A biased public broadcaster?

There is nothing more undemocratic that taxpayers’ money being spent to push one side of the ideological divide, as Chris Berg has written recently in the IPA Review.

But that’s exactly what happens when public broadcasters like the BBC tilt to the left in the UK, as this revealing article in The Telegraph yesterday argued:

Helen Boaden, the BBC’s former director of news, who is now the head of radio, admitted that in the past the culture at the corporation meant that staff had failed to take campaign groups such as Migrationwatch seriously.

She made the comments in a report commissioned by the BBC Trust, which found that the corporation had also been “slow” to reflect increasing public opposition to Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The report found that despite the rise of the UK Independence Party, the BBC conducted fewer interviews with party members in 2012 than it did in 2007.

Stuart Prebble, a former chief executive of ITV and author of the report, warned that the corporation might still be failing to report public concerns accurately.

There’s nothing wrong with a private media outlet taking a strong editorial stance, adopting a philosophical world-view or campaigning for an issue or a cause. In fact, it often makes them much more interesting, vibrant and lively. If their readers don’t like it, they can always switch off and stop buying their service.

But media outlets that are funded by the taxpayer have a very different obligation. Taxpayers’ have no choice whether they fund them or not. There’s no way to opt out of financially supporting their work. That’s why public broadcasters must be pluralistic, free of bias and rigorously even handed in their reporting.

This is just one more piece of evidence that the BBC has failed to do so, and its a critique that could be equally applied to ‘our’ ABC. Chris Kenny at The Australian made this point powerfully earlier this week.

Achieving a bias-free ABC or BBC though is not an easy task. Both have an ingrained culture that would be almost impossible to turn around. And the very nature of government funding, insulating them from their audiences, means that public broadcasters will inevitably end up as the BBC and ABC are today.

The only answer to this problem is to cease taxpayer funding, and privatise them. Then they would be free to be as biased as they wish – with their own money, not taxpayers’.

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