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Doubly Negative BBC Language Reveals Political Bias

What is the UK government’s policy on the ‘spare room subsidy’, also known as the ‘bedroom tax’? They have removed the subsidy. In other words, they have reduced benefits payments to some occupants of social housing. Whatever anyone thinks of the policy, this is a literal fact. So how would we re-phrase this fact, if we wanted to describe the current government’s policy in terms of a so-called ‘bedroom tax’? Well, we would be forced to say that the government have raised tax. Again, whatever anyone thinks of the government’s policy, this is not literal fact. The government has not literally raised tax. Now contemplate this BBC headline, found on the BBC’s news website this morning:

Labour ‘would axe spare room subsidy’

In truth, Britain’s government has cut benefits. And Labour has repeatedly said they opposed the cut, though they have not yet promised to reverse it. So this new BBC headline should have come as a shock, to anyone who understands English. It says that Labour will definitely not reverse the government’s benefit cut.

The debate between the government and Labour is about a decision to cut, or maintain, benefit expenditure. This, again, is literal fact. In describing this, my words are boringly plain and simple. The BBC, when reporting on this debate, should seek to avoid confusion. However, they do not. Unlike the simple language of an amateur like me, it takes an army of BBC professionals to confuse the presentation of this debate. And the end result is that they create an upside-down world where tax means the same as benefit, and Labour supposedly agrees with the government’s plans.

The effect of the government’s policy is a reduction in expenditure. When explaining government policy, the BBC should use words like cutting, ending, axing, lowering, or reducing expenditure. The Department of Work and Pensions uses the verb remove to describe the impact on benefits. To literally describe the policy, without introducing colour or bias, the BBC needs to use verbs indicating that government spending will fall.

Labour, for its own political reasons, wants the public debate to take a metaphorical turn. Labour is a political party; they are entitled to create and spread propaganda as they please. But nobody is obliged to repeat it. Knowing that benefits payments are unpopular, and that polls repeatedly show that the majority of the British public want them to be reduced, Labour avoids saying they are in favour of more benefits spending than the government, even though that is the plain and literal truth. On the other hand, taxes are also unpopular. So Labour reframed this debate as if it relates to taxes. Their goal is to conflate lower government spending with higher government taxation. This only makes sense if describing the government’s policy as raising, increasing, ballooning, levying, charging, adding, or imposing additional tax on some occupants of social housing. In this way, Labour can position themselves as opposed to tax, in the belief that this way of framing of the debate will make their policies more popular with voters.

So far, so simple. For reasons that the BBC will never admit to, their staff repeatedly prefer to use Labour’s choice of language, even though the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ is a metaphorical truth at best, a literal lie at worst. As a result of their repeated muddling and meddling with the meaning of everything, this morning the BBC reached a nadir of crooked language and political obfuscation. This is how the BBC reported what Jackie Baillie, Labour Scottish welfare spokesperson, said about the policy.

“We are very clear. Labour rejected this approach when it was put to them in government, for social landlords. We have campaigned for its abolition.”

“Yes we will abolish it. My understanding is that you can expect an announcement relatively soon.”

Baillie is very clear. She must be saying that Labour would ‘abolish’ the ‘bedroom tax’, surely? By that, she means Labour would reinstate the housing benefits that the government have cut. But hold on… the BBC says that Labour would abolish the spare room subsidy. They would abolish the subsidy that the government has already abolished. Is that what Baillie really said? What does the BBC think, per its own headlines?

Labour ‘would axe spare room subsidy’

A UK Labour government would abolish the spare room subsidy, the party’s Scottish welfare spokeswoman has said.

Axing. Abolishing. The current government has already axed/abolished/ended/removed the spare room subsidy, so if Labour would also axe it, then they must now be in agreement…!?

Jackie Baillie, Labour’s Scottish welfare spokesperson, is a full-time professional politician. Her party is in opposition, both in Scotland and the UK. This means she has only one real job – to communicate with voters. Is she incompetent at that task?

The answer is no. In this debate, the incompetents are all paid by the BBC. The BBC took what Baillie said on their own Good Morning Scotland radio show, then put themselves into a self-imposed tizzy about the rights and wrongs of repeating propaganda. In the end, they garbled Baillie’s message beyond recognition. By so doing, they proved the BBC is only fit for spreading confusion, and unfit for sharing information. The following is an actual verbatim transcript of what was said by the BBC’s presenter, and Baillie’s genuinely clear answers, taken from the actual audio recording.

Presenter: Would a Westminster Labour government abolish the bedroom tax?

