Is the BBC incapable of impartiality?

The BBC plumbed new depths of bias this week. Do they think the liberal-Left represents the centre-ground? asks Andrew Griffiths MP.

Question Time's host, David Dimbleby
Andrew Griffiths MP
On 2 July 2011 10:22

I try not to get too worked up about political coverage on the television.

MPs might like to imagine that there are thousands of their constituents tuned into BBC Parliament, waiting for their representative to spring forth with words of wisdom on their behalf, but the reality is that for most of the public political programming is just something that fills up the Sunday morning schedules before the start of the Grand Prix.

It is difficult to know for sure, but my gut feeling is that those who are watching are very rarely the elusive floating voters that we are all chasing but are more likely to be committed partisans either nodding their heads in agreement or heckling the “other side”.

However, if there is one political programme on BBC television that really does matter then it is surely Question Time. Its audience figures are by no means huge (two to three million most weeks, which is about half the number who saw Kung Fu Panda) but it moulds the political agenda in a way that only the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 can match.

It’s not unusual for politicians to complain that the press is overwhelmingly biased against them. Such complaints rarely break any ice with the public and rarely make any difference at all to the media’s coverage. However, last week’s Question Time was so unbalanced that it cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

Back in the days of Sir Robin Day and Peter Sissons, Question Time panels had four members – usually one representative each from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals/SDP/Lib Dems plus a journalist or some other public figure. In 1999, they added a fifth panel member, which has tended to be either someone from the entertainment industry or a representative of a smaller party.

Although there were inevitably some weeks when questions were raised over the make-up of the panel, this format worked reasonably well until the last general election. Since the formation of the Coalition Government, the Question Time producers do not seem to have been able to make up their minds on whether there should be separate representatives from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats or whether the governing parties should be expected to share one.

The result has been a messy mix of the two, with the Liberal Democrats, and occasionally the Conservatives, being dropped.

This week’s show plumbed new depths. On a day when three unions staged national strikes over a dispute about UK Government policy, Question Time fielded the most unbalanced panel that I can remember. Firstly, it decided that the Government’s position should only be represented by a single panel member, my colleague Philip Hammond.

Philip was up against John Denham, a former Cabinet Minister and current Shadow Business Secretary, Sir Richard Lambert  the former Director of the CBI, who has no party affiliation as far as I know, Polly Toynbee, grand old doyen of the Left, and Christine Blower of the NUT whose union had seen thousands of its members join the strike.

That meant that on a day dominated by one of the most important issues we face – the issue of what should be done to bring the deficit back under control – the BBC’s flagship political programme had a panel with one Conservative, one Labour, a neutral, a left-wing journalist and a militant trade union leader. At which point did the producers think that represented a fair and balanced representation of views?

The only possible explanation for how this could have been allowed to go ahead on what is supposed to be a politically neutral channel is that the BBC’s default setting is a belief that the Labour Party represents the centre ground. How else could they believe that having two representatives from the Derek Hatton school of industrial relations is a perfectly acceptable way of organising things?

Those in charge of editorial content at the BBC have been exposed for their inability to provide a balanced debate on the issue of cuts. Could it be, as public service workers themselves, they have a vested interest that makes them incapable of being impartial?

This week’s programme ran a coach and horses through the credibility of the BBC. Frankly we should be able to expect better from such a highly-respected news and current affairs broadcaster, but the reality is that, in the months ahead, we can expect more of this kind of Leftist posturing.

It is time that what I believe are the views of the vast majority of the public are at least heard on the nation’s number one broadcasting channel, even if those producing the programmes disagree with them.

Andrew Griffiths is the Member of Parliament for Burton.

The Commentator Notes: To complain to the BBC and ensure they are held to account for their bias, please click here.

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