Is the UK biased against the conservatives? How do we even measure this?
More conservatives complained to the BBC about anti-Tory bias in its 2019 election coverage than Labour supporters complained about there being an anti-Labour bias. (Source).
This trend is consistent with complaints about bias received by the BBC throughout 2019 – most complaints were from conservatives, complaining about the BBC being anti-Tory or anti-Boris – especially The Today Progamme, Andrew Marr Show and Newsnight.
However, the above analysis is based on formal written complaints, which is not a valid indicator of the nature or extent of bias in the media – there may have been more complaints on Twitter and Facebook about the BBC being pro-Tory in its election coverage, but these aren’t ‘formal’ complaints and so don’t need to be dealt with by the BBC.
Hence we need to treat the above figures with caution, especially when Tory voters tend to be older, and Labour voters tend to be younger – the former are more likely to make formal written complaints, the later more likely to take to social media.
Writing in the Observer, Peter Oborne calls out the BBC for being biased towards to Tories and against Labour, so there is definitely a difference in subjective opinions over what counts as bias.
NB – sociologically speaking, all of the above should be dismissed as subjective value judgments – there is nothing factual about the nature or extent of bias in the BBC in any of this!
Is it possible to measure political bias in the BBC objectively?
For the BBC as a whole, probably not, because it’s so difficult to measure agenda setting – what’s kept out of the news, which is itself ideological.
Where the narrow news agenda is concerned I guess any attempt to objectively measure bias would need to focus on specific programmes – say Newsnight, where one could count the air time given to different guests, and the kind of interaction between the presenter and the guests too, and the amount of time given to pro-Tory and pro-Labour issues.
However, the later is tricky – although inequality is more of a Labour issue, is devoting half a Newsnight programme to it biased towards Labour? It’s still something the Tories have to deal with.
Also, how do decide whether a presenter ‘asking hard questions’ is biased against an interviewee or just doing their job?
In short, it’s difficult to measure bias on Live T.V. shows, much easier in News Papers.
Where the highest incomes are concerned, there is an enormous disparity between the highest earning male and the highest earning female: Chris Evans is the top-paid male, earning between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000.
A recent edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored some of the moral arguments for and against this pay gap, focusing on the following questions:
Do these pay inequalities, between elite men and women at the BBC, actually tell us anything about gender pay differentials in wider society? Or is this sample of very high earning celebrities just so unique that it tells us nothing at all?
Why do women earn less than men? To what extent is the biological fact that women are the child-bearers explain the differences? To what extent is it sexism in wider culture?
What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities?
Finally, is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education?
In case you’ve never listened to it, the format of the moral maze consists of a panel who e start off by briefly presenting their views on topic under discussion, and then listening to evidence from a number of witnesses and critically questioning them, before summing up their views at the end of the show.
I thought it was useful to provide a detailed account of this episode of the moral maze because it includes summary of views of some of Britain’s best known contemporary Feminists and their critics on the issue of the pay-gap in the UK, an issue which is obviously highly relevant across the A level sociology syllabus.
It’s also probably quicker to read this rather than listen to the pod cast, and I thought it’d be useful to link it up too.
A summary of the views of the four person panel
Priest and Guardian pundit Giles Fraser – thinks that the fact that BBC appears to value men more than women is a moral outrage
Claire Fox, from the Institute of Ideas – describes Giles Fraser’s moral position as ‘tone deaf’ arguing that it’s ludicrous for a very high income earning women to see themselves as victims of Patriarchy, even if men in similar positions earn more them. She also says she finds it insulting to the memory of what fighting for women’s rights was all about.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies at Edinburgh University – disagrees argues that we should be comparing ‘like for like’ – if men and women are in a similar environment, they should be receiving the same pay and those women are right to fight for it.
Historian and Blogger Tim Stanley – elite celebrity presenters are all grotesquely overpaid and this issue is a distraction from the e world and serious violence women face in other parts of the world and the UK, and also some of the systemic problems facing young men today.
The Four Witnesses
The Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams – below I summarise their views on the gender pay gap at the BBC and more widely in the UK, along with their responses to the various questions asked of them by the panelists.
She argues that the pay of 96 elite people tells us very little about the issues of pay and inequality in wider society, because these 96 people are not doing jobs in which the pay is determined by standardised promotion and pay-scale procedures
She also points out that they are doing jobs which are not comparable – even where presenters co-present on the same show, one of them might well be doing additional presenting work elsewhere which could explain their higher pay.
The moral outrage over the gender pay gap at the BBC misses the point because the gender pay gap overall in the UK is at an all time low.
