this now is that if any other news organisation had reported Doughty’s resignation in this way, I would be annoyed, but accept that they had the right to report it in that way and concede it was a good scoop. In general, I think the closeness between political journalists and politicians is too close. They seem to feed off each other and it often seems to result in reporters collaborating with politicians to make the news rather than just reporting it. Perhaps this is the way it has to be, but I don’t like it. In this instance though, it was the BBC who engineered the ‘scoop’ and I – and it seems many others – believe the BBC should be held to a higher standard than other media who have no duty of impartiality. For this reason, I think it was a mistake for them to collude with Doughty over the timing of his resignation.
But does this episode demonstrate the BBC has a pro-Tory, or right wing bias? A lot of people point out that the BBC’s leading political staff are sympathetic to the Conservative Party, but I’m not sure that’s enough to demonstrate bias to one party. To me it seems to have a pro-establishment bias, backing a very narrow set of agreed ‘moderate’ ideas and policies, and being unable to cover anything outside of that very narrow range objectively. Ultimately, this seems to mean they cover whoever is in government more favourably – at least when New Labour was up against the Conservative Party.
The problem now though is that Jeremy Corbyn falls outside of the narrow range considered ‘moderate’ (as do UKIP, the SNP and Eurosceptic Tories), and so we see the BBC taking a clear line of giving so called ‘moderates’ within the Labour Party plenty of opportunity to say uncomplimentary things about their leader. In the same way, their coverage favoured the ‘No’ campaign during the Indy Referendum and when the EU referendum gets under way, the BBC will put its weight fully behind the ‘remain’ campaign. That’s just what the BBC is, and while Labour’s recent complaint may have an impact on the BBC’s output, it will never give Corbyn a fair hearing.
That’s the last I’m planning to say on this subject here. Normal service will resume shortly both in terms of content, and, I strongly suspect, in terms of page views!