By Dr John Sydenham

After 100 years of broadcasting the time has come to change the BBC.

The BBC News is biased.  Bias occurs using four techniques.  The first is to omit a fair summary description of events, the second is to omit news items that offend the views of staff, the third is to select interviewees as "glove puppets" for the views of BBC staff and the last is the presentation of opposing extremes as "fair coverage".  (These biases occur in almost every broadcast - see A log of BBC Bias).

The BBC has ceased to be impartial. Impartiality is achieved by including the events that create a news item without suppressing those events that distract from the narrative preferred by BBC staff.  Unfortunately there is little evidence that BBC staff are performing this duty of impartiality.  Indeed, staff have learned that as long as their preferred subset of the facts is true and they follow the four rules of bias detailed above they can advance any viewpoint without fear of interference from management or regulators.  This use of half truths by the BBC and other UK media is at the root of the damaging polarisation that we see in British society.

The reason that bias has become rife over the past few decades is that Journalists have been trained in the creation of narratives rather than in the provision of accurate descriptions of events.  The narrative writers and their apologists often believe there is no such thing as truth and so nothing can be done about bias.  However, there is clearly such a thing as an accurate description that fairly accounts for events and this is the truth that should concern the BBC.  Something can, and must, be done to ensure that full and accurate descriptions are provided by the BBC rather than one sided narratives.

Fixing the problem of bias

The government should act with the utmost urgency to create an impartial Division of the BBC that is carried on one TV and one Radio channel (BBC Four/Radio 4 + Internet). This new "News Division" would take pride in placing news in a fair context according to a supplementary Charter that holds the new Division to the highest standards.

The new division of the BBC, dedicated to impartiality and fairness, could be kept as a State financed public service broadcaster even if the rest of the BBC is privatised.   True impartiality will never create a widely popular news channel compared with a "narrative" style but it would set a gold standard for the UK news media. Such a goal is the only real justification for a State financed news broadcaster.

The new Charter for the "News Division" should state that impartiality is required and that impartiality entails reporting the events that account for news items with due regard for their proportionate effect. Most importantly  BBC presenters should explain the context of events using a fair and accurate summary description.

A monitoring system should be introduced that ensures items are introduced with a fair summary, that the polarised debate fuelled by suppressing parts of the news is avoided, that glove puppets are never used and deliberately polarised debate between extremes is avoided.  The government should create a contract with the BBC that requires the News Division to produce fair summaries of news items with the underlying full reports for these published online.  The contract should make provision for a committee devoted to enforcing impartiality and a tribunal of three judges for dealing rapidly with  challenges to the Committee that can refer cases to the Courts for breach of contract.   The contract should specify that if the courts find that serious bias has occurred, such as omitting important context and contributory factors, then corrections should be broadcast and the offending staff and managers dismissed.

The problem of the "Fair Summary Description"

Journalists are trained to produce entertaining or eye-catching "narratives" to sell programmes and newspapers.  Narratives are always biased because they start with the intention of excluding the boring bits.

Impartial news reporting is not about narrative, it is about a valid description of events that creates a context and includes the important contributory factors for the news item.  Editors and producers should ensure a fair summary description of events by creating an academic review of the events that includes the relevant parts in proportion to their effect. A brief historical review would usually be needed.  This accurate description would then be honed to fit the time available. 

Many worked examples of how the BBC omits fair summaries are given in the Examples of BBC Bias

Economic predictions should be reported as little as possible, especially where they predict events that are more than 2 years in the future (See for instance GDP predictions are reliable only in the short term (Economist Dec 15th 2018) ).  Reporting economic predictions for the UK economy for 3 or more years in the future is almost always bias because it is accepting the validity of such predictions. 

A small research department would undoubtedly be needed to provide a repository of well researched reviews that can be used for the immediate sourcing of the context of events. The department could also help editors at busy times.  This department would employ scientifically trained staff rather than humanities specialists.

The problem of the seamless combining of news and discussion

The BBC has a policy of eliding the factual News into discussion of the news.  This happens on the TV news and the Radio magazine programmes like "Today".  It is impossible to offer truly impartial news with this programme design so the factual news should always be clearly separated from discussion of the news on the "News Division" channels.  A neutral programme of at least 15 minutes in length should follow the News.  Of course, if BBC journalists were not keen to influence politics the factual news would be sufficient for programmes like "Today".

Outside of the news the "News Division" channels might broadcast documentaries and dramas that adhere to the same high standards as the news.

It is clear that impartialty can be achieved.  Descriptive journalism may be considered by some to be boring compared with narrative journalism but it is essential that somewhere in the media there are accurate descriptions of events.  The other channels of the BBC would be free to operate under the main Charter.  The role of a journalist or presenter on an impartial channel would be to make the descriptions of events and their context as clear as possible so that they can be understood.

Appendix: Some recent examples of the failure to be impartial and to place news in context.

Missing context and facts: When reporting on COP27 there has been almost no mention of the effects of Rio, Paris etc. on measured atmospheric CO2.  The actual atmospheric CO2 concentrations measured at the Mauna Loa observatory suggest these agreements have had little effect.  A discussion of the effectiveness of past agreements to halt CO2 accumulation is an essential part of any news on this issue.

Missing context and facts: When reporting the Chinese threat to Taiwan the fact that this is part of a wider claim by China to the South China Sea from Taiwan to Indonesia is suppressed.  The Chinese military bases on the Spratly Islands etc. are ignored.

Missing context and fair summary: When discussing the NI Protocol there is seldom any mention that the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) requires that a power sharing Assembly should be present in NI and that Section 16 of the NI Protocol deals with the actions that may be taken if the Good Friday Agreement is violated, for instance by the absence of an Assembly.

Missing facts and context: When discussing the shortage of labour in the UK the facts that there are almost as many EU workers in the UK today as before COVID, there are more foreign workers than before COVID and that labour shortages are happening across the EU are suppressed.  There would probably be no ready pool of EU workers even were the UK to have remained in the EU.

Missing context: When reporting the WHO findings on the origin of COVID the fact that one of the lead WHO investigators, Peter Daszak, was heavily involved with the Wuhan Institute of Virology was suppressed. (He was subsequently removed from the Lancet committee on the origins of COVID for this reason).

Missing context: When reporting on historical slavery the role of states in what is now Nigeria is completely suppressed. These states captured and sold slaves and it was only after Britain invaded Nigeria, specifically to tackle slaving, that the mass flow of slaves from Africa was finally stemmed.  About half of black British people have Nigerian origins.

Missing context and facts:  The Current Account Deficit and Trade Deficit with the EU is entirely suppressed in all discussions of the EU.  The major, acute risk of such large deficits is sudden devaluations of the pound. There are many chronic effects.  The Copenhagen Criteria mean that rejoiners and new entrants to the EU must agree to political, monetary and economic union with the EU.  The two words "Copenhagen Criteria" are never mentioned on the BBC even where they are extremely relevant such as in Sturgeon's recent declaration that Scotland might use its own currency after joining the EU - a declaration that was corrected by the EU because of the Copenhagen Criteria.

In every news broadcast there is bias of this type.  The staff seem to be under the misapprehension that the population should be protected from what they consider to be dangerous truths.  An impartial observer would see that what the staff might consider to be dangerous truths are those that contradict their personal political bias.

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