‘Today’ – A Tale of Two Cities

The BBC’s contrasting coverage of the party conferences seems to have been at its sharpest with ‘Today’. Here’s why I think that’s the case (at somewhat exhausting length!), concentrating on the Labour Party conference in Liverpool and the Conservative Party conference in Manchester:

Setting the agenda
The introductions to each edition of the programme were revealing:
The Labour conference editions
Monday 26/9: Opened with James Naughtie saying “The shadow chancellor Ed Balls will commit Labour to new spending rules in an attempt to bolster the party’s economic credentials. We’ll be talking to Mr Balls live in Liverpool.”
Tuesday 27/9: Opened with James Naughtie saying “Ed Miliband is going to tell the Labour Party at its conference that it’s time to reward people who contribute to society and stop the get-rich-quick culture”.
Wednesday 28/9: James Naughtie says “I’ll be talking to Ed Miliband about his break with the Blair/Brown years, producers and predators and the role of the state in our lives.”
The Conservative conference editions
Monday 3/10: Begins with Sarah Montague saying, “Plans to extend the freeze on council tax in England are to be announced by the chancellor. We’ll be speaking to George Osborne later in the programme and we’ll be asking whether Europe could yet again divide the Tories.”
Tuesday 4/10: After headlines about Amanda Knox, “senior doctors in England are warning that the government’s overhaul of the NHS in England will cause irreparable harm to patients’ services” and “how much control do we have over the world’s financial markets and how much of it is done by computers and fear?”, Sarah Montague says, “here at the Conservative Party conference, we’ll be asking whether the Conservatives hate the police and at ten past eight I’ll be speaking to the prime minister David Cameron.”
Wednesday 5/10: Begins with Sarah Montague saying, “David Cameron will close the Conservative Party conference with a call for people to pay off their credit card debts. Also this morning we’ll be speaking to the foreign secretary William Hague about how Britain should react to the Eurozone crisis and asking whether the North can ever be persuaded to vote Tory.”
So, nothing negative for the Labour Party in any of those James Naughtie introductions but a deeply negative question posed in every one of Sarah Montague’s introductions.
Suggestive of bias surely?

The commentators
Each of the Labour Party Conference editions of the programme ended with a discussion about the conference featuring the following:
26/9: David Blunkett, Labour, & Mehdi Hasan, Labour supporting editor of the ‘New Statesman’ (link)
27/9: Blair speechwriter and Labour Party member Phil Collins of the ‘Times’ & Labour supporter Polly Toynbee of the ‘Guardian’ (link)
28/9: Steve Richards, pro-Labour ‘Independent’ journalist & George Parker of the ‘FT’, the only non-Labour supporter out of six (though he’s no Conservative supporter either from what I’ve heard) (link)

Only one of the Conservative Party conference editions (3/10) ended with such a discussion and this featured pro-Conservative Benedict Brogan of the ‘Telegraph’ and non-Tory supporter Allegra Stratton of the ‘Guardian’ (link). The other discussion (5/10) was given over to an assessment of all three party conferences, but was heavy with criticism of the Conservatives and praise for Ed Miliband. The guests were Iain Martin of the ‘Daily Mail’ from the Right, Mary Ann Sieghart of the ‘Independent’ from the Centre (though she’s frequently described as a Blairite) and Kevin Maguire of the ‘Mirror’ from the Left (link).

So the tally would be (by my reckoning) 7 from the pro-Labour Left, 2 from the Centre and 2 from the pro-Conservative Right.

More strong evidence of bias surely?

Tone
Last week, James Naughtie conducted the programme from the Labour Party conference as if it were a seminar, partly cosy and partly earnest. It felt like an insider’s perspective. Justin Webb’s coverage of the Lib Dem conference and Sarah Montague’s coverage of the Conservative conference, however, were relatively lightweight, often breezy and occasionally snide, and both felt like outsiders’ perspectives (as they should).

