Monday, 22 December 2014

International News Bias on the BBC

Particular countries are often reported on negatively by the BBC. Above are the flags of (top row) Russia, Syria, China, Argentina, Venezuela, (bottom row) Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran.
Bias in the BBC's international news is consistently blatant. Their pro-establishment position regularly culminates in news reports that support or endorse British foreign policy. As a result, countries that are enemies of Britain are routinely written or talked about in negative ways. Specific tactics used by the BBC include:
  1. A relentless dissemination of unsubstantiated gossip. For example, the Russian doping allegations, or the North Korean leader supposedly feeding his uncle to dogs.
  2. Regular criticism or misquoting of a nation's leadership, such as that against Cristina Fernandez of Argentina or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. A common tactic is to condemn leaders for mishandling their economy and impoverishing their people. Western sanctions, trade policy, and embargoes are typically dismissed as causes.
  3. Accusations or opinions being reported as facts, such as when the BBC essentially blamed pro-Russian separatists for the MH17 disaster. This appeared to coincide with censorship of contrary views. Another example occurred when a BBC presenter assumed President Assad wouldn't let inspectors into Syria to dispose of chemical weapons. She was proven wrong within weeks.
  4. A tendency to insert the opinions of reporters, commentators, editors, correspondents, and analysts into international news reports. This allows the BBC to present a biased view of events without taking responsibility for it. For example, this article includes an `analysis' by Steve Rosenberg about Russia's economy that uses plenty of effusive metaphor, claims of desperation, and an unsupported prediction that panic will ensue.
  5. A propensity to bury or suppress stories that aren't favorable to British foreign interests. Examples might include the numerous acts of violence committed by Ukrainian fascists, or the atrocities and executions carried out by the new Egyptian government. In both countries, democratic governments were toppled in violent coups but, because Britain supported those outcomes, BBC reports were far from negative and subsequent abuses haven't been reported. Another clear example was the blackout on the Hillary Clinton Benghazi scandal. There were almost no mentions of this event on the BBC website. The only coverage was a blog by the political editor, Mark Mardell, who later had to apologize for the bias he exhibited. Mardell said he'd previously not been "persuaded that allegations of a cover-up were a big deal. It seemed to me a partisan attack based on very little." This is what happens when opinions are presented instead of facts.
  6. Using pejorative or emotive words like `terrorist', `annex', `massacre' and `purge' to bias how the reader or listener interprets events.
  7. Changing the tone of a newsreader or reporter's voice to communicate skepticism, surprise, anger, concern, or another emotion that the BBC wishes the listener to feel in order to bias their interpretation of events.
The purpose of this international news bias is to turn public opinion against particular countries. This makes it easier for the British government to mobilize support for military action or economic sanctions against them. Here are some of the `enemies of Britain' that are reported on negatively by the BBC:
  • Russia opposes the expansion of NATO and the EU into Eastern Europe. They support Syria, Iran, and China, and regularly criticise Western governments.
  • Syria is one of the few remaining countries in the Middle East that hasn't been subjugated by the West. They dislike Israel, and are allied with Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah.
  • Iran threw a Western-supported dictator out of their country in 1979. They also fought against Saddam Hussein in the 1980's (when the West supported him). Perhaps most importantly, Iran has oil that Western countries would like greater control over. They dislike Israel, and are allied with Syria and Russia.
  • North Korea is a communist state and historical enemy of America. Their desire for nuclear weapons makes them a threat to Western interests.
  • Cuba is another communist regime with a history of antagonism towards the West. Their policy of socialized healthcare and education for all inhabitants makes Western corporations and politicians nervous. Thus, a US embargo has been enforced for 50 years to keep the Cuban economy poor.
  • Argentina fought against Britain in the Falklands War. They often speak out against British imperialism.
  • Zimbabwe reclaimed their country from the British aristocracy via Robert Mugabe's 1980 revolution.
  • Venezuela are a socialist country with oil that supports Cuba and other leftist nations.
  • China compete with the West for domination of trade and resources. They're also a largely communist state.
Note: Even if some of these countries are justifiably criticised at times, that doesn't excuse the biased reporting against them.

