‘The BBC is failing in its obligation to be fair’

Veteran BBC journalist Robin Aitkin on BBC bias.


The BBC, our national broadcaster, has a duty to be balanced, fair and impartial. But complaints of bias abound, coming from both ends of the political spectrum. Robin Aitken spent 25 years as a BBC journalist. Since leaving, he has written a number of books examining political bias at the BBC. His latest is The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda. spiked caught up with him to find out more.

spiked: How does bias work at the BBC?

Robin Aitken: It is down to the people in the editorial ranks of the BBC, the people who inhabit the newsrooms and the programme-making departments. They are very nice people, very highly educated and very pleasant to work with – I know this from my own time at the BBC. Most of them are inclined to the liberal left and – almost to a woman – they sign up to liberal orthodoxies.

On Brexit, polling evidence shows quite clearly that the higher the educational level you attain, the more likely it is that you voted to remain in the EU. What you’ve got in BBC newsrooms are clusters of very highly educated folk who take a virtually unanimous view of Brexit, which is that it’s a thoroughly bad thing and Britain should have voted to remain in the EU.

That’s the starting point. One of the things that’s very noticeable to me is that the selection of stories about Brexit is very heavily weighted towards the negative. So we’ve had an absolute deluge of information, all of it condemning Brexit as foolish, unwise and harmful to economic health.

A point I often make is that journalism can be completely accurate and yet still unfair. How so? Because if you choose stories which only show a person, entity or institution in a negative light and you disregard any stories that are positive, you can still be accurate but you are being unfair. And that’s what the BBC is on Brexit. It is thoroughly in the Remain camp, it hates the idea of Brexit, it runs against its core principles – or the core principles of the people that work in it. Therefore, it cannot help itself from being anti-Brexit and it shows very clearly, I think.

spiked: You say the BBC has a liberal bias, but how do you account for its disinterest in free speech – once a core liberal value?

Aitken: l think we’ve got to a rather worrying point in our history as regards to free speech. Speech is now heavily patrolled and there are no-go areas. You can only say what you want within certain limits that are very tightly drawn. It’s quite Stalinist. If you step outside the reservation and you make points which are not on the official playlist, then heaven help you because the mob will come down on you like a ton of bricks. You will be thoroughly vilified and life will be made very unpleasant for you. At least, that is, if you are in an official position.

People are bullied into going along with whatever the liberal orthodoxy is on a whole range of matters. So, the idea that we have ‘free speech’ is really I think a little out of date. We are only allowed to say the things that organisations like the BBC license us to say.

spiked: Is something similar at work in the denunciation of certain views as Islamophobic, xenophobic or transphobic?

Aitken: A phobia is an irrational fear or dislike. The classic phobia is a fear of spiders: arachnophobia. If you have well-founded, thought-through and perfectly rational misgivings about, say, the political-religious system which is Islam, you immediately get labelled an ‘Islamophobe’. But it’s got nothing to do with a true phobia, that’s just a made-up word which is designed to shut down discussion of Islam. There is actually quite a well-attested link from that word back to the Muslim Brotherhood, who used it to curtail criticism of Islam.

Homophobia is the same. If you express any moral misgivings about homosexual lifestyles you are automatically a ‘homophobe’ in the view of the liberal left. What that word is doing is saying, ‘You are a bad person because you do not sign up to the liberal orthodoxy about homosexuality’. It is impossible under these circumstances, in the view of the people that use that word, to have any legitimate criticism of homosexuality, any legitimate criticism of Islam, any legitimate criticism of racial matters. These words are just weapons of war in the culture war.

spiked: What is your view on the diversity agenda?

Aitken: The diversity agenda at the BBC is like a sort of skin-colour chart. The BBC thinks that it is fulfilling its obligations under the diversity agenda if it has everything from ebony black to albino white represented on screen and in its newsrooms. It’s all to do with skin colour. Well, that is one particular kind of diversity, I suppose, but it’s not the kind of diversity which is in any sense meaningful. What is really required at the BBC is diversity of opinion.