Baillie: We’re very clear, Labour rejected this approach when it was put to them in government, ummm, for social landlords. We’ve campaigned for its abolition. Yes we will abolish it.

Presenter: A Westminster Labour government would repeal the existing legislation.

Baillie: My understanding is that you can expect an announcement relatively soon.

For once, a politician would be justified in defending herself by asserting she was quoted out of context. And Baillie deserves praise for speaking unusually plainly! Baillie was asked about the abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’, not the abolition of the spare room subsidy. Of course, it is literally impossible to abolish the bedroom tax, as there is no literal tax to abolish. Thanks to the mirror-world language that the BBC chooses to use, reinstating a benefit is presented as abolishing a tax. Baillie’s questioner framed the debate in terms of bedroom tax, before Baillie spoke. But unfortunately for the incompetents at the BBC, other BBC journalists stepped half way through the mirror glass, realized how biased the BBC word’s really are, and then stopped. A quick u-turn involved reinjecting the government’s preferred, and slightly less tainted nomenclature – ‘spare room subsidy’ – into the BBC’s coverage. But the net result was to completely reverse the meaning of Baillie’s words.

This begs another important question. Is the BBC guilty of fabricating quotes and deliberately misrepresenting what people actually said?

Labour ‘would axe spare room subsidy’ says Jackie Baillie

The speech marks are from the BBC, not from me. And yet, Jackie Baillie never used the words ‘would axe spare room subsidy’. She never used the word ‘axe’ at any time during the show. And she never used the words ‘spare room subsidy’ at any time during the show. She did use the word ‘abolish’ in response to a question about the ‘bedroom tax’. And yet, the BBC reported what they wanted her to say, not what was said. Of course, they simultaneously goofed whilst doing so. But this does give us a revealing insight into BBC bias.

To avoid accusations of being biased, the BBC’s news website repeatedly uses speech marks in its headlines, in the sense of ‘this is not literally true’ or ‘this is the gist of what somebody said’. It is a clever tactic. Speech marks imply the BBC is merely reporting somebody else’s position. Reporting somebody else’s speech elevates it to the level of fact, of a sort. Whilst the person quoted might be wrong, or a liar, or a fool, it is a fact that they said what they said. The BBC uses these speech marks a lot, especially when headlining objections to government policy. Bias results because of the BBC’s highly selective decisions about when to use speech marks in headlines. Whether repeating the propaganda of the Syrian government, or the propaganda of a left-wing think tank, the BBC is increasingly using speech marks to present any and all opinions contrary to those of the British government as if they were literal statements of fact. It is the quick way of generating a sensational headline whilst dodging accusations that the anti-government BBC uses exactly the same slanted techniques as commonly found in (pro-government) British newspapers. But the Baillie quote-that-never-was evidences how the addiction becomes unhealthy, giving BBC journalists free reign to frame any argument exactly as they please, and dispensing with the responsibility to report language exactly as it was said, or to state facts literally as they are.

The BBC, conscious of their own bias, and conscious that support for the BBC tax depends on maintaining the pretense of impartiality, wrong-footed themselves when misquoting Baillie. Their difficulties were plain. The BBC knows that ‘bedroom tax’ is a biased propaganda term, and yet they still keep using it, over and over. One BBC journalist, writing for a news website, tried to cover up the bias of another BBC journalist, speaking on a radio show. Whilst the BBC repeatedly misuses the phrase ‘bedroom tax’, they show unequivocal signs that they know the implications of what they are doing. The website post that misquoted Baillie also states:

Ms Baillie’s comments came ahead of two rallies in Glasgow against the new subsidy, which critics have labelled the “bedroom tax”.

And Baillie’s interviewer said, prior to asking her question:

…cuts to welfare, and specifically reducing someone’s housing benefit if they have an unused room – the so-called bedroom tax.

Even more honestly, and tellingly, this is an excerpt from the news broadcast given at the top of the same Good Morning Scotland broadcast:

But first, a summary of the news… [Nick Clegg] could be greeted by a protest against the spare room subsidy, or bedroom tax as it’s been dubbed by opponents…

‘Critics have labelled’, ‘so-called’ and ‘dubbed by opponents’. The BBC knows perfectly well who is responsible for the phrase ‘bedroom tax’, and why those people use the phrase. So, if the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ is the baby of critics and opponents of the government, why does the BBC use it more often than not. Why does the BBC rarely use government phrases like ‘spare room subsidy’? Why is the BBC unable to just keep the description literal, by referring to a cut in housing benefit and leaving it at that? There can be only one rational explanation. BBC journalists use the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ because they are critics and opponents of the government.

