The British Broadcasting Company is a bastion of our nation’s information. In a society wrought constantly between Left and Right, the BBC is the neutral pillar where the world’s events are portrayed without political bias. Well, supposedly at least.

As stated in their guidelines, the BBC claims that ‘impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services…We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.’

However, is this realistically the case? Recent events and their depiction in media have sparked doubt as to whether the BBC actually upholds genuine, accurate impartiality.

The Junior Doctors’ Strike is a case in point. In order to make the general public aware of the ins-and-outs of the debate, back in November, the BBC produced a handy guide: ‘What is the junior doctors row about?’ Yet as a student, talking to medical students and junior doctors themselves, it seems like this guide does not fairly present their opinions on the debate.

“A 10-year-old boy recently made headlines by spelling a word wrong”

In their guide the BBC outline the disputed new contract’s ‘11% rise in basic pay for doctors’ and, in response to the question ‘Will doctors lose pay?’, they state that ‘to start with it seems not many will. Ministers have said three-quarters will actually be better off … of the rest, only 1% will earn less.’ The BBC admit as a token that doctors will have to work more during weekends and that working hours previously classed as unsociable will become fewer. With regards to the possibility of a strike, they explain that ‘obviously not all of these services are dependent on junior doctors, but services could still be disrupted.’

Is it me, or does this derogatorily depict junior doctors as pettily complaining about a few more hours whilst accruing significantly more money (and jeopardising patient welfare in the meantime)? The alternative side of the argument seems at least poorly represented if not relatively disregarded. What about the fact that there simply aren’t enough doctors to provide a 7-day service? That longer hours for medical staff – a maximum of 72 hours a week up from 48 – would most likely lead to worse patient care due to staff fatigue? The BBC also fail to mention that during the weekend, urgent health services including A&E, emergency operations, ultrasounds and x-rays are still open for patients who need immediate care anyway. Crucially, they completely neglect the implication that Mr. Hunt’s contract could see a move towards privatisation of healthcare.

“National news should not reflect party politics or play to bigoted stereotypes”

In other news, a 10-year-old boy recently made headlines by spelling a word wrong. One might question, ‘Surely this happens thousands of times a day in classrooms across the country?’ Yes, but this misspelling was different. This misspelling was potential terrorism. The boy in question couldn’t quite spell “terraced” (quite understandably), so he accidentally and innocently wrote that he lived in a “terrorist” house – apparently all the more threatening as he is Muslim – and thus, according to the BBC, he and his family were investigated by police.

However, the police force have condemned the BBC for ‘misleading’ the public, explaining that the boy was not questioned by police but visited by a social worker. Lancashire’s Crime Commissioner states that this was not merely due to the misspelling but to other issues cropping up in his school work, and the incident was not responded to as a terror incident. If it wasn’t a terror incident, then why did the BBC sensationalise it as such? With the rise of Islamophobia, the last thing needed to neutralise the situation is a story by a popular and reputedly impartial news broadcaster playing to this angle.

Do these cases follow the BBC’s guidelines of ‘ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected’?

This is not a prosecution of the BBC. It is not even an accusation. It is merely polemical, playing devil’s advocate; because national news should not reflect party politics or play to bigoted stereotypes. More importantly, it is a caution to the dangers of blindly accepting media representation.

Emily Howard

Image: Tim Loudon via Flickr

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