Tuesday, 7 September 2010

flip-mental and go happy-stabbing

 A post regarding British media

I've just been asked the following question by someone via my FaceSpace Feed:
who here thinks the BBC is biased?
My reply would almost certainly be split two ways: the emotional response, and that of the cynical response.

My emotional reponse is that my BBC can't be wrong.  I own it and I don't ask for bias and that's why I love it so.  It's a poor reason, it's a raw reason and I'll leave my love of the BBC to one side so that we can look at bias as a concept.

The cynical response is that anyone or anything purported to be unbiased is essentially wrong; nothing with a logical grasp on reality can be wholly unbiased, imagining an unbiased world would see Hitler being "just some guy, you know?".  We need bias, it helps us direct our thoughts and compare viewpoints.  Something that I've learned in my first year studying history is that no-one can be assumed unbiased: every person has a specific enlightened interest or some dark involvement to drive them to write what they do.  Perhaps they're a German, perhaps they're Hispanic, perhaps they're male, perhaps they bloody love the colour blue.  We're humans and we all carry a multitude of seemingly miniscule baggage.  We use bias to judge things; judging isn't bad, it is in our nature to protect ourselves by considering an action. Based on prior learning we judge whether that isolated suburban alleyway is filled with danger as we walk home at 3am, or the guy on the train platform dressed in a tracksuit and baseball cap acting all edgy is about to flip-mental and go happy-stabbing everyone.  Of course, this is all very well when we're basing it on our own judgement, but when someone else is the witness we rely on their judgement to tell us how it was.

This is the centre of the horrible side of bias: when it is allowed to replace fact.  The Daily Mail is pretty much the master at this; they play on deep-rooted biases in middle-England's psyche about various things; be it the travelling community, alternative sexualaties, religions or climate change.  All of these biases rely on a lack of knowledge of the true unhindered facts - and being a newspaper, they're expected by the readership to tell them in tasty easy to chew word-pellets what the fuck is going on in the world.  They therefore exploit the lack of true knowledge of the subject in question and rely on the wording to instill worry in the least, or fear mixed with anger if the topic is considered controversial by the Mail.  It is worth noting the Mail's support of fascism in the early part of last century here.   If media like those of News International support a political party, they have a lot of influence; in the UK that's Sky News on TV, The Sun, The News of The World, The Times and now through part-ownership, ITV.  So Mr. Murdoch has a massive opportunity with the UK population and replace fact with his beliefs, opinions and bias.

Arguably, statistics are cold, clear and concise - they aren't flouncy words with double-meanings or ambiguity to carry us along - but the interpretation of those numbers can lead to bias. As soon as figures are described, two things to look for: the figures claimed and the organisation publishing them.  If the public support for something is 51%, we might see reports of "Most People Support X" however, clearly, there's only a marginal difference in opinion.  Yes it's true, most people do support X, but it is at best misleading.  That's bias right there.  It happens all the time and it's one reason I love reading the small print on the bottom of product advertising that features statistics for this reason.  It's another tool in the box for reporting bias, than fact if used incorrectly.  Moreover, if a research company has been employed, who employed them?

So, this in mind, is the BBC biased?  On the whole, I feel it isn't.  It is certainly an organisation constantly accused of it by other media outlets, as they want a finger in the BBC's pie.  They dislike that the BBC is government funded; they say it is unfair, monopolistic and hurts their trade.  However, which media company wouldn't want to be in the BBC's shoes and not having to worry about subscribers?  The BBC covers all walks of life on its news output and I've watched the BBC's reporting of the major stories at 1pm today, reporting what is happening, not giving opinion or casting any judgement.

I'd suggest that one reason the BBC gives some an impression of bias is that it covers, or gives airtime to alternative positions or minority interest stories.  Like offering a smörgåsbord of news and programming, I suppose, and if you don't think something is terribly worthy of airtime, you may consider it being biased towards it.  The BBC doesn't promote anything, so due to other broadcasters, you may feel that the BBC is promoting the stories it broadcasts.  Failing these reasons, I fear the only reason you'd see the BBC as biased is that you disagree with facts.

Reporting the truth isn't biased.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}