Friday, January 28, 2005

BBC Coverage Censured

I have my favorite news stations and favorite newspapers; BBC TV news and the Financial Times newspaper. Both English, don't you know.

But as with most news media, there is something like bias and in my opinion more importantly, poor practices that I believe go unnoticed. In this FT article (or here) you can read how they are censured publicly, and, well surprisingly, by their own "independent panel commissioned by the corporation's governors " for "ignorance, stereotyping and unintentional bias" but stopping well short of systematic bias.

My experience, which I believe can be replayed throughout the world is this. When I was in Belgrade, about a year after Milosevic was deposed and only 4 months after he was flown out, I began to notice how what was reported on the BBC was just a bit off kilter - and indeed occasionally the complete opposite - to what was really going on locally. For example, the strength and support for Mr. Kostunica was at times, heavily overplayed by the BBC when there was indeed a fairly decent support from the rural and common man in Serbia. But on the street, especially in Belgrade, Kostunica was a strong nationalist. Sure he wasn't as fervent as the candidate and party who inherited the Milosevic power base, but he was definitely a vocal opponent to many of the demands made by the Western countries regarding reforms, extradition of war criminals and even on Kosovo.

But this was never received airplay. Of course one might say I was heavily on the side of the late Prime Minister Djindic whose reforms worked in my favor as an investment banker. But Kostunica was presented by the BBC as the moral antithesis to Milosevic and the guiding light to a brighter future of Serbia. Was it oversimplification alone? Or was it that the story came about when some anecdotal information made its way to London by local correspondents in Belgrade and then some geopolitical expert at the top of the BBC food chain decided to present what he or she feels is what is going on there. And then this story is 'fed' back to the local correspondent to concoct into a story for air.

I seriously believe this is the method of origin for many stories. As a result I consider each and every time I watch the BBC present a story from emerging Europe: are they spinning something like what I saw in Serbia?

Another case that comes to mind happened only a few days ago. The 4 Britons released from Guantanamo (sp?) were coming home. On the TV news their histories were presented briefly something like this: Mr. A was caught learning to make bombs in Pakistan, Mr B. had met Osama Bin Laden at a training camp, Mr. C was involved with raising money for terrorist cells, etc. But on the website, the very next day, none of this was mentioned. Mr. A's capacity as a computer engineer, Mr. B's family ties and being a religious activist, and Mr. C's love of travelling were mentioned. Also, their was more focus on two other individuals that didn't have citizenship in the UK for whom the English reportedly did not lobby strenuously enough (My details may be a bit off, but I swear I captured the spirit of the presentation. )

A good explanation is simply that someone in a before-we-go-to-print/air meeting says, 'our take on this should be how the yanks got it terribly wrong for imprisoning four nice boys, right luv? Play down the being at the wrong place at the wrong time angle. And not a whiff of any bomb making, if you please!' Keep it in mind.

But I still like the BBC more than CNN.

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