BBC Complaints: The link you need!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


I know from reading the comments on the B-BBC blogsite that I am far from alone in finding this morning's Today programme deeply biased.
The continuous talk/promotion of hung parliaments (right up to the bitter end - or as some call her 'Mary Riddell'), coalitions and proportional representation was one source of irritation. That the panel of voters from Birmingham and from the Labour stronghold of Manchester were also inclined towards hung parliaments, coalitions and proportional representation - and, it seems, towards Labour - was another.
Then there was the latest left-sided broadside from the programme's regular election contributor Will Self, chatting to Labour's Geoffrey Robinson and promoting a socialist worldview. Why exactly has he been the programme's regular election guest? Why only him?
Then there was Steve Hewlett of The Guardian (and Radio 4's Media Show) chatting about the press's influence on the election with Emily Bell of...The Guardian and Labour-supporting Times journalist David Aaronovich.
Above all though, it was the contrasting treatment of the party spokesmen that made this such a fitting finale to Today's biased election campaign. The contrast between John Humphrys's aggressive interview with Michael Gove (6 interruptions, I.C. of 1.1) and Sarah Montague's gentle interview with Alan Johnson (0 interruptions, I.C. of 0) could hardly have been stronger - and falls into the standard pattern not just for this election but for the last year (at least) on Today. Oddly though, her interview with Vince Cable was the strongest on interruptions (6, with an I.C. of 1.7) though it wasn't a tetchy one by any stretch of the imagination.

There was hope though for us all in Michael Gove's latest scrap with John Humphrys. Michael Gove certainly has 'got it'. Here's the interview's scheme, with some choice quotations:
9.13 Q1
9.16 A1
9.24 Interruption 1/Q2
9.34 A2
(9.39 muttered comment)
9.55 Interruption 2/Q3
10.13 A3
11.02 Interruption 3/ Q4: (JH:) "As you say there is this sense of change in the air. People want change. And what's extraordinary, and we found it ourselves from the groups of people we've been talking to...they actually want, HUGE number of people, those many undecided of course, but they also want a hung parliament, which proves that they're desperately unhappy with the electoral system that we have now, and what you're NOT prepared to say to them is 'We will change that electoral system so that voting is fair and every vote counts' and that's something that you - alone of the three main Westminster parties are not prepared to say."
11.43 A4 (MG): "We will change the voting system to make every vote count, we will make it fairer.."
11.47 Interruption 3 (JH:) "No you won't. You won't have PR."
11.49 A4 (continued) (MG:) "We will make sure...That's your preferred method. We will make sure that every vote matters in the same way by making sure that every constituency is the same size..." (etc)
12.09 Interruption 4
JH "No, no, forgive me, I'm not going to let you do another little party political there. It's fine.."
MG: "Will you let me answer any question?"
JH: "Well, I..I.."
MG: "You've interrupted every single one of them so far John"
JH: "Ooooh, no, no. Not true but never mind. You always say that when you come on. We expect that. Now look..."
MG: "But you always interrupt me."
JH: (laughing grimly) "Can I ask a question?"
MG: "Of course."
JH: "Good."
12.25 Q5: (JH) "Let me challenge what you've just said about your fair voting proposals because of all the academic research that's been done, all of the serious academic research that's been done, says it not the size of the constituencies or the make-up of the constituencies that affects whether a vote is fair or not. You know that and I know that. So what I am asking you is why you will not introduce or at least allow a referendum on a system that the academics, disinterested academics, regard as being fair, which is proportional representation. You might not like the outcome of PR but whether you should give people the opportunity to vote for or against it is the question."
13.08 A5
13.12 Interruption 5
13.19 A5 (continued)
13.41 Interruption 6/Q6 (JH:) "You're treating the audience like fools! You're treating the voters like idiots!"
13.45 A6
13.59 Q7 (JH:) "I was suggesting merely that you give the electorate a chance to vote on this and the reason you won't, you know and I know, is that if you did your party would be ripped apart. They'd take your head off or they'd slice you up like a banana, if you prefer than metaphor."
14.15 A7, beginning: (MG:) "Once again John, a magnificently eloquent question, which would be better suited to a party political platform than to a neutral interrogation."
15.09 Interview ends

Of Michael Gove's first charge - that John Humphrys had so far interrupted his every answer (which Mr H denied) - Mr Gove was quite correct.
Of Mr Gove's second charge that PR is Mr Humphrys's - or the BBC's - "preferred method", I think we can say that this certainly seems to be the case!
Of Mr Gove's third charge - that JH's questions "would be better suited to a party political platform than to a neutral interrogation" - I think that anyone reading the above questions, with all their loaded terms of phrase, their disinterested academics and "all serious research", their "you know and I know"s (etc) will have to say "Spot on!" to that too.
Another 'Attaboy!' is in order.


  1. The TODAY programme's 'election campaign' is the operative phrase, not 'election coverage' which is the term that should apply.

    TODAY has been an adjunct of New Labour in earnest since Blair became leader. Humphrys is one of the most screamingly bent broadcasters the BBC has.

  2. Oh, and yeah, attaboy BIG TIME to Gove!

  3. I heard the interview and Humphrys was a total disgrace. He has reached the stage where he is almost hysterical at the thought of the conservatives winning. Gove was excellent , but still didn't go far enough.


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