BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Sunday, 14 February 2010


My general complaint to the BBC is still ongoing. Here's all the correspondence so far, started with my latest missive (which uses my previous post as Exhibit A!). As you can see, so far it's been about as successful as most complaints to the BBC about bias!

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for your considered reply.

I cannot accept, however, that the number of interruptions during an interview is irrelevant - if it forms part of a large survey of such interviews (which was my original point).

Surely if an interviewer interrupts representatives of one particular political party far more than he/she interrupts representatives on another political party, this is highly suggestive of bias. How else can it be accounted for?

When you say that it's not possible to judge an interview by the number of interruptions, you are surely right - but that's not my point. I don't consider individual interviews in isolation. I have surveyed ALL the interviews by that interviewer. If a strong trend emerges your argument loses all its power.

When you say somewhat dismissively say that "ultimately, our view is that impartiality cannot be judged solely on the number of times representatives of any party are interrupted during
interviews", I would say that my view is that it can.

Complaints about bias can be dismissed because they are usually subjective. An objective measure, such as the number of times an interviewee is interrupted by an interviewer/divided by the length of the interview, removes subjectivity. Were you to argue that bias is in the eye of the beholder, I could then counter that interruptions are interruptions and have very little to be with subjectivity.

If you don't accept this as a valid measure, what objective measure would you accept?

Here is a detailed example that proves the value of this sort of analysis.

I could complain that Shirin Wheeler on 'The Record Europe' tends to ask questions from a strongly pro-European position, or that she is rude to centre-right British politicians but respectful towards centre-left British politicians. You could reply that that's just my opinion.

Now if you calculate interruption coefficients (number of interruptions/length of interview) for all Shirin Wheeler's interviews with British politicians since, say, September last year you achieve this set of staggering clear results:

31/01/2010 Lord Dartmouth UKIP 2.4
21/09/2009 Timothy Kirkhope Conservative 1.9
11/10/2009 Timothy Kirkhope Conservative 1.5
06/12/2009 David Campbell-Bannerman UKIP 1.5
20/12/2009 Vicky Ford Conservative 1.5
14/02/2010 John Bufton UKIP 1.4
08/11/2009 Timothy Kirkhope Conservative 1.2
15/11/2009 Martha Andreasen UKIP 1.2
11/10/2009 Nigel Farage UKIP 0.9
14/02/2010 Timothy Kirkhope Conservative 0.9
01/11/2009 Paul Nuttall UKIP 0.7
08/11/2009 Charles Tannock Conservative 0.7
08/11/2009 Graham Watson Lib Dem 0.7
07/02/2010 Nirj Diva Conservative 0.7
08/11/2009 Derek Clarke UKIP 0.6
08/11/2009 Glenis Willmott Labour 0.5
06/12/2009 Lord Roper Lib Dem 0.4
17/01/2010 Glenis Willmott Labour 0.4
31/01/2010 Richard Howitt Labour 0.4
24/01/2010 Claude Moraes Labour 0.3
04/10/2009 Syed Kamall Conservative 0.3
06/12/2009 Richard Howitt Labour 0.3
20/12/2009 Arlene McCarthy Labour 0.3
17/01/2010 Geoffrey Van Orden Conservative 0.3
07/02/2010 Michael Cashman Labour 0.3
25/10/2009 Timothy Kirkhope Conservative 0.2
18/10/2009 Caroline Lucas Green 0
31/01/2010 Mary Honeyball Labour 0
22/11/2009 Cathy Ashton Labour 0
17/01/2010 Jean Lambert Green 0
31/01/2010 Kay Swinburne Conservative 0
04/10/2009 Graham Watson Lib Dem 0
11/10/2009 Fiona Hall Lib Dem 0
11/10/2009 Richard Howitt Labour 0
25/10/2009 Stephen Hughes Labour 0
20/12/2009 Sharon Bowles Lib Dem 0
06/12/2009 Michael Connarty Labour 0
20/12/2009 Chris Davies Lib Dem 0
04/10/2009 Arlene McCarthy Labour 0
25/10/2009 Chris Davies Lib Dem 0
15/11/2009 Derek Vaughan Labour 0
24/01/2010 Andrew Duff Lib Dem 0
15/11/2009 Vicky Ford Conservative 0
01/11/2009 Jean Lambert Green 0
07/02/2010 Richard Corbett Labour 0
14/02/2010 Stephen Hughes Labour 0

Working out average interruption coefficients for each party proves my point:

UKIP (7 interviews) - 1.24
Conservatives (12 interviews) - 0.77
Labour (16 interviews) - 0.16
Lib Dems (8 interviews) - 0.14
Greens (3 interviews) - 0.0

These figures show that politicians from UKIP and the Conservative Party are significantly more likely to be interrupted by Shirin Wheeler than politicians from the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Parties.

How does this NOT show bias toward the (pro-European)parties of the Left and against the (Eurosceptic) parties of the Right? This is surely worthy of a QED!!

Shirin Wheeler is but one example I could have used.

