New scandal at the BBC: News found not to be biased enough

A new scandal at the BBC has come to light. It isn’t to do with abuse of staff, swollen salaries, or sloppy editorial standards.

It seems that for years, the BBC has blatantly attempted to put out news without any bias attached to it. In a complex world, it’s simply decided to try to be ‘neutral’, hoping that this will constitute the best possible defence of important things.

When reporting on contentious issues, the BBC has tried to be – unforgivably – constantly ‘fair’ and scrupulous about ‘the facts’.

Yet the BBC’s bias against bias seems fundamentally mistaken. Facts can only become meaningful and relevant to us when they slot into some picture of what is important or trivial, right or wrong, hopeful or worrying, good or bad. News organisations that vaunt their neutrality forget that neutrality is simply impossible vis a vis the biggest questions facing our civilisation. There is no technocratic, risk-free, all-knowing sober set of answers to cling to. It’s a question of politics in the widest sense, and in the end, if you like, of philosophy.

If the news is to matter to us, it must be presented to us by organisations that have tried to think through the ends of human life, that have a vision of where we are trying to go as a species, and that have somewhere articulated their answers to their audiences.

The issue is not – therefore – the illusory one between bias and fact but between better and worse varieties of bias. We shouldn’t knock America’s Fox News or Britain’s Daily Mail just on the basis that they are biased, though we might argue that they seem badly biased.

Think of the figures we most revere in history: Plato, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sigmund Freud, the Buddha, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela… Each of them had a strong sense of what mattered and why, and their judgements were anything but perfectly balanced. They were just biased in fruitful ways.

We don’t need news stripped of bias, we need news presented to us with the best kinds of bias.

All quite biased

Martin Luther King

The Buddha