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David Keighley

BBC Bias: Pantomime villains poisoned the UK-EU relationship

BBC Bias: Pantomime villains poisoned the UK-EU relationship

BBC bias seems to be sinking to new depths each week.  It has become an advanced case of infestation by deathwatch beetle. The question is not any more, ‘is it biased?’ but rather, ‘what is not?’

Take Doctor Who on BBC1. Once it was an original, entertaining, and exciting sci-fi show brimful of intriguing ideas. Not now. Led by a female Doctor, it has fully transformed into an exercise in the Corporation’s box-ticking multiculturalism and the rewriting of history according to the creed of political correctness.

This week’s episode saw Gallifrey’s Time Lord and her motley multicultural crew witnessing Indian partition in 1947. The villains? Not, of course, the Muslim League. In the BBC’s alternative universe, it could never be that.  No, it was us empire-obsessed Brits, aided and abetted by a rampant, murderous Hindu who demanded separation.

The latest News-watch report into BBC bias – an analysis of former Europe editor Mark Mardell’s 13-part series Brexit: A Love Story?, covering the UK’s relationship with the EU from joining to possible exit – shows equally serious distortion and partisanship. The full report is here.

It was claimed that the programme, which was broadcast fortnightly as a segment in Radio 4’s World at One between March and September, and was thus projected as ‘news’ with all that this entails in terms of adherence to standards, was a journalistic examination of the ebb and flow of the UK’s membership.

Not so. According to Mardell and the editorial team, there were villains and heroes in the tale.  And just as in the now pantomimic Doctor Who, there was no doubt who the baddies were.

Step forward as the ringleaders – boo! hiss! – Margaret Thatcher,  whose alleged love of conflict and dislike of Germans alienated Brits against the nice, well-meaning EU folk;  the British press, which, dominated by barons such as Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch,  and dolts such as Kelvin Mackenzie and Boris Johnson, lied continuously about benevolent EU rules; the ‘odious’ arch-capitalist Jimmy Goldsmith, who used his ill-gained cash to panic or blackmail the hapless John Major into accepting the Pandora’s Box idea of an in-out referendum; Nigel Farage, who opportunistically used events outside the EU’s control to force David Cameron to actually hold that referendum; and of course those in the Conservative party who dared over the years to challenge the EU’s goal of ever-closer union.

In Mardell’s estimation, it was the factors above plus Tory ‘civil war’ – not dislike and distrust by the British public of the EU itself and a desire to re-assert national sovereignty – which was a primary propellant of the exit vote.

The deluge of pro-EU opinion in the series was overwhelming. Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of the 38,000 words spoken by contributors were from figures who supported the EU and only 28 per cent who could be described as Eurosceptic or in favour of leave. Farage and supporters of leave such as the late Peter Shore were reduced to bit parts in the saga; most time was devoted to Brussels-loving senior civil servants, diplomats and politicians. Of course bias, cannot be measured by such numbers alone, but in the context of the overall editorial framework in the series, are an important indicator.

Another measure is that only six speakers of the 121 contributors who appeared in the series as a whole made what could be called substantive points against the EU.

Perhaps the most serious skew in terms of the rewriting of history was found in the episode which examined the handling of the BSE crisis during the 1990s. In Mardell’s hands, this was projected simplistically as a battle between a stupid and reckless Conservative government – putting lives at risk in their headlong defence of British beef –  – against those nice EU bureaucrats who were doing nothing but taking reasonable steps to protect the hapless British public.

According to Mardell, was immigration at all a contributory factor towards the Brexit vote?  Even he could not ignore the opening of the EU free movement gates from 2004, and one of the episodes dealt with this. But his primary contributor on this theme was Tony Blair, buttressed by then home secretary David Blunkett and an ‘expert’ from the London School of Economics, who argued one-dimensionally between them that the EU influx was an economic benefit and not at all a mistake. Opposition to that view? Only in the form of very brief vox pops which were clearly edited to convey the BBC’s wearyingly predictable version of anti-immigration bigotry.

The report as a whole shows a level of bias which is of the deepest concern. The series – as the endgame of the Brexit negotiations approached in the autumn – was cast as an overview appraisal of the the UK-EU relationship and scheduled accordingly in one of the BBC’s flagship news programmes. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, Mardell and his team were bent on showing that leaving the EU was an act of national mutilation triggered by the prejudice cultivated by the carefully-assembled cast of pantomime villains.

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Can Podcasts Save Radio 4 Today?

Can Podcasts Save Radio 4 Today?

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme is in dire trouble. It is haemorrhaging listeners and, according to latest reports, more than one million have deserted over the past year, bringing the weekly audience down to 6.7m.

This should, of course, be a matter of urgent and very significant concern. The reality is that in the UK, only the BBC – by dint of its guaranteed vast licence-fee income – can afford to put out such a heavily-resourced news and current affairs radio programme. If the Corporation can’t get it right with flagship programmes such as Today, it is failing in its core remit.

Those multi-million figures, by the way, are somewhat misleading. They are simply the total number listening at some point for a few minutes to the 17.5 hours each week of Today output. The peak audience (on which basis television audiences are measured) is normally no more than two million at 8am.

What is the reason for the sharp decline? Could it be the programme’s relentless alienating bias? And might it be that the format – devised more than 40 years ago – has ossified over the decades into a diet of engineered difficult-to-listen-to confrontation on lines dictated by the BBC’s Leftist, politically correct worldview?

Tim Montgomerie recently adroitly summed up this growing antipathy. Explaining why he had become an ‘ex-Today listener’, he said:

‘On reflection, it’s the lack of illumination on almost any topic (as much as the bias) that makes me glad to have finally broken free. The biases are to “the State must do something about X” rather than “how can X best be solved?”; to short-term gloom rather than to long-term context; to politics; to supra-nationalism; to liberalism over conservatism . . . and any bad news from Trump’s America over bad news from within Brussels’ empire (especially from Italy).’

The BBC, of course, is deeply disdainful and dismissive of such views. World affairs editor John Simpson summed up the Corporation’s stance when he declared in Radio Times: ‘I’m getting really fed up with the complaints and criticisms being directed at BBC News at the moment. Not so much from our usual critics, the hardliners on the Left and the Right, who habitually claim we’re biased because we’re not actually biased in their favour. No – it’s middle-of-the-roaders who are doing the complaining now.’

However the slump in Today listening is now so acute that the Corporation has been forced into remedial action. Enter stage left with much huffing and puffing James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio, who, of course, was formerly a Blairite Labour minister. He emerged this week from the corporate shadows in Portland Place as the man with a plan for tackling the decline – even though before his appointment to his current role he had no direct broadcasting experience.

His wheeze? A daily 20-minute Today podcast, dubbed imaginatively Beyond Today. Which 1A 1AA committee thought of that?

To be fair, there is no doubt that media audiences of all kinds increasingly prefer to be in charge of their own agenda, and in line with that podcasts have grown in popularity, along with visual services such as Netflix. According to Ofcom, the number of weekly podcast listeners has increased from 3.2m five years ago to 5.9m in 2018. 

