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Last modified: 02 January 2014

The BBC's other Bias

If you don't like a TV station, you can stop watching it. If you don't like a newspaper, you can stop buying it. If you don't like the BBC, you have to keep on paying. Each British household currently pays £145.50 for a license to watch television, made by the BBC or not.

Since most Britons - like me - think the BBC is worth the money, we keep on paying. But that doesn't stop us complaining about the bits we don't like. There is a marvellous Wikipedia page titled Criticism of the BBC dedicated to documenting the world's issues with the "World's Favourite Broadcaster". When I last looked there were 209 references. It made me proud to be British.

Regional bias.

Among the list of complaints about the BBC, one that's most common - though sadly under-represented on the Wikipedia site - is that of regional bias.

Television was invented in Scotland, but the UK government ordained that the BBC be founded in London. That bias persists to this day and pervades all of the corporation's output. This page documents some examples of it.

The deniers.

Of the corporation's 12 trustees, 8 live in the South-East of England. The remaining four live away from the BBC's home only because they are obliged to represent the four nations that make up the UK. But for many in the London media, even a respectable publication like The Economist, two thirds of the trustees living in the capital or its surroundings is 50% too few.

Moving an intrinsically national talk show out of London invoked howls of disgust in London's media, and the BBC's partial move to Salford was sneered at and mocked. Against their hopes, viewing figures for BBC shows from Salford improved. Quickly, with the main line of attack thwarted, a bias that was previously denied became a new and insidious favouritism towards Manchester.

The BBC's move to Manchester has helped. The people who made it happen have my deep thanks. But the BBC's preference for reporting on events in its home city is still endemic, and it still deeply damages cultural, economic, and political activity outside the Capital.

 

Caribbean Carnivals: Leeds vs. Notting Hill.

The Notting Hill carnival may be Europe's biggest but it is based on Europe's oldest carnival in Leeds. That history deserves coverage by the BBC. Do you think the BBC got the regional balance right?


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Default location.

If you haven't set your location on the BBC website it defaults to London. It always has. I once managed to speak to the head of BBC online on this, and he claimed that "the majority of users set London as their location". Which is almost certainly untrue since only about 15% of Britons live in London. It's clear that in the minds of managers at the BBC, the UK is London.

The Tour de France.

Le Grand Départ of the world's largest cycle race will take place in Yorkshire in 2014. The BBC celebrated by noting that the tour was coming to London two days later and illustrated the piece not with a picture of Leeds or Yorkshire, but of Buckingham Palace? The comments say it all. In fact, after any BBC online piece showing this same outrageous preference to London (or England) the comments are quickly full of people calling the BBC out.


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Other little things.