Wednesday, 27 June 2007
by Media Lens
The Myth Of Left-Leaning Media Bias
Mainstream media discussions of media balance are limited to a single question: Is the media too critical of powerful interests?
Earlier this month, the press described how an internal BBC report had revealed that the organisation was guilty of “institutional left-wing bias” and “being anti-American”. (‘Lambasting for the “trendy Left-wing bias” of BBC bosses,’ Daily Mail, June 18, 2007)
Senior BBC managers and journalists were happy to agree.
Former political editor Andrew Marr responded by noting that the BBC is “a publicly-funded urban organisation with an abnormally large proportion of younger people, of people in ethnic minorities and almost certainly of gay people, compared with the population at large”. All this, he said, “creates an innate liberal bias inside the BBC”. (Nicole Martin, ‘BBC viewers angered by its ‘innate liberal bias,’ Daily Telegraph, June 19, 2007)
Of course words like ‘liberal’ and ‘left-wing’ can mean pretty much what you want them to mean. But the fact is that the BBC consistently presents the perspective of government and business as commonsensical, and rarely feels the need to offer any kind of balance.
Tony Blair shares Marr’s views on journalism. In a recent speech at Reuters’ headquarters in London, Blair condemned “the increasingly shrill tenor of the traditional media”. The problem, he observed, is that it is not enough for journalists to expose the errors of public figures: “It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.” Media scepticism is focused not just on the judgement of politicians, but on their motivation. The effect of this cynicism is devastating, Blair claimed:
“The damage saps the country’s confidence and self-belief; it undermines its assessment of itself, its institutions; and above all, it reduces our capacity to take the right decisions, in the right spirit for our future.” (‘“The media is a feral beast, tearing people to pieces,” the full speech,’ The Independent, June 13, 2007)
What is so interesting about this analysis of journalism is that it surfaces every three or four years and always focuses on the alleged aggressive nature of the media.
Writing in the Guardian in April 1996, and almost exactly anticipating Blair, James Fallows, then Washington Editor of the Atlantic Monthly, described “How the media undermine American democracy.” The problem, Fallows argued, was that the media forever portrayed public life in America “as a race to the bottom”. The emphasis was forever on “what is going wrong”. (Fallows, ‘News you can’t use,’ The Guardian, April 1, 1996)