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David Keighley

Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

One interview sequence is rarely definitive proof of BBC bias. But a recent Today feature about the private member’s bill to commit to a referendum about membership of the EU comes very close to it – and it has now become the subject of a complaint to the BBC.

The interview sequence in question, broadcast on January 10, also underlines vividly what Newswatch surveys repeatedly show: that editors and interviewers give most space to those who want closer ties to the EU and sideline, limit or disrespect the arguments of those who do not.

Update: Lord Pearson of Rannoch and the MPs Philip Hollobone (Conservative) and Kate Hoey (Labour), have lodged a formal complaint about the feature on the ground that it was ‘a striking piece of BBC bias at a crucial time in the debate about the EU referendum’. The full correspondence on the matter can be seen here.

At 8.10am, in the front page slot, Evan Davis interviewed Michael Dobbs – the Conservative peer guiding the private member’s bill through the House of Lords – and Peter Mandelson, the former Labour minister and spin doctor who, it transpires, believes that a referendum should not be held because it would be ‘a lottery’.

Both men were actually on air for about the same time. But the way they were treated was emphatically noteven-handed. One crude measure is that Lord Dobbs had just 250 words to put his case across, while Lord Mandelson had more than 750 to elaborate his anti-bill arguments. The difference in treatment went much deeper, in that Evan Davis allowed in some depth (without interruption) Lord Mandelson’s attack, both on the need for the bill and the reasons why advocates were supporting it.

But I leave you to decide for yourself why – the full transcript is below.

What leaps out is that Lord Dobbs was asked primarily about how he would vote over the bill and whether the measure was a waste of time on the ground that it would be the next Parliament that actually decided the matter. In consequence, he had only two short opportunities to explain why he was introducing the legislation.

After a brief initial question to Lord Dobbs about why he supported the bill, Mr. Davis quickly moved on to what was clearly his main focus – how Lord Dobbs would vote and whether the measure was a waste of time because it would be the next Parliament that determined whether the referendum would actually be held. Lord Dobbs managed to deliver only 250 words (about 95 seconds) about the reasoning (essentially that it was about giving people choice) behind the bill. His argument was heavily curtailed by Evan Davis’s interventions in which he put instead the points about how Lord Dobbs would vote.

By contrast, it was clear from the start that Evan Davis wanted Lord Mandelson to have space to put across his detailed reasoning why the bill was essentially ill-conceived, was Political grandstanding, and was a waste of Parliamentary time. In the end, he was afforded the opportunity to deliver three lengthy sequences amounting to more than 750 words in which he advanced his case that the bill was primarily designed to try defuse the UKIP threat.

On the face of it, elements Mr Davis’s approach to Lord Mandelson were adversarial, in that he suggested that the pro-EU case was not being put very well. But on closer analysis, his questioning actually delivered a framework for Lord Mandelson to plough on expansively with his substantive points. It seems clear, too, that Mr Davis had no desire or intention to interrupt in any significant way. For example, when Lord Mandelson, made the sweeping and politically partisan claim that the bill was grandstanding and playing to the UKIP gallery, why did not Mr Davis intervene to suggest that UKIP actually had popular support and this might instead be seen as something that aimed to give British people (as Lord Dobbs had suggested) a definite opportunity to express their opinions?

This all adds up to a striking example of BBC bias at a crucial moment in the debate about a referendum. And it fits closely with the longer-term and more detailed analysis by Newswatch, which shows consistently that those in favour of the EU almost invariably get the most space and most favourable framework to advance their views.

Full radio transcript here
Photo by Nicholas Smale

Immigration: Anything but the truth.

BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson has announced that the BBC was once – at an unspecified period in the past – biased in its reporting of immigration issues.
He is reported as saying (in connection with pre-publicity for a programme he has made) that the corporation made a ‘terrible mistake’ in not reflecting the public’s concerns about the numbers and issues involved.
Mr Robinson’s mea culpa resonates closely with a similar confession by former director general Mark Thompson. In July 2011, he conceded that ‘taboo’ subjects such as immigration were avoided by the BBC for fear of its appearing too right wing. He said:
“I think there were some years when the BBC, like the rest of the UK media, was very reticent about talking about immigration. There was an anxiety whether or not you might be playing into a political agenda about immigration.”
What’s striking about these BBC admissions about bias in the reporting of immigration issues, however, is they are almost laughably predictable in substance and form.
It’s a routine BBC reaction to criticism that the corporation admits to problems in the past, but then says with total self-conviction (but no objective evidence) that those errors have
now been totally righted.
Then they hire someone from a BBC background and with close connections with the BBC Trustees – such as Stuart Prebble with his recent report into coverage of immigration, the EU and religion – to agree with them.
The evidence of past bias in the coverage of immigration is abundant. In 2004, for example, Newswatch compiled a report based on three months’ output from seven flagship news programmes for Sir Andrew Green’s group Migration Watch that revealed devastating shortcomings, especially with regard to the failure to reflect public concern and in the relentless thrust to portray those who opposed Labour’s immigration policies as xenophobicand racist.
More recently, the think thank The New Culture Forum produced an equally comprehensive report on the topic that revealed in both the past and the present, the corporation was not reflecting properly public concern. Among its conclusions are:
“It would be no exaggeration to say that a foreigner who subscribed only to the BBC might visit this country and be blissfully unaware of many of the social problems associated with immigration. These have never appeared in the national conversation and are instead whispered of in the shadows. This cannot be healthy.”
Nick Robinson says that these failings have been rectified. They have not. Evidence is easy to find. On November 5, the Today programme gave acres of space in bulletins and the main body of the programme to a report by two academics from University College London, in their survey claimed that EU immigrants had made ‘a particularly positive contribution to the public purse’. The editorial goal in giving the item such prominence was clearly to undermine those who are worried about the more negative effects of immigration.
Danny Shaw, the BBC’s home affairs editor, declared:
“I’ve looked back to see what other similar pieces of research have been done, and this does appear to be the most thorough analysis of its kind.”
On that basis, the report’s authors were interviewed and Justin Webb said in the intro:
“People who come to live in Britain make a substantial contribution to the public finances – they make us richer than we would otherwise be. So says the Centre for Research and
Analysis of Migration at University College London. They’ve been studying the figures in some considerable detail.”
Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch was included in the sequence – ostensibly to give balance – but the set-up and the questioning was undoubtedly designed to allow the
authors to amplify their claim that fears about immigration were unfounded. The effects, despite what public opinion believed, were positive.
What Danny Shore omitted to say – and the BBC has subsequently failed to report – is that even the most cursory analysis of the UCL survey shows that – to put it mildly – the statistical evidence in question was totally unreliable. Who says so? The Civitas think-tank commissioned emeritus professor of statistics at UCL Mervyn Stone to examine the findings. His conclusion?
“Most of the underlying crude assumptions that the all-embracing approach has been obliged to make have not been subject to sensitivity tests that have might been made if the
study had not been so obviously driven to make the case it claims to have made.”
Ouch! In other words, the BBC as recently as November shouted from the rooftops the findings of a report about the positive effects of immigration that the most rudimentary of checks would have shown to be highly suspect.
Danny Shore, the home affairs editor who is paid vast amounts to ensure that what gets to air is accurate, endorsed a report ‘ as the most thorough analysis of its kind’ when it was anything but.
 If, as Nick Robinson maintains, the BBC is no longer biased in their quest to hide and manipulate the truth about immigration – how could this be the case?
DYKE: ‘BBC should be regulated by OFCOM’