What appears to have got Purnell particularly excited, though, is that 49 per cent of these podcast enthusiasts are adults aged under 35, and because Today’s existing audience is significantly older, his plan envisages that the lost million oldies will be replaced by youthful eager-beaver trendies.

In line with that, Purnell has appointed 37-year-old Tina Daheley – previously a stand-in presenter of a range of BBC news programmes including BBC1 Breakfast – and Today reporter Matthew Price as the presenters of the new podcasts. They will be assisted by a production team of ‘mainly women’.

Their agenda? Well, Ms Daheley – whose Twitter account shows clearly her preferences – has not been backward in coming forward. She told the Observer: ‘Anyone who has been paying attention knows podcasts are hugely popular with under-35s, and if you’re serious about reaching that audience, it’s the logical thing to do. For me, a big thing is class and social background. We’re supposed to be holding a mirror to society and be representing them, but when was the last time someone who didn’t go to public school or Oxbridge presented the Ten O’Clock News?

‘The BBC gets a lot out of me. I should be thinking: “This is brilliant, I’ve got this whole area locked off, I tick all of those boxes in terms of strategy – young women, brown people, so-called C2DE demographics” – but I wish there were more of me. I had to work twice as hard and be damn good at my job to develop my career. I was doing 19 jobs and working for months without a day off [to get noticed] but there should be more people who look like me.’

So there we have it. Mr Purnell’s strategy to win back the Today deserters is not to address issues of bias, or to make an atrophied programme format less BBC agitprop and more accessible. Rather, it’s to ram yet more opinionated ‘diversity’ – in all its multi-faceted Corporation splendour and zeal – down our gullets. Whether we like it or not.

The first edition of Beyond Today was published on Tuesday.  What had it to offer? Exactly the same BBC diet, with Evan Davis and someone from the BBC’s favourite think tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, warning that more money needs to be spent on public services.

BBC climate alarmism: ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good scare story’

BBC climate alarmism: ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good scare story’

How idiotic has the advocacy of climate alarmism by the BBC become?

Last month, as was reported on TCW, BBC News Director Fran Unsworth issued a formal directive stating, in effect, that alarmism is proven and cannot be challenged on the BBC airwaves.

One of her key minions, James Stephenson, the BBC’s overall editor of News and Current Affairs, has now appeared on the latest edition of BBC Radio 4’s Feedback to ram home the message.

Full reading of the transcript is recommended to to appreciate the jaw-dropping scale of the bias involved, but in essence, he declared that, despite viewer concerns the Corporation was adopting a partisan approach, ‘the science’ is beyond doubt and the IPCC’s word on the subject must be considered gospel.

His stance amounts to a total junking by the Corporation of basic scientific empiricism, which – since Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus in 1267 – has been based on the premise that one new set of verifiable data can sweep away any theory.

In that context, the alleged existence of ‘consensus’ between climate scientists on which Stephenson relies for justifying his propaganda position, matters not one jot.

In fact – despite all the IPCC’s posturing, politicking  and blustering –  the study of workings of the globe’s climate is in its infancy, not least because measurement of variables is so unreliable and incomplete.

Leading anti-alarmist scientist (and true empiricist), the Australian Jo Nova, excoriatingly reports that the world’s major climate ‘record’ –  on which are anchored many of the IPCC’s alarmist predictions – is riddled with massive errors, gaps and assumptions.

So extreme was Stephenson’s partisanship in favour of the climate alarmist stance on Feedback that he bloody-mindedly defended a major mistake in the Corporation’s IPCC-related coverage.

Presenters John Humphrys and Sarah Montague both wrongly said the IPCC report was warning about a 1.5 per cent rise in global temperatures when the reality was that it referred to 1.5 degrees.   Whoops, but in the BBC’s manual of climate change reporting, who cares?   Stephenson accepted this was inaccurate, but claimed it did not matter because ‘audiences would have recognised it was a slip’.

Eh?  In other words, in the BBC’s climate change universe, never let the facts get in the way of a good scare story.

Ironically, perhaps, the BBC position on alarmism can also be compared to that of the Catholic Church as imagined in Bertolt Brecht’s 1938 play The Life of Galileo. This in the 1960s was a ‘must see’ drama for all those on the left. They wanted to ridicule the play’s projection of the unreason and unbending conservatism of Catholicism, then one of the biggest targets of every left-winger. Ultra Marxist Brecht represented Galileo as the voice of ‘reason’ against the Church’s defence of bigoted religious orthodoxy.  The BBC, of course, would love to see themselves as Galileo in the climate change debate.

In reality, though, they are not. The BBC, the IPCC and other bodies such as the EU, politicians and governments who have swallowed the IPCC agenda, the multi-national companies benefitting from ‘green’ energy, and academia are now all the vested interests defending the ‘warmist’ status quo at any and every cost – including the rejection of reason itself.

Every man (and woman) jack of them, like the Catholic Church in Brecht’s projection, is pitched against true scientific inquiry. Those who question alarmism are not ‘deniers’ as the BBC now so insultingly calls them. Rather, it is they, the ‘deniers’, the anti-alarmists, who are heroes and heroines fighting to smash the corrupt billions-of-dollars alarmist scam, which, on some estimates, is costing trillions of dollars.

John Simpson lambasts BBC licence fee payers for their bias

John Simpson lambasts BBC licence fee payers for their bias

John Simpson, the BBC’s veteran and rather pompous world affairs editor – who can forget his claims of liberating Kabul in 2001? – has been sounding off in Radio Times.

The full article can be read here. His scatter-gun target? Well, it seems just about everyone, and certainly the majority of those who contribute to the licence fee income which pays his wages. He defines the object of his ire as ‘middle-of-the-roaders’ who dare to complain about BBC bias.

Simpson already has form in venting his spleen in this domain. For example, he also reveals in the Radio Times article that he has been in ’hot water’ with his bosses for claims he made about Brexit at a conference held recently. Not, of course, in favour of the democratic will being carried out.

No, he told the delegates that the British people got the referendum vote wrong. If only they had known the facts and thought in a ‘more balanced’ sort of way, they would have decided to stay in the EU.

Another target of Simpson’s complaining was the recently-elected ‘far-Right’ (in BBC parlance) Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini. Here, Simpson’s scatter-gun turned into an exploding, ineptly-fired blunderbuss.

He leapt with glee on the chance to compare Signor Salvini to the Nazis by claiming he had said he was planning ‘mass purification’ of Italy in his steps towards controlling immigration. In reality, Salvini did not use the word ‘purification’ at all – it was a mis-translation. He wanted the streets of Italy to be rigorously checked to understand fully the extent of the immigrant problem. But in Simpson’s world, perhaps, the facts never get in the way of a good chance to attack those he disagrees with.

And so back to Radio Times. This is Simpson at his loftiest. He declares:

‘I’m getting really fed up with the complaints and criticisms being directed at BBC News at the moment. Not so much from our usual critics, the hardliners on the left and the right, who habitually claim we’re biased because we’re not actually biased in their favour. No – it’s middle-of-the-roaders who are doing the complaining now.’

