Monday, 15 November 2010

The myth of BBC 'balance'

Here's an interesting piece of anecdotal evidence that confirms the thesis that 'BBC balance' is a myth.

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* email from a teacher: Reporting of Student 'Violence'

Posted by The Editors [User Info] on November 15, 2010, 4:12 pm

We received this email yesterday from a teacher.


Subject: Reporting of Student 'Violence'


I’m a teacher at a sixth form college in Oldham, a fairly deprived area of the country with a number of students who are particularly upset about the government’s plans for higher education. I teach Politics and History, and we do a lot of source work. I was so struck by the reporting of the student protests, in particular the reporting of the BBC, that I postponed teaching the exam spec for a while and did some source analysis. Providing students with the first 200 words (to the nearest sentence) of articles from a) BBC news website and b) the World Socialist Web Site, students –who were not told the sources – compared and contrasted the material, deciding which was the most informative, the least biased etc. [see attachments] The vast majority concluded the second one (from WSWS) was the most objective, relaying the relevant facts and looking at the bigger picture (motivations for the protests, who was involved, responses of people in the city etc.) and that the first article was simply regurgitating quotes from the PM and the police – sensationalizing the violence whilst ignoring the real issues.

They were really appalled at the lack of context in the BBC article – and some even compared it to reporting of the Israel Palestine conflict where the historical oppression of the Palestinians is almost universally omitted. Students then had to guess where each article came from – 17 of 19 students thought the first extract – actually from the BBC – was from the Daily Mail, one from the Telegraph and another (as he’d already read it!) knew it was from the BBC. 11/19 thought the second article – from the overtly politicized WSWS – was from the BBC because it was ‘balanced’ and gave ‘facts rather than opinion’, the remainder thought it was from the Guardian. Needless to say they were shocked and will be treating Auntie Beeb with a little more suspicion in future.

Thought you’d be interested to know how young people react to issues like this. I’ve encouraged them to write – politely – to the BBC questioning their reporting. Keep up the good work guys, and an alert on the reporting of the protests might be an idea – the framing of the debate, shifting it away from issues and legitimate debate – is something the media, in particular the BBC, seems to frequently choose to do. They’re blaming this ‘radical minority’ for making violence the talking point- but at no point dothey note that they are the ones who’ve chosen to concentrate on it. Richard Madely’s comments on BBC2 this morning, as well as yesterday morning, have been particularly appalling.


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