As plans for a Fox News-style opinionated news channel for the UK come to light, TV Writer Anya Logue explains the dangers of news bias and emotion-led reporting
There are plans for a new Fox News-style TV channel in Britain, to compete with BBC and ITV News. There are two rivals who are vying for the position of producing this channel. One company, GB News, already has an Ofcom license. The other competitor involves former Fox News executive, David Rhodes. Whoever wins the bid for the new channel, it will aim to provide an opinionated, right-wing alternative to BBC News.
But does the UK really need our own Fox News? It is questionable. Earlier this year, Wikipedia ruled that Fox News would no longer be considered ‘generally reliable’ on politics and science, because of their poor track record in these areas. Inaccurate or misleading stories, unfortunately, become very common in news organisations that value profit over accuracy. Anything emotive is profitable, as getting people angry is an easy way to get them sharing things to more viewers. But it is more difficult to get people riled up if you show them the full, often nuanced and complicated, story. It is much easier to omit some of the facts to create a simpler and more enraging narrative.
This has harmed the political culture in the USA, eroding trust and understanding between Democrats and Republicans. Everyone consumes different media and lives different lives, so are exposed to different opinions. Therefore, everyone’s base understandings of how the world works are going to be slightly different. But when people’s ideas are so divergent they don’t even agree on the same basic facts, discussion and compromise become impossible. The polarisation of American politics has increased in the past decade, and the problem has only worsened. Fox News, when it spreads misinformation and reports misleading stories, does not help the situation.
But those who want to produce this new TV channel in Britain argue that the BBC is biased towards the political Left. Andrew Cole, the co-founder of GB News, declared that the BBC is ‘possibly the most biased propaganda machine in the world.’ While the claim is clearly an exaggeration, many conservatives do feel the BBC is unbalanced in its reporting. One Daily Mail poll found half of its respondents stating the BBC ‘does not reflect’ their values. So, is there a demand for a more right-wing alternative?
The media landscape is very different in the UK than in the US. Our regulation of TV news is stricter. According to watchdog Ofcom, TV news should be ‘reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.’ This is the standard every TV news organisation in this country is held to. But impartiality is a subjective concept. Even the BBC, which aims to be ‘impartial, fair and accurate,’ cannot be entirely objective. From the stories covered and the interviewees used to the language framing each story, every news organisation must take a view. For example, whether you call someone an ‘asylum seeker’ or a ‘refugee’ is a decision which inevitably has political implications. Balanced and accurate reporting can be achieved, but ‘unbiased’ reporting, or news without any kind of political slant, is arguably impossible.
So, if unbiased reporting is impossible, what is the aim? As an organisation that claims to be neutral, the BBC should be in the political centre of the country. Balanced stories, where both the left and the right are fairly represented, should be shown. And it would seem they do achieve this. A poll by BMG Research found 22% of respondents feel the BBC is biased towards the left, while 18% saw it as biased towards the right. 37% believe the BBC to be politically neutral, or balanced. This spread of opinion is a sign that the BBC is doing a good job of neutral reporting.
However, this new Fox News- style TV channel will not claim to be totally neutral. While the BBC aims to be in the political centre, this is unusual. And while TV news is held to a rigorous impartiality standard, newspapers do not have to be as balanced. The UK has many news organisations that take a strong political view. The Times is right-leaning, while The Guardian is to the left. Having an opinion as a news organisation is not revolutionary.
The danger of the new TV channel does not come from the fact it will be biased towards the right. The threat is that if it becomes a British equivalent to Fox News, it may report misleading stories designed to get an emotional reaction rather than inform the public. This is already happening in the UK with newspapers like the Daily Mail, known for unreliable reporting on certain political subjects. Exposing the truth on topics in a way that tends to agree with right-leaning politics is fine. But distorting the truth on every topic simply to promote a right-leaning agenda is not. We must recognise the difference, to ensure the new TV channel does not become our version of Fox News.
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