Even on the rare occasions when the BBC avoids the phrase ‘bedroom tax’, the BBC keeps twisting our language to reflects its bias. Consider this BBC headline (italics are mine):

MSPs hear from tenants hit by UK spare room charge policy

Householders affected by the new spare room charge

Whilst re-using the propaganda term ‘bedroom tax’ might be considered a necessary evil, in order to communicate with a wide audience that also uses the phrase, what is the BBC’s justification for talking about a ‘charge’? There is no charge here. Not even Labour calls it a ‘charge’. The only reason to label it as a charge is because of a desire to exert a biased influence on how ordinary people understand government changes of housing benefits.

The BBC is guilty of bias, though it has now reached a point where it is immune to this criticism, because everybody working for the BBC is equally biased. Groupthink has set in like rot. And the proof comes in the BBC’s vain attempts to cover up their bias, not once but twice. First, a BBC journalist working for their website tried to cover up the bias of a BBC radio presenter. Having utterly goofed in those hopeless bid to reinvent the actual conversation between Baillie and the BBC’s presenter, the BBC have now completely rewritten their piece for the web:

Labour ‘will abolish bedroom tax’ claims Jackie Baillie

In fact, the BBC keeps changing and rechanging the article whilst I am writing this, meaning I sometimes fail to take copies of all the versions that have been published. Whilst proofreading this blog, the BBC has changed the headline again, this time to:

Labour disputes ‘bedroom tax’ claim by Jackie Baillie

Doubtless the BBC keeps making changes because they have received complaints from Labour Party representatives about the misrepresentation of Baillie, and then the misrepresentation of official policy. But this shows how the BBC, in their zeal to present anti-government stories, can outrun even the political parties that are trying to favour!

Unlike any decent newspaper or website, which would openly admit their errors and clearly state the need to publish corrections, the BBC takes the easy and Orwellian route. Unable to completely extricate the mess they created, the emphasis shifts back to ‘bedroom tax’, as they are unable to crowbar the phrase ‘spare room subsidy’ into the coverage, as that would mean rewriting every word that came out of Baillie’s mouth. So the BBC does the best job they can of covering up their bias and incompetence, repeatedly rewriting the piece from top to bottom, hiding their failings. A screen grab of the original post can be found here. But if you look at the version currently on the BBC’s website, you would see no admission of previous error, nor sign of revision.

The BBC has a public service responsibility to explain events to ordinary people, including political debates. That public service obligation is the sole justification for levying a tax on British citizens. The BBC tax is a real, literal tax, though they choose to mislabel it as a ‘television licence fee’. They talk as if watching television needs to be licensed in the same way that driving cars needs to be licensed or owning guns needs to be licensed. But nobody pays Toyota a tax, for permission to drive a Ford.

Over time, we can see how the BBC routinely plays games with the meaning of words, especially when the words relate to taxation, or to the selfish interests of the BBC. Despite the BBC’s passionate zeal to explain the consequences of the ‘bedroom tax’, they never talk about the ‘BBC tax’, even though that would be a perfect and succinct description. People, by law, have to pay money to the BBC. Hence, they pay the BBC tax. And non-payment of the BBC tax now accounts for one in eight of all magistrates’ court cases. But the BBC are very keenly aware of the unpopularity of the word ‘tax’, which is why they are so careful about when they use the word. And so, there is no excuse for the BBC to feign ignorance about the way the word ‘tax’ can influence public debate. If their real goal was only to inform the public, they would be talking about the BBC tax all the time, for the sake of brevity and clarity.

Our language should remain untainted, no matter what we believe about government policy. Whether someone supports or opposes a government policy should not lead to a confusion between a rise in taxes and a fall in spending. This is necessary for voters to make informed choices, and for our democracy to function properly. The fourth estate has a crucial role to play in a healthy democracy. But the BBC is diseased, and they know it. The BBC no longer supports our democracy. Instead, they feed on its corruption. Afraid that their rotting carcass might otherwise be cut into pieces, BBC journalists are lying, cheating and misrepresenting, over and over and over, in order to protect their own jobs. And that is why they are no longer capable of reforming themselves, or of reoccupying a genuinely neutral role in the reporting of information. Through so many BBC scandals, their management repeatedly talk of failures of editorial control, as if they lacked adequate bureaucracy, and so need more tax to pay for more staff. But the BBC does not need more control, whether it comes from internal or external sources. To serve the real public interest, Britain needs to cut the BBC.

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