He explains that these turncoats have dared to start writing to newspapers to say that the BBC is no longer even-handed. He is clearly flabbergasted by their actions. He responds:

‘Well, I promise you, with the perspective that 52 years of working for it gives me, it’s not the BBC that’s changed, it’s them. Maybe it’s because they’re so used to social media, and hearing only the kind of views they like, that they’re enraged by having to listen to arguments they hate. At present it’s Brexit. Before that it was Scottish independence. People have allowed themselves to be persuaded that there’s something wrong with being given open and unbiased information from BBC journalists. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think any subject is too important to keep our minds closed about it.’

And how does Simpson know that the BBC is not biased? Does he produce any evidence to back his assertions? In a word, no. His first line of defence – in the quote above – is his 52 years of experience at the BBC. In his estimation, that clearly means he must be always and infallibly right on these matters, and hapless licence fee ‘middle-of-the-roaders’ equally deluded and wrong.

Second is another firecracker from his arsenal. It’s that ‘those who work at the BBC’ are still basically followers of John Reith (the BBC’s first director-general). And what does that mean? He opines:

‘We think it’s our job to tell people honestly, to the best of our ability, what’s happening . . . This has been the nastiest period in our national life since 1945. It’s the broadcasters’ job to give people the range of opinions they won’t necessarily get in the newspapers . . . [reporters and presenters are not biased] they are only telling you something you don’t want to hear.’

Eh? This survey by News-watch, based on Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed, a series of programmes on Radio 4 presented by Chris Morris of the BBC ‘Reality Check’ unit, found that 75 per cent of the main speakers were against Brexit, and those in favour had just seven per cent of the programme time.

Simpson’s claim that the BBC is giving viewers and listeners a ‘range of opinions’ on topic after topic – from climate alarmism, to President Trump and Brexit and dozens more – is thus moonshine. His awareness of the reality of BBC output, from his Portland Place eyrie, is also clearly extremely tenuous. And the level of his arrogance towards licence fee payers? Perhaps that’s best left to readers to decide.

 

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BBC ‘hardline’ bias brackets Brexiteers with extremism

BBC ‘hardline’ bias brackets Brexiteers with extremism

Craig Byers, of Is the BBC Biased, has astutely nailed down that the BBC’s use of ‘hardline’ in the EU debate is deeply slanted.

The adjective, he spotted, was reserved especially for those who the Corporation perceived are most opposed to staying in the European Union. He also noted that its derogatory application was much broader – it boiled down to a catch-all label for the figures on the right whom the Corporation classes as extremists.

Further intensive analysis of the BBC’s application of the word across its entire output using tracking software through all of June and into July as the Chequers Brexit-showdown meeting unfolded, confirms a fascinating picture of selective, targeted usage in what appears to be systematic bias. There were around 700 examples.

The first point to note is that across the six weeks, hardline was almost invariably NOT applied to someone whom the BBC perceives to be progressive or liberal. It is exclusively reserved for those who are deemed to be extremist, fundamentalist, oppressive  and on the so-called right.

There was a glaring demonstration of the deliberate polarity involved when one BBC reporter – describing the latest battles in the Brexit talks – said the Brexiteers were ‘hardline’. What were the remainers? The same? No, they were merely ‘stubborn’.

A possible fine tooth-comb exception here was the use of the word in the description of the former regime in Serbia, which was said to be ‘hardline’ communist Stalinist’ (and thus possibly of the ‘left’). However, perhaps even John McDonnell, deputy leader of the Labour party,  would find it hard to regard the Serbian government in the land of President Tito as anything but totalitarian and so the exception is not so.

So who else other than Jacob Rees-Mogg and those who want a ‘hard’ (another BBC journalistic distortion) Brexit are classed as hardline?

It’s a fascinating list. The key markers include opposition to uncontrolled immigration wherever it exists (from Mexico to Japan), any opposition to the EU’s prevailing policies and moves towards federalism, religious extremism practised by ‘Islamic’ imams and cultivated in madrassas, the anti-Western government regime in Iran, and the North Korean government.

And who are the people involved? Step forward first, of course, Donald Trump. His are multiple hardline sins: separating illegal immigrants from their children (though Presidents  Obama and Clinton’s pursuit of the same approach was not mentioned); wanting to stop illegal immigrants; proposing a new tougher immigration bill; and having policies similar to the Ku Klux Klan. Around 200 of the uses of the ‘hardline’ dog-whistle applied to him for his brazen attempts to prevent illegal immigrants entering the US.

Next were those in the new Italian government of Matteo Salvini, primarily for wanting to stop NGO ‘immigrant’ ships landing in Italy, but also for not honouring the Schengen agreement and worrying generally about volumes of immigration in opposition to the EU;  then Sebastian Kurz, the Chancellor of Austria, and all the governments in the EU (including especially Hungary and Slovenia) who are opposing the immigration policies of Angela Merkel; opponents in Germany itself to the immigration policies of Mrs Merkel; the Polish government, for wanting to reform its legal system in opposition to the EU; and last but not least, Shintaro Ishihara, the former Governor of Tokyo for 13 years, for opposing levels of immigration and championing Japanese culture and values.

Is this nit-picking? The BBC, of course – which maintains it gets its journalism right 99.999 per cent of the time – would no doubt say it is. Their defence would probably be (based on long experience!) that ‘hardline’ is a commonly-used word and any linkage with the ‘right’ is coincidental.

But that most definitely does not stack up here. For starters, why are Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell, who openly advocate Marxist economics, and have demonstrably supported terrorist regimes, not in the ‘hardline’ category? Why are Brexiteers, who want only to leave the EU in accordance with the vote of the EU Referendum, described with the same word as imams who conduct or encourage acts of terrorism? And why is any opposition to illegal immigration and open borders now also bracketed by the BBC with the same language reserved for those ‘Islamist’ terrorists or the repressive regime of President Tito of the former Yugoslavia?

Another important point in this slanted use of language by the BBC is that in the News-watch survey of the Brexit coverage by the Today programme in autumn/winter last year, it was noted that the BBC had started using the word ‘divorce’ routinely to describe the Brexit process.

The report concluded (p3:)

“The main finding is that there was an unjustified heavy bias towards exploring the difficulties and potential difficulties of Brexit. In this context, there is a special investigation of the pervasive and indiscriminate use by this BBC coverage of the word ‘divorce’ – with all its negative overtones – to describe the EU exit process. In academic media analysis, it is held that such value-loaded ‘framing’ of issues by the editorial process . . . negatively influence audiences.”

It boils down to that in this sphere, the BBC has form. It systematically uses negative labels to disparage and undermine the perspectives it opposes.

 

Time for a re-think on BBC1 Question Time?

Time for a re-think on BBC1 Question Time?

There have been 1,369 editions of BBC1’s Question Time since its launch under Sir Robin Day in September 1979, and it has an estimated weekly audience of 2.4m in its 10.40pm slot on Thursdays.

David Dimbleby has announced he is leaving the show after 25 years in the chair, following 10 years by Sir Robin Day (1979-89) and four from Peter Sissons (89-93) – so what next?

