By Dr John Sydenham  10/1/2023

In recent years there has been considerable political unrest after democratic votes such as the EU Referendum and the 2020 US Presidential Election.  This unrest is the result of changes to the regulation of the media between 1987 and 2010 in both the UK and USA that allowed mainstream media providers to polarize issues. 

In 1987 the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the "Fairness Doctrine" which had obliged broadcasters to present fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues of interest to their communities (see Note 1 below).  All the provisions related to the doctrine had gone by 2011.

The net effect of these changes is that politics in the USA is now polarised as the mainstream media take sides in every debate.  The Democrats are the mainstream media party and the Republicans are the anti-mainstream-media party. This is very evident from recent opinion polling:

A similar change has occurred in the UK.  The BBC had gained its reputation for impartiality because its Charter contained elaborate provisions for  "Broadcasting Councils" that reviewed the appropriateness of BBC programming and content.  The 2007 Charter changed the entire constitution of the BBC and the Broadcasting Councils were removed.  Section (6) effectively declared the BBC to be independent of any real control.  The regulation of the  BBC and UK broadcasting in general is now assigned to Ofcom which is infamous for its inefficiency and lassitude (See Trustpilot Rating). 

The net effect of these changes is that politics in the UK is now polarised by the BBC.  The BBC benefits from the assumption by many of its audience that it is still the old BBC, the Corporation that values impartiality and fairness, however, many people are beginning to distrust it:

That almost half of the audience do not trust the BBC despite the "impartiality paragraph" in the current Charter should worry the DCMS and BBC management.

This is extremely serious.  The UK and USA are becoming like Brazil where confidence in democracy and the democratic process can evaporate at the slightest sign of an irregularity or suggestion of unfairness. The media fan the flames of division.

The solution to this problem is straightforward: re-instate the Fairness Doctrine and re-instate the 1997 BBC Charter for a single BBC News/current affairs/drama channel on TV, Radio and Internet.  The rest of the BBC can obey Ofcom rules.

The scale of the current problem can be seen from looking at the media context of two events that gave rise to large demonstrations against the democratic process: the UK EU Referendum and the US 2020 Presidential Election. These two events were entirely different in almost all respects except in how they were reported.

BBC coverage of the EU Referendum was so poor that almost no-one in the UK can recount why the Referendum was called in the first place!  Ask anyone why the Referendum occurred and they might say it was so that David Cameron could appease troublesome Tories who hated the EU but almost no-one will know why these MPs wanted a Referendum on the EU. 

During the 2016 Referendum the BBC did not mention the rejection of the "2004 EU Constitution"  by the 2005 Referendums in France and the Netherlands or how this rejected Constitution was subsequently built into the "2009 Lisbon Treaty" (See Note 2).  The BBC did not identify the serious constitutional issue raised by MPs that precipitated the Referendum.  The concerned MPs felt that over the coming decades the Lisbon Treaty would turn the Government of the UK into little more than a local authority (See Note 2).  Even under the 2007 Charter the BBC had a responsibility to put the EU Referendum in context but in 2016 it failed to explain why the Referendum was happening and hence what it was about.

Many older voters knew that the Referendum was about constitutional independence even if they had not read the Lisbon Treaty.  But young voters were told nothing.  After the Referendum the younger Remain voters felt cheated because the context of the Referendum was never covered.  The result of the Referendum seemed like nothing more than xenophobia to the young.  They mounted demonstrations to express their total puzzlement at the result.

Both the US media and the BBC covered the 2020 US Presidential Election extremely poorly.  What happened is that on election night it looked as if Trump was going to win but then, suddenly and unexpectedly, Biden drew ahead at the last moment.  The Republicans cried "foul!".  The turn around for Biden was dramatic as this report shows:

"Results at 5.45pm from Pensylvania make it almost certain Trump will win. Almost 70% of the remaining votes would need to be cast for Biden if Biden is to win. The current vote is 45.2% Biden and 53.5% Trump with 80% of votes counted." 