James Naughtie
Questions of tone can be dismissed as being in the ear of the beholder, but Naughtie’s interviews with several Labour figures (from Tom Harris to David Miliband) were generally friendly, and his interview with Ed Balls contained such comments as “Indeed, that’s a very interesting answer” and “Well, again, that’s a very interesting answer” (link). Indeed, “interesting” and “intriguing” cropped up again and again in Naughtie’s commentaries, his questions to his colleagues and his interviews. For example, in a discussion with Nick Robinson, he described what he called Ed Miliband’s “straightforwardness” on the issue of the state as “intriguing” (link).

While Sarah Montague asked nothing but pointed questions to the Tories, Naughtie, throughout his Labour conference coverage, kept asking such questions as “What will be the nature of the argument?” or “What will be the character of the conference?” and “How’s the party going to define itself?” (all in the first hour of the 26/9 edition). “Where’s Labour heading?”, he asked Mehdi Hasan. “What direction should Labour take?” and “What culture should Labour seek to create?” he asked David Blunkett (also 26/9 edition). On Tuesday, he was specifically wondering (vaguely) where Ed Miliband wanted to take his party. On and on he went in this vein.

During the discussion with Phil Collins and Polly Toynbee, listen to how many times Jim agrees with Polly and Phil or Polly and Phil agree with Jim (all those ‘That’s true’s) (link). Note also Naughtie wondering aloud about whether Ed Miliband’s moral argument takes things “to a higher plane”. You will hear left-leaning pundits and presenter in full agreement throughout. Very cosy.

On Tuesday’s Labour Conference programme, Naughtie interviewed Labour MP Tom Harris (link). Again, it’s all very friendly. Tom goes “absolutely” to something Jim says. Jim goes “yes, yeah” to something Tom says. Tom goes “Yep absolutely” to something more Jim says, and “I think that’s absolutely spot on” to something else Jim says. Just as cosy.

Sarah Montague
In contrast, Sarah Montague was prone to inappropriate laughter (inappropriate, that is, for an impartial presenter). During a discussion about Osborne’s council freeze plan (first hour, 3/10) with chief political correspondent Gary O’Donoghue, for example, when GO’D said that it would only save families in England £1.50 a week, she burst out laughing. This inescapably gave the impression that she thought it was a piddling amount, a point GO’D picked up on. Then (and showing a very different tone to that between James Naughtie and Labour’s Tom Harris) during an interview with Conservative MP Sir Peter Bone, also on Monday’s edition (3/10), he was making some strongly conservative proposals for boosting the economy when, having earlier contradicted him, Sarah started laughing and told him (through her laughter) that there’s no chance of any of those things happening. (This interview, bizarrely, is not available to listen again on the ‘Today’ website. Why not? Because the tone was wrong?) Finally, on Wednesday morning’s edition (5/10), when Gary O’Donoghue listed some of the adjectives David Cameron was going to use in his speech today to (in his words) “flatter” the British character – “hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, adaptable, optimistic, can-do spirit” – Sarah Montague burst out laughing again. GO’D got the giggles too as a result. This showed what they thought of Mr Cameron’s choice of words – and it’s unlikely the prime minister would have felt flattered had he heard them!

But…
There were some striking exceptions to this general rule – oddly enough when you’d least expect them. The biggest interviews – the ones with Ed Miliband (link) and David Cameron (link)- were conducted by both James Naughtie and Sarah Montague in a fairly hands-off manner – especially Sarah Montague, who gave David Cameron a surprising amount of leeway. Naughtie wasn’t much tougher on Ed Miliband, though the ‘weird’ question was quite a shock (especially to Miliband). That was as good as it got for both presenters. [Intriguingly, as James Naughtie might say, Sarah Montague used the word ‘weird’ in her interview with George Osborne to mock a Tory standpoint.]

Despite the ‘but’…
James Naughtie’s approach is surely a gift to the Labour Party.