Already, there is a list of potential successors, ranging from Kirsty Wark to Victoria Derbyshire and Huw Edwards. But almost certainly, it won’t be a man.  This is now the era of BBC ‘diversity’/feminism quota box-ticking, outlined here,  and no woman has yet been the show’s permanent host – though back in the mid-1980s, Nationwide host Sue Lawley deputised regularly for Sir Sir Robin Day.

Already, despite this, the Conservative Commons equalities committee chair Maria Miller has stepped into the frame, warning the BBC that it must appoint a woman.

Woe betide the BBC, therefore, if it appoints a man. And now that it is in the full grip of the ‘quota’ agenda, can the Corporation risk appointing any more a white woman to the role?

This is an organisation where the head of comedy, Shane Williams, said this week at a programme launch that Monty Python – one of the greatest creative hits in television history – would not now be made by the BBC because it was conceived by and starred white Oxbridge graduates.

On that basis, there must only be a handful of candidates for Question Time. Step forward Today presenter Mishal Husain and Samira Ahmed, who hosts the BBC News Channel’s complaints programme Newswatch, after cutting her television teeth on Channel 4 News. So certain is Ms Ahmed that she is in with a shout that she has self-declared her candidacy on Twitter.

Ms Husain has already occupied the Question Time chair briefly, during the debates leading up to the 2017 General Election.  Her debut, as is reported here,  did not go well. The audience was ram-full of raucous supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and Ms Husain had great difficulty controlling proceedings.  She was also loudly heckled – and almost drowned out – when she asked the Labour leader how he would pay for his (uncosted) child care policies.

The BBC thus has a serious dilemma of its own making in its hands. Quotas are a serious bind and indeed are likely to stifle creativity and excellence in programme-making.

In reality,however, women have been centre stage in the production of Question Time since its inception.  The first editor was a formidable feminist, Barbara Maxwell, called by Sir Robin ‘the flame haired temptress’. Her reign at the helm lasted 14 years.

The story of the pressures faced by Sir Robin from Ms Maxwelll is told in Peter  Sissons in his autobiography and summarised here.  From the outset she worked to ensure that women panellists were a regular part of the show, often irrespective – Sir Robin believed – of whether they had enough experience to be able  to deliver under the unique pressures the show generated.

When Peter Sissons – lured to the BBC in 1989 from ITN to be Sir Robin’s successor – took over the show, Ms Maxwell made it clear to him that the female quota system must continue. When Sissons objected, she made his life in the chair as awkward and uncomfortable as possible for him by the choice of sometimes unsuitable and incompetent female panellists.

Sissons says he left the show four years later when the BBC decided Question Time would be put out to independent production. The team appointed was all-female and – Sissons alleged – intensified the pressure on him.

Sue Lawley was then lined up as his successor, but ruled herself out because the BBC insisted that there must be a three-legged audition process involving David Dimbleby, Jeremy Paxman and Ms Lawley. Although she was the clear favourite, Ms Lawley refused to take part because, it is claimed, she thought as an established BBC presenter, it was beneath her, so Dimbleby was appointed.

The point of all this?   Despite its long history of female involvement and the encouragement of participation by  ‘minorities’, Question Time seems now destined to have a host who will be chosen on the basis of quota-related box-ticking rather than his or her capacity to perform in a particularly tough hot seat.

Another issue here is whether the programme is actually past its sell-by date. The format of voters confronting politicians  was innovative in 1989 but almost 40 years on it has become hackneyed and formulaic. As is argued here, it has arguably become a platform for platitudes, a performance vehicle for those who can blather best. Rather than illuminating the political process, it generates mainly obfuscation.

Not only that, as the Institute of Economic Affairs argues here, it has become deeply biased, especially since the EU referendum, with panels heavily weighted towards the Remain side.

The BBC has a programme budget of billions. It is high time it started to use it generate innovative news and current affairs programmes rather than hobbling along with the tired relics of another age.

A figleaf swept away in the torrent of anti-Brexit bias

A figleaf swept away in the torrent of anti-Brexit bias

In BBC Radio 4’s Feedback on Friday, host Roger Bolton introduced a classic edition of Corporation Complaints Stonewalling.

The subject? Primarily coverage of Brexit. The message? As always, the BBC is getting it right.

The full transcript is below.

Element one, carefully orchestrated by Bolton, was to convey that the BBC was receiving complaints that its Brexit coverage was biased from both ‘sides’, those who supported Brexit and those who opposed it. Because of this, it was risibly suggested, complaints of editorial imbalance must be unfounded.

Element two was that two BBC bigwigs – Gavin Allen, controller of daily news programmes, and Ric Bailey, chief political adviser – confirmed why, in their view, the BBC’s coverage was completely impartial and met Charter requirements.

Element three was that Today presenter Nick Robinson – now seemingly firmly ensconced as the Corporation’s defender-in-chief – was wheeled out to defend the relentless tide of anti-Brexit negativity.

None of the three men produced a shred of credible, verifiable evidence to support their claims. Their approach boiled down to that they know what they are doing; anyone who disagrees is simply deluded.

In other words, with more than 20 tedious minutes devoted to Brexit, Feedback was yet another edition of the favourite BBC refrain in response to the tens of thousands of complaints it receives: ‘Move along there, nothing to see!’

Reading the programme transcript confirms that these BBC luminaries truly believe this, and have constructed elaborate, self-justifying arguments to support their stance. Allen, for example, argued that the BBC’s only fault in this domain is actually that it doesn’t explain enough its internal processes. If listeners and viewers only knew how hard he and Corporation editors think about bias, they wouldn’t complain.

Poppycock! What actually seems to be the case is rather that Bolton, Allen, Bailey and Robinson – and seemingly all of the BBC’s battalions of journalists – are locked in a bubble of their own making and can’t see the acres of bias they churn out each week. This is confirmation bias.

Exhibit A, based on the BBC output being broadcast as the four men were congratulating themselves on their journalistic brilliance and rectitude, is an analysis conducted last week by Craig Byers of the website Is the BBC Biased? Using a monitoring service called TV Eyes, Craig painstakingly tracked every mention on BBC programmes of the word ‘Brexit’ between Monday and Friday last week (April 16-20).

What he found was a deluge of Brexit negativity. Craig’s blog needs to be read in full to appreciate the sheer scale. It permeated every element of its news output and even percolated down to BBC1’s The One Show and EastEnders, which had a pointed reference to these ‘tough Brexit times’. In the BBC’s world, Brexit was a threat to EU immigrants (in the context of the Windrush developments), to farmers, to interest rates, to airlines, to personal privacy (via Cambridge Analytica), to house prices, to security in Northern Ireland, and more.

Among all these sustained mentions of the problems, the positive words about Brexit could be counted virtually on the fingers of one hand.

Exhibit B was mentioned by Ric Bailey on Feedback in an attempt to show that Brexit coverage was balanced. It did no such thing. He instanced that during a special day about Brexit on Radio 4 on March 29, the corporation had broadcast a half-hour programme called The Brexit Lab about the opportunities of Brexit. It suggested, for example, that environmental controls could be tougher and that British Rail could be re-nationalised once the UK was freed from the EU’s regulatory shackles.

