Towards a one-party culture in the media

We should all be concerned that not only is this a populist government, but they are using Boris to ensure that the media sees every event from their point of view, thus brainwashing people into thinking that any criticism is not to be taken seriously. We have long complained about lack of attention to the Lib-Dem leader, but we should be concerned about the lack of attention to the Labour leader too. Conservatives are intent on squeezing any challenge to the margins, including a diminishing of the independence of the BBC and the case of Martin Bashir and Lord Hall gives them the ammunition they need.

We must learn from what happened over Brexit when, for over a decade, the Brexiteers worked hard at getting more of the public on their side. We assumed that they so distorted the truth that people would see through them, but they did not, mainly because they spoke to people’s basic emotions.

We have seen the bias in comments about Dominic Cummings’ appearance before the select committee on 27th May, slanting it to the first Covid wave and Dominic’s own lack of credibility, rather than focussing properly on what actually happened, especially in subsequent events.  Before that ‘interview’ I wrote a letter to my local paper and it was published on 26th May:

The most worrying result of Martin Bashir’s method of getting the interview with Princess Diana is the lift it gives to this Conservative government and enemies of the BBC. The previous staff at the BBC failed to investigate properly and Martin was also wrong to use deception to get the interview. On the other hand, In the previous year Prince Charles had done an interview admitting his adultery and Princess Diana was itching for an interview having previously tried to get one with the Daily Telegraph. Then after the famous interview she stated she had firmly agreed to it and had no regrets.

Martin Bashir broke the BBC’s own guidelines and the BBC has changed its governance structure twice since then. So there is no reason to radically alter its status or reduce support as a national independent broadcaster.

The public need to be more aware of the huge campaign going on by Boris Johnson and many Conservatives to increase the already right-wing influence of so much of our media. They are using Royalty as one of their means to achieve this.  The new Chair, Director-General and a senior Board member are all  rich donors to the Conservative Party, two new media channels are being set up by right wing wealthy people and the PM wants Paul Dacre, extreme right-winger of the Daily Mail, to be head of Ofcom, the media regulator. They are embedding a one-party culture.

This trend took off when Brexiteers accused the BBC of bias; that was nonsense, because they always presented both views and gave huge airtime to Nigel Farage. In fact they did not do enough to allow Remainers to challenge what Brexiteers were saying. The PM complains about Bashir’s deception, yet he himself was sacked from the Times newspaper over allegations he fabricated quotes, lied to the people during the Brexit campaign and has continued to deceive on major issues such as test and trace and new border rules.

Perhaps the most important institution that needs to change its ways is not the BBC but government, to prevent deception by ministers and better represent the people.

* Nigel Jones is currently secretary of Newcastle under Lyme Liberal Democrats and the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Education Association.

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  • Russell Simpson 3rd Jun '21 - 11:46am

    That’s what you get with fptp producing stonking majorities. I’d like to see the Libdems actively campaigning for proportional representation! The subject is hardly ever raised. And please refer to Johnson as Johnson and not Boris!

  • Barry Lofty 3rd Jun '21 - 12:34pm

    Nigel Jones: A very timely article it echoes my thoughts entirely, what to do about it is another thing. I have written on numerous occasions to my daily paper the “I”, now I know it is not the Telegraph, Times or Guardian, but they purport to be somewhat independent of political influence and have several contributors who attack this right wing government, they have printed a couple of my letters on this subject but the coverage of the Lib Dems is still rather scent. I find the public’s seemingly excepting of Johnson’s brand of con tricks rather bewildering but as someone has said before, as long as I am alright Jack why bother! that is until it does matter, the immediate future on many fronts, is very worrying.

  • Roger Roberts 3rd Jun '21 - 2:55pm

    A further concern is the demise of local and regional newspapers. These were vital in keeping local communities in touch with each other and promoting local activities. With advertising revenue diverted to the tv and other media the locals find it hard to survive. The sales have plunged and often local stories have been replaced by pages of puzzles and competitions. Local newspapers, weekly or daily were essential guardians of local democracy and providers of opportunity for those who wished to enter the ranks of journalism. Is outside funding necessary or how else do we prevent the loss of so valuable a part of our lives?

  • The BBC is “overwhelmingly” biased against the UK’s decision to leave the EU…

    ‘Civitas paper lays bare 18 years of BBC anti Brexit bias’ [January 2018]:

    News-watch has been monitoring BBC output since the European Parliamentary elections in 1999. This work is based on rigorous academic principles followed by university media schools around the world. There are 38 reports covering hundreds of hours of EU output and 8,000 programme transcripts, and it is believed to be the largest systematic study of the media ever undertaken.

