is an Irish journalist, commentator, and writer at RT. Previously based in Amsterdam, he wrote for DutchNews and a scatter of local and national newspapers.
The BBC may force its journalists to stay apolitical on social media, but that hasn’t stopped academics from studying who they follow to declare the broadcaster right-wing. There’s no beating this academic voodoo.
To the casual observer, the BBC is a typically left-leaning news organization. After all, this is the taxpayer-funded broadcaster that temporarily scrapped ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘Rule, Britannia!’ from its annual BBC Proms, lets football pundit Gary Lineker spout anti-Brexit, pro-refugee sermons on Twitter, and tells white Britons that their lush countryside is racist.
In fact, the BBC has become so associated with woke liberalism that the newly-appointed director Tim Davie issued a swathe of instructions last month ordering its journalists to refrain from commenting on “controversial” issues, keep their political views to themselves, and avoid “virtue-signalling” on Twitter.
Calling the BBC “right wing,” or even “right-leaning” would be insane. But, when you want to prove the insane, just call in a sociologist.
That’s exactly what the Guardian did. In an article published on Wednesday, sociologist Tom Mills explained how he and two colleagues spent a year analyzing the Twitter use of 90 BBC journalists in an effort to dispel the myth of the woke BBC.
Rather than poring over their tweets and sifting through the digital entrails, Mills and his colleagues just took a look at which Westminster MPs the BBC crew followed.
They found that the BBC’s journalists follow comparatively more Tory MPs than Labour, and among Labour MPs, are more likely to follow those deemed “hostile” to former party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“Our data doesn’t tell us anything about the personal politics of BBC journalists, but it does show which political actors are generally thought to be significant,” Mills wrote. He’s not wrong on that, given that the Conservative Party has been in power for just over a decade, has more MPs in parliament, and has been at the forefront of negotiating the country’s withdrawal from the EU. However, even after admitting the relative newsworthiness of Conservatives, he declares that their higher Twitter following among BBC journalists “seems to suggest that the BBC leans to the centre right.”
Ask anyone watching the BBC’s bisexual interpretation of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ whether that’s true and they’ll tell you where to get off. Likewise, the BBC’s insistence on calling fishermen “fisher people” doesn’t exactly scream reactionary politics.
But then again, this argument is coming from a newspaper that recently declared cities “sexist” because their skyscrapers look like penises. It’s possible that a newspaper like this has a different idea than me or you of what makes someone “right wing.”
Still, woke culture and party politics are a tad more separated in the UK than in, for example, the US. Despite ramming politically-correct twaddle down viewers’ throats, the BBC has demonstrated bias against the Corbyn-era Labour Party. It selectively edited interviews during last year’s election to make Prime Minister Boris Johnson look better, talked up accusations of anti-Semitism in Labour, and allegedly used visuals that made Corbyn look like a “stupid…old man.”
And that’s Mills’ main beef with the BBC. Mills is a dedicated Corbynite, angry at the network’s portrayal of his favorite left-winger, but determined to prove this portrayal wrong with academic wizardry rather than simply lodging a complaint with the broadcaster. His article finishes with a request: that the BBC’s management look at the “social scientific evidence” he’s cooked up and be a bit nicer to the left wing.
His argument clearly chimed well with his target audience, with avowed Corbynista Clive Lewis MP praising the article on twitter and adding: “For those that dispute this research, consider this: Political discourse has shifted to such a hard right extreme, that so called ‘centrist’ and ‘moderate’ right wing views – views the #BBC over represents – are now considered ‘woke’ and ‘leftwing’ by this hard right govt.”
For those that dispute this research, consider this: Political discourse has shifted to such a hard right extreme, that so called ‘centrist’ and ‘moderate’ right wing views – views the #BBC over represents – are now considered ‘woke’ and ‘leftwing’ by this hard right govt.
— Clive Lewis MP (@labourlewis) December 2, 2020
One can’t be certain exactly what he means by ‘hard right’, but it isn’t exactly ‘Thatcherite’ to borrow £349 billion in a single year (19 percent of GDP) or to furlough 9.6 million people, is it, Clive?
Mills is not the only Guardian writer who wants the BBC to cater more to his world view. Avowed socialist Owen Jones scolded the public broadcaster earlier this year for daring to feature a ‘Question Time’ audience member complaining about the number of migrants “flooding in” to the UK, at a time when illegal entries to the UK via the English Channel were skyrocketing.
“If we remain silent” about such “hateful rage,” Jones wrote, “the dial will shift further” and coverage of the extreme right will be normalized. Who knows, maybe the BBC’s journalists would even follow a few more Tory MPs?
The problem with choosing random metrics to judge the BBC’s bias, however, is that any such study is easily disproved by other, equally flimsy, metrics. For example, the BBC spends more than £153,000 per year on copies of the Guardian, nearly three times as much as it spends on copies of the Daily Mail. It wouldn’t take a sociologist to look at this information and conclude that the broadcaster is biased to the left.
Then again, maybe its staff just really like the Guardian’s evocative descriptions of phallic skyscrapers.