It’s fashionable for people on the progressive left to call out and highlight the anti-left and anti-Corbyn bias of the BBC, but this claim needs some careful unpacking.
Academic research (e.g. LSE: Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From Watchdog to Attackdog) certainly seems to support this view; but assuming it to be true for a moment, it by no means follows that all, or even most, journalists working for the BBC are themselves politically right-wing.
Parallels can be drawn here with the right-wing press. I’ve been reliably informed by a former Daily Telegraph journalist, for example, that at that newspaper, many of the journalists working there are well left of centre.
At the institutional level however, everyone knows what’s required by the paper’s owners and so a culture of right-wing and right-oriented commentary is created, which becomes an accepted norm to which all journalists employed by that title conform. In such organisations, moreover, the management are likely to be right-wing in orientation.
Something similar to this seems to be happening at the BBC, as political commentator Owen Jones pointed out at length on Radio 5 Live last Saturday evening (Saturday 30 November).
So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to see a former very senior BBC journalist and editor ‘coming out’ on the political left. I remember Nick Jones (right) very well from the miners’ strike in the early 1980s when he was chief political editor at the BBC, and when he was clearly doing his best as the time to be as even-handed and neutral as possible. Jones left the BBC in 2002 (aged 60), and I’ve heard nothing of him since. So I was mildly amazed to read in a recent issue of the Morning Star a feature article by him on media bias. Titled ‘Boris Johnson’s shock troops in the commentariat’ we read about how, ‘when the PM runs into trouble, he’s not short of obliging media pundits to rush to his rescue and deliver a hatchet job on Corbyn’.
Jones evocatively writes of what he calls ‘attack journalism’, their ‘character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn’, and their ‘conjuring up yet another hatchet job on Corbyn to help bolster the brilliance of Johnson’.
Listing a number of obnoxious headlines from an array of Tory propaganda comics, Jones then points out the sobering fact that Conservative-supporting newspapers account for 80% of UK newspaper sales.
But it’s far worse than even this, as the likes of the BBC pick up on and report the right-wing editorial lines of these papers, ‘feeding through to the commentary on television and radio programmes’. And the right-wing press commentariat also ‘command a far higher proportion of broadcast interviews and invitations to newspapers reviews on radio and television’, with press headlines commonly treated as news.
Jones concludes his article with a chilling observation: ‘Media coverage in 2017 was the vilest of any general election of my 60 years as a reporter’.
I fear 2019 might be even worse.’ From what I’ve seen to date, I think his worst fears have already come to pass, with the Cummings-driven Tory Dirty Tricks Department leaving all previous Tory attempts to propagandise the electorate trailing in his wake.
When a widely respected journalist of Nick Jones’s seniority and professional stature speaks so scathingly about the flagrant bias of the right-wing press, we really have to take it seriously. But just what we can do to neutralise the propaganda impact of this outrage to democracy is something that the left urgently needs to address – and preferably well before 12 December 2019.
Guest-blogged by Richard House Ph.D., former senior university lecturer in psychology, psychotherapy and early childhood studies, and now a full-time Labour Party and environmental campaigner-activist.