Graham Norton, Jonathan Dimbleby and BBC bias

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Graham Norton was invited by the Observer, “Are you bored with BBC reviews?” Considering how much Norton is paid by the BBC, his response comes as no surprise. “It’s the public broadcaster, so it will always be under control. I just wish he would defend himself more solidly. “

Norton makes a good point. The BBC is doing a terrible job of defending itself. In part, however, it is because what he is doing is indefensible. First, there is the bias: anti-Israel, anti-Brexit, anti-Johnson. Then there are the silences and the false statements: the silence on left-wing anti-Semitism, for example, and the misrepresentation of how the police handled the Clapham Common tribute: lots of footage from one young woman being abused, let alone footage of aggressive young men throwing objects at police during what was supposed to be a peaceful rally.

In his journal this week Spectator, Jonathan Dimbleby reflected on his retirement Questions, which he superbly chaired for 32 years. There is no lack of “the BBC’s impartiality protocols”, he writes. This raises two questions. Why would a presenter miss the impartiality protocols? Why does he think they are there? And second, what impartiality protocols?

More recently there have been a few more chapters in the BBC’s Fairness Saga, all relating to major international reporting. One of the best shows on the BBC News Channel is presented by Katty Kay and Christian Fraser. They are both, normally, superbly professional. Last week, the channel’s controller rightly erased the decks on the news channel so that he could cover the verdict of the Chauvin trial live. After all, it was perhaps the most famous trial in America since OJ Simpson and, no coincidence, it was also a matter of race and divisions that haunt contemporary America.

“Divisions” may be the key word. America is a fiercely divided nation. Fiercely, but also evenly. In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden won 51.3% of the vote, compared to 46.8% for Trump. The Senate could not have been divided more evenly: 50-50. When Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, she won two percent more of the popular vote. Americans are fiercely divided on race, abortion, gun control, Covid and immigration, but they haven’t experienced a landslide like Ronald Reagan’s on the late Walter Mondale in many years .

One would therefore expect the BBC to represent these divisions when presenting their discussions on Chauvin. Presumably, some on the American right thought Chauvin might be innocent, or at least they might have different views on policing America’s cities than Professor Cornell West or former Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. But the BBC didn’t think viewers needed to hear the opinions of anyone, black or white, with dissenting opinions.

The editor-in-chief of Newsnight. Emily Maitlis interviewed three black Americans who all agreed that Chauvin was guilty and that the American police were institutionally racist. No editorial balance at all. It is not about whether Chauvin was guilty or not or whether black Americans are right to be concerned about the state of the police in America. The question is whether, when a society is so fiercely and equally divided, we have the right to hear a range of views?

After this discussion, Emily Maitlis interviewed the new Israeli ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, in part to find out whether Israel had withheld Covid vaccines from Palestinians. In her item, “Rattling Israel’s BBC tormentors” April 21, Melanie Phillips gives a clear summary of the interview. Maitlis, writes Phillips, accused Israel of “discriminating against its own Arab citizens by vaccinating them at a slower rate.” This is not the first time that a BBC presenter has accused Israel of not offering Covid vaccines to Palestinians. Whenever this was presented to a spokesperson or to an Israeli woman, it was clearly refuted. As the ambassador explained to Maitlis, the Palestinian Authority (PA) did not want Israel to provide Palestinian Arabs with a vaccination program. Rather, the Palestinian Authority had wanted to provide it to them itself, and had done just that by purchasing doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik. “Let me ask you, Emily,” Ambassador Hotovely said, “would you really require getting vaccines? [on] the leaders of the Palestinians? Would you actually say [they had to] accept Israeli access and Israeli aid? When they are not interested? But these rebuttals and others will not stop the anti-Israel accusations by BBC presenters and journalists.

More recently, the BBC news programs have been very enthusiastic about the Conservatives’ sleaze. They can’t get enough. Much more enthusiastic than them about the allegations over construction and development contracts against Joe Anderson, the Labor mayor of Liverpool, arrested last December. Indeed, as far as I know, Liverpool haven’t been mentioned at all amid all this worry about corruption in government. Or how about the Sky News story and the Time recently published an article about Unite boss Len McCluskey facing calls for an investigation into £ 98million in hotel and conference center spending. Len who?

Back to Graham Norton. “I just wish it [the BBC] would defend itself more solidly. It’s worth asking, not that Norton was asked, if it’s because the BBC’s media coverage is sometimes indefensible. Or if the BBC is so smug, and certain of its access to the truth, that its presenters and editors don’t need to be interested in questions of impartiality or carefully balanced panels. The BBC seems to know she is right, which is why they never respond to such criticism.


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