By Pranay Manocha:
This evening, following on from the horrific news coming out of Paris, the BBC called an expert who, on encouragement by the journalist, continued to debate the link between refugees and terrorism. Many people took to Twitter to express their disgust.
Can @BBCNews please stop asking leading questions linking refugees to horrible situation in Paris? Incredibly irresponsible journalism.
— Neil Cowan (@_neilcowan) November 14, 2015
Reporting unfavourably on refugees is not unusual for the BBC. Thousands of people have been appalled that the BBC insists on using the term migrant and not refugee in its reporting. Despite this wide protest, the network’s editorial strategy is to continue using the term ‘migrant’.
A disclaimer that emphasises the extended degree of cautiousness in using terms with a legal implication now appears at the bottom of many articles. This attempts to reinforce the image of the BBC as being unbiased and apolitical, when it is clearly the exact opposite.
Most people working with refugees find this editorial policy disturbing. In the UK, the BBC derives its funding from a licence fee that all households owning a television must pay. It refers to itself as a ‘public service broadcaster’ for this reason and not a ‘state controlled broadcaster’. The taxes that fund the BBC may be indirect and bureaucratically disjoint from state revenues and control; however, the bias observed in its news reporting has been observed by many to toe the official government line without much questioning.
For instance, The Intercept recently noted that the BBC was showing clear bias in its reporting on Saudi Arabia and the fact that the UK and US were supplying heavy weaponry to Syrian rebels via this covert route. The lengths to which the BBC appears to have gone to protect a close ally, Saudi Arabia, are extraordinary. These things taken together imply that the British public cannot trust the neutrality of this network anymore. The Royal Charter is due for renewal in 2016 and many are calling for reform of how the BBC is run. It is clear that things cannot remain as they are but it will be interesting to see if the recommendations put forth seek to make the network more independent or continue the links that allow it to broadcast government-preferred messages.