BBC ‘bias’ and the Russian collection: Jeremy’s hat vs Boris’s sponsored tennis match

Did the BBC plonk a Russian hat on Jeremy Corbyn’s head to make him look like a Russian stooge? That question put a few ripples in the social media pond.

To those who believe that the BBC habitually denigrates the Labour leader, the answer will be ‘yes’. A loud and indignant ‘yes!!!’ propped up by a row of exclamation marks. Anyone less engaged might wish to pause and think.

The BBC denied that the image of Corbyn used in a montage on Newsnight had been Photoshopped or altered. This denial was treated with disdain by the trigger-happy friends of Jeremy, and by a few people who just thought the image tampering was obvious, however much the BBC protested its innocence.

This sort of thing is common in what modern cliché demands we call the social media age. It’s just so easy to take offence nowadays at every twitch or turn in the news agenda. Then fire off an angry post.

What this does is exaggerate the nature of the alleged offence, while ignoring any wider context. It’s fair to say that those who believe the BBC is biased against Corbyn and Labour are unlikely to be convinced by evidence to the contrary. But here are a couple of thoughts anyway.

‘Johnson blustered and blathered, while sliding about like a jelly on a plate, and initially suggested no such match had ever taken place, then admitted that it had’

Shortly after outraged Corbyn supporters were sharing posts about the latest BBC sin against their man, some of the same people started sharing something else from the BBC.

This time it was footage from Andrew Marr’s interview with Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary. Marr was on bullish and forensic form as he tackled Johnson about his party’s links to Russian oligarchs. He persisted in asking about the donations to the Tories from Russian tycoons and brought up a sponsored tennis match with Johnson and David Cameron.

Johnson blustered and blathered, while sliding about like a jelly on a plate, and initially suggested no such match had ever taken place, then admitted that it had.

In this example, the sort of behaviour that usually irks the friends of Jeremy had been turned against Boris Johnson and those who complain about BBC bias against Labour were happy to share links to the interview.

None of this proves anything. For proof you need much more detailed academic studies conducted over a long period. But these two examples do suggest that BBC bias can be in the eye of the beholder.

I don’t know what the easily offended supporters of Jeremy Corbyn made of the interview with their man yesterday on Radio 4’s The World At One, when Martha Kearney tackled Corbyn over his attitude towards Russia. Corbyn spoke calmly and sensibly, with just the tremor of contained anger you sometimes catch in his voice. Or maybe it’s not anger, just the training he’s had in sounding calmly sensible, rather than going off on one.

Again, nothing here proves anything, but if you take the three examples – the Russian hat palaver, Andrew Marr roasting Boris Johnson over an open fire, and a firm but respectful interview on the World at One – you can at least answer the bias question by saying: it depends.

It depends on your point of view to start with; it depends how much you can be bothered to be offended; it depends if you even care a jot; and it depends if you think the BBC tries to be centrist but allows itself to be too influenced by ranting in papers of the right (a workable theory).

For what it’s worth, I think Corbyn’s supporters shouldn’t be so ready to take offence on their man’s behalf. He seems to look after himself just fine.

Leave a Reply