Friday, 17 May 2013

A Method for Assessing Bias in BBC Programmes

The following method for assessing bias in BC programmes was developed when analysing programmes dealing with GM technology and organic farming. It became clear that the method can be applied to other topics.

It is believed that the method is objective as it is based on counting six different kinds of statements made by the interviewees and especially by the BBC interviewers in a programme.

Here the topic is the hypothetical X.

It will be expected that the interviewees will have views for or against X as appropriate. What is more relevant is the position of the BBC which can be judged by the number of times the BBC interviewer a) supports the different sides and b) challenges the interviewees who support the two sides.
Bias will also be evident if the BBC interviewers associate themselves with one side by the language used e.g. the use of “we” and “us”. How a BBC presenter speaks (e.g. tone of voice) and thereby shows enthusiasm for one side cannot be used as quantifiable evidence; nevertheless it is a signal that alerts the viewer/listener to the presenter’s views. Likewise the repetition of challenges and the interruptions made by the BBC presenter and the “jubilation” shown when an interviewee is browbeaten into an admission can be indicative of bias but are difficult to cater for in the methodology.  

Measurement of impartiality concerning X
Impartiality is assessed by counting the numbers of separate statements in each programme that fall into the following categories:-.

1. Statements opposing X          a) by the BBC interviewer                     
2. Statements opposing X          b) by interviewees                               
3. Statements opposing X by interviewees that are challenged by the BBC interviewer
4. Statements in favour of X       a) by the BBC interviewer                                 
5. Statements in favour of X       b) by interviewees                               
6. Statements in favour by the interviewees that are challenged by the BBC interviewer

7. Comments by BBC showing that they understand the nature of X 

BBC bias against X will be evident when:-
i)              The numbers for (1) exceed those for (4).
ii)             The numbers for (6) exceed those for (3).

Assessments made by a comparison of BBC interviewer statements and challenges are more revealing than comparison of interviewee statements.

Statements by interviewees (2 and 5) can be expected to follow their “party line” on X and the numbers will only be revealing if the interviewer allows one side more time.

It is important that bias is estimated over a number of consecutive programmes so that the assessor cannot be accused of cherry-picking.

Victor M. Shorrocks  M.A., D.Phil.,                                                                     May  2013

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