Giles Fraser responds to the above by suggesting that, irrespective of what’s going on in the wider society, where women are paid less for men in comparable jobs, this is a basic moral outrage. In response Williams says:
The real moral outrage is that other workers at the BBC (male and female alike) such as cleaners, editors, even producers, are earning so much less than these 96 ultra high-income earners.
These wealthy women have more in common with their wealthy male colleague and the focus on the ‘elite gender pay-gap’ is a distraction from the wider issue of social class.
She finds it nauseating that these elite women are calling for equal pay at the BBC, and claiming to do this for ‘all women – a campaign to equalize elite pay is going to nothing to help women lower down the pay scale – because at minimum wage level, there is no gender pay-gap.
Giles Fraser criticizes this view because it sounds like it’s blaming the victims of unequal pay.
Mona Siddiqui tries to make the point that what is going on at the top of the BBC does in fact reflect a problem found in workplaces across Britain – which is that if women don’t kick up a fuss about it, they will be paid less than men. In response to this Williams says:
The average pay gap at the BBC is 10% compared to 18% in the country as a whole, suggesting the BBC is actually a relatively good on equal pay where gender is concerned.
Where you look at men and women in comparable ‘ordinary’ jobs, the gender pay gap is practically zero.
Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s.
Mona Siddiqui wonders what we’re aiming for in all of this – do we want equal pay by gender, or a world of work in which women race ahead of men, in which case we just end up with another pay-gap issue. In response Williams says:
the real issue is social class – people at the bottom need to be paid more
by focusing on the gender pay gap, we distract attention away from the real problem in society which is pay inequality more broadly – and to get better pay, women in lower paid jobs need to work alongside their male colleagues.
Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party and argues that:
What’s interesting about the BBC Explodes the myth that if women try harder they can have equal pay. This list demonstrates that even the wealthiest, white, privileged women are still paid less men, and if they’re being paid less
One of the main aspects of the pay gap is occupational segregation which starts with boys and girls in school making gendered subject choices -because we teach boys that they are good at science and engineering and we value and pay those jobs highly; while we teach girls that they are good at caring and teaching and we value and pay those jobs lesson.
The ‘care burden’ within family life falls disproportionately on women – women in their 20s may well earn more than men, but later on in their working lives, women pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ – within 12 years of having children women’s pay is about 30% lower than the men they work with.
Tim Stanley rejects Sophie Walker’s analysis arguing that the pay gap is generational and is disappearing for the young. He cites a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the gender pay gap baby boomers is 16%, among women born between 1981 and 2005, it is 5%, and for women in their early 20s, the pay gap doesn’t exist, in fact women in this age bracket earn more than men. He also points out that women outperforming men in education, especially at university.
Ultimately, the two talk at cross purposes – they disagree about how we should be comparing men and women – Tim Stanley wants to take generations as the base for comparison and measure the pay gap by comparing what the same aged men and women earn doing the same jobs, while Sophie Walker wants to make a broader comparison, factoring in use the ‘typical jobs’ men and women do and the even how the social roles men and women fill influence the amount they earn.
Another reason they talk at cross purposes is that Stanley just sticks to the stats on pay for men and women in their 20s, Walker is imagining what’s likely to happen to the pay gap in later life, based on past evidence.
Claire Fox – asks if focusing on 96 elite women isn’t a distraction away from the the more significant problem of social class inequalities. Sophie Walker responds by saying that:
The advantage of looking at inequalities through the lens of gender shows that all women, of all classes, are underpaid compared to men.
She also argues that exploring class through the lens of gender is an effective way of analyzing pay injustice in society.
She also points out that there are different reasons for the pay gap at different class levels – for example at the top end, it’s maybe something to do with how men and women are treated differently by their agents; while at the bottom end, the fact that we have nurses (a female dominated profession) reliant on food banks is more to do with us not valuing women’s caring roles highly enough.
Claire Fox now turns to the question of why women earn less than men. She asks whether Sophie Walker thinks women are deliberately treated like second class citizens in today’s labour market. Walker suggests there isn’t conscious bias, but the following things might explain the pay gap:
Unconscious bias by white men who, when looking for the best candidate for a job, end up choosing not the best candidate.
Structural barriers, particularly lack of access to decent child care.
Ultimately Walker argues that such gender stereotypes and structural barriers harm men just as much as women, by effectively denying men the opportunity to spend quality time with their children – so closing the gender pay gap should benefit both men and women.
Emily Hill is the commissioning editor of the spectator and responsible for an article entitled ‘The end of Feminism‘.
She starts off by pointing out that she may have wrote that article, but someone else was responsible for the title, and that she does actually regard herself as a feminist.
Emily Hill subscribes to kind of Feminism developed by Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia
She has however have a problem with some younger, trendy columnists who have changed the agenda of feminism.
