Tuesday 16 May 2017

Explaining Laura Kuenssberg's Bias

There's a headline. It's from the BBC, written by no less a figure than the corporation's chief political editor. Not something up to the standards expected, you might say. As readers know, I tend not to moan much about the recipient of the licence fee. As a general rule, its news coverage is much better than most and where it fails in impartiality, it can make up in balance - particularly with regard to its flagship current affairs programme, Question Time. But there have been plenty of Labour people outraged by the behaviour of senior BBC journalists of late. Here are some much-shared and criticised examples.

Not exactly fair and not exactly balanced, to borrow the strap line of the Murdoch-owned bilge channel. And into this litany of bias comes Laura Kuenssberg's blog on Labour's manifesto. Just look at the state of the headline: "Labour manifesto vision: More spending, more tax, more borrowing". Let's be generous here, that is more or less a factually accurate statement. But this is politics. Kuenssberg's been in the game (at the top of the game) for long enough to know that nothing is neutral in politics, and she knows well enough that it's quite possible to frame and slant reports in particular ways that favour certain parties over others without explicitly saying "vote Tory", or whatever.

For the last seven years 'more spending, more tax, more borrowing' has been repeated ad nauseum as an attack line by the Tories. The spending line specifically is a charge that the Tories and their friends in the press have used since 1979. Kuenssberg knows this, she isn't stupid. And it's outrageous.

What's going on then? As we have seen before, the BBC is a biased institution: it tilts towards the political establishment. Since Jeremy Corbyn took the leadership of the Labour Party, it, like the rest of official politics and the state, have looked on in a mixture of fascination and horror, almost as if Labour was plotting an insurrection followed by full sovietisation. Not a mild programme of social democracy that would move Britain more in the direction of noted communist power, the Federal Republic of Germany. In the avalanche of destabilisation and attacks on Labour and its leader and the subsequent dumbing down of debate, the BBC has played its part with alacrity.

Also, it finds itself in a particular pickle. Since 2003 and the fall out from the dodgy dossier and the death of weapons expert David Kelly, the BBC has even more diligently bowed the knee to sitting governments. The powers that be want to retain the Royal Charter and therefore carry on as a going concern, and this sentiment is shared across all senior staff, including those in front of the camera. In the context of this general election in which the Tories are widely expected to win, the BBC is playing supplicant and not giving them anywhere near as hard a time as Labour. They hope the Tories will leave the corporation well alone. This is no conspiracy, nor will you find documents instructing senior reporters to go easy, but it's a structure of feeling working its way through what they do and say.

Is Laura Kuenssberg a Tory then? Who knows for certain but she, like many others, know which side their bread is buttered on.


David Timoney said...

I believe the Germans used to refer to it as "working towards the leader".

Anonymous said...

Good analysis, as one might expect. On a pedantic point, I'm not sure what you were driving at with "bowed the knee to sitting governments." One can "bow one's head" to someone, indicating obedience. Or one can beg "on bended knee" for favours from the powerful.

I think the physicality of the words 'sitting government' has confused your mental picture here, and that you meant the former but ended up with a bit of the latter.

Jeff Thomas said...

The board are all tory party members and its bias is in breach of its charter. Appointments have been made such as the HSBC one that show its no longer independent

Anonymous said...

The tax payer funds the BBC and we 'still' live in a democratic society. So 'our' BBC should be unbias, full stop. There is enough right-wing thrown down our throats, yet we can choose to ignore it.
But the BBC is different, each one of us by no choice pay tv licensing and yet we have tolerate Dimbleby, Robinson, Kunsseburg etc...
We pay them astronomical amounts, the least they could do is tell the truth

dialectician1 said...

As Chomsky says, journalists like Laura Kuenssberg are not consciously biased towards the Conservative Party (or a ruling corporate elite) but the fact that she made her way to the top, to become a senior news person for the BBC, means that she has has to be deferential to that finely tuned filtering process, which quickly ejects an alternative 'class' perspective. Journalists like Paul Mason are unusual but he too fits into the 'postmodern prism', which not only dominates in the BBC but most News channels and includes newspapers like The Guardian. It also reflects the current discourse in academia, which rejects universalism and collectivism as failed projects of the last century. It's worth having a butchers at Evan & Tilley (2017) 'The New Politics of Class'. Although some of the sociology is a bit suspect, these two Oxford academics chart the death of 'class politics' since the 1960s. This is why Corbyn is seen as just, SO weird!

So, it's not just the BBC that finds old style class politics unpalatable. Kuenssberg, and that sorry lot of 'indentity politics' junkies on Newsnight, are a reflection of the current postmodern miasma, which 'El Tel' Eagleton see as the ideology which is fully congruent with neoliberalism. We should not be surprised by Knunssberg and her chums; they would not even recognise the bias that you describe.

Shai Masot said...

