TV political coverage accused of liberal bias

The reputation of political coverage on television came under fire as politicians, television journalists and executives complained of bias within the industry on the first day of the Edinburgh Television Festival.

In a session entitled "Too Right? On!", panellists questioned whether the media was in danger of "falling in love with the Tories" and if, in an age where blogs are prevalent, "dispassionate analysis" was the characteristic that enabled traditional news programmes to stand out.

Channel 4's head of news, current affairs and business, Dorothy Byrne, said: "Overall on British television there is far too little diversity of voice and a lot of the time there is a hidden opinion and a hidden agenda which is a right-on, intellectually lazy, soft, liberal opinion. The key to what Channel 4 is about is at all times challenging the accepted view."

The Daily Mail's political correspondent, Peter Oborne, who has also worked with Channel 4, said that the agenda on mainstream television represented the "views of the mainstream, metropolitan, liberal people who are quite well off and live in London, specifically Islington and Hampstead".

He accused the BBC of censoring out people who don't "agree with its wonderful, gorgeous world view".

He cited the corporation's "non-coverage of the David Mills story", which he argued was down to the BBC's reticence to irk Tessa Jowell at a time when she was considering the renewal of the BBC licence fee. Oborne described it as a "pre-emptive cringe to government".

Former BBC journalist Martin Bell, who also presented current affairs programmes for Channel 4, revealed: "It's a delight to be able to say what's on your mind without the old mindset of ‘on the one hand this, on the other hand that, only time will tell'.

"What we need is a liberation of television — Dorothy's programmes do that. I think the BBC is getting there, I think ITV is getting there, but we cannot remain stuck in the '60s and '70s."

Head of BBC television news Peter Horrocks said: "The BBC uses polemic much less than Channel 4 News, preferring its correspondents and reporters to produce strongly argued pieces based on their views of evidence rather than featuring people already known for holding a strong belief on a particular argument."

Horrocks insisted that the BBC was changing very rapidly, using interaction with audiences and the range of views from the public garnered through phone-ins, emails and texts to affect current affairs and daily news programmes in "a really dramatic way".

Oborne accused Kirsty Wark, who was chairing the discussion, of being part of the establishment and of "representing the conventional views of the political media class which currently, in the age of manipulative populism, governs Britain."

Wark responded: "You've always had people like Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson wanting to stick their oar in, but I can guarantee that holds no sway on programmes like Newsnight."

Horrocks said: "The BBC is moving from a definition of impartiality that was probably founded in the '80s at the end of the cold war. A sort of left, right, navigate-down-the-centre-of-the-political- spectrum approach. That's clearly totally inappropriate now."

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