It’s a few years since I worked at the Beeb, but when I was there, I was a self-confessed small-c conservative. That marked me out as a very odd fish among my colleagues. There were very, very few people I knew in my long career there who I could say were conservatives. I could think of maybe three. Admitting to being conservative was like having an unmentionable disease, like a nasty case of herpes.

spiked: How has the BBC responded to your criticisms – if at all?

Aitken: The BBC has been extremely cowardly about addressing my criticisms. I have now published three books about the BBC, and they have blanked them all. You might say, ‘Well it serves you right… you criticise them, of course, they aren’t going to engage with you’. But the BBC is paid for by us all. The BBC has solemn obligations under its royal charter. That includes an obligation to fairly represent all people.

In my latest book, The Nobel Liar, what I’m particularly exercised about is the way that social conservatives, who take a different view on things like divorce, homosexuality and the secularisation agenda are excluded from BBC discussion programmes and their points are not taken up. The BBC is the gatekeeper of the national debate – it’s a very important role they play.

I’ve made a complaint through Ofcom, which is currently examining the BBC’s news and current affairs output. I confidently expect that Ofcom will ignore my complaint as well. But I go through the motions because I still think it is worthwhile. The BBC is owned and paid for by the public. This should imply the BBC is rigorously fair about the way different opinions are presented on its programmes. But it fails day after day and it has done for decades now. It has failed to live up to its obligations. That is really my main complaint.

Robin Aitken was talking to Fraser Myers.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Bob Thomas

4th August 2019 at 1:01 am

Unfortunately, our ABC in Australia takes its lead, politics and a lot of its content from the grand dame of left wing BS. There BBC content is almost unwatchable, full of powerful women ordering men around, men (hardly) who basically come in devious – evil with the occasional useless bastard. The exception being coloured or gay men who sometimes come in to save the day.
What chance has the BBC of re-doing a watchable Pride and Prejudice? Can you imagine Elizabeth’s mother being the ‘strong’ one in the family and the father being an almost illiterate moneyed parody of Trump from the 1800’s.

Hana Jinks

3rd August 2019 at 9:49 pm

Has everyone realisedvhow gay the comment system is?


If Pom Prater and Brazen Lyers aren t gay, then no one is.

( Are you poofs getting this? This is about the farking free speech that you so treacherously proclaim?)

Cody Bailey

3rd August 2019 at 10:53 am

“Government media is not unbiased”

Who could have seen that coming? I have to admit I laughed when I read the headline.

Spark Charm

3rd August 2019 at 10:46 am

It’s not just the BBC, I’ve had no end of innocuous posts deleted and removed by Spike.

Hana Jinks

3rd August 2019 at 12:29 pm

You and me both.

Hana Jinks

2nd August 2019 at 7:09 pm

British brainwashing corporation for the diversity-communists. Shouldve been defunde years ago.

L Whiting

2nd August 2019 at 6:27 pm

The BBC is elitist and biased especially supporting Israel and Brexit. It is anti Democratic and does not do its LIBERAL duty to facilitate debate. Any Liberal Democracy has to have a culture of tolerance.

Just look at its social class survey https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973 All it does is reinforce its own idea as to what a BBC person is.

paul hooley

2nd August 2019 at 4:28 pm

The BBC make my blood boil with their elitist attitude towards the working class of Britain. However I have now found that my blood boils slightly less after cancelling my license fee like hundreds of thousands of others therefore helping the BBC along the road to financial failure and collapse. If even the once mighty Roman Empire collapsed then the BBC aint got a cat in hells chance. Halleluja !

Phil Ford

2nd August 2019 at 3:16 pm

Years ago, I discovered how impartiality works at the BBC. Turns out, there’s this thing called ‘due impartiality’ (it’s a BBC confection)…

“…The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences. The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.” https://www.bbc.com/editorialguidelines/guidelines/impartiality

This is how and why the BBC prevent climate change skeptics having a platform on their broadcasts. They don’t consider the skeptics have any valid arguments or criticisms, and are therefore not ‘due’ any airtime (because the BBC thinks they have no duty to be impartial about ‘the consensus’). It’s a great system. A brilliant way to screen out dissent without appearing to be partisan. Salut, comrades!

paul hooley

2nd August 2019 at 4:33 pm

Well spotted that link is a very interesting read. It confirms their lust to control output so that only the ‘correct’ version is broadcast to their target audience. Grrrrr.

