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.
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.
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.
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.