Other countries that receive criticism for being leftist include Bolivia, Ecuador, Laos, and Vietnam. However, it's important to remember that the BBC isn't right-wing. Leftist countries are simply more of a threat to the establishment than right-wing or fascist regimes.

Alignment between the BBC's international news and British foreign policy is glaring. As explained before, this is largely because the BBC is pro-establishment. However, there are a couple of other factors:
  1. Foreign policy changes little from one government to the next. This makes the BBC's international news bias especially consistent. It also allows them to be more blatant, as the public are already receptive to the desired narrative. 
  2. The British public and other independent observers are less able to verify events that are happening abroad. This gives the BBC greater license to manipulate the story.
Taken together, these factors make international news the greatest source of bias on the BBC. Unless their pro-establishment position changes, BBC broadcasts will continue to foster hatred for particular countries and, thus, lay the foundations for future wars. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

The BBC isn't Left-Wing or Right-Wing, it's Pro-Establishment

Why choose when you can cater for both Labour (left) and the Conservatives (right)?

How many times have you heard someone say "the BBC is left-wing" or "the BBC is right-wing"? There are two reasons why hearing this drives me up the wall. First, both accusations are equally wrong (see below). Second, accusations like this mask the true bias of the BBC; a bias that is more insidious and dangerous than anything a conspicuously partisan institution could advance.

To understand why the the BBC has no left or right-wing agenda, we need a quick summary of how the organisation works:
  1. The existence of the BBC is guaranteed by a Royal Charter, which formally grants them the right to demand a license fee from the British public. Even though Royal Charters require the Queen's seal of approval, it's invariably the British government that proposes their granting or removal. 
  2. The government is able to change the value of the license fee. It can also change how funding is distributed to the BBC's various services.
  3. As well as following the terms of the Charter, the BBC must uphold an agreement with the current Secretary of State in order to keep broadcasting. This agreement on the `functions' of the organisation has previously been used to insert political ideology into BBC coverage, such as the 1988-94 media blackout on Northern Irish republicanism. 
These details are important for understanding how and why the BBC is biased. If it became politically worthwhile, the British government could dissolve the organisation or starve it of funding. In other words, it's in the BBC's interest to keep the government happy.

This pursuit of unrequited happiness would be easy if there wasn't an election every five years that routinely installs a new government with a new set of ideological goals. Thus, while the BBC remains consistent in its will to accommodate the political class, they're unable to adopt a permanent political position. If they were right-wing, a Labour government (leftist) would cut their funding or take them off the air. If they were left-wing, the Conservatives would do the same. Even if the BBC could change the direction of their bias every five years (and they do to some extent), anything beyond mild or subtle bias towards whichever party is in charge would be condemned by the opposition and punished at a later date.

How is the BBC Biased? 


The BBC must cater for anyone that has (or will have) the power to take it off the air. This means Labour and the Conservatives. Both of these mainstream political parties share a lot of views, policies, and agendas, giving the BBC plenty of room to bias their reporting in a consistent way. This pro-establishment bias motivates them to:
  1.  Promote and support only those parties that have a chance of winning an election, i.e. Labour and the Conservatives. They will occasionally promote other parties, such as UKIP, if it helps to preserve the status quo (read more about that here).
  2. Give almost no coverage to smaller parties or movements seeking to change the current political climate. If smaller parties are mentioned, they're referred to as "protest votes" to make it seem like there's no genuine reason to vote for them besides being temporarily disenfranchised with your natural position in the Labour or Conservative camp.
  3. Preserve the status quo by limiting the spectrum of political discourse to that which is expounded by the mainstream parties. 
  4. Make disagreement between the mainstream parties seem more overblown than it is in order to reinforce the charade of democracy.
  5. Disseminate positive propaganda for anything that is supported by both mainstream parties, such as wars (e.g. Iraq War), opposition to Scottish Independence, corporate interests, and the demands of wealthy individuals. 
  6. Restrict coverage of information that is not favorable to these objectives.
  7. Cover the Royal Family in a way that can only be described as sycophantically positive. Claim to be doing this because of some obligation to be patriotic, rather than the existence of the Royal Charter. This extends to the British aristocracy as a whole, leading to obscenely negative coverage of countries like Zimbabwe.
  8. Produce international news that supports British foreign policy. As foreign policy changes little from one government to the next, BBC bias on this matter is consistently blatant. For example, countries like Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Venezuela, China, and Cuba are routinely the subject of negative news stories, unsubstantiated gossip, and biased reporting that is intended to shape public opinion in a way that furthers British international interests. Even if some of the stories have an element of truth, the public requires honest reporting, not government propaganda.
In summary, there are plenty of ways for the BBC to be biased without being ostensibly right or left-wing. A brief look at their state obligations, funding arrangements, and reporting style is enough to expose them as pro-establishment. As alluded to earlier, this form of bias is more dangerous than any conspicuously partisan position. Everyone is affected equally by the erosion of democracy, the hindrance of change, the preservation of corruption, and the antagonism fostered around the world by British foreign policy.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Anti-NHS Propaganda on the BBC