However, Biden won Pennsylvannia by 50% to 48.8% by the end of the count.  This happened several times in important swing States.  There were strange "jumps" in vote counts, for instance in Michigan Biden gained about 140,000 votes without any change in the vote count for the other candidates:

At the end of counting these "problems" were all explained by the electoral authorities in terms of postal voting sacks that contained almost exclusively Biden votes being counted last and vote counting software that glitched.  These explanations have all been accepted by the US legal authorities.  The vote has been pronounced legal.  However, the BBC and US mainstream media failed to even discuss what had happened.  Republicans saw these events with their own eyes.  An explanation was needed.  The explanation was simple: the US postal voting and automated voting systems were not fit for purpose.  Postal voting in the US is not a secret ballot so activists can collect sacks of votes and voting machines are a false economy if they undermine elections.  The BBC, New York Times etc. were partisan so not only were Republicans left with a feeling of being cheated but the issue of poor electoral procedures, such as those around postal voting and automated counting were ignored.  Some Republicans rioted in Washington as a result of this polarisation of reporting by the mainstream media.

People now believe that the mainstream media are liars. This is not true. They peddle half truths which are more effective than lies.

Some people think the broadcast media has a left wing bias and some think it has a right wing bias.  However, being left or right wing is not the main problem with the media. The main problem is that the media cannot be trusted.  As an example, most people in the UK felt the media were economical with the truth:

Reuters Report

That only 12% of people in the UK felt that the media in the UK did a good job in helping distinguish fact from fiction is shocking.  The figures for trust in the news media are also very poor:

Reuters Report

Something must be done and done urgently. In the UK a single BBC channel that obeys the 1997 BBC Charter should be created to be a gold standard for impartiality and contextual reporting.  The rest of the UK media will become anchored to this standard.  The bulk of the BBC can obey Ofcom.

Note 1: In 1949 the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced the "Fairness Doctrine" which obliged broadcasters to present fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues of interest to their communities, including by devoting equal airtime to opposing points of view.  In 1987 the FCC ended the Fairness Doctrine and deliberately removed the provisions related to the doctrine until all had gone by 2011. During this period Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act Section 230 which gave Internet companies the power to provide what are now known as "platforms" where they could censor online content but not be held responsible for that content.

Note 2: Many MPs were unhappy that the Lisbon Treaty awarded the EU the "Shared Competences" which were powers of government delegated to member states that the EU could retrieve for itself without the need for further treaties. These shared competences covered almost all aspects of government.  The MPs were also unhappy that the EU had been awarded considerable powers over foreign policy and defence as well as continuing "EU Competences" over trade and the economy.  You might remember these points being covered as an obscure discussion about "subsidiarity".  The subsidiarity discussion showed that powers could be taken so slowly that the People would not notice that their National independence had gone.  The Lisbon Treaty was the last EU Treaty.  It contained the EU Constitution.  The fact that Cameron and Clegg passed an Act to mandate a Referendum if there were a new EU Treaty was seen as a direct, taunting insult to those who opposed Lisbon. 

Appendix: Why isn't the BBC trusted?

Having reviewed several weeks of BBC news the most serious fault was the omission of context.  There were also a few cases of outright lies.

The omission of context is seen in every area of news.  Reporting on the "Good Friday Agreement" and on the British Empire provide good examples of this fault.  

The Good Friday Agreement is an agreement that sets the terms for the future secession of Northern Ireland from the UK and the form of government to be used in Northern Ireland (power sharing at Stormont).  Instead of introducing the Good Friday Agreement with "The Good Friday Agreement for power sharing at Stormont and the future procedures for the secession of Northern Ireland from the UK", no introductory context is given.  As a result hardly any of the audience knows what the Good Friday Agreement is about.

The treatment of the British Empire by the BBC is particularly bizarre.  The British Empire was, like the French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish etc. empires, part of European imperialism in the 18th to mid 20th centuries.  It was probably more enlightened than most of its contemporary empires but that is of less concern than the fact that, in the context of the times, the British Empire was normal.  However, the BBC, almost without exception, associates an "Imperial Guilt" about colonisation etc. with the historical Empire.  They imply guilt when hardly anyone in the audience was even born when the Empire existed.  There is no money to be paid or guilt to be expiated.  The historical empire did not make the current people of the UK rich because the prosperity of nations is almost entirely due to the current and immediately previous generation.