All of this answers your other points too.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

--- On Fri, 5/2/10, wrote:

Subject: BBC Complaints
Date: Friday, 5 February, 2010, 15:19

Dear Mr B

Thanks for your further e-mail. Please accept our apologies for the delay
in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and
we're sorry that you've had to wait on this occasion.

We note that you were unhappy with the response that you received to your
initial complaint of 1 November, in which you claimed ongoing bias against
particular political parties.

Whilst we appreciate your further concerns, Mr B, it's not possible
to judge an interview by the number of interruptions, nor by the
superficial tone of questioning. Different interviews demand different
approaches and while a direct ''no holds barred'' interview may
superficially appear more rigorous (and will sometimes be the appropriate
approach to take), sometimes a more discursive approach can be as revealing
and more difficult for a politician to handle.

In addition, presenters have their own style - without which the interviews
and discussions on our news programmes would quickly become predictable.

For example, it might be worth adding something that 'Today' presenter Evan
Davis said about his personal interviewing style in an interview:

''…what I'd like to think I do is give people the licence to admit the
difficulty of their position.....the hope is that by giving them the
licence to admit that it's been difficult, you might get them to admit what
they might not if you were too rigid with them…'

Ultimately, our view is that impartiality cannot be judged solely on the
number of times representatives of any party are interrupted during
interviews. However, we do appreciate your feedback and observations and we
can assure you that senior figures at BBC News have been made aware of them.

We'd also like to assure you that we've registered your additional
complaint on our audience log.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.


Jonathan C
BBC Complaints

------------Original Message---------------

{Complaint:} Dear Stefan,

Thanks for your reply. I'm glad you found my results interesting. You are
correct in understanding that my calculations have found there to be a bias
against Conservative MPs in our broadcasts. (Not just MPs mind you, and they
also showed bias against UKIP.)

Your statement about impartiality is as it should be and welcome. When you

say that "all BBC interviewers are careful to abide by well-established
interviewing guidelines that prescribe a scrupulously even-handed approach",
my findings demonstrate that this is sadly not true. Many of them
(including Andrew Marr, Carolyn Quinn, James Naughtie, John Humphrys, Adrian
Masters, Kirsty Wark, Anita Anand, Glenn Campbell, Shirin Wheeler, Gavin
Esler, Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn) do not - as my figures also clearly show.
I would have attached the speadsheet with the full list of interruption
coefficients since June, had the e-mail I received allowed me to reply. This
format does not permit it either.
For example, considering the 15 interviews with UK politicians conducted by
John Humphrys in October, these were the interruption coefficients:

03/10 Andrew Lansley Conservative 1.8
22/10 Ken Clarke Conservative 1.7
09/10 Greg Clark Conservative 1.6
13/10 Sir Patrick Cormack Conservative 1.6
24/10 George Osborne Conservative 1.3
28/10 Roger Gale Conservative 0.9
14/10 Harriet Harman Labour 0.9
28/10 Stuart Bell Labour 0.7
01/10 Norman Lamb Lib Dem 0.7
10/10 Bob Stewart Conservative 0.6
10/10 Peter Kilfoyle Labour 0.4
13/10 David Blunkett Labour 0.4
02/10 Rhodri Morgan Labour 0.3
13/10 Sir Stuart Bell Labour 0
14/10 Stephen Pound Labour 0

His averages for each political party therefore translate as:

Conservatives - 1.36
Lib Dems - 0.7
Labour - 0.39

Thus, a Conservative politician in October was more than 3 times as likelyto be interrupted by John Humphrys than a Labour politician.

I can now judge each interviewer over a 5-month period (and the survey is ongoing).

Here for example, are James Naughtie's figures from June-October 2009 (with the number of interviews with each party in brackets):

Conservatives (16) - 0.84
Greens (1) - 0.7
Labour (34) - 0.43
SNP (2) - 0.4
UKIP (1) - 0.3
Lib Dems (6) - 0.07
DUP (1) - 0

This shows a strong anti-Conservative bias, with the Conservative Party
receiving almost double the number of interruptions (proportional to the
length of the interview) that the Labour Party received.

Time after time it is either the Conservatives or UKIP who come out with the
highest interruption coefficients. (There are exceptions, such as the
excellent Eddie Mair).

I know very well that many interviewees try to evade questions and push
their own agenda, but that's not revelant here. Nor is the likability of
particular interviewers of any relevance to the issue in hand. I actually
like most of them. I only wish they weren't biased.

So when you say that you "realise I may continue to feel there's a culture of institutional bias within the BBC", you are not mistaken!

I'm glad my complaint will be put on the audience log and might be read more
widely. I don't feel, however, that you have really answered any of my
concerns. I would be grateful for a more considered response.



--- On Sat, 7/11/09,

Subject: BBC Complaints [T2009110100K7S010Z6927411]
To: Date: Saturday, 7 November, 2009, 15:42

Dear Mr B

Thanks for your e-mail.

