I don’t think the BBC is deliberately biased. I think it’s often daft, over-cautious, suckered, pressured, or naïve. Some of this is a result of the Hutton Inquiry, which resulted in several high-ranking BBC defenestrations and a collective case of the jitters which has yet to fully dissipate. Some is the infinite badgering of the Murdochs and Desmonds and Dacres and their broods, the right-wing tabloids.
I’m a huge fan of the BBC. Look, here’s me saying so in a piece I recorded for the BBC Newswatch programme on 3rd February (full programme, might not be visible in your country, or mine if it evaporates due to expiry, policy change or acts of Trump). Or here’s the full piece I recorded:
Where I struggle is with things like this image. I first saw it last night and it’s just been replaced as I’ve been writing this post, which means it was the main image on the BBC News front page for around twelve hours.
This image repeats the Tory’s election slogan three times.
Is this proof of bias? No.
Is it stupid/naïve? Yes. Oh, so very much yes.
I have to assume that some editorial process took place to select this image from the semi-infinite number available. I have to assume it wasn’t simply dropped in by a passing Tory. I have faith that the editorial process is designed to take the independence and impartiality of the BBC into account, because I believe most if not all BBC employees feel strongly about those factors.
I suppose I should explain why I think it’s inappropriate. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition. It’s because of the repetition.
Here’s a quote from the US Office of Strategic Services, describing the profile of a certain moustachioed wartime loon:
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it (source)
I’m not saying ZOMG TORIES ARE HITLER!!1! VOTE THERESA FOR A STRONG AND STABLE REICH or anything like that. I’ll leave it up to you to compare Hitler’s primary rules to how modern politics is conducted. But look at that last point. “If you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
Ooh, look, I’ve repeated it. No, that doesn’t make it a lie, that’s wonky logic. It means it reinforces the idea in your mind.
The principle of repetition can’t make us believe things we know to be false. No amount of repetition of “CATS ARE JUST SARCASTIC DOGS” convinces us. But “strong and stable” isn’t provable and it’s talking about the unknowable future anyway, so this caveat doesn’t apply here.
Here’s a better exploration of the ideas from – ahem – the BBC.
Why was this image selected and used for so long? Perhaps someone thought they were using it ironically to mock the constant repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t see the repetition. Perhaps someone didn’t care. Perhaps someone didn’t know about the underlying psychology at work.
But the psychology is at work, whether anyone knew it or not.
And it’s important to recognise that most of the population are barely aware of politics even now, in the most politically bonkers period in my life. Some people are not even aware there’s a general election on (most likely including the current resident of the White House).
These people see newspaper front pages and headlines about politics: and often no more than that, as they skip to another story. They might see BBC News website front pages, as they scroll down to the weather or the sport or the twelve surprising facts about earthquakes. And before they turn or scroll the page they see the repetition in the image: strong, stable, strong, stable, strong, stable.
It reinforces the idea in their minds.
The Tory party knows this. This is why Tories repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. They don’t care if they’re mocked by people on Twitter, or if the HIGNFY audience laughs at it, or if a random builder shouts out “Oi oi, I’ll give you strong and stable” at a passing candidate (well, it might happen). That shows their plan is working. Their long-term economic plan – oh, no, that was used at the last election two years ago. You still remember it? Well, fancy that.
How’s that plan working out for you?
(In 2010, the Tory plan was to balance the budget by 2015. In 2017, the Tory plan is to balance the budget by 2025.)
Repeating a political party slogan helps that party, whether you intend it as mockery or satire or not. (I’ve thought about removing the S-words from this post for exactly this reason.)
It is not the job of the BBC, or any reputable media organisation, to help a political party of any hue by repeating their slogans for them: especially not on the front page of their news website, multiple times in a single photo.
I don’t believe the BBC is deliberately biased. Here, I think someone’s been stupid or naïve. However, it is surely not possible that nobody in the BBC understands the psychology of repetition. Where are they? What are they doing? Why aren’t they trying to counter it?