BBC does the business

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How can the BBC overcome the perception that it’s biased against business? Sir Alan Budd’s report, ‘On Impartiality of BBC Coverage’, published last Friday, made it clear that this perception wasn’t accurate. The BBC’s coverage ‘meets the required standards of impartiality’ Sir Alan said, and the BBC takes the genre seriously.
His only two substantive criticisms were that when the BBC interviewed ‘doyens of industry’ it tended to veer from scathing to sycophantic, and that BBC news coverage was too prone to present business stories only from the view of the consumer (rather than the employee, the shareholder, the investor etc.).
However, if you look at the submissions from industry a different picture emerges. The British Retail Consortium, for example, accuses the BBC of bias against large retailers, of a failure to balance stories, of a willingness to accept NGO claims as fact, and in some cases of deliberate misrepresentation (they cite a piece on Countryfile last December). C John Brady submits that the BBC sees business as ‘big, bad and nasty’. And the CBI suggests the BBC has an ‘in-built bias against business’.
Why should business think this, especially since Sir Alan’s report found it to be untrue?
Well, the BBC partly has itself to blame. When it first appointed Jeff Randall as business editor it told people in industry that the BBC was reversing its previously hostile attitude. Profits would no longer be reported ‘as if a murder has been committed’ (according to the British Retail Consortium). Having confessed to being ‘anti-business’ the BBC dug itself a hole which it’s been climbing out of ever since.
Indeed, there is just as convincing an argument that the BBC is now not ‘anti-business’ enough, and that, given its non-commercial status, it is one of the only UK organisations that can scrutinise commerce free from conflict of interest. Especially since in this country, as John Cole remarks in a later submission, ‘regulation of business, including competitiveness rules’ seems much less rigorous than in the US.

Written by Martin Moore

May 29th, 2007 at 3:30 pm

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2 Responses to 'BBC does the business'

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  1. It is an interesting report and raises almost as many questions as it seeks to answer.It would be difficult to argue that an organisation that is home to Dragons Den and The Apprentice – two of its more popular programmes – and which broadcasts several hours of business news a day is anti-business. Importantly, too, in that programming the BBC probably identifies and explores – impartially – most of the axes of debate within any business story.The most significant thing, I think, that Sir Alan et al identify is a sense not of antipathy to business amongst BBC (non-specialist) journalists but of apathy. The feeling that, like sport and religion, business will sort-of get on with it – the generalist can afford to ignore it.And this is what explains the submissions you cite.To the apathetic, business tends to loom large when it’s translated into something he/she understands; the ‘rip-off’, the plant closure, the massive profit.But you’re right; the BBC should be scrutinising business with the attention it gives any other aspect of public life – not because it’s anti-business but because it understands it.

    Kevin Marsh

    30 May 07 at 3:26 pm

  2. Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice have certainly upped the profile of business on the BBC – perhaps they’ll also inject a bit more excitement amongst the apathetic.Jeff Randall has made similar criticisms about apathy at the BBC since going to the Telegraph

    Martin Moore

    31 May 07 at 1:00 pm

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