Is the BBC News Biased…?

Last Updated on April 12, 2023 by Karl Thompson

The BBC was in the news this week because Elon Musk mislabelled it as ‘government funded’ whereas in reality it is a publicly funded corporation, paid for by the license fee.

This means that it is, effectively, the great British public who are real owners of the corporation, and, as such, the content of the BBC news should reflect diversity in British society and a suitably broad variety of opinions.

However, while the ‘owners’ of the BBC are diverse, the people who decided the news agenda are not as diverse, much more likely to be privately educated and upper middle class.

However, this still doesn’t mean that the content of the news is going to be biased, and there will be variation on television and radio news, and within different news programmes.

There is actually very little systematic and representative research on bias in the BBC, the latest proper university research was from between 2007 and 2012 by Cardiff University which showed that conservative views were given more airtime than progressive ones.

However this may just be because the government is conservative, and a bog standard news item is to give whatever Tory minister time to talk rubbish, which could alone be enough to skew the difference.

Conservatives also complain that the BBC is too progressive and biased against consverative view points.

A look at the opinion polls shows that only 61% of the public thinks the BBC is fair compared to higher percentages when asked about Sky and ITV, but then again that lower result may just be because the ‘fairness debate’ is more in the news in relation to the BBC.

It is probably the case that Sky and ITV are MORE right wing than the BBC, it’s just that we don’t notice!

Bias is a very difficult thing to prove, certainly asking whether the whole of the BBC is biased isn’t a good starting point, you’d need to focus on say ONE specific news programme, maybe BBC News at 18.00, or Question Time, or The news on Radio 4 at 8.00 a.m. for a period of time and subject this to time-based and qualitative content analysis to find out for sure.

It’s interesting that this is so much debated and yet so few people are doing ANY systematic research on the matter!


This material is relevant to the media topic within A-level sociology

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