BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Sunday, 12 July 2009


Today's 'World this Weekend' featured a discussion on the new European parliament, due to meet in Strasburg on Tuesday. Hosted by Shaun Ley, its guests were Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal group in the parliament, and Nigel Farage of UKIP.

Bias-hunters never have far to look with Shaun Ley. He's soft on the Left -and that emphatically includes the UK Liberal Democrats, if not all European Liberals - and tough on the Right.

The first question was a general one to Mr Watson, asking about whether the June election results would mean a very different parliament.

The second question went to Nigel Farage, and this time it was a specific question about UKIP:
"Will that make any difference for UKIP, given that the outlook of the Christian Democrats is, generally in Europe, as pro-European as the Socialists?"

The third question went to Mr Farage: "Is there a practical change for you, though, because you gained one MEP at these elections, SLIGHTLY bigger group therefore, but there has been criticism in the past that you've not perhaps fully palyed your part in places like the committees over the previous five years? Will your approach change this time?"

Again this is a question specific to UKIP. It also contained a criticism of UKIP. And the word 'slightly' was strongly emphasized by Ley.

Why is this a sign of bias? Because Graham Watson, in contrast, was NOT asked specific questions about the Liberal Democrats, and no criticisms of the Liberal Democrats were contained in any of Shaun Ley's questions, and - most of all - because Ley did NOT say to Watson that his party did only "SLIGHTLY" better and "gained one MEP at these elections" too, even though that is exactly what happened!!

The bias continued. The fourth question went to Graham Watson, but it was about UKIP!!:
"Do you think that's a useful thing, Graham Watson, if a group like UKIP - which is fundamentally opposed to the European Union - actually engages in the parliament?"

Can you guess what happened next? Watson attacked UKIP, that's what! Such open invitations to attack political opponents, if not also extended to those political opponents, is biased interviewing.

Nor did balance come with the next question to Watson, which was as general a question (and as unchallenging a question) as an interviewer could pose: "Strasburg is where the next European parliament will meet on Tuesday, Bastille Day of course. In a sense that sums up one of the problems you have to wrestle with, Graham Watson, and that's the shuttling from Brussels to Strasburg & back again. Is there any prospect, do you think, of bringing this to and end in the course of the next five years?" This was asked respectfully.

The sixth and final question went to Nigel Farage, & was asked jokingly (if not sarcastically): "Nigel Farage, which do you prefer, Brussels or Strasburg?"

Shaun Ley, you are being watched!


  1. Craig - It seems like the interuption co-efficent is not the only way to measure the bias. The content of the programme, as you have pointed out is very telling.

  2. I'm coming to think that the interruption co-efficient misses quite a lot! Its objectivity is still its strength, but maybe some content-based measures might be worth toying with, such as a counting general & specific questions. This, though, is more open to accusations of subjectivity. Maybe counting the number of 'external' criticisms brought into the interview by the interviewer could be considered. I will give both a try - and try to think of other things too.

  3. Craig

    I was going to point out this to you

    But it would be difficult, if not impossible, to put figures to it. The only option here is to write an essay on every "news story" or "interview" put out by the BBC.
    I think the "Bias by spin" could be a possibility, but how to measure it?

    I have often seen statements put out by the Conservatives reported as a rebutal by New Labour, this does happen quite a lot. There is also the length of time which is given to a statement and the counter -argument which may be covered by the percentage of time given to the arguments which you already do. Just thinking aloud on this, so I really don't have any concrete proposals, but it is worth looking at all the possibilities.

  4. One more thing "expert witnesses", who are not expert in the subject (Al Gore comes to mind) and anonymous "spokesmen" are also worth a mention. If these people are unnamed- how can any know what they say can be relied on. Counting unanmed sources in reports would also be interesting.


    This is a useful link - although it covers the US media which is a lot different to the UK.

  6. John,

    Thanks for the links. They're giving me food for thought. Having written not so much an essay as a novella about Newsnight's bias over the Coulson/News of the World affair ('Crickgate'), essay-writing proves to be amazingly time-consuming (if fun). There were plenty of 'anonymous' sources there.

    Having been thinking a lot about AGW yesterday I can see how ALL of the 'Student News Daily' types of bias could be applied, if not quantified, to THAT subject in particular! I might try them on AGW, and maybe try out the 'Selection of Sources' angle on the BBC's US coverage, on top of my current lines of enquiry.

    How to quantify them though? The cogs in my brain are slowly whirring...!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.