People fall into two camps when it comes to the BBC: either it’s one of the few remaining trustworthy, objective sources of news, or it’s one of the more biased news outlets in the world. I know people from both camps.
Since I don’t often listen to or watch BBC news, and only occasionally read their website I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject. But I encountered a pretty blatant example of bias this morning.
By some atmospheric coincidence our bedroom clock-radio receives WETA better than any of the nearer NPR stations, and when it awoke me at 5:30 AM it was still playing the BBC World Service broadcast. In one segment they interviewed some people on the street in Bratislava about their feelings towards the EU vs. the US. The responses were all pretty similar. They ranged from “I like Americans but I don’t like George Bush’s politics” to “I like the EU better than the US” to “I’ve been to the US and I disagree with their way of life” (whatever that means). After the interviews the news anchor inexplicably stated “clearly, a wide range of views” when there had obviously not been a very wide range at all.
But that’s not the bias I’m referring to. Here’s my issue: every one of the 4-5 interviewees was, by admission or by the sound of their voice, a young woman. I’m no statistician, but that’s a clear example of sample bias. I realize that it’s impossible to interview a statistically significant number of people for a news program. But I’m accustomed to American news agencies (such as NPR) attempting to “balance” their stories by getting reactions from a people of obviously disparate age, sex, and walks of life. For all I know the BBC team might have just camped out in a college cafe, interviewing the first five girls they saw.
And that’s not just a nitpick for this story, because the commentator that followed the interviews used them to illustrate his point that the generally pro-US tendency of Eastern European nations is at odds with the views of their populace. But the pro-US sentiment in countries formerly behind the iron curtain is strongest in the older population, the people who lived much of their lives under Societ-style repression and tyranny. This seemed to me a clear case of biasing the sample in order to garner a specific viewpoint.