Linda Payne

2nd August 2019 at 1:25 pm

I’m not sending any more screenplays to the BBC, I don’t believe they even read them and judging by the comedy and drama output we have they only want lightweight, politically correct work with plots that stretch all credibility

Hana Jinks

6th August 2019 at 5:28 pm


Jerry Owen

2nd August 2019 at 11:01 am

There is of course the blatant pushing of AGW where no voice of opposition is allowed.

Hana Jinks

3rd August 2019 at 5:05 pm

Stay tuned dude, and stay out of the crossfire.

Philip Humphrey

2nd August 2019 at 9:45 am

It’s not just the news, it’s the relentless prejudice and agenda of much of the programming. We have a “woke” Dr Who, and many of the routine dramas follow a relentlessly liberal identity politics script. The terrible thing is it’s not only completely lacking in imagination and originality, but it’s also divisive and alienating. A national broadcaster funded by a tax on viewing any TV channel should not be doing this. Time to scrap the licence fee and make BBC voluntary subscription (like Netflix). And open up the airwaves to a greater variety of news sources, we need our own version of FoxNews as well as the liberal news sources so people can choose and make up their own minds.

Jerry Owen

2nd August 2019 at 9:12 am

I used to regularly complain to the BBC about bias. The responses I got were almost childlike in content, I wonder what sort of people the BBC employ to respond to the undoubted big pile of complaints they receive. Students ?
Their tactic once they knew they knew they had no valid response to my ‘Gotcha’ clincher ( I am modest really ) was to say ‘ in this instance we believe we are right’.
My last complaint was over the D Day celebrations in Portsmouth where they deemed it fit to interview some anti Trump activists. I complained because they were small in numbers and they had no relevance to the celebrations.
The response of the BBC was that ‘they would have complained had we not given them publicity, and we only gave them a few minutes based on their numbers ( yes really ! ) . There were pro Trump activists there also but they were given no air time.
Clear BBC bias.
I have given up. I am looking into how i can view tv without having to pay their license fee as I rarely watch the BBC now.

Emmett Elvin

2nd August 2019 at 1:37 pm

Jerry – although I admire your complaining spirit, I gave up in 2005. Throwing out my television and thus paying them not a single penny since has been quite satisfying. I knew then that their was no chance of reform and they would only get worse. Their shameless propagandising may continue but it plays little to no part in my life. Starve the beast.

Pru C

2nd August 2019 at 7:54 pm

2004 here. I took my complaints at the harrassment to my MP, who forwarded my letter on. The pithy reiteration of “it’s a good thing and worth every penny” response entirely ignored my complaint.

What other organisation would be allowed to require a person to justify NOT using their service, every three years? We’re in the ludicrous situation, where you could have your essential gas cut-off and no one would be bothered, but stop watching the Brainwashing Bullies Club…

Puddy Cat

2nd August 2019 at 6:52 am

One of the great hypocrisies of the BBC is that if you make a complaint to them using information you have gleaned from a web site they will say that they do not comment on such input yet their news broadcasts will use newspaper headlines and web input in promotions and refutations that suit them. On the one hand you have the head of BBC news instructing her correspondents what they can say about climate change. You have the obvious thought that if she can order that discussion what else will she endeavour to fashion to suit her own agenda? This seems to suggest that life is being viewed through that which is the artist’s eye rather than the reality and fact of life.

Jonnie Henly

2nd August 2019 at 1:57 am

“Speech is now heavily patrolled and there are no-go areas. You can only say what you want within certain limits that are very tightly drawn.”

Just like how it’s always been throughout human history then. Anyone who pretends otherwise is being ridiculous.

Jerry Owen

2nd August 2019 at 9:20 am

Little Jonnie
The sixties / seventies on tv and in print were rife with anti homosexual sentiment , anti black sentiment , anti Irish sentiment, sexist speech , many TV programmes are now banished or have a ‘bleep’ inserted where language is considered to fall foul of an ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’. A lot of it now is considered unpleasant and rightly so, but I give you evidence none the less.
Joined up thinking Jonnie .. try it sometime !

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