Act now! A £30,000 crowd-funding appeal is being launched today in an effort to #stopBBCbias. All donations gratefully received! Details of how to contribute are below.
For 20 years – since the European elections of 1999 – News-watch has been monitoring the BBC reporting of EU affairs to analyse whether it is meeting its Charter and Public Purposes requirement to be impartial.
It hasn’t and it isn’t. One survey after another has reached the same damning conclusion.
The reports, which use accepted academic research methodology, have established that the case for withdrawal from the EU has, from the start, been seriously under-represented. One of them, a report published in 2017 detailing the BBC’s coverage of ‘leave’ sympathy on the Left, summarises the extent of the failure; the standout statistic is noted in a ‘results table’ here.
In 274 hours of monitored BBC EU coverage between 2002 and 2017, only 14 speakers (0.2 per cent of the total) were Left-wing advocates for leaving the EU. Yet a strong Eurosceptic movement existed within Labour and the trade unions throughout that period.
There has also been systematic bias by omission in explaining the workings and negativities of the EU.
The BBC has always regarded News-watch’s surveys as unwanted attention to the extent that it has refused to engage with the vast majority of the News-watch reports.
On the very rare occasions it has deigned to offer a formal response to News-watch, it has been a travesty, as this Civitas paper conclusively demonstrates.
After Lord Wilson’s 2005 report into BBC EU coverage, which attacked the Corporation for not conducting proper monitoring and assessment of its output, it did claim to start such internal scrutiny. But no findings were ever published. Then, in 2015, the Corporation abruptly announced that it had abandoned such an approach and now relied on internal editorial processes.
Since the EU referendum, things have got massively worse. From the moment a palpably shaken David Dimbleby announced the result on that June 2016 morning, the Corporation has seen its duty as vigorously pushing the case for Remain and the EU perspective, while under-representing and often undermining the case to Leave. Exemplifying this is the current projection by BBC staff that ‘no deal’ is a Doomsday option.
At the same time, the BBC complaints procedure remains a brick wall designed to reject complaints and defend its bias rather than to make the Corporation’s journalism properly subject to scrutiny. In parallel, Parliament, which should police such a fundamental failure of the BBC Charter requirements, is so dominated by those who support the EU that it, too, is ineffective.
Enough is enough. That is why a judicial review process is being launched today. The goal is to push the Corporation towards becoming much more robust, transparent and equitable in meeting its fundamental requirement to be impartial.
Such cases are complex because the law is itself hugely complicated. But the action is cleverly pitched by the barristers who have framed it. The focus is not on the thousands of individual cases of bias that News-watch has exposed – that would be a fool’s errand in the courts. They are, though, part of the supporting evidence. Rather, the attack is on the BBC’s internal processes for ensuring impartiality. Put bluntly, they are simply not fit for purpose.
As already stated, News-watch analyses Corporation output by deploying rigorous research techniques accepted worldwide as the benchmark of scrutiny. The BBC does not. Instead, it relies mainly on internal meetings and processes. That in itself is a major issue of concern, because a fundamental of any research is to ensure against contamination through what is called confirmation bias. Those inhabiting an environment which has a particular set of values are oblivious of their bias, and indeed, will defend it to the hilt. In other words, they create a self-reinforcing echo chamber.
The BBC’s failure to exercise proper policing of impartiality does not stop there. It has emerged during exchanges with the BBC over the past year in connection with the case that its second major approach is via opinion polling. Participants are given a list of news providers and asked which they deem the most accurate, trustworthy and impartial. Around 50 per cent opt for the BBC in the impartiality category, and this, says the Corporation, is a key factor in showing that it is impartial.
This is nonsense. Polls do not calibrate anything other than people’s opinions. They do not, and cannot, measure whether the BBC is impartial, only the degree to which people think it is impartial (by comparison with other manifestly partial news outlets).
It boils down to this: on matters of impartiality, the Corporation is its own judge and jury, and has no verification other than the impressions of a sample of its audience.
It is against this background that the judicial review is being launched. It is nothing short of a national scandal that a public corporation which has a protected income of £3.5billion a year from licence-fee payers relies on such flimsy processes to deliver and verify such a crucial element of its Charter requirements.
In order to challenge the BBC in this vital way, a crowd-funding appeal is being launched today to raise £30,000 to cover the legal costs, and to ensure the message is spread as widely as possible. This will lead to a judicial review application being filed at the end of July.
We do hope you will contribute – any donation large or small will be very gratefully received.
Q and A
What is a judicial review?
It is a legal process allowing the courts to intervene if a public body is not complying with its statutory duties. Our case is the BBC does not police its impartiality rigorously enough – and has no independent verification – and that, as a result, the Corporation has become very biased on many issues, especially its coverage of Brexit.
How much money is needed and why?
Bringing such a court case is expensive, and the BBC has deep pockets. To have the best chance of winning, we need the best legal opinion and representation. Crowdfunding has been chosen because we believe that members of the public are as concerned as we are about BBC bias. The £30,000 being sought now will cover the judicial review application – further funds will be sought towards hearings when they are arranged.
Why should I support this action?
The BBC is a public corporation funded by a compulsory licence fee and enjoys an income of £3.5billion a year. It is required by its Charter to be impartial, but there is abundant evidence that it is not. Further, it has emerged that its internal processes for ensuring impartiality are inadequate, and rely to a large extent on opinion polling, which is not a reliable or appropriate way of measuring bias. The review is thus necessary in the public interest to improve the Corporation’s performance in a very important area of operations.
What is the timetable?
The goal is to submit the application for the review to the Administrative Court by the end of July, before the current legal term ends. A judge will decide the next steps, including when and if a hearing is to be held. These are fast track proceedings, so the hope is that a hearing will be held in October.
Why is David Keighley the claimant?
This is because he is a licence fee-payer with extensive media experience, especially in the monitoring of BBC output. His organisation News-watch has prepared dozens of surveys in this field using rigorous academic analysis. The BBC have largely refused to engage with the findings, and this is one of the main reasons why the judicial review is now being undertaken. His background evidence will be a core component in demonstrating why the BBC’s internal procedures for preventing bias are not adequate.