Fair and Balanced?

We're getting closer to General Election time again in the UK and as I'm still a British citizen and eligible to vote, my interest in British politics remains. Don't ask me why, I just can't seem to switch it off. With Twitter, Google Reader and iphone apps providing an ever constant news feed, being on the other side of the world no longer means that we expats are out of touch with events in the motherland.

With the election looming ever closer it's interesting to see how the media is reporting political stories and portraying the three main parties. Very few of the newspapers or TV networks can honestly claim to be non-partisan but at least they make the pretence of being fair and balanced. Some manage it more successfully than others.

So it's been particular interesting this week to see the reporting over Lord Ashcroft's admission of his non-dom status.

As expected, the unashamedly left wing papers have made a big thing of it, covering the story on the front pages. And then there's the BBC.

I hold the BBC in high regard. The BBC news website is always the main source of international news for me. It generally has high editorial standards and, in most cases, can truly claim to be fair and balanced.

I am aware, however, that the BBC gets a lot of stick and is continuously accused of being too sympathetic towards Labour. I remember reading My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism by Andrew Marr who tacked this accusation by saying BBC editorial policy per se is not biased towards Labour, it's just that the BBC happens to attract a lot of left-leaning journalists so there ends up being a de-facto bias towards Labour. Or words to that effect.

So with a strong editorial policy you would hope that any inherent bias in a story would get a re-write by the editor before being published, and when it comes to political stories, you would hope that the editing would be top-notch particularly when the political parties have started campaigning for election.

In the case of the Lord Ashcroft story the editorial policies have clearly failed. Why haven't the BBC put equal emphasis on Labour's Lord Paul and other Labour peers who are non-doms and large donors to the Labour party. Same goes with the Lib Dems. Lord Paul has even reportedly stated that he would rather give up his seat in the Lords than change his non-dom status.

Some of the BBC stories have been quite misleading and the reader could be led to believe that he's been avoiding paying any tax for the last 10 years and completely props up the Conservative party, which simply isn't true. He's paid tax to the Inland Revenue on his UK earnings, he probably will have paid tax to another country on his oversees earnings (as most countries have a double-taxation agreement in place with Britain so that those earning income in the UK and overseas don't have to get taxed twice on the same income), and furthermore his contributions to the Tories have accounted for less than 1% of donations this year.

Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has accused Michael Ashcroft of being unpatriotic. The same Michael Ashcroft who formed Crimestoppers, has raised millions for Help for Heroes and many other charities; and donated his Victoria Cross collection to the Imperial War Museum. That doesn't sound unpatriotic to me.

At least the BBC are 100 times more fair and balanced than the network that has Fair and Balanced as its byline - Fox News.

If I was American I'd be embarrassed to have Fox News as the country's biggest cable news network. This is a 'Fair and Balanced' news network that employes Republican governers, takes every opportunity it can to label Obama a marxist or communist, and even goes as far as organising rallies against government policy (the Tea Party rallies). Aren't they supposed to report the news not make it? Fox News is akin to the Völkischer Beobachter - the newspaper of the Nazi Party.