On Monday 11 October 2004, Minotaur Media tracking began a ten-week investigation into the Today programme’s coverage of European Union news and current affairs. Minotaur sought to establish whether the BBC’s charter requirements of broad impartiality and fairness were met by the Today programme in its coverage of European affairs, and whether sufficient space was given over to the discussion of this and other European matters during the ten weeks 11 September – 18 December.
This report assesses whether coverage of UKIP by the BBC Radio 4 programme Today – the corporation’s flagship news programme – in the build-up and immediate aftermath of the elections to the European parliament on June 10, 2004, was fair, impartial and accurate.
The election was a remarkable result for UKIP. Although opinions vary about whether or not support will be replicated in other elections, the party attracted a 16.1% share of the poll, registering a 252% increase in votes over 1999 and coming both ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the constituencies they both contested, and within 6% of the overall
share of the governing Labour party.
Labour was reduced to its lowest share of a national poll for 80 years, and the Conservatives to their lowest proportion since 1832.
On Tuesday 20 April 2004, Tony Blair formally announced his decision to hold a referendum on whether to accept the proposed EU Constitution. This announcement had been expected since Thursday 15 April. It was a major change of direction of Government policy. In the light of well-publicised concerns over its coverage of the EU, the BBC now had an opportunity, and the obligation, to achieve coverage that was balanced, fair and authoritative. On the day of the announcement the BBC’s coverage was carefully monitored to see whether this was achieved.
On Monday 2nd of September 2002, News-watch began a year-long investigation into the Today programme’s coverage of European Union issues. Over the next-twelve months every edition of the programme was monitored in its entirety, amounting to 313 individual programmes and a total of 818 hours of broadcast output. This project was the most detailed and comprehensive uninterrupted study of BBC news coverage ever undertaken. For purposes of managing such a large amount of data, six separate reports were compiled at various intervals throughout the year, looking at the Irish Referendum on the Nice Treaty, a Summit on EU Enlargement, the European Council meeting in Copenhagen, the European Constitution, a comparison of the Today programme’s output with coverage in the broadsheet press, and their treatment of Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
This study considered the coverage of EU-related items on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme over three weeks before the EU leaders’ summits in 2000 (Feira, Portugal, June 2- June 22) and 2002 (Seville, June 4- 24). The aim was to examine whether the coverage met the important BBC Charter obligation of being wide-ranging.
A survey based on the comprehensive monitoring and transcribing of more than 250 programme items during the period of the 2001 general election The analysis is divided into several key areas: first the coverage of Andrew Marr, the most high-profile BBC political editor in the BBC’s history, and Jeremy Paxman, its most important television interviewer, responsible for conducting the biggest encounters with the party leaders. It then moves to an examination of the main two radio programmes, Today and PM, and to a consideration of withdrawal, an issue not on the agenda of the main political parties. Finally, there is a look at the handling of what was said to be the issue of “missing MPs” – those such as the Tory Europhiles who had, according to correspondents, expediently absented themselves from the main campaigning.
News-watch, then known as Minotaur Media Tracking, investigated a strand of BBC programmes across radio and television channels in February 2001, entitled ‘Europe and Us’, which attempted to explore the UK’s relationship with the EU across a range of programme genres, from ‘reality television’ to documentary, studio debate, phone-ins, children’s programmes and bespoke web content.
Included in the survey were Today, On the Record,Referendum Street, Farming Today, NickyCampbell, 5 Live, Newsround, Churchill the European, the Citizens, Food Wars and Question Time.
In the three days beginning January 30th, the Today programme mounted a series of items by reporter Sarah Nelson on the theme of whether the UK should withdraw from the EU, culminating on February 1, with a substantial portion of the programme being devoted to the topic. News-watch monitored the programmes for a full week, and produced a content-analysis of all withdrawal-themed programme items.