Laura Kuenssberg? Tory. Andrew Marr? Tory. Andrew Neil? Tory. Jeremy Paxman?

They want Labour to go back to being Tory-lite.

The good news is that a poll from Panelbase today shows that there are now just 14 points between Labour at 33 per cent and the Tories at 47 per cent. (Labour polled at 30.4% in 2015.)

Voters want Labour to be Labour.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous "each one of us by no choice pay tv licensing"

Speak for yourself! No one actually needs to watch television. I've not watched TV for ten years, and I'm immensely better-informed since I quit watching.

As for "not a conspiracy, you will not find documents," I'm wondering just what WOULD count as a conspiracy by Phil's definition? Really powerful people don't put important things in writing- that's how holocaust deniers are able to argue that there's no document signed by Hitler ordering the extermination of the Jews- therefore it didn't happen or was an accident or something.

Unknown said...

The bias is a touch beyond the Chomsky take given earlier. There has been budget cuts and capital pressure on the company. They are selecting establishment advocates to keep them afloat. "The revolution will not be televised"

Anonymous said...

I agree, I don't think there'a any overt conspiracy going on. No meetings at which they plan their support for the Tories and their attacks on Labour. Rather the deed is done by recruitment. The Tories have stuffed the BBC Board with their own people. They in turn have installed a Tory and close friend of George Osbourne as head of news. And he in turn hired the very pro-Tpry reporter Laura Keunnsberg as Political Editor.

Hire people with the biases you want, and there's no need to control their content.

Bonnemort said...

Mark Livingstone - Andrew Marr Tory? The Socialist Workers' Party newspaper seller? The chap who said (referring to the appalling idea that people might possibly show biases in favour of those like themselves, and against those unlike themselves)

"And the final answer, frankly, is the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress. It may be my Presbyterian background, but I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain 'natural' beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off. The police are first in line to be burdened further, but a new Race Relations Act will impose the will of the state on millions of other lives too."

(My view on Corby is that it's his views on Palestine/Israel which have made him persona non cheesegrater with so many influential people. Meeting the IRA is one thing, but Hamas? No way!)

Boffy said...

Rather than continually whining about the biased Tory media, which we have known about for 200 years and more, the Labour Party, TUC, Co-operative Movement, and all those lefties like Ken Loach should actually use the advantages wwe now have in the modern world to do something about it and create an alternative.

The cost of media production equipment has become almost de minimus. You can create your own TV production facilities for amounts well within the means of the labour movement. If Manchester United and other football clubs can have their own satellite and cable channels so can the British Labour Movement.

And that applies to an even greater extent as far as social media and Internet TV channels are concerned. We have oodles of talent within the Left and labour Movement from writers to actors, to singers and entertainers, to film makers, and journalists.

Its about time we got together and utilised all that talent to provide a real alternative to the Tory media, not just as far as news is concerned but in terms of creating our own alternative culture. I hope this is the last General Election when this has to be said.

Anonymous said...

I personally avoid the BBC for this very reason. They may be better than many UK sources of news but they are still despicable. One need only look at their language (a 'surge' of migrants for instance) to understand where their political loyalties lie and how they affect the work they do.

Roger McCarthy said...

When I moved house 3 years ago I just stopped paying my TV license and stopped watching TV altogether - and since they changed the rules on iplayer I no longer even watch that.

This really is the only language they understand and once you've broken the habit it really is liberating.

I can no longer for instance ever watch any episode of Question Time or the Daily Politics or Newsnight even if I felt tempted to.

And if anything I am now better informed and I hope rather less likely to die of sheer rage.

Try it - you will have to bin monthly threatening letters as the BBC just will not believe that anyone can live without their output - but that is a small price to pay for knowing that whoever is paying for Kuenssberg's salary and Simon Sebag Montefiore's holidays it is not you.

Graham N said...

If the BBC Board is so Tory, as one correspondent anonymous correspondent claims, how is it that they found Kuenssberg guilty of misrepresenting Corbyn's views on 'shoot to kill'? It was her director of News & Current Affairs who leapt to her defence and attacked the Board.

Anonymous said...

Because her transgression was so egregious even they couldn't ignore it?

You aren't meant to make it *too* obvious, you know.

Joseph said...

I have never been too surprised by the bias of people who work for the BBC. They are paid a lot of money, and have become "successful" by not (or rarely) stepping out of line. Such people would not wish to rock the boat even if they thought it worth rocking.

There are of course honourable exceptions. But there is a "BBC view" which could never be sympathetic with the Left, never even grant a fair hearing, because the whole of the Left is seen as illegitimate. I've never worked for the BBC, but I imagine that is one of the "understandings" that goes with the culture of working for it. You're the sociologist, Phil, but most occupations (certainly most HE teaching) have a culture that involves "understandings" alongside more direct appeals to career.

Diane said...

I have always thought the BBC leans towards the Left of polotics.