Bias Battles on the Ukip Express

By Bill Lytton

“A biased, partisan depiction of the only party that Believes in Britain.”

Those are the words – and remember them – of Nigel Farage describing Channel 4’s “docu-drama”: ‘Ukip: the First 100 Days’. Fictionalised satire, or speculative fiction; this is Chris Atkin’s dystopian sketch of a United Kingdom where the Farage party have taken the country by means of unfathomable political landslide.

Already, this sordid act of biased fictional portrayal has garnered more than a thousand complaints to Channel 4 and over seven hundred to Ofcom – many before the thing even aired.

“The programme was produced in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcast Code and its obligations to be fair, accurate and duly impartial,” said Channel 4 in a statement. Unsurprisingly, Farage and his crew disagree. Albeit, they weren’t so concerned about this ostensible bias with Channel 4’s ‘Benefit Street’ or ‘Immigration Street’ – that which those damn leftist heathens, like Owen Jones, refer to as “poisonous”.

Nor were Farage and the crew irate when the Daily Express ran the following headline back in November:

“Ukip is now MORE popular than LABOUR: Nigel Farage gets polls boost as Ukip surges ahead”

That is, replete with the indicative capitals. The description continued:

“Nigel Farage won a fresh boost today when an opinion poll pronounced his party the second most popular after the Conservatives, pushing Labour into third place.”

Was that the case – that Labour was ousted by Ukip – or was it, in Farage’s terms, a “biased, partisan depiction?” The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) settled for “significantly distorted”. That is, that idea that the right-wing were front-running the political scene of November 2014.

Alison Little, the Express’ deputy political editor engineered the headline, and subsequent story, from wangled figures. Mindless Express readers – as was clearly presumed – would have read that Ukip gathered 28 per cent of the vote share – second to the Tories’ 38 per cent and ahead of Labour’s 25 per cent.

Yet, the figures referred to a subset of YouGov’s overall sample of 2,314 respondents: self-stated Sun readers. Actually, and overall, the poll had Labour with the lead vote share of 34 per cent, the Tories with 33 per cent and Ukip with 15 per cent.

Such political reporting, worthy of the 2014 Crimean referendum, saw the Express breaching Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code of Practice: Accuracy. Justly, they also earned the ‘Crap media reporting of polls award’ from Anthony Wells’ polling and survey news website – the UK Polling Report.

It’s likely that the Express were looking to massage Farage’s rapidly expanding ego – especially in November. This polling triumph came four days after Mark Reckless’ big win at the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November. Coupled with numerous Tory defections; this was the time to make – quite literally in this case – political statements.

It could have been feasible that this remarkable 28 per cent score was the result of adrenaline and momentum from Ukip’s month at the forefront of political attention. However, the 28 figure stood stark next to the polls of that month, taking between 11 and 19 per cent in the extremes and 15 to 16 per cent on average. True, they did score a couple of twenties, but these were namely from polls for the Mirror and the Mail on Sunday.

The headline, however ill-conceived, was an indicator of both previous and future movements at the Express and their shift in allegiance from the Tories to Ukip – or merely a right-wing glory hunt as it looks now.

In late October, Ukip peer, Lord Stevens, was appointed to deputy chair of the Express – a cohesive partnership for the EU-opposing nationalists. A piece by the Express themselves, on 24 October explained the partnership. Richard Desmond, chair of Express-owning Northern & Shell, said:

“Lord Stevens comes with a vast experience of the newspaper business… in challenging times for the media to have him working with us in this pivotal role is a huge asset.”

And Lord Stevens himself said of his new role: “I’ve known Richard for many years and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with Express Newspapers and help shape their business over the coming years.”

Shape being a word worthy of emphatic italicization. According to the paper, Lord Stevens would be “responsible for the strategic overview and direction of the group, reporting to Richard Desmond.” The chairman clearly found a worthy friend in the Lord – the expelled Tory whom touted support for Ukip back in 2004.

Under direction from Lord Stevens, papers earlier in his career were expected to run gladly with his staunch conservatism. And, in an interview with the Independent in 1989, he said of his influence: “I don’t ram my view in but I’m quite far out to the right… I suppose my papers echo my political views.”

And maybe it was so with the Express in November – the month of Ukip. Yet still, speculation about whom Desmond and his bloc of papers were actually supporting was still pervasive. In that period of uncertainty, the Express hinted at their post-Rochester and Strood perspective, saying that Ukip was “leading the political agenda.”

Maneuvers on 12 December clarified their stance: Desmond pledged £300,000 to Farage and his crew. This came shortly after former Tory, Andrew Banks, also pledged £1m – the figure was raised from £100,000 in a revenge-response after William Hague said he’d never heard of him.

By mid December, an exalted Ukip were being bankrolled by former Tories, stealing votes from both the Right and the Left, and weathering the turbulent media coverage storming around the idiocy of many its own politicians.

Yet, now it seems the phenomenon that was Ukip – especially in November – has wilted. The party, once thriving on controversies, has stagnated in media coverage and polls. Still, members and councilors yammer on as they always did, choosing their words carefully to build the next controversy – Ukip’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, managed to combine ‘EU’, ‘Greek’, and ‘debt slaves’ in one exemplary sentence.

The controversy they are embroiled in currently, ironically, is not one of their own making – and they don’t like it. An aide to Farage told the Mail on Sunday that the Channel 4 docu-drama is “typical of the poppycock peddled by the public-school educated Lefties who run Channel 4.”

Ukip aren’t pleased. They’ve had to break from their routine of sharing images online of the fatal four (Miliband, Balls, Cameron, and Osborne) that show their namesake under quotes of apparent incompetency, or even pictures that “say it all really”.

Instead, when their blunders are broadcast, to an audience, in a cohesive linear structure based on archive footage of members – both former and current – quotes, policies, and intentions Ukip pull the bias card. Such a card comes with the usual accusations of liberal left biases and “political correctness gone mad” – such defiance wasn’t seen when those liberal lefties at Channel 4 pushed out Benefits Street, Angry White and Proud and, to a lesser extent, Immigration Street.

Ukip like bias, the good bias; they owe half of their success to it – the other half to stupidity. But this seems to be their first real dose of bad bias – the likes of which have seasoned Miliband’s career since his election as Labour Leader. And, true to form, Ukip stick to the usual right-wing argot of hollering “left-wing bias” at the sight of any opposition. Something we see today as the Daily Mail derides, along with their Tory shipmates, Bishops of the Church of England for having Christian values that don’t marry with austerity in their “left-wing manifesto”.

Ukip are, after all, playing the game. Broadcasters are bound by Section Five of Ofcom’s broadcasting codes: due impartiality and due accuracy. Newspapers, like the Express, aren’t however anchored down by pesky objectivity, but are liable to maintain accuracy. So in this case, bias has turned from its usual guise of selective reporting to the active selective interpretation and deception of data and facts – that’s the breach of accuracy.

And so, Ukip take this as evidence that they have “the liberal establishment quaking” – in the words of that aide. But it’s clearly Ukip that have the shakes. As their polls and media coverage stagnates – the “biased, partisan depiction” they usually enjoy is no longer in their favour – and now they feel jilted.

Leave a Reply