What Bailey did not say, however, was that the remainder of this special programming – including an edition of Today, sequences on The World at One and The World Tonight, plus two much longer programmes, one about the historical relationship between Britain and ‘Europe’ (45 minutes), the other about reaction in EU countries to Brexit and their views about the future of the EU (60 minutes) – was heavily dominated by Remain themes and Remain speakers.

The suspicion must be that The Brexit Lab had been devised and broadcast as a figleaf. Within days, it was being used by one of the corporation’s most senior editorial figures as ‘proof’ that its Brexit output is balanced. The reality is vastly different. Craig’s analysis above, plus News-watch reports that can be seen here, provide voluminous evidence that since the EU Referendum, the BBC has been engaged in an all-out war to undermine Brexit.

And even concerning March 29, which the BBC trumpeted as evidence of its ‘balance’, senior executives seem totally and even comically unaware that the reverse is true. The Brexit Lab was totally swamped by other negative programming. Whatever the reason, the pro-EU, anti-Brexit propaganda spews forth regardless.

 

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, Feedback, 20 April 2018, 4.30pm

ROGER BOLTON:  Hello is the BBC the (montage of voices) Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit (montage ends)  Broadcasting Corporation? We’re devoting most of this last programme of the present run to your criticisms of the BBC’s Brexit coverage. And respond to them we have a veritable galaxy of the Corporation’s frontline journalists and executives.

NICK ROBINSON:  I’m Nick Robinson presenter of the Today programme and formerly political editor of the BBC.

GAVIN ALLEN:      I’m Gavin Allen, controller of daily news programmes.

RIC BAILEY:          I’m Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser.

RB:         And arguably the most talked about BBC Radio programme of the year.

ACTOR PLAYING ENOCH POWELL?:  It’s like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.

UNNAMED SPEAKER:         When I read that actually they were going to play the whole speech, I was flabbergasted.

ROGER BOLTON:                Rivers of Blood. We hear from the man who commissioned that controversial documentary about Enoch Powell’s infamous speech. But we begin with Brexit. Almost two years ago, just under 52% of those who voted in the referendum said they wanted to leave the European Union. 48.1% voted to remain. The Kingdom is still bitterly divided. Time was when the vast majority of complaints to Feedback of Corporation bias came from the Leave side; in recent months though, in part due to a concerted online campaign, we have been receiving many more from Remainers who routinely refer to the BBC as the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation, accusing it of tamely towing the government line. Here’s a sample of some of those comments from both sides of the Brexit divide.

SUE KING:            I’m Sue King, and I’m from Herefordshire. I’m dissatisfied with and disillusioned by the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. In news and current affairs programmes I’m frequently aware of a pro-Brexit bias in subtle ways, particularly in the Today programme. Interviewers let misleading statements by Brexiteers  go unchallenged.

ANDY FRANKLIN: My name is Andy Franklin and I live in Suffolk. The problem as I see it now is that the BBC can deny biased against Brexit until it’s blue in the face, but just about everyone I’ve ever met who voted Leave has come to that conclusion in droves.  Even on the morning after the vote, the very first interview broadcast was some University Professor declaring that all the intelligentsia had voted Remain and all the thickos had voted Leave, a bias the BBC has been peddling ever since.

JONATHAN MILES:             I’m Jonathan Miles, and I’m from Woking.  Given just how important this issue, the BBC really has done little to educate the public on important aspects of how the EU works and hence what are the likely or possible consequences of leaving.

MARGARET O’CONNELL:    Margaret O’Connell.  In a democracy you accept the result and move on, it is over.

JULIAN GREEN:    Julian Green: ‘Why does the BBC always refer to ‘when’ the UK leaves the EU, when properly, it should be ‘if’ – the BBC are promoting a falsehood.

ROGER BOLTON:  Listening to those critical comments are Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programmes, and the Corporation’s former political editor, now Today presenter, Nick Robinson.  Could I start with you, Ric Bailey, and that point Margaret O’Connell makes, she says ‘It’s over, move on,’ and yet you also heard Julian Green say, ‘You’re talking about when we leave, it should be ‘if’.’ Should it be ‘if’?

RIC BAILEY:          I think you’ve got to look at the context of what you’re talking about.  There’s been a referendum, one side has one, both major parties have gone into a general election saying that they will put that referendum result into effect.  And, of course, it’s possible that all that may be reversed and the political reality may change, and so both ‘if’ and ‘when’, in different contexts might be entirely appropriate. It’s not for me to send out pieces of advice to individual journalists like Nick, telling them individual words they should and shouldn’t use.

ROGER BOLTON:  Alright Nick, would you use ‘when’ or ‘if’.

NR:         I’d use both. And I would use both.  The truth is, a decision was taken in the referendum.  The government is committed to the decision, the Labour Party is committed to that decision, there’s an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons who say that they voted for it, they voted for Article 50. But it is occasionally worth reminding people this could be overturned, if the public changes their mind, if there was a different vote in Parliament, but let’s not treat it as if . . . no one thinks that we’re going to leave in March 2019, that’s the overwhelming likelihood, but people who want something else to happen want is to try and say that.

ROGER BOLTON:  And Gavin Allen, when people use the expression, ‘The country has decided’, don’t you feel like saying, ‘Well has it?’ I mean, Scotland has decided they’d like to remain, Northern Ireland say it would like remain, Wales, yes, and England decided that they would like to leave, but to what extent can you say ‘the country has decided’?

GA:        I think you have to, you know, it was a UK-wide referendum, and it was 52-48 and we have to reflect that.  So, I think that . . . that’s not to say that we won’t hear views in Scotland, he views in Northern Ireland, across the English regions and Wales that are very different to the outcome of that referendum, but it’s no good pretending that, well, hold on, Peterborough voted this way, so you should reflect that in . . . so it wasn’t the country after all.

ROGER BOLTON:  Could I ask you Nick, do you think that there is a campaign against the BBC at the moment? Now, we’ve heard Lord Adonis talk about the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation, a number of people have used that phrase, we do seem to be receiving quite a number of emails that appear to be written for people, shall I put it in that way, is there a real active campaign going on to stop Britain getting out?

NR:         I don’t think there’s a campaign, there is a campaign, it’s clear there is. The very use of the hashtag #BrexitBroadcastingCorporation on social media is evidence of a campaign.  Now, people are entitled to campaign, we get campaigns all the time, only the . . . about a year ago, there was a campaign by Leavers to say that the BBC was biased, there was a complaint about my questioning. We get campaigns all the time, but let’s not be in any doubt that when people start using the same words and the same critique, they’re trying to put pressure on us. Now, it doesn’t mean that the things we heard in your introduction from listeners aren’t genuine, a lot of people feel really, really angry about this, they hope that the country will change its mind, and they’re entitled to do that, but we’re also entitled to . . . to say, as I have in number of recent articles, we know what’s going on here, there’s an attempt to try to shift us.

GA:        But it’s important as well, it doesn’t mean that we dismiss – and I know Nick’s not saying this either – we don’t dismiss the campaign, so the fact that it is a campaign, the fact that we can recognise it as such, doesn’t mean there won’t be sometimes perfectly legitimate points they raise that make us stop and think, well, actually . . . we do need to tweak our coverage on that element, or do need to give a bit more to this, that we’ve underplayed.

