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Artillery Row

Has the BBC stopped pretending to be unbiased?

Don’t go to the Beeb’s website for balanced information

In a recent Critic article about the BBC’s unbalanced coverage of the Australian Indigenous Voice referendum, which takes place this Saturday, Joe Hackett wrote:

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.

Has the BBC’s coverage improved since then? Is spinach green?

Parliament Square does not pretend to be an expert on the referendum, so it would be nice for public service broadcasting to provide some balanced information. It would also be nice to have a pony and a boat.

Last week, the BBC published an online news report which called the referendum — which aims to decide if Australia should recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the constitution and create a body of indigenous people to advise the government — “a reckoning”. Advocates of the move, the BBC informs us: 

… say it’s a “modest yet profound” change that will allow Indigenous Australians to take “a rightful place” in their own country — which has often dragged its heels confronting its past.

But those campaigning against it describe it as a “radical” proposal that will “permanently divide” the country by giving First Nations people greater rights than other Australians — a claim legal experts reject.

Supporters go unquestioned. It’s just the opponents whose claims need the qualifier that “legal experts” have rejected them. Further on:

No advocates say that putting the Voice in Australia’s founding document could give it too much power, arguing it will undermine government processes and clog up the courts with its objections.

But leading legal minds — including the federal solicitor general — dispute that. And the Voice will have no power to veto legislation.

“Yes” claims are not disputed, and “leading minds” from the “No” camp are not referenced. Only one “No” advocate is quoted compared to six advocates for “Yes”. Granted, the BBC is not obliged to offer equal representation for all opinions. An article about Flat Earthers should not have to cite one of them for every astronomer. But “Yes” being the right choice the Australian Indigenous Voice referendum is not some fact of life, and “No” seems likely to command a majority of Australian voters. The lack of balance from the BBC is dismal, if unsurprising. 

But a piece by the journalist Frances Mao on the BBC website really takes the cake. “Why Australia trails New Zealand on Indigenous journey,” reads the headline. Ah, yes, that’s the BBC perspective — we’re all on a “journey” to enlightenment and some are just slower than others.

New Zealanders are “puzzled” that Australians might reject the Voice, Ms Mao informs us. Indeed, some find it “astonishing”. They can’t understand Australia’s “divisive debate fuelled by misinformation”. “A majority of Australian voters,” Mao writes, appear to have “been swayed by the campaign against the Voice, which include falsehoods”. Some have been spread by “far-right, “anti-woke” groups”. Just in case you haven’t got the point, Mao adds that “No” voters have been swallowing “misinterpretation”.

“Such arguments — many false,” Mao writes (yes, we know you think that many of them are false):

… have nevertheless been effective. That’s because much of mainstream Australia has a poor understanding of the country’s brutal past, says Mark Kenny, a professor of politics at Australian National University.

Needless to say, Mao does not quote a “No” advocate to give a different perspective. Why would she need to? It’s already been decided by our BBC betters that it is as ludicrous as thinking that Barack Obama assassinated JFK. 

Finally, a BBC video bearing the title “Why Indigenous people differ on Australia’s Voice vote” actually manages to quote three opponents of the Voice. Yes, it also quotes nine supporters but at least someone was trying.

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