It’s that time of the half-decade again – there’s a General Election in two days’ time, an unusually close one, and one political party in general is complaining about media bias again. I speak of UKIP of course, on whose leaders’ insults to an audience I have already commented.
His view, though, should be taken seriously. I’m not a fan as anyone who reads my stuff will gather, but suppose the majority of the media agrees with my own view rather than someone else’s. That can’t be healthy, can it?
The really ironic thing about much of the left-bias criticism, not only from Farage, centres on the BBC. The Corporation is in fact precluded from any political bias according to its charter. This is why political editor Nick Robinson had to resign from the Conservative Party when he took up the post. Some of my friends cited this as evidence of a left bias at the Corporation but this was nonsense. As a BBC political correspondent he was not allowed to be part of any political party, any more than a civil servant would be.
Note that he was a Conservative member rather than Labour, and indeed his coverage of the 2010 election caused some controversy as a result, as a glance at this now-moribund Facebook page confirms. In fact the Labour Party in power spent a lot of its time criticising the media for bias against, rather than for it, as did the Conservatives before them; this is because it’s the media’s task in politics to hold those in power to account.
The other area on which Farage in particular has commented is the general reportage, focusing on Newsnight, on which he says editors can move over from the Guardian at will. It’s perfectly true that the current Newsnight editor, Ian Katz, is ex-Guardian. On the other hand the BBC’s overall director of news, James Harding, is ex-Times.
Nobody is saying any of these outlets are perfect. But if enough people on both sides are complaining, there’s a good chance the Beeb is annoying people in equal measure – it’s certainly allowed those with whom it allegedly disagrees a lot of airtime and put them into enough senior positions. It’s also given a lot of time to UKIP, which undercuts the complaints somewhat. Farage has been on Question Time very frequently for someone whose party boasts only two MPs in the House of Commons, although reports that he’s been on more often than anyone else have been exaggerated as this report from the Guardian confirms (actually Labour’s Caroline Flint holds the record).
Written media is different. The law in the UK says that broadcasters must maintain their neutrality, which is why we don’t get something like Fox News over here and why you haven’t had ITV telling you to vote Conservative. Contractually and legally, it can’t (although how long this stricture is going to look reasonable in an Internet world is open to debate).
The newspapers, on the other hand, can tell you to vote for whom they like, which is what’s been happening over the last few days. They’ve gone along traditional lines with a majority coming out for the Conservatives (Mail, Sun, Times, Telegraph), a one for UKIP (Express) and a couple urging people to vote Labour (Guardian, Mirror). Again, the view that the majority are on the left simply doesn’t hold water. Indeed, a national paper opting for UKIP is extraordinary given the size of the party. Perhaps we all perceive the people who disagree with us as unduly noisy – I’m as guilty of that as anyone.
Personally I’m with the Independent. It urges all of its readers to think the issues through and make their own minds up about what’s better for the country rather than being pressured by any outside influence. That’s what I’ll be doing on Thursday, and my only direct political appeal to readers of this blog is that you should do the same.
Picture: Astral Media