Gary O’Donoghue’s previews with ‘Today’ presenters
Gary O’Donoghue has taken over from Norman Smith as Radio 4’s chief political correspondent and, while he can’t touch Smith for sheer naked bias, he’s not entirely beyond criticism over the last couple of weeks. His discussions with James Naughtie at the Labour Party Conference Labour’s were fine, with little editorialising, either one way or the other. His discussions with Sarah Montague at the Conservative Party conference, however, were less praiseworthy. On 3/10, his anticipation of the council tax freeze announcement was almost entirely negative, emphasising the criticism from the Labour Party. (Sarah Montague plugged away here at Andrew Tyrie’s criticisms like a dog with a bone). On 4/10, Theresa May’s proposed tightening of the immigration rules (due to the abuse of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act) was described by Sarah as “crowd-pleasing” and, later, as “the kind of thing the conference here will love” and GO’D dismissed it as “a pretty standard route for a conference like this”. On 5/10 there was the previously-mentioned talk from GO’D of “flattery of the British character” by David Cameron and the laughter at Cameron’s expense. Worse was the editorialising from GO’D over Cameron’s call for those in debt to pay off their credit card and store bills: “I must say when I saw that it stood out a little and jarred a little because there’s a danger with that sort of thing that you can hear David Cameron saying ‘pay off your credit card and store bills’ and people yelling back at the television ‘With what?'” Is that something an impartial BBC reporter should say?

Still, Norman Smith would have been far, far worse.

The Reports

Labour conference
(a) Presenter reports
(i) 26/9 James Naughtie goes to a Progress Rally to bat about ideas for Labour’s way forward with a few Blairites, chats to David Miliband, and then interviews GMB union leader Paul Kenny, who is still supportive of Ed Miliband (link). Little to trouble the Labour leadership here and no party outsiders.

(ii) 27/9 Naughtie goes to Toxteth ” to assess how the [Labour] party is viewed there”, according to the blurb on the ‘Today’ website, though – beyond the introduction – that is not an accurate description of the report (link). “The Labour Party feels quite at home here in Liverpool…”, he begins, but there are challenges arising from “its legacy in power.” Naughtie seems to credit it with the regeneration of the waterfront (wasn’t the Lib Dem council mostly responsible for that???) but there are still “deep social problems”. That said, Labour’s responsibility soon drops completely out of sight after he mentions the problems caused by Polish immigration. (Any beyond Eastern Europe, Jim?) Labour MP Louise Ellman praises diversity, but talks of local jobs. “Louise Ellman’s right”, says Naughtie, before recalling the Toxteth riots of the 1980s. Thereafter it was the usual Naughtie bid for an award, talking to a couple of locals, and looking for hope, hope and more hope – and finding signs of it in the community’s reaction to the Autumn riots.” The challenge for local and national leaders”, he says, is to harness this, showing that this report wasn’t really much to do with the Labour Party. Little to trouble the Labour leadership here.

(b) BBC reporters’ reports
(i) 26/9 Gary O’Donoghue garners advice for the Labour Party from influential Labour figures (link): Lord Prescott, Liam Byrne, Mark Steers of the IPPR, Andrew Harrop of the Fabian Society, Margaret Beckett and Lord Prescott again. Nothing to trouble the Labour leadership here and no outsiders.

Conservative Conference
(a) Presenter reports
(i) 3/10 Sarah Montague goes ‘Tory Split’-hunting over Europe (link). Europe not on the official agenda “but away from the conference floor many seem desperate to talk about it.” “It was the issue which tore them apart” when they were last in govt. The eurosceptics are “becoming bolder though”. Heather Wheeler MP wants out of Europe and says the country agrees. Sarah counters her point by saying, “As ever though what the public say they want depends on what they’re asked.” Cue Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov, says people “want to be less in Europe but not quite out”, “they want Europe but much less of it,” he continues, “they want to go as far back as you can go without actually leaving the EU”. SM says lots of Conservatives want renegotiation but many are “nervous about reopening old wounds.” George Eustace says “lots of scars from the past”. Sarah says “many of the delegates here sound desperate for a referendum” [that word again]. Some delegates (well two of them) are then heard from, sounding desperate for a referendum. Eustace says times have changed, we need to stay in EU but get powers back, including those over health & safety, employment law, social policy. ConservativeHome found nearly 1/2 of 144 candidates before last election wanted to repatriate powers from Europe, and more than a 1/3 want renegotiation – including rising star Saveej Navid thinks, who we here from…. “So is there a danger that if MPs say they want to overrule European laws on things like maternity and paternity leave they won’t look compassionate? It’s a point I put to George Eustace.” So some agenda-pushing, a bit of negative language about eurosceptics, an outsider countering the eurosceptic point of view and a few things to trouble the Conservative leadership here.

