How Broadcasting Bias Works (1)

The rigged debate.

Debates are between people with opposing views. If they’re not, we call them love ins. A favourite tactic of Radio 4 is to set up what seems to the casual listener to be a debate, but which is in reality a sham argument. Listen to how the Today programme rigs this supposed debate about Kenneth Clarke’s plans to reduce the prison population. (Scroll down to 0732.)

“Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has signalled that significant changes are ahead in the criminal justice system. Two criminal justice experts from each side of the Atlantic – filmmaker Roger Graef and the Harvard professor of Criminology Christopher Stone, discuss some of the possible changes that could be made.”

     It’s a debate in which no one disagrees. Professor Stone, rightly in my view, is appalled by the vast numbers in the American prison system. Graef, a far sillier man in my opinion, appears to believe that hardcore criminals will reform if only we treat them nicely. Because prison reform is a liberal cause, the BBC has brought in two advocates of liberalism, while excluding those from the Right and Labour who favour a tougher line. Today gives the listener the impression that all experts agree that jail numbers should be cut, which is certainly not true in Brtain.

   The behaviour of the presenter reinforces the bias. Given that his guests agree with each other he ought to be compensating by asking them ferocious questions. But, of course, he doesn’t because they are going along with the liberal consensus. Either because of his own political views, or because of peer pressure from his colleagues, he cannot question orthodoxy. There are no hectoring interruptions. The one supposedly tough question he asks the professor is so ludicrous Stone can bat it away with ease.

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