ROGER BOLTON:  Can I just finish this section, Nick, by asking you, if you’re optimistic, you see the opportunities that the Brexit gives us, if you’re pessimistic, you see all the problems that exist in trying to change our arrangements.  Of course, it’s easier for journalists to look at the pessimistic side. When you’re trying to deal with the opportunities, that’s more difficult to construct a discussion about, do you think that’s a problem that you have?

NR:         Well, it’s undoubtedly a challenge, I think that’s absolutely right, and the key therefore is to hear from people who can, as it were, see it optimistically.  That’s why you will occasionally get a Dyson on, for example, James Dyson who’s in favour of leave, or the boss of Wetherspoon’s, we will have him on because he is able to say, ‘This is how I see it’, now the difficulty for listeners who are Remainers then they go, ‘Well why is he saying that, why isn’t he challenged?’ Well, we have them on in order precisely to say that there is another way of looking at this to the way that you do . . .

RIC BAILEY:          But there was an entire programme . . .

NR:         The problem with predictions, Roger, there is in truth, you can’t prove a fact . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  It’s not factual, it’s not factual.

NR:         . . . about someone’s vision of the future. You can’t do it.  It’s not that the BBC isn’t robust enough to do it, you can’t.

ROGER BOLTON:  Ric?

RIC BAILEY:          And incidentally, there was an entire half-hour programme which Iain Martin did on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, precisely on that point about the opportunities Brexit, so they are there, and we are, you know, it’s an active part of our journalism.

ROGER BOLTON:  Ric Bailey, Nick Robinson and Gavin Allen, thanks for the moment. A little later will be digging deep into the whole issue of balance and due impartiality.

Moves on to discuss Enoch Powell programme.

ROGER BOLTON:  And now back to . . .

MONTAGE OF VOICES:       Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

ROGER BOLTON:  Still with me in the studio is Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programs, and the Corporation’s former political editor, now Today presenter, Nick Robinson.  Now, we’ve already touched on issues of impartiality with respect to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit.  Although it might sound like a contradiction in terms, if Feedback listeners are anything to go by, balance and impartiality are in the eye of the beholder.

JOHN NEWSON:   John Newson.  I do hear BBC Radio 4 broadcasting as the voice of Remain, giving others a daily diet of scary stories about how Brexit will harm Britain.  This doesn’t seem very factually based, because Brexit has not happened yet.

FERN HANSON:    This is Fern Hanson from Woking. The audience would be much better informed of the facts around Brexit if the BBC moved away from a political balance towards facts balance. In pursuit of a fact balance it should be noted that there is a huge consensus amongst professional economists regarding the negative economic effect of Brexit.  I have never witnessed the BBC demonstrate this disparity in analysis.  Each side get equal prominence and time programmes.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, let me take up Fern Hanson’s point, with Ric Bailey. Should you move towards a facts balance, rather than a political balance?  Is that possible?

RIC BAILEY:          Well, facts are just there to be reported, you don’t balance facts, you have fax and you say what they are.  One of the issues with Brexit is that a lot of this is looking forward, it’s about trying to work out what is going to happen, which, by definition is often speculative or it’s something where different people have different views, they are in the end judgements. So you’re not balancing facts as such.  Balance is something which, during the referendum there was a binary choice, between Remain and Leave, and we were very careful to make sure that we heard from both sides, not necessarily equally, but we did represent facts in the sense of saying, ‘Look, the balance of opinion amongst big business is this – but there are other voices’, since then, that binary choice has gone away, because we now have impartiality in the sense of trying to make sure that all those different perspectives . . . is Theresa May now a Remainer or is a Leaver, of course, she is the person who is actually putting into effect that choice. So that idea that there is now a simple choice between Remain and Leave is no longer there.

ROGER BOLTON:  But haven’t you put it too simply yourself, because the people voted to Leave, they didn’t vote on the destination, and there is an argument, which one keeps hearing, ‘Why wasn’t the BBC exploring the destinations,’ because people voted, if you like, to jump, but not know what we were going to jump to?

RIC BAILEY:          I think it would be hard to say that we haven’t been doing that.  We’ve been giving a huge amount of coverage to Brexit and to the negotiations and to all the different possibilities.  I think we are doing that, Roger, actually.

GA:        We’ve also talked, we’ve also talked about Canada+++ as an option, or Norway the model, or the Swiss model, I think we are looking at lots of different ranges of outcomes for this.  And also just . . . I think one of the dangers as well, of balance of facts, as if, if only everyone had the core facts they would make the ‘correct’, in inverted commas, decision and we would all agree on it, it does ignore the fact that in the referendum, in any election, there is visceral emotion as well, there are things that are not to do with facts, or that you don’t even hear the facts that you disagree with, it’s a blend of these things.

ROGER BOLTON:  Nick, can I bring up an article you wrote for the New Statesman recently, stressing the importance of impartiality, in part in response to an earlier article by the LBC and, at one time, occasional Newsnight presenter, James O’Brien, where he was arguing that media impartiality is a problem, when ignorance is given the same weight as expertise.

NR:         The assertion made by your listener is that if only people knew the facts, we’d know, the assertion made by James O’Brien is that, you know, look, don’t put on someone who is ignorant.  Who decides this?  Who is this person who drops down from the skies and says, ‘This is true, and this is not’ . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  Well . . .

NR:         Now, in certain cases it can be, Roger . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  Well it can be known about climate change . . .

NR:         No.

RB:         . . . and for example we see a case reported last week, where Ofcom said that one of your fellow presenters didn’t actually do what he should have done which is to say Nigel Lawson was factually wrong about something he claims.  So, people also want to know are you prepared to do that and,  actually, are you prepared to do that about Brexit?

NR:         (speaking over) Goodness, yes. And, and . . . yeah.

RB:         (speaking over) And are you sufficiently well informed, do you think?

NR:         Not only, not only do we want to do that, but the BBC apologised for not doing that in that particular case. Here’s the point though, it won’t often apply to things that passionate Remainers and passionate Leavers see in their own minds as a fact, but in fact are a judgement or a prediction, or an instinct or an emotion.  The BBC’s job is to hear from people who have unfashionable views, and where possible we should always challenge them and if we don’t get it right, and of course we won’t always get it right, you know, I’m here, I got up at 3:30 in the morning, I’ve done about 10 subjects already, occasionally you will make mistakes, then we explain why we didn’t get it right.  But it’s not a conspiracy.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, I’ll just, if I may, wrap up this discussion by asking you to stand back a little bit and just reflect on what you’ve learned over the past 2 to 3 years.  And one of the things that’s struck me very much is the amount of anger out there, and people irritated, fearing that you, all of us around this table are out of touch and have ignored them.  Nick Robinson, does any of that, across to you?