(b) BBC reporters’ reports
(i) 4/10 Gary O’Donoghue wonders whether David Cameron is “a right-wing Tory of the old school or a compassionate Conservative” and goes ‘Tory split’-hunting (link): “Below the surface there’s not always harmony about the party’s direction or indeed about what sort of Conservative David Cameron really is”. Lord Tebbitt thinks one thing but Tim Montgomerie thinks another. “Some elements on the Tory backbenches are becoming a little more restless”. David Davis wants a low tax agenda. This isn’t the only area “where the troops are getting a little uneasy. Europe is always an issue…” Mark Pritchard wants DC to show his true blue colours over it. Some ‘modernisers’, however, are urging DC to resist “ideological enthusiasms”, including Nick Boles. “Most in the party accept”, said GO’D, that in the early days David Cameron had to present a socially liberal, softer kind of conservatism to detoxify the brand, but having failed to win an election on that ground the modernisers are likely to be fighting a rearguard action in the coming years as traditional elements seek to impose a more conventionally conservative agenda on the party.” So more agenda-pushing and quite a few things to trouble the Conservative leadership.

(ii) 4/10 “Home Affairs correspondent Danny Shaw investigates whether the Conservative Party hates the police”, says the ‘Today’ website. Sarah Montague’s introduction began “Now here’s what may seem like an odd question, ‘Do the Conservatives hate the police?'”
Shaw’s report was astonishingly biased (link).
It opened with a voice saying “This government, to put it bluntly, hate the Police Service.” “Sgt John Gibbley summing up the mood of discontent at the Police Federation Conference this year. One senior officer told me that a considerable body of policing agrees with his view. Others say it’s not hatred that’s driving police reform but revenge for what happened almost 20 years ago.” Paul McKeevor of the Police Federation says it’s a backlash for the police’s opposition to the Sheehy Report of the early 1990s. “But other evidence doesn’t support the ‘Payback for Sheehy’ theory, in particular David Cameron’s role in 1993. The prime minister was at that time a special adviser to the then home secretary Michael Howard who dumped most of the plans. In the 1990s Mr Cameron helped build bridges with the police. He didn’t knock them down.” So, Danny Shaw knocks down one conspiracy theory about revenge only to build up his own: “By 2006, however, that had all changed.” [Clip of Cameron speech calling for fundamental shakeup of policing.] “David Cameron, by then Conservative Party leader, took the view that the police were the last great unreformed public service. He called for directly elected politicians to run forces and modern employment contracts to make it easier to sack bad officers. The arrest of the Conservative MP Damien Green simply strengthened the Tories’ conviction that police wings needed clipping. But in a candid assessment of how relations between the police and the Tories worsened, the shadow police minister between 2007 and 2010, David Ruffley, says some of the problems were self-inflicted.” [Mr Ruffley sharply criticises Chris Grayling for comparing our inner cities to ‘The Wire’ and says his comments were “extremely unbalanced and frankly wrong”. I wonder how long the interview with Mr Ruffley was from which this snippet of sustained criticism of the Conservative leadership was taken. Did he say anything nice about his own party, or criticise the police’s role, or Labour’s? We’ll never know]. [Clip of Theresa May talking of the urgent need for radical reform.] “It was inevitable that Theresa May’s programme of cuts and reforms would widen the rift between ministers and the police but the public affairs expert Peter Bingle, who advised the Police Federation during the Sheehy reforms and has been re-hired now, says something more fundamental has happened. The MacPherson Report, raids on MPs’ offices and phone hacking, says Mr Bingle, have caused the relationship between police, politicians and the public to fracture. The Tories are not hateful of the police but more questioning and less trustful.” You cannot be a Conservative if you hate the Police Service, says Mr Bingle. “But there is a perception among police, certainly,” replies Shaw, “that they do.” Lack of communication at the moment between the Police Service and the government is the reason Mr Bingle gives for that. Shaw’s report ends with his words, “I believe that needs to be addressed very quickly because to have a position where any government is seen to be hating the police service is great news for rioters and anarchists.”
Where were the voices defending the Conservatives? Where were the voices arguing that Labour politicised the police? Where were the arguments that the police themselves might bear some responsibility for their current problems? With the Conservative Party conference going on, why wasn’t a Conservative minister interviewed on this?
An axe-grinding report, suspiciously stitched together, by a typical BBC home affairs correspondent.