I was interested to read the findings of your survey. I understand that your
calculations have found there to be a bias against Conservative MPs in our

Impartiality is the cornerstone of all our news and current affairs output

and we ensure all our correspondents and production teams are aware of this
to help us deliver fair and balanced coverage for all the stories we report.
We seek neither to denigrate nor promote any particular view, rather we
present the relevant facts and allow our audience to make up their own minds
based on them.

All BBC interviewers are careful to abide by well-established interviewing

guidelines that prescribe a scrupulously even-handed approach.

Many interviewees are very adept at evading questions and following their
own agenda when replying. It's part of a professional interviewer's role to
ensure that they're reminded, when appropriate, of the original question or
pressed on points that are of particular interest.

This being said, it's always difficult to find a presenter who will appeal

to all viewers/listeners and the attributes which appeal to some
viewers/listeners may sometimes strike others as wholly inappropriate.

I realise you may continue to feel there's a culture of institutional bias

within the BBC. Therefore, let me assure you I've registered your comments

on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's
circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board,
channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape
decisions about future programming and content.

All feedback we receive, whether positive or negative, is always

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.


Stefan C

BBC Complaints

-----Original Message-----

So far, since beginning my survey of BBC in June this year,
>I've reviewed 1129 interviews with UK politicians.
>My main tool is the Interruption Coefficient. Interruption Coefficients
>(I.C.s) are calculated by dividing the number of interruptions by the
> of the interview. This provides a measure of the aggressiveness of an
>interview. The higher the I.C. the tougher the interview (as a rule). I.C.s

>of 0 have contained no interruptions!
>I have covered every edition of the following programmes:
>The Daily Politics
>The World At One
>The World Tonight
>The Andrew Marr Show
>Broadcasting House
>The Politics Show
>The World This Weekend
>The Politics Show: Scotland
>Dragon's Eye
>The Record: Europe
>Westminster Hour
>Simply by calculating a 'super-average' (i.e. adding all the interruption

>coefficients for each political party then dividing the total by the
> of interviews granted to each party) I have been able to derive a simple

>measure for each each political party.
>The results are revealing - and not a little damning. Of course the more
>interviews I've surveyed for each political party the firmer the evidence

> bias (so the figures for Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are
>very firm, and those for UKIP, the Greens and, above all, the SNP pretty
>Here are the results for the whole period:
>UKIP (12 interviews) - 0.90
>Plaid Cymru (6 interviews) - 0.88
>Conservatives (312 interviews) - 0.84
>English Democrats (1 interview) - 0.8
>SNP (39 interviews) - 0.76
>Sinn Fein (2 interviews) - 0.75
>BNP (4 interviews) - 0.65
>Labour (557 interviews) - 0.57
>Liberal Democrats (167 interviews) - 0.41
>DUP (3 interviews) - 0.27
>Greens (9 interviews) - 0.24
>UUP (1 interview) - 0
>Alliance (1 interview) - 0
>SDLP (1 interview) - 0
>This show that Conservative politicians are substantially more likely to be

>interrupted by BBC interviewers than Labour or Liberal Democrat
>Full details of all this are available on my blog:
>I have full spreadsheets containing all the details for each interview.
>This seems to be a strong case of institutional bias, which needs urgent
>attention - especially as we near a general election.
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Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way nor act in reliance on it and notify the sender immediately.
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Further communication will signify your consent to this.


  1. Do you get the feeling that they will keep fobbing you off hoping that you will lose interest? You are right in what you saym but in my experience the BBC will never admit bias.

  2. I very much get that feeling!

    Yes, I think my e-mails to the political parties and journalists are likely to prove more fruitful.

  3. The bbc has gone into mad overdrive bias mode against the Conservatives.
    On the matter of a hung parliament they questionned only Labour and LibDem spokesmen.
    On the latest NuLabor wheeze of caring for the elderly they promote Labor and LibDems while castigating the Conservatives as the nasty party in this affair.
    We are still weeks off an election yet the bbc have become strident in their condemnation of the Conservatives, even giving some room for UKIP in order to bolster Brown.

  4. You are so right.

    I'm really struggling to keep up at the moment. There is so much to write about. Anti-Tory bias is pretty much everywhere at the moment, and it's not even remotely subtle now.

  5. It is incredible, almost every time I read something on the BBC news website, hear something on Radio 4, 5 Live or Radio London, or see something on the BBC news there is some anti-Conservative bias to note. It is getting to the point where I find there is just not enough time to blog them all, or even 5% of them.

  6. Craig,
    Brilliant, just brilliant , well done !

    The BBC know , but they just don't give a damn !

  7. PS

    Yes, I think journalists may take an interest in your research. By the way, does Guido know about this blog ?

  8. Thanks for that Grant.

    Except for making some guy in the BBC Complaints department have a think for an hour or so about exactly how to deny everything you've said, complaints to the BBC seem to get you precisely nowhere - unless you have powerful backers.

    I'll e-mail Guido with a copy of this correspondence and provide a link to my blog. There's no harm in trying.


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