NR:         Oh yeah, you can’t help but listen to the views that we’ve heard on this programme and think, there are people deeply, deeply frustrated and anger . . . angry about it. And I . . . what I take away from this, why I wanted to appear, I could keep my head down and just do my normal interviews is, we think about this, we agonise about it, we debate much more than people often think, and why do I know this is true? Not because I’m virtuous about it, anybody who comes to the BBC from papers, anybody who comes from commercial telly, where I’ve worked, goes, ‘Boy, you spend a lot of time worrying about this’.  I would urge listeners one thing though: we do it with the best of intentions.  Not that we get it right, we don’t always get it right, we sometimes get it wrong but if you complain with some sense that there is a conspiracy, people will tend to put their fingers in their ears, and go, ‘You know what, we know there isn’t.’ If you say, ‘We just don’t think you’re getting this quite right, you’re not reflecting us’, you will be listened to.

ROGER BOLTON:  Gavin Allen, have you changed anything as a result of the last 2 or 3 years, in the way you approach the programs and what you’ve told your producers and your reporters?

GA:        Well actually, funnily enough, one thing, sort of picks up on what Nick’s just said, which is behind-the-scenes, we have all these discussions, endless debates, and one of the things I do think the BBC is probably quite bad at showing our workings.  I think we can’t plead that we are really battling this every day, we’re having long debates, editorial policy discussions, really self-analysing everything we do, and then not come onto a program like this.  I think there’s also, the other thing I’ve learnt I guess, it’s not that we don’t do this, there is a bit of a default in journalism, not just the BBC, in journalism of ‘where’s it gone wrong, who can we get?’ rather than actually people are desperate for an explanation of just what is happening, just explain it to us.  And I do think that we could do more on that as well, as well as the politics of what’s going wrong, on both sides.

ROGER BOLTON:  And Ric Bailey, final word from you? A BBC boss in the past once said, ‘When the country is divided, the BBC is on the rack’, are you actually enjoying being on the rack?

GA:        (laughs) We’re enjoying Rick being on the rack.

RIC BAILEY:          ‘Enjoy’ is probably not the word I’d pick out. Erm, but I think it’s true that when you have something as polarised as a referendum, that it does divide opinion in a way which is different from other sorts of elections, I think people understand what impartiality means when they’re talking about normal politics, and the Conservatives and Labour and government and opposition.  I think what happens in a referendum when you are literally given the choice between X and Y, is that people find it really difficult not just to understand that other people have a different view, but they are entitled to put it, the BBC should be there to do it, and the BBC should scrutinise that very clearly.  And I suppose the last point about that is, accepting completely what Gavin says about we should concede when we get it wrong, and Nick has said that as well, and we should be analysing this and making sure we’re getting it right. We also sometimes need to be really robust against that sort of political pressure, and by that I don’t just mean the parties or the government, but I mean campaigns who are trying to influence us because they know that on the whole, people trust BBC, that’s why they want us to change what we’re saying.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for, my thanks to Rick Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Nick Robinson from the today programme who’s been up since 3.30, and Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programmes.

BBC assault on Brexit prospects continues

BBC assault on Brexit prospects continues

The third series of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed’ was broadcast on five consecutive days between 19 February and 23 February, 2018. Each programme was 12 minutes long and was presented by the BBC’s EU ‘Reality Check’ reporter, Chris Morris.

Each edition dealt with the projected impact of Brexit and there were five separate themes: the UK pharmaceuticals sector, food and agriculture, the future of British Overseas Territories (the featured ones were Gibraltar and Anguilla), the regions of the UK outside London, and the so-called ‘transitional phase’ after March 2019.

It was projected as an objective examination of the issues of Brexit, but it was not. Instead, Chris Morris and the programme team assembled and edited a range of contributions which were overwhelmingly biased against Brexit and pro-EU in their outlook.

There were 46 speakers in total but 22 made very short contributions, often as part of montage sequences, amounting to 285 words in total, and equating to just 3 per cent of the overall programme airtime.

The ‘meat’ of the programme was delivered by the 24 main interviewees who provided longer contributions.  This group accounted for 48 per cent of the total airtime. 18 of the 24 were pro-EU/anti-Brexit; only three were anti-EU/pro-Brexit; two contributors made points both for and against; and one was neutral.  The imbalance was startling. The 18 who made negative points on Brexit delivered 3,824 words (76 percent of words spoken by guests in this category), those speaking positively 352 words (seven per cent), and mixed/neutral speakers 838 words (17 per cent). The anti-Brexit to pro-Brexit word count ratio was thus almost 11 to one. The ratio of pro-EU to anti-EU speakers in this category was 6:1.

Bias in broadcasting, of course, is not measured by metrics alone, but such calculations are held in academic methodology to be a reliable pointer to its existence. Transcript analysis confirms that the negativity from these contributors against Brexit was very strong. At  a headline level, it included predictions of serious problems in the regulatory regime governing the pharmaceuticals sector and huge delays in Britain being able to use pioneering medical drugs; the danger of food price rises of up to 46 per cent; the sovereignty of Gibraltar and the economic well-being of both Gibraltar and Anguilla coming under unprecedented attack; the West Midlands, as the chosen main example of a region of the UK, facing serious threats to its prosperity; and a transition period likened to walking the plank, with the likelihood of a UK ruled by the EU without any say.

The pessimism was heavily compounded by the comments and opinions of Chris Morris, who spoke 49 per cent of the words across the five programmes.  His positive points are detailed in Part Two and were a very minor part of the programmes. Mostly, Mr Morris amplified the negativity of those gloomy about the impact of Brexit, and he strongly challenged or cut short those who made positive points. His primary intent seemed to echo the ‘walking the plank’ metaphor introduced in the final programme.

Mr Morris did not tell listeners in his introductions and commentary that some of the key contributors who were negative about Brexit had clear pro-EU views and had been campaigners for Remain since before the EU Referendum.  One, Professor of Law Catherine Barnard, held the Jean Monnet chair at Cambridge, and was thus at least partly paid for by the EU.

This boils down to that BBC ‘Reality Checking’ is a complete misnomer. In this series, the BBC seemed intent to cram into 60 minutes as many potential problems about Brexit as it could, with only a fig-leaf acknowledgement of the belief that it presents the UK with vibrant new opportunities.

The full report is available here:

Civitas paper lays bare 18 years of BBC anti Brexit bias

Civitas paper lays bare 18 years of BBC anti Brexit bias

Readers of this site will need little persuading that the BBC’s coverage of Brexit is biased. The Corporation vehemently denies it of course, but since the referendum vote, they have been seemingly on an all-out mission to find every reason why leaving the EU is disastrous for the UK – and to avoid reporting the benefits.

Hillary Clinton, on a book plugging visit to London, claims the Brexit result was based on a ‘big lie’? Immediately it’s a BBC headline.  Wages aren’t rising in pace with the cost of living? Another ‘hold the front page’ moment ‘because of Brexit uncertainty’.

What is surprising, however, is the sheer scale of the Corporation’s failure to meet its Charter requirement of impartiality.  A paper by News-watch published today (January 26) by Civitas, based on a collation of research conducted into the BBC’s EU coverage over the past 18 years, chronicles the immense problems for the first time.