We can see from these examples that the omission of context introduces bias.  In the case of the Good Friday Agreement the Protestant misgivings about the NI Protocol have led to the suspension of Stormont.  This violates the Good Friday Agreement.  The Protestants would say that the EU is to blame because of their rigidity in negotiations.  However, because no-one knows what the Good Friday Agreement is about the UK is blamed for angering the EU by "violating the Good Friday Agreement".   In the case of the British Empire the singling out of the British as uniquely evil by modern BBC standards allows the current British state and people to be pilloried unjustly (Such time-shifting of blame is racist, ie: Jews in the past may have killed Jesus but not the Jews of today).

The examples above are obvious bias resulting from the omission of context.  It is also obvious that if the BBC had erudite and unbiased managers and editors who were dedicated to impartiality these examples would not have occurred.  So what is happening?  BBC staff have their own opinions and are being allowed by management to insert these opinions into news coverage by refusing to supply a fair context for their articles.

Why are the staff biased?

Apart from a couple of outstanding examples such as Clive Myrie, most senior BBC news staff are upper middle class and have the following profile:

Over 95%  Humanities graduates
Less than 5% Science graduates
Over 60% Private School
30% Modern languages

They are a very narrow selection from British society.  In particular their  humanities background gives them a very particular, academic view of the world that is out of touch with reality.  They are story tellers, not real journalists.

The imbalance in BBC staff should never have happened but given that the Corporation is stuck with this poor quality of staffing there is a desperate need for strong management.  Management that achieves an honest  description of events by imposing impartiality and a fair context to the news and current affairs. 

Caroline Daniel and Michael Prescott have recently been given responsibility for editorial standards.  Do they understand that this entails giving an accurate description of events?  An accurate description is not truthfully reporting on one side of an event, it involves the full context with factors that are important on both sides being included.

The head of current affairs, Joanna Carr, must bear considerable responsibility for the way the BBC has lost the plot about impartiality.

The Controller of BBC Radio 4, Mohit Bakaya, is responsible for the overall content of Radio 4 (BBC talk radio).  He seems to place narrative style above the honest description of events. 

The BBC HR bosses Rachel Currie and Wendy Aslett seem to be happy that staff are cloned - if someone from a certain background is liked then they repeat this profile.  This is lazy and produces a uniform staff.

Evidence that the BBC has a problem with impartiality

Time Davie, the Director General, has made little impact on impartiality so far.  All he had to do was sort out current affairs and news so that there is a small, erudite team of experts that vets scripts for programmes like "Today", BBC Television News, "World at One", Newsnight etc.  This team would assess items for a balanced context and would spend their spare moments studying the actual Withdrawal Agreement, EU Energy policy, the history of European imperialism etc. to ensure impartiality.  This group would check impartiality and context so that the BBC offers an accurate description of events.  The group would be different from fact checkers because half the truth is never impartial even if it is true.  Such a group is the only certain way to implement the recommendations of the Serota Review. It would need to be monitored by a senior management that is dedicated to impartiality.  The Broadcasting Councils should also be re-introduced to steer the BBC to the true centre ground in the UK.

Here are samples from just a couple of days of the "Today" programme showing a deep lack of impartiality.  There are many more examples available.

Radio 4 Today 22/06/2022

The presenter and interviewee colluded in presenting the UK labour shortages as being due to Brexit.  There are serious labour shortages throughout the EU (See: Germany France  etc.) so the assumption that EU workers would be flooding into the UK were it not for Brexit is false. Furthermore, there are as many EU workers in the UK now as before COVID.

From an article in "The Conversation", May 18 2022, by Donald Houston, Professor of Economic Geography, University of Portsmouth and Paul Sissons, Professor of Work and Employment, University of Wolverhampton

Perhaps the biased BBC coverage of the lorry driver shortages being due to Brexit (see  BBC Bias and lorry driver shortages) has convinced Robinson that Brexit is to blame.  Previous bias may indeed be providing a false platform for Robinson's opinions. This article is also an example of using a glove puppet to express the opinions of staff.  An unbiased article would have provided further context such as long COVID being responsible for staff shortages across Europe.

BBC Radio 4 Today 17/06/2022

This article on Ukraine completely overlooked British visits and support:

This must have been a deliberate oversight. It is interesting to compare the treatment of British visits to Ukraine with the wild enthusiasm for these EU visitors who offered nothing concrete (yes, wild enthusiasm, listen to the clip).  Elsewhere British visits are framed  as Johnson attempting to distract public opinion.  However Britain gave immediate, concrete military aid that saved Ukraine:  "Ukrainian soldiers have taken to shouting “God save the Queen” when firing anti-tank weapons provided by the UK that have proven pivotal in the defence of their country." (The Week)

In both these cases the listener would, rightly or wrongly, be suspecting a hidden agenda on the part of the BBC.

