For many, BBC bias is straightforward. It is about government supporters running the organisation, and others being scared of the financial implications of upsetting the government. While both are undoubtedly important, on their own they would imply that other broadcasters, like ITV for example, should behave very differently. So when both the BBC and ITV fail to hold the government to account over a key mistake, where thousands of lives were at stake, we need to look at other sources of pro-government bias.
We should all remember how the government decided, in the crucial initial stages of the pandemic, that herd immunity was the right approach. Everybody was going to get Covid, so the argument went, so all the government should do is try and manage when people became ill to avoid over stretching the NHS. It was an incredibly stupid strategy , and an immensely harmful one, but that wasn’t obvious to most people, including myself, in the beginning of March.
In my case that was and wasn't surprising. Was because I had helped write a paper about a flu endemic ten years earlier, so I was familiar with the key variables that would govern how serious a pandemic would be. Wasn't because the flu pandemic we modelled as a base case was not serious enough to depart from herd immunity. In addition I think I put too much trust in the way medical advice was being channelled into government , and there was no real debate about strategy in the media. So I wrote something in early March about what my paper was about - the economic effects of a flu pandemic - without really realising what was and wasn’t relevant for the pandemic we were entering.
“the scientific critics of government policy were sparsely featured. They occasionally appear in isolated, free floating comments but their views are not developed into an alternative perspective on policy. In contrast, broadcasters devoted substantial coverage to explaining and endorsing the government's approach to the pandemic. Little of the coverage on international responses focused on countries which have suppressed the virus and their successful containment measures appear as discrete fragments that are not unpacked or contrasted with the British approach.”
“Much reporting, as our analysis demonstrated, came from Lobby journalists—particularly the political editors at both channels—who were key framers of the government's policy responses. As noted earlier, this immersion within the ‘Westminster bubble’, and the need to maintain access and cordial relations with government sources, may mitigate against critical journalism.”