There is a paragraph in the BBC’s impartiality code that has, to coin a phrase, become a part that is more than the sum of its whole.
It reads: “We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”
And in doing so it has allowed bias in by the back door.
Reflecting all significant strands of thought is a dangerous proposition for an impartial news provider.
As Robert Peston, who served for nine years as BBC business and economics editor before moving to ITV, told reporters last year: “Impartial journalism is not giving equal airtime to two people, one of whom says the world is flat and the other one says the world is round. That is not balanced, impartial journalism.”
And he’s not alone in taking that point of view.
In an article for The Conversation, Dr Chris Allen of the University of Leicester addressed criticism levelled at the Beeb over its supposed role in the “normalisation” of alt-right and far-right discourse since the rise in populist sentiment exemplified by the Brexit vote and the election of President Donald Trump.
He said: “Given the recurrence of Robinson’s appearances in the mainstream media, it can be argued that not only has this played down the highly divisive and dangerous views and ideologies he has espoused but so too has it legitimised his claim to be voice of the people. That has the potential to have quite dangerous and dire consequences.”
Daily Express editor Gary Jones told The Guardian this week that his paper his now turning down coverage of Tommy Robinson and Steve Bannon because the tone of the paper’s reporting had become – by his own admission – anti-immigrant and Islamophobic. Nowadays he claims “the BBC gives far more airtime to rightwing propagandists” than his outlet does, and it’s hard not to agree.
In upholding section 4.2.4 of its Impartiality code the BBC has almost become too unbiased, giving too much credibility to opinions that should by rights be marginalised to the peripheries of the media landscape. There needs to exist a weight of good judgement in the editorial guidelines that supersedes the prerogative to get all sides heard regardless of how damaging their views may be.