The National Health Service. Public Domain Image.

If you've been living in Britain since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010, then you've probably heard a lot about how terrible the National Health Service (NHS) is. Whether your poison of choice is the TV, radio, or a newspaper, the fight to turn the British people against the NHS has been a long and determined one. This propaganda war has been largely unsuccessful, but that hasn't stopped the government from persistently trying to lay the groundwork for privatization of a much loved public service. In particular, the media arm of the government, known as the BBC, has been prolific in disseminating anti-NHS propaganda.

For example, BBC Radio 5 Live releases near-daily stories in which critics or complainants are given an opportunity to lambast the NHS in one way or another. Many or all of the complaints are quite genuine. However, the BBC's unrestrained willingness to meet their propaganda quota by giving every complainant airtime is truly unsavory. Due to the sheer plethora of radio segments that fall into this category, a significant number have made it onto youtube, so here's a couple for your amusement:

In the above video, the BBC starts with one of their favorite arguments: that the NHS try to silence whistleblowers. However, in most professions, if an employee publicly accuses their colleagues of being lazy, unproductive, and obstinate, it will result in some sort of disciplinary action. This escapes the BBC radio host, who then makes the bewildering claim that "the comments really apply to the public sector". What a remarkably transparent attempt to forgive, justify, and agree with the comments without any evidence. I bet she earned some brownie points with her bosses though.

Of course, the first guest on the show agrees with the comments fully and adds to them. The second guest nails it when he says "you don't hear about the good stories" but stops short of accusing the BBC of bias. Despite this belated defense, the story at hand is focused on criticizing the service, and all the host's questions for the defender are accusatory or negatively worded, e.g. at 4:35 - "Isn't it all too easy for someone who is lazy to hide in this giant machine, and it's very difficult to get them out of their job because of unions like yours, perhaps?". I like how she checked her bias after the question by saying "perhaps". The question gets repeated in the same ridiculous tone at 8:38 for no good reason.

The next video is interesting mainly for the way it starts. It seems this radio host recognizes how much she's been told to run stories about the NHS, saying "lets talk about that again". What follows is a story in which the first handpicked comment about the issue is that it's "absolutely scandalous".

Only today, I tuned in and heard Adrian Chiles running a segment about how mental health services in the NHS aren't good enough. I listen for less than 2 hours in any 24 hour period, but I hear the same thing almost every day. The only conclusion I can draw is that there's a chief editor at the BBC who's been explicitly told to get these stories on air.

There will be complaints with every service, public or private, and the NHS is no exception. The concern is with how complaints are being used to further an ideological, political agenda. The government's objective is to make the case for privatization of the NHS, presumably so they can give lucrative contracts to Conservative Party supporters. They appear to be doing this in two ways:
  1. Using the BBC and other media allies to bombard the public with negative propaganda about the NHS by giving every complaint or criticism a disproportionate amount of coverage.
  2. Starving the NHS of funding so they can make it fail. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that puts thousands of lives at risk.
BBC bias against the NHS is as old as the current government, and while that isn't surprising, it's quite telling. Thankfully, most of the public haven't succumbed to the propaganda. Support for the NHS remains reasonably high and, if we last six more months (to the next election), the propaganda war may come to an end. The new suits in charge will probably be just as corrupt as the current ones, but hopefully they'll have different objectives.