The report, The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation? – How pro-Brexit views have been marginalised in the BBC’s news coverage, can be read in full here: http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/brusselsbroadcastingcorporation.pdf

The paper also demonstrates that the Corporation’s complaints process is not for purpose. It is a self-serving mechanism for kicking impartiality issues into touch rather than dealing with them honestly, independently and robustly. The only remedy, it is argued, may be a judicial review or a public inquiry.

News-watch has been monitoring BBC output since the European Parliamentary elections in 1999. This work is based on rigorous academic principles followed by university media schools around the world. There are 38 reports covering hundreds of hours of EU output and 8,000 programme transcripts, and it is believed to be the largest systematic study of the media ever undertaken.

The key findings, which show that supporters of withdrawal from across the political spectrum have been severely under-presented, include:

  • Of 4,275 survey-period guests talking about the EU on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
  • 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, and they spoke only 1,680 words.
  • In the same period, Tory pro-EU grandees Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine made between them 28 appearances, with contributions totalling 11,208 words – over nine times the amount of airtime allocated to all left-wing supporters of Brexit.
  • In Today’s business news covering the six months after the EU referendum, only 10 (2.9 per cent) of 366 speaker contributions were from supporters of withdrawal from the EU. http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/News-watch-Business-News-Survey-.pdf
  • More recently, in October-November last year, of 68 non politically allied speakers in the Brexit-related coverage on on Today, 52 were anti-Brexit or pro-EU, and only 16 were pro-Brexit or anti-EU, an imbalance of worse than 3:1 – despite the Leave vote.

Of course, measuring bias is not solely about numbers. They are one factor among many in News-watch assessment methodology. http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/News-watch-Methodology.pdf

The News-watch reports also include detailed textual analysis which confirms that these blatant numerical imbalances are indicators of across-the-board bias against EU withdrawal.

Equally as disturbing is the BBC’s attitude towards this work. Over most of the 18 years, successive figures from the senior hierarchy have refused point blank to even consider the News-watch work. The one exception, in 2007, was a travesty http://news-watch.co.uk/today-programme-survey-and-response-to-bbc-independent-advisors-findings-winter-2007/

The Corporation’s stone-wall excuse boils to that they are the wrong kind of complaint because the internal BBC process deals only with issues arising from single programme editions.

The most recent dismissal of a News-watch report – about coverage of the EU and Brexit issues in  last year’s General Election http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/News-watch-2017-General-Election-Report-1.pdf – was derisory. Without providing any evidence, the BBC press office claimed that it ‘would not pass basic academic scrutiny’. The speed and content of their response suggested that they could not have properly read it http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/22/bbc-invited-third-pro-eu-eurosceptic-speakers-appear-election/.

Another key point in the equation is what the BBC have not covered in the Brexit terrain. The News-watch work has been championed in Parliament by a cross-party group of MPs which includes Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins from Labour, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone from the Conservatives and Ian Paisley from the DUP.

Sir David Clementi, the BBC Chairman and his predecessors, and Lord Hall, the Director General of the BBC, have refused to meet the group to discuss the bias issues – and have been unable to supply to it a single BBC programme since the referendum which has examined the opportunities of Brexit.

News-watch has been scouring the schedules to spot one – but in vain.

 

 

 

Photo by Ashley Pollak

Ofcom Ruling: BBC1 Question Time’s alleged pro-Remain bias

Ofcom Ruling: BBC1 Question Time’s alleged pro-Remain bias

A central part of the New BBC Charter is that appeals about complaints are now handled not by the BBC itself, but Ofcom, the independent sector media regulator.

This change – recommended in a report to the former culture secretary John Whittingdale by Sir David Clementi, who has since become BBC chairman – was trumpeted as a way of ensuring independence of outlook and greater fairness in the complaints process.

So how is this panning out? Well, it has taken nine months for what seems to be the first BBC-based complaint to find its way through to the Ofcom Content Board.

The complaint was submitted by Gavin Hunt, an avid viewer of BBC1’s Question Time, who tracked the 25 editions of the programme in the series running from January 2017, and found that 22 had panels which contained a majority of EU Remainers. This, he claimed, showed significant bias against the Leave case.

The Ofcom response is contained in a five-page letter which can be read here.

They based their findings on only two of the editions of the programme. This was because the Content Board thought it would not be ‘proportionate’ to examine all 25. Instead they picked the two programmes which had five Remainers and no supporters of Leave.

One of these, the Board decided, was irrelevant to the complaint because it was broadcast from Salford soon after the Manchester Arena bombing, and there was no EU-related content.

Thus their inquiry was into the edition – from Oxford – broadcast on April 27, the panel on which was Damian Green (then Work and Pensions Secretary), Clive Lewis, the shadow Defence Secretary, Jo Swinson, the former Liberal Democrat MP, Stephen Gethins of the SNP, and Camilla Cavendish, a non-affiliated peer who was an adviser of David Cameron.

Two questions posed during the edition were deemed by Ofcom to be relevant to the complaint:

Has the General Election been called for the benefit of the Conservative Party and not the country?

Is tactical voting undemocratic or a way to prevent Hard Brexit?   

The conclusion? A key passage of the Ofcom letter relating to panel composition said:

…we considered that there were also views expressed which could be described as supporting Brexit in some form, or otherwise challenging the Remain position. For example, Damian Green disagreed with various statements that were supportive of a Remain position. He said most people had not changed their mind since voting in the 2016 EU Referendum (“the referendum”), and although he was part of the referendum campaign for Remain, he respected democracy and the referendum outcome. He also: rebuked Tim Farron for saying the Liberal Democrats would frustrate the Parliamentary process for introducing Brexit; stated a strong and stable government would get a good Brexit deal; the referendum outcome ruled out membership of the Single Market and being subject to the European Court of Justice; and argued that Brexit had to mean more control over immigration and our budget. We considered that these were views that could be reasonably described as supporting what may be termed a form of “Hard Brexit”.

The second key element of the Ofcom finding related to David Dimbleby’s handling of balance issues, The Content Board letter said:

There are a range of editorial techniques that broadcasters can use to preserve due impartiality. In the case of Question Time, the role of the presenter, David Dimbleby, is crucial. In our view, and as evidenced in the Oxford and Salford programmes, Mr Dimbleby consistently provides critical challenge to panellists’ stated positions, summarises with due objectivity and, where necessary, offers alternative viewpoints. Panellists themselves also challenge viewpoints put forward by their fellow panellists. Alternative viewpoints are also expressed by audience members, who are given the opportunity to challenge statements made by panellists.

In essence, therefore, they turned the complaint down, basically on the ground that first, Damian Green expressed the Hard Brexit perspective, and also because, in Ofcom’s judgment, host David Dimbleby ensured that debate was marshalled fairly and impartially.

Was this ruling robust, independent and fair?  Eyebrows might be raised by that Ofcom only looked in detail at one of 25 programmes, and considered that Damian Green’s remarks added up to an expression of support for a ‘Hard Brexit’ perspective, especially as Mr Green is on record as not supporting it.  Some would also wonder how on the basis of only two programmes out of 25 – one of which contained nothing of EU coverage, the subject of the complaint – the Content Board were sure that David Dimbleby’s handling of his ringmaster’s role was always as balanced as they decided.