"World Ends Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest!" American lexicographer Barry Popik credits comedian Mort Sahl with having coined this fictitious New York Times headline that encapsulates the Gray Lady's liberal world view. The New York Times reports talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh incorporates this joke about the weltanschauung of the left-wing press into his repertoire. But El Rushbo attributes this bias to the Washington Post.
One of the complaints of media bias of longest standing is that leveled against the BBC. The corporation's reporting style has generated a Wikipedia entry and launched a host of blogs chronicling its errors, suppositions and biases.
In 2006 the Mail on Sunday summarized the results of an internal BBC review:
Senior figures admitted that the BBC is guilty of promoting Left-wing views and an anti-Christian sentiment.
They also said that as an organisation it was disproportionately over-represented by gays and ethnic minorities.
It was also suggested that the Beeb is guilty of political correctness, the overt promotion of multiculturalism and of being anti-American and against the countryside.
So what does this all have to do with God, gender and gays? I've digressed from the story under consideration to introduce to a North American audience the phenomenon of BBC bias. I am illustrating this point with a recent article from the BBC's website concerning the appointment of the new chief justice of South Africa. "Zuma appoints controversial Judge Mogoeng to top post" begins with:
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has appointed a judge who is an ordained pastor with controversial views on rape and homosexuality as chief justice.
Lobby groups had urged Mr Zuma not to appoint Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng as South Africa's top judge, saying he was lenient on rapists, which he denies.
South Africa has one of the world's highest incidences of rape.
Mr Zuma said he was confident that with Judge Mogoeng at the helm, the judiciary was in good hands.
Last week, Judge Mogoeng said God wanted him to be chief justice.
How about that! In five sentences we have established, or perhaps better said, insinuated that the new chief justice is an anti-gay anti-women Christian minister who believes God is talking to him. The article continues with a statement the judge's nomination was opposed by "top lawyers", human rights groups and trade unions, and then states the Nobel Women's Initiative, (I had to look this up too), had issued a statement denouncing the judge as being soft on crime.
The article then discussed the incidence of rape and crime in South Africa and noted the judge had reduced the life sentence of one convicted rapist to a term of 18 years and of having reduced the term of imprisonment of an attempted rapist from five to two years. The judge had also "suggested that sex between a husband and his wife could not be considered rape, AP reports." 'Suggested' mind you, not 'said'.
The judge was given a chance to defend himself and the Christian motif was resurrected.
During his nomination hearing last week, Judge Mogoeng denied he was insensitive to rape.
He said he had also increased the sentences of rapists - in some cases to life imprisonment.
Judge Mogoeng - who is an ordained pastor with the Winners Chapel International, which condemns homosexuality - said he would uphold South Africa's constitution, which respects gay rights.
"When a position comes like this one, I wouldn't take it unless I had prayed and satisfied myself that God wants me to take it," Judge Mogoeng said during his nomination hearing.
Why is this biased or blinkered reporting? Let's begin with the 'controversial' descriptor. Belief that homosexual behavior is sinful is controversial (and wrong-headed) for the BBC, but no source is cited in this article to say South Africans believe the judge's views on homosexuality are controversial. The Beeb offers examples of the criticisms of those who see the judge as being soft on rape, but are content to illustrate his controversial views on homosexuality by saying the Mogoeng is a pastor in a Protestant denomination that holds to traditional moral teachings.
The "God wanted him to be chief justice" comment, left hanging out there on its own without explanation, insinuates the judge is some sort of nutter that takes his cues from 'sky pixies' over head. The qualifier, the judge prayed about this appointment and was satisfied that "God wants me to take it", is left until the end. And in Christian circles is not only non-controversial, but what you should do in these circumstances.
The BBC also advances the notion that belief that homosexual behavior is sinful entails the belief that gays and lesbians should not be accorded civil rights. This, of course, is nonsense. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church .. for that matter just about all churches short of the Fred Phelps crew supports the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people and rejects as sinful any acts of prejudice and discrimination against them.
The story is also incomplete and focuses on areas of concern to the BBC, rather than to the participants in the story. Yes, questions of gender bias were raised by opponents of the nomination. However, the principle opposition to the ruling African National Congress objected to the judge's appointment because he was an unqualified party hack. The judicial fraternity, e.g., "top lawyers", believed Judge Mogoeng was not up to the job. Bloomberg News reported:
Mogoeng “is not the best person for the job in the eyes of a lot of the legal community,” Cathy Albertyn, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, said today in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. “He wasn’t able to express any kind of constitutional vision. It’s a pity that we have set the constitutional test at a level that doesn’t allow us to insist on the best candidate.”
Mogoeng had made about 10 reported judgments before joining the Constitutional Court. Given that he had been a judicial officer for more than 10 years, this is an important intellectual indictment. It points to either a lack of industriousness or judicial work of a standard not deemed sufficiently noteworthy for editors of law reports to record for posterity. By contrast, more respected jurists, such as some of his Constitutional Court colleagues, have literally hundreds of reported judgments.
Whether the bias and incomplete reporting is unintentional or merely sloppy is unclear. However, such a stance is not new. Writing in the Sunday Times in 2007, Antony Jay, the author of 'Yes, Minister' stated that from 1955 to 1964 he was:
part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Harold Macmillan’s premiership and I do not think that my former colleagues would quibble if I said we were not exactly diehard supporters.
But we were not just anti-Macmillan; we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place – you name it, we were anti it.
Caveat lector .. reader beware.