    The key findings, which show that supporters of withdrawal from across the political spectrum have been severely under-presented, include:

    Of 4,275 survey-period guests talking about the EU on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
    In 274 hours of monitored BBC EU coverage between 2002 and 2017, only 14 speakers (0.2 per cent of the total) were left-wing advocates for leaving the EU, and they spoke only 1,680 words.
    In the same period, Tory pro-EU grandees Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine made between them 28 appearances, with contributions totalling 11,208 words – over nine times the amount of airtime allocated to all left-wing supporters of Brexit.
    In Today’s business news covering the six months after the EU referendum, only 10 (2.9 per cent) of 366 speaker contributions were from supporters of withdrawal from the EU.
    More recently, in October-November last year, of 68 non politically allied speakers in the Brexit-related coverage on on Today, 52 were anti-Brexit or pro-EU, and only 16 were pro-Brexit or anti-EU, an imbalance of worse than 3:1 – despite the Leave vote.

    Of course, measuring bias is not solely about numbers. They are one factor among many in News-watch assessment methodology.
    The News-watch reports also include detailed textual analysis which confirms that these blatant numerical imbalances are indicators of across-the-board bias against EU withdrawal.

    ‘The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation?’:

  • In May 2019 the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme listed the top 10 panellists by number of appearances. All 10 were pro-EU. Most of them campaigned to join the euro: Kenneth Clarke – 59, Shirley Williams – 58, Menzies Campbell – 46, Harriet Harman – 45, Charles Kennedy – 44, Clare Short – 39, Michael Heseltine – 38, Påddy Ashdown – 37, Roy Hattersley – 36, Simon Hughes – 34.

    BBC Question Time:

  • Brad Barrows 3rd Jun '21 - 4:33pm

    We need to be honest – the Liberal Democrats get as much coverage as a 4th place parliamentary party, with 11MPs out of a parliament of 650, deserves.

  • Barry Lofty 3rd Jun '21 - 7:41pm

    Brad Burrows: to be perfectly honest I do not agree!!

  • Nigel Jones 3rd Jun '21 - 8:45pm

    @Jeff: We must take your ‘evidence’ from News Watch with a huge pinch of salt. As you say, the statistics (even if reliable) are far from the complete picture of what has been going on. More importantly, News Watch according to its website, is explicitly against the BBC license fee, against the EU, against recognition of the fight against climate change, against electric cars, against wokes etc.. It opposes having programmes like Question Time and most of all against Newsnight. Newsnight is the one programme where people with differing views have the opportunity to explain them and even pitch against each other, i.e. debate. So News Watch is not really in favour of better debate on the BBC, but quite the contrary they want their biassed views to be hear far more.
    My view expressed above is based on what many other commentators have been saying and my own regular viewing of BBC TV News in particular, but also Newsnight, Question Time and Radio 4.
    As to the analysis of Question Time, the ‘evidence’ is virtually meaningless in recent years. The Statistics is ‘ever’ appeared and that programme has been running since 1970s. On Twitter, I notice that someone has analysed that since 2010 the two most frequently appearing people have been Nigel Farage and Dianne Abbott.
    I also note that some months ago, Huw Edwards (of BBC NEWS) wrote a strongly worded piece in the Independent declaring that BBC News have given equal coverage to Brexiteers and Remainers. As to the actual impact of the BBC’s output, that both Remainers and Brexiteers have been heard condemning it for bias against them is of some significance.

  • John Peters 3rd Jun '21 - 10:40pm

    In my lifetime the BBC has changed from being a respected news source to being a failed broadcaster. I no longer trust the BBC to be truthful or impartial.

    I will continue to support defund the BBC.

  • @John Peters – Has it occurred to you, that your view has been deliberately shaped over the decades by successive Conservative governments, who in the main have been anti-BBC?

  • Nigel Jones 4th Jun '21 - 12:08am

    @Roland; you make one of my main points of worry, that Conservatives are increasingly striving to ensure bias in favour of their approach to society is constantly put out in the media. Hence by repetition, drip, drip, distortions of facts and selection of information, more people become sympathetic to the Conservative view. This can only be overcome with frequent free and open sources of information and properly conducted debate.
    I personally think the BBC can improve on this, if set free from powerful Conservative influence, but in recent years they have at least had the Reality Fact Checking pages on their website. Likewise the occasional Radio 4 programme. Unfortunately, only a small number of people see or listen to those, but it shows an important element of their ethos that is vital to maintain and needs to expand to reach a wider audience.

  • Antony Watts 4th Jun '21 - 8:53am

    So it all comes down yet again, to Brexit, pro-EU or against membership.

    This debate will never end until UK wakes up and joins the world. Where our dutiful place in among European nations, and that the way to be there is the European Union. Here we can be influential and strong. Outside we are weak and useless – I despair.

  • David Goble 4th Jun '21 - 9:29am

    The reason that the Prime Minister and his Government remains so popular is, in my view, simply that they say what people want to hear! Mr Johnson has made this his life’s work, first as a journalist, where he wrote what his target audience wanted to read, and now in politics. He does not bother with the truth; the truth can, at times, be inconvenient. He has never had to be held to account for his views or decisions; this, in time, may be his undoing.

  • Barry Lofty 4th Jun '21 - 9:44am

    Nigel Jones: Interesting to see a letter from you in today’s “I” newspaper on education!!!

  • Nigel Jones 3rd Jun ’21 – 8:45pm:
    We must take your ‘evidence’ from News Watch with a huge pinch of salt.

