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The Baffling British: Why does a country with such great newspapers tolerate such awful TV news? 11/25/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in BBC.

While most Americans might disagree about whether our Old Media news is any good, we would probably all agree that it is consistent. Read just about any newspaper or watch any network TV news program and you are bound to see the same set of news stories and angles, the ones jointly agreed-upon by the NY Times and Washington Post the night before. Our news outlets’ consistent center-left bias, and their consistent and maddening denial of same, will always irritate the same people — those further to the left, and those from the center all the way to the right.

Now, hop over the pond to London and you will see something entirely different. Their newspapers are lively, opinionated, and differentiated — running the gamut from left to right. Now turn on TV news, and you will be subjected to the scolding, PC, government-intervention-loving Auntie Beeb, with a liberal bias so blatant that an internal BBC report damned itself. News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch (H/T: Adrian Monck) has offered to add competition to shake-up the situation, but the British themselves do not seem to want to be liberated. He said he has found the people to be hostile to any challenge to the BBC, his own Sky News managers resistant to learning the lessons of its sister Fox News Channel in the states, other TV journalists not knowing better because most have been trained by the BBC, and British legislators and regulators thwarting his efforts by persistently challenging him on non-issues like “plurality.”

In a few years, none of this will matter as all media will travel over the Internet. This will lead to intense competition, and loss of the influence of government-created structures like the BBC and the FCC that promote news that sings the praises of the state. But you have to wonder why the British who, unlike Americans, had something better than the BBC to compare it against just sat there, paid their $270 per TV set BBC tax each year, and suffered in silence.


1. lee - 11/26/07

The BBC denies, belittles and denigrades everything I am and believe in, yet I am compelled to pay the $270 a year licence fee; non-payment results in imprisonment.

In truth, is this how a so-called democratic country should be treating its citizens?

2. Bob Jones - 11/26/07

“government-intervention-loving”? Isn’t this the same BBC that found an anti-government bias in its reporting? The report you mentioned, which found it was critical of the British government? How can it be both?

If having Rupert Murdoch’s views sent over the air waves is liberating, I’m not sure why … perhaps while people want a little opinion in the morning, at the end of the day, they want straight evening news.

3. Steve Boriss - 11/26/07

Bob, When the BBC actually does something substantial to solve the problem it found with itself, I’ll become a believer. Better yet, it would be great to see Parliament open-up the British market to competition.

4. Bob Jones - 11/26/07

The market is open, Murdochs problem is that OFCOM (Brit version of FCC) mandates impartiality … perhaps what is more likely to happen is Fox News with honest branding, I imagine the impartiality laws will go but programs will have to be extremely clear about wether its opinion or straight news so there could be an O’Reilly but “fair and balanced” would have to go.

There is a free market for competition, anybody can start a news station – with enough money, and Murdoch’s sattelite network would be forced to carry it (another OFCOM rule) …

I don’t think there is a market for any more TV news, perhaps without impartiality laws then there would be more space for various left and right outfits …

I think from a market stand point Sky News are doining the right thing, I don’t see viewers flocking back to it if it goes to the right (or left for that matter), I know the people I know only watch it for breaking news and to be informed whats happening, we don’t go to listen to middle aged white men tell us their opinion. BBC News is beating Sky with proper news, Sky News would be best dropping their constant tabloid content and stop doing 15-minute news cycles – they even advertise the fact that they rerun every story after 15 minutes, watching an hour of the station is unbearable unless there is breaking news.

Interestingly Sky News was told not to go into the US by Murdoch because he was scared it would take ratings away from Fox, Fox News does broadcast in the UK though.

Sky should continue to be a reputable brand and not go the Fox News way, impartiality laws are likely to be changed though but not to US levels – branding will be key and quotas will be set on the levels of real news/opinion. I imagine he might set-up a new channel, not a 24 hour news net, but a prime-time opinion channel, possibly with the branding of one of his UK news papers.

I think the UK population misses what the BBC was, it has gone off the deep end a bit, but I don’t think they yearn for deregulated television … Sky would be best trying to keep its reputation up and take BBC viewers.

5. Steve Boriss - 11/26/07

Bob, It is not a “free market for competition” if the British government has impartiality laws, has laws that force providers to carry programming they otherwise would not, forces taxpayers to subsidize one network and not others, and controls the broadcast channels. I think that just like the U.S., the British would not have appreciated the BBC as much all these years if there had been alternatives that showed them just how biased it was. And I suspect that the current dissatisfaction is being drummed-up by alternatives they now see on the Internet.