Case closed?

Interviews with party figures

Labour conference
26/9 – David Miliband & Paul Kenny (link)
26/9 – Ed Balls (link)
26/9 – David Blunkett (link)
27/9 – Tom Harris (link)
27/9 – Yvette Cooper (link)
28/9 – Len McClusky (with Dr Mike Lynch, an outsider) (link)
28/9 – Lord Kinnock (link)
28/9 – Ed Miliband (link)

Conservative Conference
3/10 – Sir Peter Bone (unavailable to ‘listen again’)
3/10 – George Osborne (link)
4/10 – Graeme Archer, blogger (with lobbyist Peter Bingle) (link)
4/10 – David Cameron (link)
5/10 – Cllr David Meikle (Glasgow) & Cllr Ian Lindley (Salford) (link)
5/10 – William Hague (link)

How an interview is framed is a key indicator of bias.

The Labour interviews would all have sat well with Labour Party listeners, except perhaps for parts of James Naughtie’s interview with Ed Miliband (the ‘weird’ question being emphasised by the ‘Today’ website) and the interview with Dr Mike Lynch, who liked the idealism in Ed Milibands ‘predators and producers’ speech but thought it impractical, wondering how you could fashion policy out of the distinction and saying it’s “motherhood and apple pie”. (The ‘Today’ website characterises it as one voicing his support for Mr Miliband and the other merely “considering” whether the distinction holds water). Though the David Miliband/Paul Kenny was predicated on the assumption that Labour had lost credibibity with the voters, the Yvette Cooper interview was merely introduced with by James Naughtie with words about new thinking, the Balls interview with talk of what Balls would call for, the Tom Harris interview with the news that Scottish Labour is seeking more autonomy, the Kinnock interview just as a Labour elder statesman’s reaction to Miliband’s speech. (He loved it!)

On the other hand, of the Conservative interviews, the one with Sir Peter Bone was introduced as being with a Tory backbencher who shared Andrew Tyrie’s concerns (Tory splits). Unfortunately (for the ‘Today’ team), Sir Peter refused to play ball and attack the government and stuck to expounding a free-marketeer’s answer to economic growth. The interview with Mr Archer and Mr Bingle was framed, unfavourably, as “Out of more than 10,000 people attending the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, just 4000 are party members.” An only partly good-natured debate on lobbying ensued. The debate between the councillors was framed by the question, “Is the Conservative brand doomed in Scotland or could they learn from colleagues here in the north of England?” The councillors disagreed. (Tory split!). So, interviews which start from the premise (a) that the Tories are split over the economy, (b) that the Conservative Party is under the unhealthy influence of lobbyists and (c) that the Tories might be doomed in Scotland. How many of these premises would have displeased the Conservative leadership? (The interview with William Hague, incidentally, was framed with reference to “Europe being a divisive issue for the Conservative Party”.)

How can this be considered even-handed?

Other ‘unhelpful news’/items
Of course, not being in government Labour will not be on the end of attacks from interested parties anywhere near so much as a party of government like the Conservatives. That said, during the party conference season the BBC should seek to be careful not to be seen as attacking one party far more than another.

There were no such unhelpful items for Labour. Indeed quite the reverse, for on the final day of the Labour Party conference James Naughtie introduced an item on Yvette Cooper’s new policing review. Remarkably, he only interviewed Dr Tim Brain – one of those who will be undertaking Labour’s policing review (link). Given this, Naughtie’s first question, “Do you think this is a good idea, first of all?”, was positively bizarre. Of course Dr Brain was going to reply, “It’s a very good idea.” No opposing voice was heard from.

