BBC and Channel 4’s obsession with so-called ‘impartiality’ is stifling true debate

Jon Snow

Jon Snow - Credit: Archant

Forget the social media whirlwinds around media bias, impartiality is overrated

As Britain continues to career head-long towards the cliff-edge that is Brexit, we can no longer afford the luxury of so-called broadcasting 'impartiality.'

We've just had a mini social media whirlwind, puffed up by the announcement that the Head of the BBC in Westminster is to leave Auntie to become Head of Communications for Theresa May in No 10 Downing Street. A cry went up that this proved that he must have been 'biased' towards the Tories during his time at the Corporation. I have no proof that this is the case and wouldn't make any such accusation.

My argument is that the idea of impartiality itself is not only not achievable but actually is not desirable. By that, I'm not saying that all broadcast journalists must appear on screen telling us their own personal opinions about what they're reporting on...though it might be rather more honest if they did.

No, I mean that trying to achieve supposed 'balance' often means that even when one side of an issue is demonstrably right and the other wrong, broadcasters feel compelled to give ea'sch the same weight and amount of coverage.

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Take Climate Change, for example. Often the BBC, especially the Today programme on Radio 4, will have on the arch-climate change sceptic (denier?) and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, as if he's a respected voice on the matter and an equal to the many, many top scientists who all affirm that human activity and the burning of fossil fuels is, overwhelmingly, the cause of the catastrophic and humanity-threatening changes to our climate.

When the BBC and others give climate-sceptics the same coverage and respectability as that of genuinely respected international scientists, that makes a laughing stock of so-called 'impartiality' and 'balance'.

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On Brexit, too, we see attempts at giving equal weight to those who claim that all is going to be rosy when (if!) Britain does finally leave the European Union, when all the major indicators show that Britain is already starting to feel the pinch and that our Prime Minister is an increasingly isolated figure at international meetings.

We've also just seen another small but significant social media storm erupt, this time surrounding Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow allegedly saying something rather disobliging about the Tories whilst enjoying himself at Glastonbury. His detractors say this 'proves' he's left-wing.

Whatever he did or didn't say, shouldn't mean we disregard his decades of independent thought, of critical analysis, of seriously holding to account those who wield power and influence. He and the programme he presents are, probably, centre-left on the political spectrum, but that doesn't make him or it any the less valuable to our public discourse.

Many here mock right-wing American news channel Fox News and its left-wing alternative in the US, MSNBC, but at least they're both honest about where they stand on politics and in their wider world view. Both, yes even Fox News, still produce much excellent journalism and commentary. Whether you agree with it or not.

Especially MSNBC. There's few better anchors/commentators in the world than one of their prime-time hosts, Rachel Maddow.

Yes, we know she's a progressive, but that doesn't stop her holding supposedly progressive politicians to account when they fail to live up to their own purported standards and values. 'Neutrality' or 'impartiality' might seem attractive but, actually, all they really mean is stifling honest debate and giving equal weight to arguments which should be mocked, not respected.

So, I politely suggest, maybe it's time our broadcasters stopped trying to be impartial and, instead, allowed debate to be free and truly fair. We, the well-informed viewer and listener, should be allowed to make up our own mind what we believe, rather than be force fed non-existent 'impartiality' like babies.

Mathew Hulbert is a former broadcast journalist and a former Lib Dem Councillor in Leicestershire

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