We have bad news for the right-wing BBC haters: most of the public just don’t agree with you

It’s not the national broadcaster that’s out of touch, but the hardline critics who accuse it of left-wing bias without looking at the evidence

February 17, 2023
Broadcasting House in central London. Photo: Dylan News Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Broadcasting House in central London. Photo: Dylan News Images / Alamy Stock Photo

To many right-leaning people, the BBC’s news and current affairs coverage is self-evidently biased to the left. 

For instance, Douglas Murray, writing in the Sun late last year, blithely referred to “the BBC and other left-wing media” that criticised Home Secretary Suella Braverman for describing immigrants crossing the Channel as an “invasion”. (Braverman’s own adviser, a Tory activist appointed by her predecessor Priti Patel, actually cited the home secretary’s language towards refugees before quitting in December).

Murray felt no need to explain or justify writing “the BBC and other left-wing media”, nor to offer any evidence to support his claim that according to these activists, Braverman is“simply the latest in a long line of white-supremacist, neo-Nazi fascists.” If the BBC had really described the home secretary as anything close to a “white-supremacist, neo-Nazi fascist”, we would most certainly have heard about it—not least from Murray and the Sun.

Similarly, Rod Liddle in the Times recently said the BBC’s “palpable” bias shines through almost every day. On the migrant crisis, he refers to its “continual insistence that actually not that many are coming in and they are probably delightful people whom we should welcome with open arms.” Again, we would surely have heard if the BBC had really said any of this this even once—never mind “continually insisting” on it.

Telegraph columnist Michael Deacon is more balanced. Commenting on union boss Mick Lynch’s (in Deacon’s view, ludicrous) claim in an interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain that the Corporation just parrots right-wing propaganda, he notes that “Lynch is not completely alone in his conviction that the BBC has a pro-Tory bias”, comparing it with football fans who complain about the referee’s bias only when the decision goes against their team. Deacon defends Husain for asking tough but fair questions and criticises Lynch for not answering them. But he then describes the idea that the BBC is pro-Tory as a “delusion”. The assumption is, again, that the BBC is so obviously anti-Tory that anyone who can’t see this is, literally, deluded. 

More recently, Conservative MP Scott Benton, opposing the government’s almost universally welcomed decision not to privatise Channel 4, denounced the channel’s “liberal-left metropolitan bias” which “almost makes the BBC look impartial.” Yet again, the implication is that the BBC is obviously and massively left-leaning. But where’s the evidence?

In reality, the endlessly repeated “left-wing BBC” narrative fits neither the facts nor most people’s perception. 

A Cardiff University analysis of BBC news coverage in 2009 (under Labour) and 2015 (under the Conservative-led coalition) counted how often it mentioned think tanks categorised as left-leaning, right-leaning or neutral in both years, finding a broad balance in 2009 but a clear bias to the right in 2015: “When Labour was in power [in 2009], the BBC’s use of think tanks was relatively even-handed, but when a Conservative-led coalition was in power [in 2015], the centre of gravity [in the BBC’s coverage] shifted to the political right.”

Another study, by two London-based academics, found that during the 2017 general election campaign, 69 per cent of the newspaper stories featured on the BBC’s daily late-night TV show The Papers were from Conservative-supporting papers versus only 23 per cent from those supporting Labour and 8 per cent from those supporting other parties (such as Ukip or the Lib Dems). Of those studio guests representing a paper with a clear party affiliation, 68 per cent were also Conservatives. However much this may reflect the political bias in the newspaper landscape, it again shows that claims of lefty favouritism are simply untrue.  

The BBC’s right-leaning critics would doubtless dismiss these studies on the basis that the authors were metropolitan media academics and therefore, like everyone at the BBC, card-carrying—perhaps even tofu-eating—members of the left-liberal “anti-growth coalition.” 

Much more problematic for the right-wing Beeb-bashers is that most of the public disagrees with them.

In YouGov’s latest biannual public opinion tracker, in November 2022, 22 per cent did indeed say the BBC’s news coverage generally favours Labour and/or the left. But almost as many—18 per cent—said it generally favours the Conservatives and/or the right, while the majority—almost 60 per cent—fell somewhere in between. Twenty-seven per cent explicitly said the BBC was “generally neutral” and the other 32 per cent responded “Don’t know”, which is hardly compatible with the idea that it is “palpably” left-wing. These percentages are steady over time and similar in other independent surveys. 

The British public must be a great disappointment to the right-wing BBC-haters: the great majority simply don’t think its news coverage is systematically biased to the left—never mind the frequent, even stronger, claim or assumption (as in the Murray, Liddle, Deacon and Benton examples above) that this bias is so extreme as to be self-evident.

Lucy Frazer, the new culture secretary, will doubtless hear plenty from her right-wing colleagues about the need to tackle the BBC’s supposed left-wing bias. But if she looks at the evidence, she will find that it is those right-wing colleagues, not the BBC, who are out of touch with majority public opinion. She now has a choice: should she align herself with the right-wing BBC-haters, or with the majority of the public?