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The BBC is Un-American. Its biased, pro-government news will fare poorly in the States. 6/18/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in BBC, Jefferson.
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While Americans owe just about everything to our British heritage, and our nations’ cultures are very much alike, a big difference remains that made the American Revolution worth fighting. When America was founded, Thomas Jefferson thought the primary value of the press was to serve as a “fence,” keeping a watchful and critical eye on government lest it encroach on individuals’ natural rights. The British public apparently shares no similar instinct as they continue to acquiesce to news dominated by the government-controlled BBC.

As a result, the British are getting the news they deserve. Even the BBC’s own internal report due out this week has identified a “culture of bias” toward trendy, lefty, statist causes. Jeff Jarvis notes the impossibility of the BBC successfully reflecting diverse views and remaining “impartial” while operating as a monopoly providing a one-size-fits-all product.

Now it looks like, once again, the British are coming — this time, not by land, not by sea, but by cable on BBC America. In a less-than-inspired choice, the BBC has hired the former executive producer of Katie Couric’s floundering newscast to create a new one-hour nightly newscast from Washington targeted at Americans. Let’s see…a left-of-center news broadcast, firmly convinced of its own objectivity despite criticism, produced by a CBS executive. Not exactly a “shot heard ’round the world” this time, is it?

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2. Peter Ralph - 6/19/07

I wondered how long before this POV found a champion. I suspect thousands will jump on board. It is incredible that a foreign (government owned) news organization is making a play for the top of the news pyramid in the US.

This is not some Aussie wanting to make a buck. This is an ideologically driven putsch designed to topple US Big Media and put a foreign culture at the epi-center of opinion making in the US.

It sure is a pity that the nation’s newspaper of record shot itself in the foot so badly over the coverage of Iraq.

When this country needed informed fearless journalism more than at any time since Vietnam the news media failed us.

You can’t blame the BBC for that.

disclosure: I grew up in England (from age 4-22) I am a leftist. I like to think I am trendy but my teenage son disagrees.

3. Impartiality - the BBC gets it wrong. - 6/19/07

[…] LINK 2] Stirring post from the always insightful Steve Boriss  declaring that “The BBC is Un-American“.  He is confident that “Its biased, […]

4. Steve Boriss - 6/19/07

Peter, Of course, just because US broadcasters are not directly controlled by the government doesn’t mean they have not been kowtowed by regulations into toeing the establishment line. The broadcast networks have to renew their licenses, which has chilled their criticism of government. The Fairness Doctrine on radio had a similar impact before it lapsed in 1987,

5. Nick Coulter - 6/20/07

First, an elementary clarification – the BBC is not government controlled; even the slightly wonky new BBC Trust is in place explicitly to protect the BBC’s independence from government interference. Second, saying that the BBC has a leftist bias and saying that BBC news is ‘statist’ are two very different things. Americans may regard the current UK Labour government as distinctly left but that is not the general perception in the UK, where they are seen as centrist. The BBC, on the other hand, has a long and persisting tradition of being accused by both the incumbent government, of whatever stripe, and simultaneously the opposition of being biased against them. That’s what questioning and an ethos of objectivity (at least in ambition) does. See also Blair’s latest attacks on the UK media whom he describes collectively as ‘feral’. Further, BBC’s Nick Robinson caused ructions amongst the deferential Washington press-pack when he dared to ask President Bush a direct question. IPerhaps youi are offended that anoutsider voice may presume to report on American affairs? I don’t know, but I think you’ve got this one wrong.

6. Steve Boriss - 6/20/07

Nick, Thank you for commenting. Here are a couple of reasons I’d use to support that, in fact, the BBC is government-controlled. First, the members of the BBC Trust are appointed by the government, as it states on the BBC’s site: “BBC Trust members are appointed by the Queen on advice from ministers. Vacancies are advertised and appointments are made on merit, following a fair and transparent process regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, an independent body.” If private owners, public stockholders, or voters appointed this Board, that would be an argument against government control.

Second, its primary source of funding comes from a government tax — television licence fees of 136 GBP per television per year ($272 U.S. dollars). This tax, which provides the funds the BBC needs to operate, is set annually by the government, originating with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The government justifies this tax on the basis of the BBC fulfilling its government-oriented mission of producing high-rated shows that commercial broadcasters would not normally broadcast.

Regarding left, right, and centrist, I’d like to make four points. First, the BBC’s own internal report coming out this week claims lefty bias. Second, bias in my view is totally unavoidable — the mere selection of a news story/angle reveals the reporter’s/editor’s opinion of which of the infinite number of possible stories/angles deserves public attention and, often, action. Third, when the public discerns bias they relate it to their own ideology. So in the U.S. for instance, 83% believe that our media are biased, among whom 3/4 say it is biased to the left because it is left of them and 1/4 say it is biased to the right because it is right of them. Fourth, for similar reasons, I think it is quite possible that the BBC is “centrist” relative to the UK population. But here, BBC programming would be farther left of our population’s views than our left-of-center network TV broadcasts.

Lastly, I am not at all offended that you are commenting on American affairs. I did not hesitate to comment on UK affairs. Go for it!

7. James - 6/29/07

You can but laugh if you’re claiming the US television stations deliver less bias journalism than any UK outlet, let alone the BBC.

The control Bush has over the media Blair could only dream of.

8. Steve Boriss - 6/29/07

There is not a whole lot of difference between the bias of the BBC and mainstream US TV stations. In both it is quite evident. But, the BBC is actually a tad worse because: 1) it does not have to respond to challenges from the right from talk radio and cable TV news (i.e. Fox News) and 2) it does not have to compete for viewers for ratings. If there were more TV news alternatives in the UK, and if your views were not as similar to the BBC’s as I suspect they are, it would probably be a lot more noticeable to you. But keep in mind, I never said bias was bad and I never said it was not inevitable. I simply object to the lack of self-awareness on the part of broadcasters re: their bias, the lack of competition that would balance out the bias, and in the case of the BBC the control by government over the news.


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