(Samples from: A Log of BBC Bias).

The fault in the staff

Although BBC management are to blame for not enforcing impartiality there is something badly wrong with the staff.  It is worth exploring this because it will cast light on the rest of the broadcast media.

The language being used by BBC staff shows that they have a rarefied view of the world.  Terms such as "global community" and "populism" suggest that staff are committed to Internationalism and feel that they know what is best for people and the world.  This arrogance has led the staff to omit news that they dislike.  This practice is known as "no platforming".  

No platforming has always been used by broadcasters where movements, people and events are irrelevant or insane but what has changed is that staff are now no platforming events that contradict their world view. 

A good example of this "no platforming" is the near complete suppression of the role of West African states in slavery.  As an example, the BBC online story of the "Benin Bronzes" fails to mention that the reason for the British invasion of Nigeria was to end the mass trade in slaves once and for all.

In this respect the British invasions of Nigeria from 1851-1861 were a resounding success.  Were Nigeria a slaving state today the BBC staff would be clamouring for an invasion. There would be demands that the Bronzes, as the proceeds of slavery should be confiscated.  It is shocking that BBC editors seem to have never read the passionate speeches in Parliament against the West African slave trade (Hansard 1844) and are unaware of the Treaty of Lagos 1852. The no platforming of the background to slavery and the Benin Bronzes etc. looks reflexly anti-British.  Whether the staff intended to be anti-British or not the effect of the no-platforming is anti-British because it casts Britain as the aggressor and Nigeria as the victim. 

It is puzzling why British staff would be anti-British.  The anti-British sentiment is not pro-American or pro-Russian.  It is often pro-EU but the case of the Benin Bronzes shows it is a generalised anti-Britishness.  If the staff are not Russian stooges then what do they want from the end of the UK?  They want an International Order based on the UN and other international bodies such as the EU that transcends the Nation State.  Having talked to BBC staff members and journalists it is clear that many are living in the past.  They believe that if only the "West" can overcome the current, temporary setbacks the post WWII dream of a Westernized world can be achieved.  Sadly they are no-platforming the information that would inform them and allow them to move on.

Dangerous no-platforming is everywhere.  The most obvious example is the impression that has been given that most of the world condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  This impression is given despite the fact that most of the world is not pro-Western on this issue:

Similarly the evils of the regime in China are scarcely mentioned.  Everyone knows a bit about the Uyghurs but Tibet is as bad and the level of domestic surveillance and control all over China is near total.   China is as bad as Nazi Germany yet this is only occasionally covered, if at all.  The joint exercises between Chinese, Russian, Indian etc. forces and the current summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and now Iran) are being covered but the significance of the attendance of India is not mentioned.  China is increasingly controlling international bodies such as the UN that set the international agenda and these are no longer reliable sources of the values held by the Western Alliance.

Having no-platformed so much news we must fear that BBC staff are failing to inform themselves about how the world is changing.  The reaction of ordinary people to the failure of the international order is portrayed by the staff as "popularism" rather than a revolt against Western culture and financial mismanagement.  The extent of revulsion globally against modern Western media culture should not be underestimated and is behind the rise of Trump and Bolsonaro, the move of India towards Russia and the general disenchantment with the West.

The staff seem to be doubling down on their internationalist and media cultural beliefs and, by depriving us and themselves of the context of world events, will leave us horribly exposed when China and its friends flex their muscles in earnest.  This can be fixed.  In the case of the BBC the staff can be overruled or replaced so that they cannot continue omitting news that contradicts their beliefs.

Staff should study the sanctions map above.  The world is no longer an all powerful West that is supported by most neutral countries.  A global government promulgating Western values is a pipe dream from the last century.

Great Convergence and the Rise of the Rest

Sadly, at the moment that we need the media to support us they have decided to undermine us.  The change in the world is happening very rapidly so management needs to decide whether to wait for the existing staff with their outdated philosophy to die or replace them with people who understand what is happening.

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