6. Ydobon - 11/26/07

From Instapundit.

ANGRY AT ITS BIAS, British sailors have switched off the BBC:

“Sailors also believe the news organisation places more faith in Iraqi reports than information coming from British or Allied sources.

One senior rating said: “The BBC always takes the Iraqis’ side. It reports what they say as gospel but when it comes to us it questions and doubts everything the British and Americans are reporting. A lot of people on board are very unhappy.”

Ark has replaced the BBC with rival broadcaster Sky News.

Instapundit concludes: “UPDATE: If this interests you, don’t miss Biased BBC, a weblog devoted to, well, bias at the BBC.”

7. Cassandrina - 11/27/07

The BBC is not in a learning mode due to an entrenched biased culture. The regulators and the new BBC board are part of the problem rather than the solution since they are chosen this way.
I have just come back from a remote country stuck in the 1950’s, and had to turn the BBC World Service TV off in disgust at its total bias. Strikes in France and Germany but little or nothing on the constant bad new from Britain and the Brown government.
Bring back Guy Fawkes.

8. Peter Ralph - 11/27/07

the BBC is terrible! Awful! It’s only when you compare it to the alternatives that it starts to shine.

Robert Fisk savages US media:

No wonder bbc.com is the fastest growing news site in the US.

9. Steve Boriss - 11/27/07

Peter, Yes, I honestly do believe that the BBC is more biased and less balanced than the U.S. networks, which themselves are biased and unbalanced. Talk radio and the Fox News Channel have built a sizable population here that is now acutely aware of this bias, and this population has had some success in getting the networks to take a little bit off of the center-left edge. You should know that Robert Fisk is a figure that much of the U.S. blogosphere regards as a man of the left, particularly anti-American and anti-Israel. I will take your word that bbc.com may be the fastest growing news site in the U.S., although it is not nearly one of the largest news sites here as ranked by Hitwise.

10. Peter Ralph - 11/27/07

steve – the largest newspaper site (per Jeff Jarvis post yesterday) is guardian.com

I am not sure if that helps your case…

11. Steve Boriss - 11/27/07

Peter, Yes, I think it does. Bias in news is a good thing in a free market, and Americans are craving it. The BBC and the U.S. networks refuse to cater to this consumer need while claiming to be objective, an impossible goal in my view. Tune in to my blog later this week — an article I’ve written is due to be published where I talk about the British invasion of the U.S. market and why it might succeed. I don’t have the BBC in mind, but I suppose they might find a place among those who don’t categorize their views as center-left but simply as the “correct way to look at things.”

12. Peter Ralph - 11/27/07

I look forward to it Steve.

Does dailymail.com figure in your article? – I believe it has recently become the second biggest “news” site in the UK, and is gaining ground fast in the US. Those familiar with the Mail will understand why I put the inverted commas round “news”. The Daily Mail has the distinction of being the only British newspaper to vigorously support Hitler right up to the outbreak of WWII.

This whole idea that there is a “center” in the political spectrum is absurd as soon as you realise that the political spectrum itself is a moving target, constantly being redefined by the dominant political culture.

If you are interested in British media – I heartily recommend Andrew Marr’s “My Trade, a history of journalism”. Very interesting insights into the nature of bias in the beeb, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

all the best

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

13. Steve Boriss - 11/27/07

Peter, Thanks for the book recommendation. In general I think the collection of all London papers, Daily Mail included, represents a good model for a free press in a free world. I also believe American founding father Thomas Jefferson would have agreed.

14. Ydobon - 11/27/07

Fisk : “The term refers to Robert Fisk, a journalist who wrote some rather foolish anti-war stuff, and who in particular wrote a story in which he (1) recounted how he was beaten by some anti-American Afghan refugees, and (2) thought they were morally right for doing so. Hence many pro-war blogs — most famously, InstaPundit — often use the term ‘Fisking’ figuratively to mean a thorough and forceful verbal beating of an anti-war, possibly anti-American, commentator who has richly earned this figurative beating through his words. Good Fisking tends to be (or at least aim to be) quite logical, and often quotes the other article in detail, interspersing criticisms with the original article’s text.”

“Responding to an earlier declaration against the war by a group of German intellectuals, a group of American academics and intellectuals has written a response. It’s basically a heavyweight group-Fisking.”

15. Ydobon - 11/27/07

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

From Thomas Jefferson on Freedom of the Press.

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