Friday, 21 November 2014

BBC Bias Towards UKIP - Establishing A Controlled Opposition

Nigel Farage. Picture: Euro Realist Newsletter via Wikimedia Commons.

The BBC aren't known for their support of the UK Independence Party. A case could even be made for them being quite critical of UKIP. However, the volume of coverage given to UKIP and its leader, Nigel Farage, by the BBC has been excessive. Along with other mainstream media, they have ensured that everyone in the United Kingdom knows about UKIP, Farage, and their anti-immigration policy. Farage has become a celebrity, and the party has become a cultural phenomenon with daily mentions on BBC comedy shows. The question on everyone's lips should be: why? Did the Green Party or the Respect Party not warrant this coverage? Why was UKIP chosen as the new voice of opposition?

After the financial collapse in 2008, tensions began to rise against the establishment. Many people stopped trusting their political and financial institutions. Others simply followed the trend, making it fashionable to rebel against Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. Without swift action, the establishment parties would have been be turfed out, and the institutions they prop up would have been severely threatened. Something had to be done and, as is typical, the media became the tool of choice. In all likelihood, the BBC were asked to:
  1. Ensure that anti-establishment sentiment isn't channeled into movements that could actually threaten the establishment.
  2. Promote a new political party that shifts blame for the financial crisis away from the political and financial establishment.
The result was UKIP; a party that blames immigration for our troubles. This was no surprise. Any social scientist or historian could tell you that hard times lead to xenophobia and hatred of outsiders. Just look at how sentiment in Germany changed in the 1920's and 30's after the disastrous Treaty of Versailles. UKIP represents a contemporary harnessing of temporary xenophobia in order to set up an anti-establishment movement that actually does nothing to threaten the establishment.

In terms of political and financial reform, UKIP offer nothing. In fact, they may be more extreme than the Conservatives when it comes to deregulation and maintaining the status quo. All UKIP offer is withdrawal from the EU and stricter immigration laws: an essentially irrelevant issue, but one which is inflated in the minds of a temporarily xenophobic public. People are flocking to UKIP because they're looking for something different. However, their good intentions are being channeled into an establishment-sanctioned party that mobilizes their baser instincts.

UKIP is a controlled opposition. Parties that offer real change, such as the Greens, are being excluded from media coverage. This was no more evident than in the BBC's decision to invite UKIP, but not the Green Party, to the televised election debates. More than a quarter of a million people signed a petition to get the Greens included, but this was ignored by the mainstream broadcasters. When have TV companies ever turned down a quarter of a million potential viewers? Are the political and financial establishment compensating them for it?

Democracy is not served by a leaders' debate between four former public schoolboys of similar ages, from similar backgrounds, with largely similar views on political and financial reform (or lack thereof). Democratically, there is a much bigger argument to include Natalie Bennett (the Green Party) in the TV debates than there is to include Nigel Farage. UKIP is essentially the Conservative party with slightly more extreme views, and a temporarily popular xenophobic message. In fact, UKIP are careful not to talk about their other policies because, if they did, people would realize they're almost no different to the mainstream parties.

The Greens offer more of an alternative than UKIP. Image by Another Angry Voice.
The Green Party represent the `new left' in politics, fighting for political reform, financial regulation, social mobility, renewable energy, and public services. That is why they're a danger to the establishment. That is why democracy would be served by including them in the debates and giving them as much coverage as UKIP.  Even if you disagree with their policies, most would agree that left-wing views need to be represented if Britain is to have a healthy democracy. Many would agree that, since Tony Blair, Labour no longer represents the left.

The BBC have a public duty to be impartial, but they've repeatedly shown their bias towards establishment interests. Whether it's by marginalizing smaller parties, promoting British foreign policy regarding attitudes towards Russia, Syria, Iran, Argentina, and Zimbabwe, or by sycophantically supporting the British royal family, the BBC are a tool for private, not public, interests. These are the interests of big money corporations, banks, and wealthy individuals - interests that are promoted by politicians and packaged by the mainstream media.

Monday, 16 June 2014

BBC News Bias - Headline Propaganda and Story Selection

A look at the BBC News homepage on June 16th, 2014. Included are mock comments from a fictional chief editor at the BBC to the website editor. The comments concern the choice and content of the news stories, images and headlines.

BBC News Bias