I don’t foray into politics on this blog, but nonetheless you can find some interesting stats using Google around the issue.
The BBC’s charter instructs it to maintain a fair balance in political reporting through the news – giving a proportional share of editorial space and coverage to all interested parties. Famously, the BNP’s performance during the late 2000s led to appearances on Question Time for Nick Griffin as part of this remit to even-handedness.
But lingering suspicions about the corporation’s bias remain. Rare is a week that passes without some politician or other averring that the BBC shows bias against his or her side of a debate. But thanks to Google, it’s possible to do some high-level stats to test the notion of balance. A good example is the election for London Mayor* – now just days away.
Current polls for the London Mayoral elections are quite revealing. The major parties – Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems are naturally standing candidates – as well as The Green Party, UKIP, BNP and a number of independents and small parties.
Firstly, bear in mind that by current polling figures, UKIP is expected to poll around 3% of the vote – around exactly that of the Greens.
So you’d expect that the BBC would be giving coverage to these parties more or less equally, right? I did some snuffling around using Google and found the following facts.
- Green Party candidate Jenny Jones received 280 mentions on the BBC website between 1st January and 30th April.
- Independent candidate Siobhan Benita received 106 mentions on the BBC website in the same timespan
- BNP candidate Carlos Cortigila received 63 mentions on the BBC website in the same timespan.
- UKIP candidate Lawrence Webb received just 58 mentions on the BBC website in the same timespan
Of the main candidates, the results are more evenly split but still indicate some imbalances
- Conservatives: Boris Johnson (884 mentions)
- Labour: Ken Livingstone (440 mentions)
- Liberal Democrats: Brian Paddick (293 mentions)
As the incumbent, it is difficult to separate election-related stories for Boris Johnson from stories that involve him in his role as mayor – Google treats “mayor” and “mayoral” as equivalents. It is likely that the number of mentions he has received in the specific context of the election is actually fairly similar to that of Livingstone, but filtering signal from noise isn’t easily done.
Despite this, some interesting facts leap out.
- Brian Paddick receives 66% of the number of mentions of Ken Livingstone does, despite only 8% of polled Londoners declaring their intention to vote for the Lib Dem compared to 41% for Livingstone.
- Jenny Jones is given almost as much coverage as as Paddick, despite only 3% of voters saying they will vote Green.
- Siobhan Benita receives fewer mentions than Jones, despite being at least equal to her in the polls
- The BNP received more coverage than UKIP despite only polling at only 1% in contrast to 3% for UKIP
- UKIP receive the least coverage of the ‘major’ parties (and by some margin) despite polling more highly than either the Greens, Independents or BNP.
Of course, this is all just fun and games but I think it’s possible to construct a view of how the BBC is covering the London Mayoral elections and it’s not one that the BBC should be proud of. The Liberal Democrats receive far more coverage than their likely share of the vote would suggest they should- and the paucity of coverage given to UKIP is pretty damning. That is nothing compared the favour shown to the Greens, who receive almost as much coverage as the Liberal Democrats, despite their even smaller share of the vote.
It must be allowed that the BBC disproportionately favours the Greens and the Liberal Democrats and almost ignores UKIP altogether, despite the backdrop of falling interest in green issues and increasing concern over the future of the EU.
*As I’m not a Londoner, and won’t be voting, none of this matters to me except in the abstract matter of how the election is being covered.