    The facts speak for themselves: BBC News and current affairs programmes are dominated by pro-EU remain supporters. Since leaving the BBC, John Humphrys has been notably illuminating…

    ‘John Humphrys says BBC ‘simply could not grasp’ why anyone would vote for Brexit in new memoir’ [September 2019]:

    In the book, called A Day Like Today, he adds: “Bosses, almost to a man and woman, could simply not grasp how anyone could have put a cross in the Leave box on the referendum ballot paper.

    “I’m not sure the BBC as a whole ever quite had a real grasp of what was going on in Europe, or of what people in this country thought about it.”

    Humphrys describes the BBC as being terrified of offending “‘fashionable pressure groups – usually from the liberal left, the spiritual home of most bosses and staff”.

    Here’s another independent analysis…

    ‘IEA analysis shows systemic bias against ‘Leave’ supporters on flagship BBC political programmes’ [January 2018]:

    Given the referendum result was 52% for Leave, this cohort does seem to be badly under-represented on both programmes. The analysis looked at 578 panellists across a prolonged period of time, indicating a systemic bias.

    The imbalance on the two programmes is substantial, consistent and at odds with public opinion. The analysis reveals a two to one bias in favour of those who voted for Remain.

    Brexit is probably the most defining issue of the UK policy debate at present and as such should be vital in balance. For the vast majority of both programmes, Brexit has been the most dominant issue discussed on both programmes. Both shows appear to accept the predominance of Brexit as an issue, but by the selection of panellists seem to attach a low priority to balancing the panel on the topic.

  • Nigel Jones 3rd Jun ’21 – 8:45pm:
    As to the analysis of Question Time, the ‘evidence’ is virtually meaningless in recent years.

    It’s hardly “meaningless” when almost all episodes are dominated by remain voting panelists. It’s biased.

    ‘Has Question Time been unfairly dominated by Remainers?’ [April 2019]:

    Only one episode, the 8th of the year, featured more Brexiters than Remainers on the panel. The 20th episode of the year featured no Brexiters at all. Remarkably, there were 13 episodes with only one Brexiter on the panel.

    In 2018, the Question Time panel featured 131 Remainers and 64 Brexiters – a bigger imbalance than 2017.

    From the start of 2017 to the time of writing of this article, Question Time has featured 303 Remainers and 152 Brexiters, a bias of roughly 2:1. It is clear that although the country voted to Leave, and polls have not moved materially since the vote, Brexiters have been chronically underepresented on the UK’s premier politics and debating programme.

    I also note that some months ago, Huw Edwards (of BBC NEWS) wrote a strongly worded piece in the Independent declaring that BBC News have given equal coverage to Brexiteers and Remainers.

    I can’t find that; only his defence of the BBC News coverage of the 2019 General Election.

  • I once regarded the BBC as a mayor UK asset and had immense pride in the organisation. Over several decades the BBC has destroyed itself from within. It is bloated with highly paid executives who have been recruiting in their own image for generations with the consequence that the Corporation has become dominated by London centric group think and has lost touch with its national audience.

    This unhealthy culture has produced a series of senior executives who have demonstrated an inability to grasp the realities of the real world. The Bashir interview and Jimmy Saville fiasco, are examples of clear wrongdoing where the managemebt should have acted immediately and decisively. Instead, the there was a continuity of turning a blind eye and denial for a decade or more.

    I stopped watching Newsnight about five years ago because the bias of the programme editors was obvious in the choice of content and presentation. The personal views of the presenters became very obviuos too. I exoect our national broadcaster to be impartial as required by its charter. Gradually I watched less and less of the BBC and today I only watch the news bulletins. I shall probably switch to GB news next week. I no longer listen to BBC radio and do bot use the website.

    I am still required to fund the organisation or face a criminal record.

  • George Thomas 5th Jun '21 - 5:57pm

    This version of the Tory party isn’t so much a “one nation Conservative party” as a “one party, Conservative, nation”. They’re also English nationalist hiding behind the more acceptable union flag to attack devolution and the rights of devolved nations.

    The question the LD’s need to answer is i) how do you stop Tories winning in England and therefore winning in Westminster? and ii) if you cannot stop an anti-democratic, anti-devolution, anti-EU government winning Westminster, how long until you start to become curious about independence from Westminster?

  • Barry Lofty 5th Jun '21 - 6:10pm

    I think our country is on a very dangerous path at this present time, in my very humble opinion, although it seems there are many who seem to think otherwise.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Jun '21 - 8:27pm

    Nigel, thank you for keeping up the fight for honest and truthful information to be produced by the Media, local and national. It’s daunting to think of the BBC management now, but the Radio 4 daily programs and Newsnight do keep up the standard we want, it seems to me, as does Channel 4 – and it’s good still to have Andrew Marr every Sunday morning.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Jun '21 - 1:44pm

    The Conservatives like their calculators. They know how many voters they need to secure another majority under FPTP. They make life easy for themselves by focusing on votes, not principles, values or implications. Luckily there is still a majority for reasonableness though collaboration and some passion will be required for it win.

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