Is Sky News biased against Labour?

No, is the short answer. Balls and Prescott are wrong.

During my period as a producer at Sky News, between 2005 and 2007, I used to answer the question, "Where do you work?" from members of my wife's family in the United States with the line: "A channel called Sky News. It's the British equivalent of Fox News."

What I meant, of course, was that Sky News is, like Fox News, a 24-hour rolling news channel, available on satellite and via cable, and part of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire. But in style and in substance, of course, it is nothing like the pro-war, pro-Republican, pro-Palin Fox News Channel (FNC).

For a start, we have Ofcom (which the Tories want to abolish!) and Ofcom would never allow such blatant, on-air bias in this country (God bless Ofcom!). Indeed, I defy you to find me a single anchor or reporter on Sky News who bears even a passing ideological resemblance to Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity.

But the Labour Party and some of its more credulous supporters seem to be insinuating -- or, in the case of Ed Balls and John Prescott, explicitly claiming -- that Sky News has a pro-Tory, anti-Labour bias.

Here's what the Children's Secretary said to me in his constituency on Saturday:

I travel to Yorkshire on the day the Guardian has endorsed the Liberal Democrats and the Times the Conservatives. Are the media united against a Labour victory? "The BBC has fought valiantly to be fair and balanced, but Sky News and most of the newspapers are deeply partisan." He criticises the Murdoch-owned broadcaster and the right-wing press again later in the interview. "This election is much more open than the newspapers and Sky News suggest. The polls are very tight."

And here is John Prescott, on the Guardian's Comment is Free, in the immediate wake of "Bigotgate":

Yet again, the dying Murdoch empire is doing all it can to influence a British election . . . But today, the Murdoch family reached a new low in their desperate attempt to turn the election for the Tories. News International's Sky News broadcast a private conversation between Gordon and his staff . . . What Murdoch's Sky News did today was just as bad as his paper's phone-hacking. It was a breach of privacy. It was underhand. And it was done in the pursuit of ratings and political influence.

This is absurd. Yes, Sky News broadcast the conversation in "pursuit of ratings". That's a given. And, I should add, you could argue that there was also a genuine public interest defence. Also, does anyone honestly believe ITV News wouldn't have done the same?

But to accuse Sky News of pursuing "political influence" is a desperate claim. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest there is a co-ordinated anti-Labour, pro-Conservative campaign on the part of Sky News. John Ryley, the Sky News boss, Chris Birkett, his executive editor, and Jonathan Levy, the head of the broadcaster's political unit in Millbank -- all of whom I consider friends of mine -- are not Tories, and, if they are, they've done a damn fine job of hiding it from me and countless others.

Adam Boulton, meanwhile, is the semi-sympathetic biographer of Tony Blair -- and married to Blair's former "gatekeeper", Anji Hunter. Oh, and to those of you who have never worked in a TV newsroom, let me be very clear: Rupert Murdoch doesn't ring up each evening to discuss and decide the running orders with Messrs Ryley and Birkett. In fact, in my two years at Sky News HQ in Isleworth, Middlesex, Murdoch Sr physically turned up just once -- and, that too, to open a new building, not to pontificate on day-to-day editorial matters.

Labour critics of Sky News might point to last night's events at Methodist Central Hall, where Gordon Brown gave perhaps the best speech of the campaign so far, while Sky News chose to cover the lone anti-nuclear protester, rather than the speech itself and the impressive performance from the PM. It was a bad decision -- but again, in my view, this reflects Sky's sensationalist and perhaps understandable desire for ratings, upsets, gaffes and "incidents", rather than an explicit, pre-planned, anti-Brown agenda.

Left-wing conspiracy theorists can sleep in peace. The Sun is fighting a partisan, pro-Cameron, ant-Brown campaign. So, too, is the Times, with its propagandistic picture of Sam Cam lying in Dave's arms on its front page today. But Sky News remains, as far as I can see, free of party political bias.

All you could accuse it of -- maybe! -- is being part of a wider British press pack that has gullibly, lazily and perhaps subconsciously bought David Cameron's guff about change, momentum and inevitablility. If that's the case, the the BBC is equally guilty. But I repeat: Sky News is not the Sun. To compare the two is just silly.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Labour must compromise to win change - including on immigration

Dan Jarvis on how Labour can engage credibly with Brexit. 

As the Labour party decamps from Liverpool, the message from the conference platform remains clear. We must be prepared for an election against a well-resourced and ruthless Tory machine, whenever it comes.

While these have been tough times for Labour, we should be honest that the root causes are long running. Labour achieved many great things in government to build a fairer Britain, but we failed to renew our party. Opportunities for members to contribute rarely went beyond a monthly meeting and a regular fundraising email. We allowed our party to become too focused on Westminster and distracted by its cliques.

Getting back into power remains a distant prospect at present. That is why we can’t go on as before. 

A return to the 1980s or the electorally-successful New Labour years will not equip Labour for success in the 2020s. If we want to get back into power, we will need to be more radical than anything that went before.

This will require us to be a broad political church which embraces all parts of our movement. No matter how members and supporters cast their ballots, all must be welcome to join the fight for the better society we all want. Contributions from the broadest possible range of voices inside and outside of the party will be required.

Over many years and through two general election campaigns, the story our party has told has not resonated with enough traditional Labour voters' own experiences. We must bridge that divide. To do that, we have to understand the changes that have transformed the nature of people’s lives at work, at home, and in the community in which they live.

We must regain the trust of the public by forging a confident, outward-looking and inspiring Labour story that reaches out across the country. One that speaks to the challenges working people are facing, and addresses the inequalities that exist in our society.

Last week I heard from Labour voters and party members on doorsteps across my Barnsley constituency. They say it as they see it, and I heard the same message loud and clear - the Labour party must stand up for them, today more urgently than ever.

To do this, we must provide credible and effective opposition to this Tory Government. When facing the challenge posed by Brexit, we must champion the interests of the communities we seek to represent. In doing so, we must speak for the concerns of those who feel underpaid, overworked and left behind.

We must recognise that change can be achieved through compromise, and that by doing so we aren’t compromising our values. To win again, we must persuade those who have lost confidence in us. So our Labour story must not only resonate with our heartlands, but reach well beyond them.

Building a new economy to achieve this will require that we are both pro-worker and pro-business. So we must secure the closest possible relationship with the EU single market which delivers greater controls on free movement.

In looking to the future, Labour must speak for people whose jobs and businesses have been transformed by the digital revolution and lead the debate on harnessing it to create secure employment. Changing patterns of work will require public services and our welfare state to be more responsive, requiring greater involvement of people in their design and delivery.

We must not let these tough times weaken our determination, rather it should strengthen our resolve to win again. Labour is worth fighting for, because millions of people around the country are depending on us. We must all play our part.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.