In contrast, on the final day of the Tory Party conference, Sarah Montague’s introduction to ‘Yesterday in Parliament’ read “A Labour peer and economist has blamed the dire state of the economy on what he called the government’s own stupid policies. Lord Peston was speaking in the Lords as peers debated how to get Britain growing” and a YouGov poll was quoted suggesting that 42% of people would never vote for the party. The day before – the day of Danny Shaw’s ‘Do the Tories hate the police?’ report – focused on an open letter calling for the government’s new Health Bill to be scrapped from “400 public health experts” (people BBC health reporter Adam Brimelow called “senior”, “serious”, “pedigree”, “international renowned”, “respected” and “people who can’t simply be dismissed”). One of them was invited on to attack the government (link). He was put against the government’s studiously impartial health reviewer, who was deeply unwilling to come off the fence due to his role as a non-partisan figure. Why wasn’t a Conservative health minister asked about the issue? There were doubtless a few at the party conference.

On that same day, BBC Europe correspondent Chris Morris gave a couple of Tory ministers (Hague and Osborne) a telling off that better suited a Labour spokesman. Anticipating an EU foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss the Euro crisis, the ‘impartial’ reporter brought up the anti-euro rhetoric at the Tory party conference and told John Humphrys that some European foreign ministers “won’t appreciate” some of Osborne & Hague’s comments. “I think they need to be a bit careful of their tone frankly”, opined Chris Morris. I think Chris Morris needs to be a bit careful about his!

Surely there’s some evidence of bias here?

Other things that can be said in the programme’s favour
Of course, bias is rarely all-pervasive in so many hours of coverage and, in addition to the comparable gentleness of the interviews with the party leaders (even edged in favour of David Cameron), I can find nothing much wrong with (a) the contributions of Nick Robinson and (b) the paper reviews, which offered plenty of contrasting views of the party conferences from a wide range of papers. Even James Naughtie wasn’t his usual ‘Guardian’-and-‘Independent’-orientated self. I also credit Naughtie with bringing up the Independent/Comres poll showing the Tories one point ahead of Labour and, though repeatedly stressing that the margin of error needed to be borne in mind and that not too much should be made of it, he did also repeatedly suggest that it would ruin Ed Miliband’s breakfast! A rare appearance by political correspondent Robin Brandt (on the Saturday edition before the Labour conference) was also creditable. From what little I’ve heard of Robin Brandt in recent months, it confirm my earlier feeling that he might just be a BBC reporter who values careful, balanced reporting. He’s not on very often though, and only a closer inspection will see whether that’s really the case.

Conclusions
A comparison of the ‘Today’ programme’s coverage of the Labour Party and Conservative Party conferences reveals a significant degree of pro-Labour bias. Though only a few items, such as the Danny Shaw report, screamed ‘bias!’, the cumulative effect of the different moods established by the two respective presenters, the severe skewing of the commentariat towards the Labour Party, the unhelpfulness of the reports towards one party in particular, the presence of other unhelpful items towards that party (in contrast to a helpful one towards the other party), the framing of interviews, and the programme’s initial agenda-setting (always followed through), all adds up to coverage that is much more favourable to one party than to another. I have tried to be as fair as fair can be towards the programme here but there is always the possibility that my own biases are blinding me to flaws in my own study. So, though I think I’m correct in all my judgements, please check the links (to whatever is still accessible on the ‘Today’ website) and see if you think I really am!

Of course, the question ‘Does any of this really matter?’ arises, especially when the Conservative Party itself shows little or no concern about biased BBC reporting. The related question ‘Who cares?’ may also cross your mind. (It crossed mine several times while writing this!) Still, the BBC has an obligation to impartiality and boasts that it is impartial. It it fails on that score, it must be called out.
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26 Responses to ‘Today’ – A Tale of Two Cities

  1. George R says:

    Yes. Ms MONTAGUE certainly came across as ‘attack-dog’ against the Tories.

    The whole BBC-NUJ political bias for Labour, and against the Tories is systemic.

    These Beeboid people whether it’s ‘Today’, ‘Newsnight’, ‘PM’, Radio 5, etc, etc  cannot conceal their political emotions of dislike, through to scorn, for the Tories.

       0 likes

    • Martin says:

      What the BBC don’t get is every time Ed Genitals puts his ugly Nazi loving face on TV it reminds everyone of the shambles he and the one eyed queen from Fife left the economy in. It doesn’t matter what he says, the opinion polls show that as well.

