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Artillery Row

BBC News prefers some voices to others

How the Beeb fails to inform

Next month, Australians will vote on whether to establish a body called the “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice”.

Most people in Britain probably aren’t that familiar with what this body would do, how it would work, and what the main arguments for and against it are. If curious, they might go to BBC News to try and find out.

They wouldn’t get very far. Last week, a headline on the BBC website thundered “lies fuel racism ahead of Australia’s Indigenous vote”. 

The accompanying article devotes a brief few sentences to the Yes campaign’s main arguments — that it will give indigenous Australians “greater self-determination” and help reduce socioeconomic disparities between indigenous and other Australians. The No campaign’s main argument, essentially that “the Voice will have too much power,” is summed up in a single sentence.

The logic behind both campaigns’ arguments is left untouched. We’re not told how Yes campaigners expect the Voice to achieve what they claim it will, or why No campaigners think it will “undermine government processes and clog up the courts”. 

The existence of No voters who believe the Voice isn’t strong enough is ignored, at least until the end of the article when it quotes at length a woman who had planned to vote No on those grounds, but has since switched to Yes.

But it’s abundantly clear that you’re not meant to engage with any of these arguments and decide for yourself. You’re supposed to be reassured by the BBC’s claim that “many fears raised by the No campaign have been debunked”.

The article also repeatedly expects you to put your faith in nameless authority figures. The claims of “some” that the Yes campaign’s declining poll numbers are down to “public sentiment” (how could it not be?) are deftly batted away by “Yes campaigners” who instead blame an “ecosystem of disinformation”.

“Analysts” are credited with linking racial abuse to the “narratives that underpin the No campaign,” and we’re similarly assured that “legal and constitutional experts” believe those narratives are “unfounded”. No further explanation is provided.

Finally, a section entitled “community harm” heavily implies that the No campaign would be responsible if the suicide rate among indigenous Australians were to increase.

With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the BBC are creating a narrative for what increasingly appears to be the Yes campaign’s impending defeat. “Lies”, “racism”, and “gaming the algorithm” of social media sites like Facebook.

You might recognise this narrative

You might recognise this narrative, because it’s the same one trotted out by left-wingers and liberals around the world whenever things don’t go their way. 

The same line was used ad nauseam to explain the vote for Brexit in 2016. Australians should probably brace themselves for a cavalcade of hysterical New York Times articles if they dare to vote No next month.

Donald Trump now claims to have invented the term “fake news”, but it was previously deployed by his opponents to describe false stories which, they suggested, swung the 2016 election in his favour. And then against Jair Bolsonaro’s campaign in Brazil two years later.

Needless to say, lies which don’t quite fit the narrative — like the Labour Party and the SNP both centring their 2019 election campaigns around the Tories allegedly planning to sell the NHS to Donald Trump — don’t generate quite so much comment.

The BBC’s piece on the Voice referendum is the latest example of an increasingly settled liberal belief that they have a monopoly on truth and decency, especially when it comes to so-called “culture war” issues, and that lies and bigotry are the only meaningful obstacles to their unending success.

It’s not hard to see how this worldview leads to a reluctance to be impartial towards, or even a will to censor, opposing views. The double shock of Trump and Brexit led to widespread liberal criticism of traditional media impartiality, which in their view had failed.

The BBC’s failure to provide balance between the pro- and anti-Voice sides in Australia’s referendum reflects the new, post-2016 attitude of much of the mainstream liberal media. Traditional balance is considered ‘false equivalence’, at least on culture war issues, and liberal journalists are expected to report from the side of what they consider to be truth and decency.

A glance at the BBC News back catalogue shows that this isn’t a one-off. In recent years, readers have been treated to multiple puff pieces in the space of weeks for “reparations” to Caribbean countries, favourable write-ups for Satanism and Drag Queen Story Hour, a piece denouncing singer Matty Healy as a “white saviour” for criticising Malaysia’s anti-gay laws while performing in the country, a glowing eulogy to a defunct far-left magazine, and some kind words for polyamory

Their favourite subject, for some reason, appears to be a group of Muslim hikers and its founder, and especially the online abuse they’ve received. Organising a hiking group is nice, and online abuse is bad, but that doesn’t explain why one particular group warrants a level of attention from the national broadcaster that some Cabinet ministers would walk a thousand miles for.

Tory MPs are rarely shy to point out BBC bias, but they often point at their coverage of day-to-day UK politics, where the evidence is less clear-cut. For (almost) every Emily Maitlis tirade against Dominic Cummings, there’s a video comparing Rishi Sunak to Superman. Both those incidents drew apologies from the BBC.

It’s right to keep a watchful eye on BBC bias. It’s a publicly-funded broadcaster, nominally committed to impartiality, but most importantly, it’s also comfortably Britain’s most-read and most-watched news source. The BBC is by far the loudest voice in the British media landscape.

But the Australian referendum piece shows how an eye needs to be kept on all BBC News coverage, not just on how it reports the Westminster rigmarole. It’s often in features, culture, and on this occasion, foreign politics where the left-wing bias at BBC News is truly exposed.

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