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The BBC has this week come under fire for breaking its impartiality guidelines as political commentators and social media users alike have alluded to pro-government bias in their content. According to the BBC’s editorial guidelines, they are committed to achieving ‘due impartiality’ yet, this week, they are accused not only of spreading misinformation but also of ‘doctoring’ content.
This is not the first time that the impartiality of the BBC has been put into question as the broadcasting corporation also faced criticism for its pro-government bias during the Brexit campaign and the 2017 election. As the election campaign continues to intensify, the BBC is stepping up its coverage across all platforms however, various social media users, political commentators, and viewers have condemned what they consider to be pro-government, misleading content.
The most notable instance of doctoring was evident during a BBC News broadcast on 23rd November which edited out audience laughter which was in response to a question from an audience member directed at Boris Johnson. However, social media users have highlighted other instances of pro-government bias including a misleading article from 2015 on Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, which the BBC trust deemed ‘inaccurate’ back in 2017. Despite this, the article conveniently resurfaced on the BBC’s website on Saturday, following the attack on London Bridge in which a terrorist was shot dead.
The BBC has since admitted that it made a ‘mistake’ in editing out the audience laughter in the Question Time clip that aired on BBC News, however, they did not go so far as to apologize. Labour activist and political commentator Owen Jones aired his frustrations on Twitter and questioned why it is that the Conservatives are always the benefactors of so-called “mistakes”.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Jones labeled BBC’s write-up of the Conservative manifesto which stated that “Compared to the Labour manifesto, Boris Johnson’s plan for the country is a shopping list of promises, not an encyclopedia of ambitions” as a “Tory spin”. Owen Jones’ comments form part of a huge wave of social media backlash against the BBC as more and more people are questioning the broadcaster’s ability to remain politically impartial. Speaking in March, BBC Director-General, Tony Hall, said that the BBC’s reputation as an impartial news source had taken a hit, however, he went on to add that the BBC must “stand up for impartiality”. Given the recent wave of criticism, it can be assumed that their mission to regain their reputation as a reputable, trustworthy and impartial news source, has not been successful.
Currently, the BBC is not fulfilling its role as an unbiased source of information and this is inevitably making the British electorate question whether they can truly trust their content. Their actions during this current election campaign are unacceptable and, in its current state, the BBC resembles an arm of the Conservative propaganda machine, rather than a reputable public broadcaster.
Whilst it is simple and easy to criticize their actions, an analysis of the power structures within the broadcasting corporation reveal their motives and go some way to explaining why the BBC are promoting such pro-government content. As a state-funded broadcaster, the survival of the corporation is contingent upon the continued backing of the incumbent government. Besides, the presence of establishment figures and government appointees moulds an organization that mirrors the interests and ideologies of the government. In its current state, the BBC is not fit for purpose however, this isn’t necessarily entirely its fault.
As long as the government has the power to appoint members to executive-level positions within the corporation and so long as they can withhold funding, the government’s interests will always dictate the BBC’s content and true impartiality will never be achieved. Legislation must be introduced to ensure the impartiality of the BBC; this legislation must protect the BBC financially through ensuring a set level of annual funding. Also, it must protect the BBC from government appointees, thus ensuring that the corporation remains publicly funded whilst at the same time ensuring that the incumbent government doesn’t influence their content.
This recent wave of backlash against the public broadcaster is entirely justified and the people’s trust in what is supposed to be an impartial broadcaster has been shaken. Action is needed to ensure that government interests do not continue to dictate the BBC’s content.