She suggests that what used to fight for equality and freedom has now become a fight for censorship and special treatment.
Women have won key battles such as they are doing better in school and university, and when they grow up she believes they will earn equal to men.
She does not believe that women today are victims of Patriarchy, which is thanks to previous Feminists having fought to overcome this.
Mona Siddiqui thinks the above view only applies to middle class white women, and women lower down the social class ladder are still victims of Patriarchy.
Giles Fraser backs up the idea that women are still disadvantaged through ‘everyday sexism’ – such as waiters handing the bill to men rather than women as default, and such things as harassment on the street, and especially social media abuse.
Emily Hill’s response to this is that women just need to get over these things, and she seems to be suggesting that these aren’t really systematic structural barriers to women’s progress.
Women need to stand up to men harassing them, and tell them to ‘F off’, knee them in the balls or just simply tell them their not taking it.
She suggests young women read Feminism and recommends looking at Germaine Greer putting down Norman Mailler.
In response to the view that women are more likely to get abused on social media, she cites research which suggests men are just as likely to suffer abuse, and stands against censorship, suggesting that satirizing offensive comments is the best way to deal with them.
Van der Gaag starts off by arguing that even in the UK structural discrimination against women still exists.
Claire Fox asks Van der Gaag what she thinks of the view that contemporary Feminism is ‘victim feminism’ – casting women as hapless, hopeless and in need of protection. Fox has a problem with the kind of Feminism that suggests that women in particular can’t cope with offensive words and ideas and demands that women have ‘safe spaces’ from offensive ideas and which no platforms (or censors) ideas they find offensive – she argues this kind of Feminism constructs women as people who simply can’t cope.
Fox suggests that when women in the west say they need protecting from offensive words in order to protect their mental health, this trivialises the much more serious problems some women in the west face, and which many women in developing countries face – such as being victims of violence and being treated like second class citizens.
In response Van der Gaag suggests that Claire Fox is the one trivialising mental illness, pointing out that women suffer severe abuse online, such as death threats (Even female MPs) and the effects on mental health are very real.
Giles Fraser now simply asks whether Van der Gaag thinks the disparity between men and women is a product of nature or nurture.
Together these two books suggest that about 95% of gender differences are explained by nurture, the other 5% by nature.
Reflecting on the 5% of natural differences Giles Fraser asks to what extent the biological fact of women being the child bearers explains gender disparities. Van Der Gaag responds by basically saying it’s got very little to do with it.
The problem women are still expected all over the world to do unpaid work on top of their paid work, and this is an issue all over the world including in the UK.
The solution is to value unpaid work as much as paid work, to redistribute it so that men do more unpaid work (which is happening with the younger generation), and to reduce the unpaid care, which machines can help with.
Either the gender pay gap at the BBC is symptomatic of wider gender disparities in British society, or it’s a nauseating distraction.
For Mona Siddiqui the real issue is how do we see women in terms of what value they bring to the work place?
Claire Fox finds the whole issue distasteful because the BBC gender pay gap took over some of the more socially relevant issues that we should be discussion – we should really be thinking about social class inequalities, not pay inequality between men and women at the BBC.
Giles Fraser thinks that The BBC gender pay gap touches a nerve because firstly we don’t think that people should earn that much, and secondly, we also find the idea of gender inequality unfair – the two things together – class and gender inequality offend our British idea of justice, and we can care about both at the same time (it is not a binary issue).
Tim Stanley reiterates his point that the gender pay gap in wider society is no longer really an issue – he argues that our whole take on it is 40 years old: male bosses no longer deliberately discriminate against women and technology has changed the nature of work, giving women more opportunities which they are taking.
Claire Fox points out that what no longer happens is that patriarchal bosses say ‘you’re going to have a baby, see you later’, but was does happen is that women take time off work when they have babies and go back to work part-time and lose income because of this. The problem is that there is not enough child care provision for working people, and given that women are the primary child carers this disadvantages them more than men where pay is concerned.
She also argues that overstating the gender pay gap is not helpful, what we should be doing is focusing on positive solutions to overcoming it.
Mona Siddiqui points out that prejudice may play a role – in that male bosses are reluctant to hire women in their early 30s because of the increased possibility of them having children in the near future, and the ‘hassle’ this will cause.
Giles Fraser suggests that the stereotypical representations of men and women in higher and lower paid jobs remains a problem for parents bringing up children.
There’s general support for Emily Hill’s view that thanks to Feminism, there have been huge gains in gender equality, and for the fact that contemporary Feminists blackballing people like Germaine Greer is a problem.
The last word goes to Giles Fraser who suggests that ‘power looks after itself’ and so we cannot be complacent.
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