Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

This report sees journalistic “bias” less as partisanship and more as relying on too-comfortable habits

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A fascinating report by Joshua Benton from NiemanLab:

When people say the news is biased, what do they mean? Versions of the critique can range from the cartoonishly simple to the paralyzingly complex.

On one end of the spectrum lie straightforward claims of journalistic corruption. (“George Soros pays reporters to write fake news!” “No reporter can tell the truth without getting fired by their corporate masters!”) On the other, there’s room for nuance. (Who was in the room when that story was pitched? What were the underlying assumptions that shaped it, and what drove those assumptions? What perspectives weren’t considered important enough to seek out, or understand, or publish?)

It’s easy for journalists to get so annoyed at the cartoonish claims of bias that they ignore all the other ones. Nobody likes to be told they aren’t doing their job well. So the critiques that bother to dive deeper — to complicate the mechanics of bias — are worth paying special attention to.

That’s why I’d like to highlight a new report from the U.K. today that seems to do just that. It has the thoroughly bureaucratic title of the Review of the Impartiality of BBC Coverage of Taxation, Public Spending, Government Borrowing and Debt and it is, um, a review of the impartiality of BBC coverage of taxation, public spending, government borrowing and debt. Important, nation-shifting topics all — but ones notoriously difficult for news audiences to understand (much less enjoy).

The review did not find any systemic political biases in the BBC’s economics reporting — in the sense that it consistently favored one party’s views or others. But what it did find is more interesting. (All emphases mine.)

We found widespread appreciation for BBC coverage of tax, public spending, government borrowing and debt, and plenty to applaud. But against a test of broad impartiality, we also had concerns — about gaps and assumptions that put impartiality at risk.

These weaknesses can lead to output that appears to favour particular political positions, but curiously these lean left and right. That makes a charge of systematic political bias in this area hard to sustain. So while the risks to impartiality may look political, we think they need a better explanation, which is that they’re really journalistic. This is no less serious and raises questions for the BBC and its journalists about what kind of journalism they want to do and how to do it. Inevitably, we focus on what could change. Much could apply at least equally to other UK media.

We think the emphasis on broad impartiality in the BBC’s response to the Serota Review timely and necessary. We found that significant interests and perspectives on tax, public spending, government borrowing and debt could be better served by BBC output and were not protected by a simpler model of political impartiality. We would not call this bias. But we don’t see how BBC coverage can be described as always fair to different interests if it’s unbalanced in this broad sense. This is an exacting and exciting ideal that drives much that follows.

The 50-page review was written by Michael Blastland and Sir Andrew Dilnot — a journalist and economist (respectively) who have collaborated on a BBC series and a book on the subject of statistics in the news. They examined coverage across platforms from October 2021 to March 2022, reviewing 11,000 pieces of BBC content (focusing on about 1,000 of them), and interviewing over 100 people inside and outside the corporation. (It’s also a much clearer, more enjoyable read than most 50-page reports I’ve come across over the years.)

They say the BBC is doing a good job on the subject overall. (Most people they interviewed “thought the output good (we agree). There was huge appreciation for its quality, seriousness, and especially the strengths of specialists.”) So what were the sources of the imbalance and journalistic weaknesses they found? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 January 2023 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

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