Political Bias on our TV networks

It’s hard these days to escape bias. Whether in news reports, television shows, anything you watch will be written by someone who has a stance on what they’re writing about and it’s hard to leave that outside. Often, it’s subtle and unnoticed by the audience but even when an opinion is obvious, it may not be seen as an issue. Generally, people engage with media they know shares a viewpoint. The problem comes when they are presented as fact.

If analysing, it’s not hard to look at a specific show or broadcast to try and pick out the politics of the producer. It’s a lot more difficult, however, when it comes to entire TV channels and news broadcasts. Most TV networks have been accused of political bias throughout their airtimes. ITV, BBC, and Channel 4 have all had their fair share of controversy in this area. But do they have a duty to stay objective?

The BBC is supposed to be impartial. The Broadcasting Code of the regulator, OFCOM, requires the BBC to achieve “due impartiality in all its output”. Mainly this is because they are funded by the taxpayer and so to present bias would be a source of controversy amongst those who pay, feeling uncatered towards. This does not mean they haven’t had their share of accusations against impartiality though. 

Just in the past year, the BBC has had a record number of complaints because of the network’s “perceived bias”. It’s interesting to look at what the claims of bias are based on though, the general opinion seen is over 50’s think the BBC is becoming dominated by Liberals, whereas students and the younger generation think the entire BBC is a right-wing establishment. Since there are accusations on either side, more and more viewers are losing faith in the BBC. This goes hand in hand with a general rise in the distrust of establishments.

If we compare the BBC and other British news networks to more American ones like Fox News and CNN there’s a whole world of difference. Their programmes are blatantly based on a particular political view but also unapologetically so. When confronted about a bias Fox News publicly denied it but they did say a lot of their ‘opinion programming’ is not intended to be neutral. The issue is the lines between their reporting and opinion programming are blurred making it hard to tell which is reliable. OFCOM also ruled that Fox News broke the UK impartiality rules in 2017, which could have resulted in a fine had Sky not taken it off the air shortly before.

Factuality is often subjective and therefore difficult to measure. It used to be that big corporations like TV networks and newspapers were the only way people could access news and know what was going on, but with the rise of social media, this is no longer the case. Now there are a plethora of different independent news sources that can show other sides of the story. Included in these, Twitter and other platforms. These can be a vessel for people at an event or involved in a story to share what is happening live. 

This can be positive as it can shed light on anything the news is trying to play down or skew or even help start a movement, like the exposing of the police officers’ mistreatment of George Floyd in 2020. The negative side is not knowing the reliability of online sources. Often, people will read the title of an article or skim-read it and think they have the whole picture, missing out on the intricacies of the story or even misunderstanding it entirely. They then share it and that is how ‘fake news’ spreads.

In general, the best advice when it comes to relying on media and forming your own opinion is to just be conscious about what it is you’re consuming. Finding out where it’s from and how much validity it has, especially before sharing it, is key!

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Lauren Barrett

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January 2022
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