BBC has become the broken lens through which we view the world

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BBCCloudy

Summer 2008: A naive, young man moves loaves from one basket to another in an industrial bakery.  The job is monotonous and mind-numbing, the only escape is the sound from the headphones.  The young man is me, the sound is the BBC reporting on the biggest financial crisis in our history.  I quickly became hooked.

I listened to Stephen Nolan in the morning and Jeremy Vine in the afternoon, soon I’d added Paxman and Dimbleby to my evening viewing. I loved the content and analysis involved in the shows and I eventually took up journalism with my dream of working for the BBC.

Lately, however, I have lost trust in the BBC.  I’ve lost confidence in its ability to report accurately, truthfully and in a way that allows for any sort of ideas outside of their pre-set boundaries.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep watching BBC’s political shows and news shows, although it won’t be for much of the content or analysis, but for the same reason I watch Game of Thrones: there’s plenty of drama and a good chance someone will lose their head.

It’s clear to me though that the BBC has lost its way, and I’m not the only person who isn’t happy.

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BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson

Following the European and local elections the BBC reveived almost 1200 complaints for giving Nigel Farage’s UKIP disproportionate airtime, which prompted political editor Nick Robinson come to the corporation’s defense saying, “The BBC either gets flak for giving him too much flak, and on the other hand we get flak for giving him far too much airtime as well.”

The reality is, that since since 2009 up to the European Election, Nigel Farage had appeared on BBC Question Time 16 times, and that’s just Mr Farage.  UKIP has had other representatives on the show too. The Green Party in comparison appeared on show the just 11 times.

Phil Burton-Cartledge looked at four years of BBC Question Time figures up to the end of 2012, and it showed a clear bias to the political right. Although given that the three main parties (Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems) have all pursued similar economic policies during their times in government, it is hard to argue that any of these parties are really on the left economically. To me this shows that the bias is skewed even further to the right than this analysis suggests.

The BBC’s coverage of the Green Party during the EU and local elections came under heavy criticism also, with a petition entitled “BBC News: Stop this media blackout of the Green Party” attracting almost 50,000 signatures.

There is clearly a huge issue of representation within the BBC, and for me the final straw came when it failed to cover the story 50,000 people marching on parliament against austerity, which included the high profile political speaker and celebrity Russell Brand.

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Russell Brand speaking at 50,000 strong anti-austerity protest on 21st June 2014.

Ric Bailey, Chief Advisor of BBC Editorial Policy spoke on the BBC’s Daily Politics on how they allocate time for Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) and on BBC political broadcasts. For PEBs Mr Bailey says parties get more coverage based on whether or not they can demonstrate electoral support. He said that for coverage on news and current affairs there is no formula for how much time parties get, it’s done by “good judgement.”

Mr Bailey’s comments, and indeed the practices of the BBC, suggests that all this political coverage is done in a Westminster bubble. Fringe groups are left out, and when we look at the level of disengagement in Westminster politics, we can see why the BBC is losing credibility by giving a disporportionate amount of time to these parties.

There is a huge amount of people out there rejecting mainstream parties altogether. There is no disputing that the vast majority of political focus on the BBC, and most broadcast media in general, is based on the “Big Four” parties of the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP. Representation for other movements is barely there at all. When you include people who aren’t registered to vote into the vote share figures, it has a huge effect on the proportion of people to have rejected the “Big Four” by either voting someone else or not voting at all.

I looked at figures for the 2010 General Election and estimates from the Electoral Commission to try to paint a bigger picture of political disengagement. The 2010 General Election was the best turned out election of recent times, having a slightly higher turnout than the General Election before that.

Of the total amount of people who actually voted, only 8.8% of people didn’t vote for the “Big Four”, but that rises to a massive 50% when you include people who didn’t vote and people who aren’t registered to vote.

Click me to see interactive charts.

Click me to see interactive charts.

In its broadcasting the BBC does not represent this 50%. Ok, fair enough, it might be hard to try to work out who all these disparate groups are and why they might be so disenfranchised with the current political status quo, but the BBC isn’t even trying, and in maintaining its current practices it props up the current system. The BBC has become the centre-right lens through which many people in the UK view the world.

The recent broadcasting failures demonstrate how out of touch the BBC is.  If it’s to regain my trust and confidence, and that of many others, it will have to connect with those who reject mainstream politics. Part of this is accepting that the current political system offers little choice.  A huge chunk of the public want something else, and as a public sector broadcaster the BBC has a duty to reflect this more realistically.

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Alternative Employment event a missed opportunity for Manchester Greens

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Green leader Natalie Bennett wants to revolutionise employment by introducing a Universal Basic Income and having a shorter working week. Ms Bennett was speaking at an alternative employment event last night at The Cornerhouse in Manchester following elections which saw her party growing their share of EU and council seats in the UK.

