First off, you can't wish away inconvenient evidence based on a rigorous examination of news (especially political) programming and the affiliations of BBC guests. That research has been done and shows a clear privileging of conservative talking heads. Labour did not experience a similar preponderance when it was in power. And, of course, conservative-inclined people are welcome to repeat the research - they will come up with the same results. The same is true of BBC Question Time, in which the number of rightwing commentators and business people outweighed lefty writers, celebs and trade unionists.
The rightwing reply to these facts, that can be checked independently through content analysis, tends to dismiss them. In Question Time's case, on Twitter and the Biased BBC site the response to my little piece was that filming tended to take place in leftwing areas, with leftwing audiences asking leftwing questions and applauding leftwing statements. Naturally, no support was or could be cited to back up these claims.
But this begs the question, while the right may find its people popping up on the BBC more often, does this mean content is necessarily biased? And how would you define biased content anyway? What proportion of rightwing guests are given free reign to vent their views. Or to consider it another way, is Andrew Marr only nice to the Tories?
While I am supportive of the view that the BBC bends to the right, this is more of a gentle curve rather than a sharp turn. A lot depends on what you think an unbiased BBC should look like, whether its output should be impartial or balanced. This is a crucial distinction. I have seen plenty of rightwingers crying about bias on Newsnight because a Tory minister got a good going over, completely oblivious to how, immediately afterwards, a Labour representative came in and got their arse handed to them by Paxman. Is that bias, really? Of course not. It's balance, and it makes for much better viewing than the dull, impartial and neutral reporting of current affairs. Ratings daahling.
As far as I'm concerned, striking a balance is exactly what the BBC should be doing. I'd go further. The BBC should be encouraged to be more independent to better hold the government of the day to account regardless whether it's Tory, Labour or some horrible lash-up with the LibDems. And to do the job it needs a team of journalists from across the political spectrum.
Yet the real scandal of bias comes not so much from what the BBC reports and features, but what it doesn't. Look at Al-Jazeera, CCTV, France 24, EuroNews, even (gulp) Russia Today. A great deal of global stuff goes unreported - and this is unforgivable considering the resources BBC News gathering has at its disposal vs the competition. Likewise at home, as Owen notes, the reportage of the government's further marketisation of the NHS has barely been covered and myths around social security fraud are uncritically transmitted. When will Paxo congratulate IBS for reducing the criminal manipulation of the benefits system to less than 1% of the total spend?
If there is a systemic bias to the BBC, it is towards the establishment as a whole - the ruling configuration of business and political elites. This is not just a question of personnel, though that is important. It's a matter of the broadcaster's political economy. Dependent on the Royal Charter and therefore government largesse it has a clear material interest keeping the ruling party and its wider circle of elite chums happy. Probing into, say, business links between sitting Tory MPs and the opening up of the NHS to "any willing provider" (i.e. private health concerns) is as much as a no-no as the BBC's pursuit of Blair's dodgy dossier. This dependence needs to end.
It's quite clear. Attacking the BBC and highlighting bias is well and good. It's fine and dandy clickbait. But that is nowhere near enough for the left. We need to defend the principle of the BBC's writ to inform, educate and entertain. But we should be the strongest guardians of its independence and best advocates of its role to hold a critical mirror up to government and society - to acquit the democratic responsibilities Britain's declining rightwing propaganda sheets eschew. If the left doesn't champion freedom and accountability against powerful establishment interests, who will?