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Church of Scientology
since 1968

The British Bias Corporation

Illustration by David Stuart
At the BBC, cultural biases are built-in and nurtured. Not only are those biases tolerated, but public criticism of the media is shrugged off as “uninformed.”

Over time, a media outlet eventually declares its own preferences and biases. It is hard not to, when you are in the business of making public declarations, and then defending them. Patterns emerge. A course is set.

An analysis of coverage demystifies the interests of media decision-makers and reveals prejudices, predispositions, attitudes and perspectives. Story decisions—what to pursue, what to ignore, how to play the news—reflect deeper issues, like the sense of responsibility surrounding the media institution itself—and the people who run it.

In some cases, the “prejudices” of captains of major media may simply be those of respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, and other tenets of democracy.

But for certain institutions, their prejudices are considerably less honorable, as noted last month in Freedom Magazine’s examination of Vanity Fair’s forwarding of a climate of racial and religious bias.

Bias against religion is itself a perspective that can manipulate culture and nurture elements that are harmful to the ideals of freedom of thought and freedom of faith.

Case in point: the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The BBC’s consistent attacks on religious freedom and the right to choice in faith are a principal example. A review of the BBC’s coverage of religion—overwhelmingly negative—provides an interesting map on which to mark their course.

In 2009, the BBC was taken to task for insensitivity toward Sikhs, and for allegedly encouraging a Muslim broadcaster to mock the Sikh religion. The BBC denied the accusations, but later removed the controversial program from online access.

The BBC’s handling of stories concerning Hindus brought complaints from numerous sources, including the Vivekananda Centre in London and the Hindu Council of the United Kingdom, which claimed the broadcaster consistently promoted programming that showed an anti-Hindu bias and portrayed Hindus in a “poor light.”

The BBC has been widely criticized by the Catholic Church for its anti-Catholic and anti-Christian programming, and one-sided coverage of the Vatican. Among other issues, church leaders criticized the BBC for its release of an irreverent adult animated series called “Popetown,” that mocked the Vatican. The station that commissioned the series, BBC Three, later refused to air it, and the BBC cancelled it from program options.

The litany goes on, including accusations of anti-Semitic bias in coverage of Israel and coverage that painted the Church of England as in decline, and irrelevant.

In a 2011 documentary the corporation questioned whether Christianity had a future, describing the state of the religion as in “terminal decline.”

The BBC is seen, in many ways, as comparable to the New York Times—a staid, gray lady, with an institutionalized bias toward life and cultural norms.

Across Europe and around the world, the BBC strives to a mantel similar to the Times—employing an inflated self-image as evidence of credibility, and deploying self-serving public relations to convince the unwary that it is a beacon of free, uncensored and diversified voices, the brightest of journalistic lights.

But is that true? You might ask the journalists who work there, as they watch the ranks of experience become decimated by corporate decisions on profit margins and audience share.

At the BBC, cultural biases are built in and nurtured. Should those biases be exposed, they are most often flippantly dismissed, quickly forgotten, or only vaguely examined. Not only are those biases tolerated, but public criticism of the media is shrugged off as “uninformed.”

That the BBC and the New York Times share perspectives is perhaps reflected in the 2012 decision by the paper to appoint former BBC Director General Mark Thompson as its new CEO. The change came not without controversy among journalists at the Times.

Before and since his appointment, Thompson had been dogged by controversy around his denial of knowledge of the scandal surrounding the late Jimmy Savile, a broadcasting personality, disk jockey and BBC presenter for decades. After Savile’s death in 2011, he was exposed by Scotland Yard as a prolific pedophile, a serial child sex abuser and perhaps one of the U.K.’s most notorious.

According to published reports, the BBC allegedly covered up knowledge of Savile’s criminal behavior before his death and after, and Thompson was later accused of—and denied—lying about his knowledge of Savile’s proclivities before the scandal broke.

The truth of that rests with Thompson. But in this age of distrust of corporate media, of its exhibited indifference to racial and religious biases, and its declining credibility, is it any wonder that the leader of two of the world’s most powerful media institutions is surrounded by questions over his honesty?

The public deserves better from its “guardians” of truth.

Colorado-based writer and investigative reporter Dan Luzadder shared a Pulitzer Prize for General Local Reporting and is a member of the Scripps Howard Journalism Hall of Fame.