BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Friday, 24 July 2009


Imagine you were a biased BBC reporter, working for an organisation bound to the idea of impartiality, & that you were compiling a report on, shall we say, Barrack Obama's healthcare reforms, how should you best proceed?

I think this is a pretty good strategy:

Begin by telling a hard-luck story, preferably involving a type of 'ordinary' individual likely to engage the listener's emotions, eg. a young mother. Ensure that she is articulate enough to make the points you want her to make in favour of the position of which you approve.

Next feature an articulate campaigner who speaks in favour of the position of which you approve.

Having established the case you wish (covertly) to make, then cover yourself against the charge of bias by introducing a third voice, this time speaking against the position of which you approve (eg. a businesswoman). Ensure that there is at least one detail about her or in what she says that can be used to support your prefered position & pick up on that detail to pivot back to the 'true' narrative.

Return to the hard-luck story and the young mother, and hammer home the point that what Obama wants (and of which you approve) will save her. Say that what's at stake is her and her family's future & try (as subtly as possible) to have a little dig at Obama's Republican opponents whilst your at it.

That strategy was followed to the letter by Kevin Connolly on last night's 'The World Tonight'.


"At stake is the issue of how America sees itself", began Connolly. "Is a free market always the best way of rationing resources, or has the time come for the government, which already provides health care for the old and the poor, to do more?"

Casting it in those terms makes it sounds like a choice between silly right-wing dogmatism and sensible, incremental pragmatism. It's a loaded characterisation of the debate.

"To Kathy Hunter," Connolly continues, "one of the 47 million Americans who have no private health insurance, that's what her teenage children would call a 'no-brainer'." (Connolly would clearly love to be able to call it a 'no-brainer' too!)

Kathy's story is being told by Connolly to persuade us (and the Beeb's US listeners) that it's time for the American government to provide a state scheme to cover the uninsured.

Connolly continues, "This is the issue which will define the Obama presidency. It's stories like Kathy's which he tells to persuade Americans that it's time for the government to provide a state scheme to cover the uninsured. Jim Duffett from the Illinois Campaign for Better Healthcare has known Mr Obama since he was a young state senator. He says they broadly agree on the diagnosis of what's going wrong."

The case has now essentially been made. This, however, is the impartial BBC, so opposing voices must be heard - safely, as the unhealthy filling between two substantial slices of wholemeal bread.

"Democrats often argue that opposition to change comes from insurance & drug companies what do well out of the existing system. But it's not quite that simple." This, of course, is a classic manoeuvre - to subtly support your friends's (here the Democrats') position by criticising it for being only partly (or only mostly) right!

"Most of the time for most Americans the system does work, and here's how: Employers, like Sandy Weston-Dennahan, offer health insurance as part of their employment package."

"Sandy wouldn't have it any other way. She can't be pigeon-holed as a conservative, but she shares the instinctive horror that most American conservatives feel at the idea of the government taking over the health system".

Is it only American conservatives who feel that way? Do others oppose Obama's plan? Note also the suggestion of the unthinking, irrational nature of the opposition (to Obama's sensible, rational proposals) contained in the words "instinctive" and "horror".

"To her that's 'socialised medicine' and it means a rationing of resources & bureaucratic interference between doctor and patient".

Kathy, not being in the position of most Americans, is not eligable for Sandy's sort of package - and that's Connolly's pivot.

"None of that, of course, is much help to Kathy Hunter, who's self-employed. She hopes Barrack Obama will stick to his promise to find a way of providing health coverage for people like her."

Now it's time for Connolly to crescendo emotionally: "Until he does she has to live with the possibility that she's one hospital visit away from bankruptcy and homelessness".

'No, not Kathy!!', we cry.

And then it's time for Connolly to hammer out his climax: "What is at stake here, of course, is the future of people like Kathy Hunter and her family."

(Think of the children, won't somebody please think of the children!!!)

"But there's something else too," Connolly adds, getting ready to hint that the Republican opponents of Obama's plan are opposing not on principle but as a partisan political game: "Republicans sense if they defeat him on healthcare, then the momentum will be gone from his presidency."

Of course (as Connolly would say!) it's not quite that simple. A good number of Democrats in Congress also voted against Obama's healthcare plan - but let's not dwell on that, eh Kevin?


Bias? What bias?

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