         0 likes

  2. ron b says:

    As ever, Craig, a tour de force!

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    • My Site (click to edit) says:

      Seconded.

      Suggestive of bias surely?’

      No, the kind of hard fact evidence, tempered with fair concession on matters of opinion, that would have had the juries on a Knox or Jackson trial not even bothering to leave to deliberate.

      On the suggsetion below, I rather fear Ms. Tales of Boaden doesn’t ‘do’ complaint handling. Yes, she is claimed to be the top of the tree, but has bragged she has a dead end PC to avoid such things.

      The other areas may register, but most Tories can be bought off with a DP slot where they are not totally amushed.

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  3. John Anderson says:

    Craig

    Very detailed appraisal – many thanks.  

    Why not send your report to Helen Boaden,  say that there appeared to be real imbalance,  and ask for her comments ?   Ask for a specific answer on whether the BBC itself keeps an overall editorial check on how the party conferences are covered,  to ensure proper balance.

    And copy your letter to the Culture Secretary.

    Plus maybe Tory HQ ?   Plus a couple of the Tory websites ?

    Maybe even copy to Patten ?

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  4. cjhartnett says:

    Brilliant Craig!
    Most of us were rather hoping you`d be prepared to shovel through the shit in a systematic, objective and scientific way…why the deafening silence from Tim Harford when you need him?
    Certainly shows up the Laurie Taylor mock  analyes of their soft sciences as well as the likes of Harrabin or Black…who are as far removed from objective science as anyone could be.
    In short-thanks.
    Any Current Affairs output of the BBC is a sitting duck to be ripped apart-but it takes the likes of you, Sue and Robin to make it clear to the rest of us just how hot the boiling wather is getting under us all!
    My reckoning is that Saturdays are getting good on Today-a worm or two turning late in the show with Bob Crow and AN Wilson…let`s hope the BBC don`t edit it( only heard little bits, but Davies salary and the slavering over Steve Jobs seemed to stick in Evan and Sarahs manicured gullets!)

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  5. cjhartnett says:

    Yes-reread it-still brilliant!
    I do wonder whether the BBC cared as much about Shadow cabinet reshuffles when it was the Tories that were holding them.
    To hear the BBC last night telling us plenty about their ages and genders-but nothing about their educational history or route to becoming an MP-shows what the BBC want us to know.
    That none of them were elected as of old-but groomed by Miliband in a sweeping away of the old process from the summer-seems aloso not to have been noted.
    Methinks the usual nasty bias as ever…as I say-none of us cared what Cameron did with his bunch of chinless wonders…why then does the BBC care so much about Milibands minions getting shuffled about like mindless munchkins?
    Worth a look Craig…but ,yes, I know-who cares and why bother?
    Still-if it smears a Boaden or a Patten next time they spout about being impartial…when the whole damn country knows by now that it is the Guardian for the visually impaired(and psychically arrested ,or subnormal)

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  6. BBCwaste says:

    Why do we never hear calls of BBC bias from the left wing? Q.E.D.

       0 likes

  7. Louis Robinson says:

    A tour de force. Congratulations.

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    • hippiepooter says:

      Second that.  Why the Tory Party doesn’t give you a job monitoring the BBC is beyond me.  Oh sorry, its not.  These days they really are the Stupid Party.

      Glad you picked out Naughtie’s interview with Miliband as impartial.  A normally level headed poster had actually posted the OT that it was dreadful bias.

      “Does it matter”.  Yes.  The BBC violates its founding charter to exercise undue influence for Labour to win elections and the Tories hogtied from doing anything useful if they get in instead.  With the exception of Maggie of course.  That’s why they dont just hate her but fear her as well.  She’s their living nightmare and will continue to live as their nightmare when she passes on.

      If its bias doesn’t matter democracy doesn’t matter.

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  8. Billy-no-mates says:

    Well done Craig I know its diffcult some times to document the scale of bias particularly in dealing with issues of tone. I’m not sure the government does themselves any favours on the BBC, The left seem more adept at bringing emotion into any debate whereas the right by and large (with one or two exceptions) prefer the statesmanlike approach. Although worthy I am not sure is effective in todays media. Particularly after the election I longed for the right attack-dogs to give the left the kicking they deserved instead the coalition seemed apologetic. It wasn’t until the riots happening the the right seemed to get its voice but now the counter-offensive is dying down. My observation is that unless the BBC is handled aggressively they will continue to take the piss. Give them an inch..

