The following is a shortened version of an article published by Medialens on June 27, criticising the BBC’s recent report on impartiality at the Corporation:
Mainstream media discussions of media balance are limited to a single question: is the media too critical of powerful interests?
Earlier this month, the press described how an internal BBC report had revealed that the organisation was guilty of “institutional left-wing bias” and “being anti American”.
Senior BBC managers and journalists were happy to agree. Broadcaster Andrew Marr responded by noting that the BBC is a publicly funded organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, people of ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large”. All this, he said, “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC”.
Of course words like “liberal” and Left-wing” can mean pretty much what you want them to mean. But the fact is that the BBC consistently presents the perspective of government and business as commonsensical, and rarely feels the need to offer any kind of balance.
Blair shares Marr’s views on journalism. In a recent speech at Reuters’ headquarters in London, Blair condemned “the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media”. The problem, he observed, is that it is not enough for journalists to expose the errors of public figures: “It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.” Blair claimed: “The damage saps the country’s confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decision, in the right spirit for our future.”
This analysis of journalism surfaces every three or four years and always focuses on the alleged aggressive nature of the media.
Writing in The Guardian in April 1996, James Fallows, then Washington editor of the Atlantic Monthly, described “how the media undermines American democracy”. The problem, Fallows argued, was that the media forever portrayed public life in America “as a race to the bottom”. The emphasis was forever on “what is going wrong”.
In 2004, former New Statesman political editor John Lloyd condemned constant journalistic “aggression” and “suspicion”. And senior Guardian journalist Martin Kettle agreed, lamenting the “strident and confrontational press becoming yet more strident and confrontational”.
But in fact, there is a second question: is the corporate media biased in favour of big business of which it is a part? This is one of the great mainstream taboos and is essentially never discussed.
Last year, John Pilger presented a more sobering picture to an audience at Columbia University in New York. He said: “If we journalists are ever to reclaim the honour of our craft, we need to understand, at least, the historic task that great power assigns us. This is to ’soften-up’ the public for rapacious attack on countries that are no threat to us.”
This is the true role journalists so often perform, Pilger explained, and it is achieved by their dehumanising the official enemy by talking of “regime change” in Iran “as if that country were an abstraction, not a society”; by legitimising the invasion of Iraq; by erasing Palestine’s historic injustice.
On June 18, Newsnight journalist Gavin Esler observed on the BBC website: “the schism between Gaza and the West Bank leaves Israel with the unpalatable possibility of a kind of ‘three state’ solution – two hostile Palestinian entities on its borders.”
A regular poster on the Medialens message board exposed this outrageous distortion. The message read: “At this very moment, irrespective of imaginary scenarios, Israel is actually in Palestinian borders, occupying it illegally and creating facts on the ground in its ever expanding illegal settlement building! Isn’t it Palestine that has a hostile Israeli entity on and in its borders?”
Edited by Larry Herman