If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 24 October 2010

How the BBC reports the 'Cuts'

I have long felt that the BBC is significantly biased in its reporting of the news and its general output. There is a liberal-left mindset which seems to colour everything from the way it reports government business to the treatment of controversial issues such as the climate change debate. It's very subtle: nothing blatant that you could identify as a partisan statement, but subliminal things like the choice of speakers (or non-invitation of speakers) to represent opposing viewpoints, and even the tone of voice used in interviewing people who disagree with orthodox thinking. The BBC hotly deny any bias, of course. But there are little snippets of information that pull the curtain back, such as the famous remark by Jane Garvey, presenter of Radio 4's Woman's Hour, on 2 May 1997, after Blair's election victory:
"I do remember... the corridors of Broadcasting House were strewn with empty champagne bottles. I'll always remember that."
(BBC Radio Five Live, 10 May 1997)

If the BBC were found to be partisan in any way, this would create huge problems for them and the government. It is fundamental to the BBC's charter that the national broadcaster must be politically impartial, and if it were to be proved that the BBC were favouring one party over another, or one political viewpoint over another, then the legitimacy of the whole organisation, funded involuntarily by taxpayers of all political persuasions, would be called into question. We believe, in a democracy, that it is the freedom of the press which keeps governments in check; and one of the main identifiers of a totalitarian government is its ownership and control of the national broadcaster. But the BBC's output is so vast and varied, and accurate analysis of its assumptions and biases so complex and open to interpretation, that it is almost impossible to prove that the BBC is not neutral.

There was something very interesting over at the Biased BBC blog yesterday, however. A contributor has sent in word cloud images, generated from reporting of the Comprehensive Spending Review form four sources: the BBC, Sky News, CNN and Hansard. The images are not labelled, and you are invited to guess which one is a summary of the BBC coverage. I'm afraid it isn't hard to spot. The BBC reporting of Osborne's statement was overwhelmingly negative and concentrated on the notion of 'painful cuts'. (An equally-biased but opposite interpretation could have led with the idea of 'tough but necessary action to put the shattered economy back on its feet'.)

I'm not inclined to dismiss this as just a bit of rabid right-wing fluff. Word frequency analysis has been used in academic circles for a long time in proving or disproving authorship of disputed literary works, and it is based on sound statistical and linguistic principles. As long as the analysis is based on a sufficiently large data set, then the results are quite reliable. And this particular exercise is quite startling in its differentiation of the various sources.

I won't reproduce it here, but go and have a look. I think this deserves the widest audience possible.


  1. I like these word clouds.

    Must do one on my blog - meatballs is bound to come up big.

  2. If you find out how to do it, let me know. I did look into it, but it seems to involve inserting a lot of extra code in the blog template and, at the end of the day, I couldn't be arsed.

    Meatballs. I had some Scandinavian meatballs in IKEA in Dublin a few weeks ago. Fantastic. And when my Danish friends were here, they cooked a 'national dish' for us one night. They tried to say it was frikadelle, but I knew it was meatballs all along. Lovely. I'm a fan.

  3. I have a confession to make - the meat balls on my new blog header are actually soutzoukaki, from Smyrna.


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