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  9. sue says:

    Craig, I salute your indefatigability!
    What a marathon. I’m particularly impressed by your recognition of the relevance of tone and nuance in addition to your own meticulous ‘stopwatch methodology’ of evaluating bias, which does provide indisputable evidence of bias, but this extra bit takes your research up several notches in my opinion. I also appreciate your level headed summary, which gives your findings real credibility. You refuse to get carried away by what you over-generously admit are your own biases, and your consciousness that they could have blinded you to flaws in your study reassures me that they have not.

    Many congratulations, and I almost forgive you for not posting often enough :-D .

       0 likes

  10. Henry says:

    EXCELLENT work Craig. Exactly what we need, well researched analysis of the BBC’s coverage – it can’t fail to show up the ridiculousness of their journalism

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  11. David Preiser (USA) says:

    Great stuff, Craig. Even if there are spots of reasonable behavior, the whole picture is especially damning because we know they’ve said that Today sets the news agenda for the rest of the Corporation.

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  12. As I See It says:

    Good stuff. It is very difficult to nail the BBC on the ‘tone’ – which is why this kind of analysis is so important.

    Though it is hard to quantify it is easy to perceive their bias. I saw the light some years ago.

    When the BBC cover the Tories they act like an unofficial opposition. Every attack line followed up, every weakness explored. Questioning, active journalism you might say.

    But when it comes to Labour BBC coverage takes on something more in the nature of an in-house debate. Where does the left go from here? How do they recover and win over the electorate?

    These days the bias has reached a level where if you don’t hear it you aren’t listening.

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  13. Deborah says:

    Can I just also add my thanks Craig – truly amazing that you can face wading through all the evidence.  Thank you for proving it isn’t the people on this site imagining things (although with the amount of evidence provided on this site of every topic of course we aren’t).

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  14. Craig says:

    Thanks to you all for such kind comments. I thought I might have worn you all out with the length of this post! 

    John, yes, a letter might be the thing to follow up on this, rather than just e-mailing the link to potentially interested parties.

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  15. NotaSheep says:

    Fantastic quantative analysis Craig, I knew you would not let us down. The trouble is the BBC don’t care how biased they are as they are beyond control, whilst the Conservative party don’t have the balls to do anything about it. I have, of course, linked.

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  16. D B says:

    Nice work Craig. I look forward to the follow-up post with the detailed analysis.

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  17. Demon1001 says:

    I agree with Deborah, you deserve a medal for suffering all that.  Well done for your surgical disection of this travesty of impartiality.

    Now we want Dezzie or Scottie to defend the BBC’s conference record to give us a laugh at their squirming.

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  18. Bob says:

    We need more work like this. Well done.

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  19. John Horne Tooke says:

    I think  the statement ” the Conservative Party itself shows little or no concern about biased BBC reporting” definately needs investigating. It does not have any bearing on this blog , or the bias. That the conservatives do not seem bothered defies reasoning (on the surface).

    My limited view is that there seems to be two very important controversial policies that are supported without question by the BBC and the Conservatives viz AGW and the EU. Both have massive consequences for the Conservative leadership.  If the BBC bias their reports towards “sceptics” in both areas you could see the end of a lot of the parasites in all the political parties. No matter who wins and loses the elections in the future the top brass in all political parties would be no worse off. If by chance one loses a safe seat (where they always stand), they would almost be sure of some top job in the EU. They  have nothing to lose.

    A good post Craig.Your analysis would be great ammunition for the conservatives. But somehow I think the political classes will put up with the BBC as long as they push the two things that make all of them richer (and us poorer and ignorant)

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  20. Mike Walker says:

    I’m surprised that no one seemed noticed the bright RED flutting LABOUR bunting fluttering behing Marr’s head on the occasion of his homage from Liverpool pier head before the Lab.arty Conf.(They did serve though as a pleasant distraction from his ill arranged visage.)

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