BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Sunday, 16 August 2009


Gavin Esler seems to be gracing this blog quite a bit at the moment. His bias against the Right is one of the clearest cases I've yet come across. Strangely, though, his highest Interruption Coefficient so far this month was scored against a Labour health minister, Ann Keen (on Thursday's Newsnight). How did this happen?

She was interrupted twice, but spoke (in total) for less than two minutes, earning Esler a 1.3.

Put in context, however, this surprising result becomes a little less surprising.

The context was a dual-interview between major expense-trougher (why the hell is this greedy woman still in office?) Mrs Keen (how's that for bias by labelling!!!) and Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist.

Mr Mackowiak scored an I.C. of 1.1, with 4 interruptions in less than four minutes. So less gentle interviewing from friend Esler? Far from it.

Esler's body language was highly extrovert towards Mr Mackowiak whereas while speaking to Mrs Keen it was noticably more restrained. He raised his voice towards Mr Mackowiak but spoke quietly to Mrs Keen. His manner towards Mr Mackowiak was challenging and at times brazenly contemptuous whereas towards Mrs Keen it was thoughtful, even sympathetic - though he asked her some good, tough questions. It was, taken as a whole, a disgraceful performance.

I quote everything that Esler said (at the risk of turning this post into another novella!), so that you can see bias in action:

To M: "Mr Mackowiak, what is it that's wrong with the British national healthcare system that makes it an unfit model for your kind of change in America?"

(interrupting) To M (with hands flying and facial features gurning!): "Just, sorry to interrupt, but just one point. I mean, you're spending 16-17% of your national wealth, GDP, on healthcare and still don't cover 46 million Americans. We spend 8.5% on healthcare, we cover everybody and, there are flaws, but we, you know, so how come it won't save money, the president's plan?"

(interrupting) To K: "Right, let me bring in the health minister. I mean, stripped on some of the rhetoric, which I know people here think is a bit silly, but the point Mr Mackowiak is making is an absolutely fair one, isn't it? That a centrally-delivered, big, bureaucratic system quite often isn't simply responsive to the patient's needs and many British people think that."

(interrupting) To K: "But there is lack of choice, as you know, about some things. For instance, we know about cancer drugs for example. There are many people who think that there are certain cancer drugs they should get, we have a system called NICE, which means that they may not get the drugs that they think they want."

(interrupting) To K: "But they choose, not the patient and that I think's the burden of Mr Mackowiak's point. They choose. It's a government panel."

To M (mockingly): "Well let me bring in Mr Mackowiak, cos the other thing that's really strange about this is that, I was just thinking, the CIA factbook about healthcare, a very interesting book, it says that Cuba's infant mortality rate is far better than the United States. There must be something really stinking about your system that you can't be better than Cuba!"

(interrupting, mockingly, within 6 seconds) To M: "Well these are CIA statistics backed up by the World Health Organisation, so" (folding his arms, contemptuously) "perhaps the CIA, a well-known government-funded body is equally useless, but anyway go ahead!"

(interrupting, laughing, sarcastically) "OK, well we haven't got quite time to get onto tort reform tonight!, but..." To K (softly): "the basic point there is an interesting one, isn't it, that there are people in Britain who are prepared to go to America and other places to have work done privately they can't get done here?"

To M (more gently, left hand flying): "Final thought from Mr Mackowiak, I just wonder if you think that some of the rhetoric of the campaign isn't what you'd really like, because it will backfire when people, over the next months, look at it. They'll say, OK, there are problems with the British system but it certainly isn't as bad as its been painted."

(interrupting) "Ok, I'm sorry we're running out of time. Thank you both."

So, as I've said before, the I.C.s do not tell the whole story. Here they certainly don't!! Esler's rudeness to his American Republican guest, in contrast to his politeness to his Labour guest, was unpleasant to watch and a clear demonstration of biased interviewing.

Whatever your opinion of the subject under discussion - and I would be somewhat closer to Ann Keen than to Matt Mackowiak - this interview surely shows the BBC in a bad light, doesn't it?

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