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20th Feb 2024

Ex-BBC editor reveals biases on political programmes

Charlie Herbert

Ex-BBC editor reveals biases on political programmes

‘Everyone’s got bias – the question is can you set it aside when you do the journalism’

Accusations of political bias are one of main sticks used to beat the BBC with.

One of the broadcaster’s key pillars is impartiality, and this comes under the most scrutiny in the world of politics.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines state that the broadcaster must “remain independent and distanced from government initiatives, campaigners, charities and their agendas, no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial.”

But there are countless accusations from both sides of the political spectrum of the BBC having either left-wing bias or right-wing bias.

Former BBC editor Rob Burley has said there is truth to bias accusations aimed at the BBC, claiming that the broadcaster has a centre-left, liberal bias.

Rob Burley was the BBC’s editor of live political programmes from 2018 to 2021 (YouTube/PoliticsJOE)

However, he argued that this is no different to “most media organisations” in the country and that in the majority of cases it does not affect the BBC’s news output.

Speaking to PoliticsJOE, the journalist and former BBC head of political programming discussed the idea of true impartiality at the BBC and in news programming.

He said: “The balance of opinion at the BBC, and probably most media organisations apart from GB [News] is slightly to the left, slightly centrist left.”

When asked whether it is possible to present news “without a partial view attached to it”, Burley said: “In a strict sense the answer is probably no, but what’s our response to that? Do we abandon the effort because it’s just impossible to achieve it in its purest sense, or do we carry on?

“What I would say is that we carry on because if something’s difficult it’s probably worth carrying on trying to do it because it’s difficult for a reason.”

Pointing out that “everyone’s got bias”, Burley continued: “The question is can you set it aside or try to set it aside when you walk in the room and do the journalism.”

BBC News journalists such as Laura Kuenssberg are often accused of having some sort of political bias in their reporting (BBC)

He explained that the reason he was able to set aside his own bias whilst working for the BBC was because he was “less interested” in promoting his views than he was the actual journalistic work of “holding people to account.”

He added: “It didn’t matter to me whether it was Labour, the Tories or anybody else who was in the chair, I just wanted us to do the very best job we could do because that gave me a lot of professional satisfaction.

“And most people there [at the BBC] are like that.”

Using the example of Today programme presenter Nick Robinson, Burley said: “Nick Robinson’s a brilliant interviewer, he used to be a Tory when he was a lot younger – I don’t detect him going easy on the Tories.

“He’s a journalist first and foremost. So in other words it [true impartiality] can’t be achieved in a pure sense, [but] the effort of achieving it and trying produces great work.”

You can watch the full interview with Burley below, with the conversation surrounding political balance at the BBC starting around the 30 minute mark.

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BBC,uk politics