Natalie Bennett’s input into the conversation was well informed and to the point, but a distinct lack of fanfare and cameras shows the publicity problems the Green Party is facing.  It’s possibly a less cynical way of doing politics, but it does not win elections.

The discussion, organised by anti-capitalist group Plan C, centred around three questions:

1. What does the future of work look like currently?

2. What would you like the future of work to look like?

3. How can we organise and what interventions can we make in order to create the future of work that we want to see?

The leader of the Green Party in England and Wales told the audience that a universal basic income is something her party aims towards, but admits that there are political limitations her party has to work within, highlighting the need first of all to “first make minimum wage a living wage.”

Academic Nick Srnicek, who was also on the panel, agreed with these political aspirations but said they would have to be worked on over years.

Mr Srnicek thinks that a Universal Basic Income, an income based on need not ability, could be a solution to problems such as wage stagnation, job precariety and underemployment. He also sees it as a “leverage for class power” as it increases the value of work. This is a point Ms Bennett was able to develop:

“The nature of the payscale will change. For example, a sewer cleaner would be paid more than a banker, because it’s a job that less people would be willing to do.”

Panelists agreed that a shorter working week is also a necessity, with Natalie Bennett highlighting issues around childcare that could be easily resolved with a shorter working week.

When challenged on how a UBI and shorter working week could be financed Nick Srnicek suggested that the money could be found somehow. Natalie Bennett said it’s hard for economists to work out what would happen because it’s hard to predict how people will behave, however she did point out that UBI had had atransformative effect in some developing countries where it doesn’t cost a lot to finance.

Natalie Bennett outlined her party’s positions on employment very well, and the political realities of the modern world, but the Greens failed to generate publicity around the event and to really drive their message home. It might be fair to say she was being respectful to the debate in not using it to score points politically, but in reality her party need to take those opportunities to do that.

There seemed to be a fairly broad consensus in the room, both with the audience and the panel.  The event was well attended, well organised and the audience had plenty of opportunities to input ideas.  “A Future that Doesn’t Work” was organised by Plan C MCR.  The podcast will be available on their website soon.

 

Originally published on 04/06/2014

Will lower turnout affect EU elections?

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On the 22nd of May 2015 voters in the North West of England will take to the polls to elect eight people to fight on their behalf at the European Parliament. But just how many will actually come out to vote?

The big question everyone seems to be asking is similar to that of years gone by: should we in the UK stay in Europe, or should we leave? The main difference this time round has been the addition of two television debates headed up by pro-EU Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and charismatic anti-EU UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

The United Kingdom has historically had a low turnout at in European elections. The last election in 2009 saw a UK turnout of 34.5%, however the North West of England, and Manchester and Salford Council areas in particular have been particularly low, even compared to the rest of the UK.

Online Graphing

English Democrat candidate Steve Morris thinks this is due to a rejection of the established parties. He describes his party as a civic nationalist party, who wants England to be removed from the political EU, but appreciates how we benefit from other European countries as neighbours and trading partners.

The English Democrats want to get out of Europe altogether, but the Conservatives on the other hand want to reform Europe altogether. Syed Kamall MEP, Leader of Conservative MEPs in Europe, said the Conservative Party would guarantee a referendum on Europe if they won the next General Election. Last week he was in Manchester, trying to drum up support for his party’s candidates here.

Syed Kamall may be right in saying the big battle is between the Conservatives and Labour. In the North West in 2009, the Conservatives and Labour polled first and second sharing 25.6% and 20.4% of the total votes cast respectively. This meant the Tories won 3 seats, Labour won 2. UKIP, the Lib Dems and the BNP won 1 seat each.

However Syed Kamall may also be wrong. His party is unpopular in the UK at the moment, after almost three years of cuts and the recent expenses scandal involving Tory MP Maria Miller, and the polls reflect this.

Electio2014.eu estimates that the Conservatives will slip nationally from the party with the most European candidates, currently 26, to the party in third place with 18 seats. They estimate UKIP will rise from their base of 13 seats to the UK’s second biggest European party with 20 seats.

These polls were carried out before the second Nigel Farage vs Nick Clegg debate and some think that Farage’s dominance in that debate will give UKIP an even bigger jump with some commentators predicting that UKIP will become the biggest UK party in Europe.

The television debates will only have added to Nick Clegg’s anxieties. The Deputy Prime Minister’s party has suffered from being the junior partner in an unpopular coalition government. They are likely to come out of the European elections considerably scarred with polls showing they may only return two seats.

The Electoral Commission are running an awareness campaign to encourage people to register to vote by the 6th of May, but have said that’s as far as they go, it’s up to the parties to motivate people to actually cast their vote.

Salford City Council doesn’t have time to deal with students, but a spokesperson urged everyone to come out and have their say in the election.

Originally posted on 15/04/14.