DYKE: ‘BBC should be regulated by OFCOM’

The vultures are circling increasingly around Lord Patten, who has been savaged – and is still under fire – for his handling of a series of problems, including the Savile inquiry and the House of Commons’ prolonged investigation into excessive pay-offs to senior executives.
Latest to join in the attack on the BBC chairman is Greg Dyke, the former BBC director general who was forced to resign in 2004 because he handled the corporation’s response to the Andrew Gilligan-Hutton inquiry ineptly.
It was alleged that instead of being on top of the journalism, and understanding where it had gone wrong, he thought – as those at the BBC so often do – that he could bluster his way through theissues of journalistic integrity that were raised, and rely on the stock BBC response of ‘we know we are right, because what we do is (almost) always right’.
Noticeably, Mr Dyke chose as platform for his ‘Patten is a busted flush’ attack on the BBC’s favourite newspaper, the Guardian.
Noticeably, too, Mr Dyke has called – in effect – for the BBC Trustees to be dissolved, a chairman appointed and future regulation (from the start of the new BBC Charter in 2016) to be allocated to Ofcom.
But would that solve any of the BBC’s problems? The core issue, as News-watch research has repeatedly shown, is that its journalism is not at all ‘independent’, or impartial, but dominated by left of centre thinking. Institutionally, it cannot see this, and refuses obstinately and systematically to countenance otherwise. Or to even discuss the issue, as the Commons EU scrutiny committee has found.
At the same time, Ofcom – a giant Quango set up by the last Labour government that costs £130m a year to run – has been accused by MPs such as Philip Davies of being dominated by bureaucrats who are drawn from exactly the same liberal-left mould as the current BBC Trustees (including Lord Patten). It is headed by Labour-supporter and placeman Ed Richards. Greg Dyke – who himself is a declared left-of-centre activist who supports both the LibDems and Labour – knows this. Perhaps that is why he wants Ofcom to take over.
In reality, it wouldn’t alter a thing about BBC journalism, but would make its control even more bureaucratic and immune from criticism.

 

BBC Trust ‘Failed a Primary Duty’

The Commons public accounts committee has questioned whether the BBC’s governance model is fit for purpose in a damning indictment of its handling of severance payments to 150 senior managers.
The committee’s chairman, Margaret Hodge, said its investigations into the pay offs – which included cross-examination of BBC chairman Lord Patten and director general Lord Hall – had uncovered a culture of cronyism that allowed the liberal use of licence fee payers’ money. This had led to 22 of the 150 payments exceeding contractual limits.
And MPs have also raised questions whether some of the eight BBC staff who gave evidence to the committee may have deliberately misled their inquiry.
The Daily Mail reported that Tory committee member Steve Barclay was angry that Mrs Hodge had watered down elements of the findings and in particular that it had failed to criticise BBC chairman Lord Patten for refusing to name all of the BBC staff who had received pay offs.
These are the full conclusions and recommendations of the committee:
1.  As part of its efforts to cut costs, the BBC has significantly reduced the number of senior managers it employs, from 624 in March 2010 to 445 in March 2013. In the course of our inquiry into the departure of the BBC’s former Director General, George Entwistle, we became increasingly concerned about the scale of severance pay for departing senior BBC managers. We therefore asked the National Audit Office to carry out a review of severance payments. The National Audit Office found that in the three years to December 2012, the
BBC gave 150 senior managers severance payments totalling £25 million.
2.  It is unacceptable for the BBC, or any other public body, to give departing senior managers huge severance payments that far exceed their contractual entitlements. The BBC paid more salary in lieu of notice than it was obliged to in 22 of the 150 severance payments for senior managers in the three years to December 2012, at a cost of £1.4 million. Some of the justifications put forward by the BBC were extraordinary. For example, the former Director General, Mark Thompson, claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy
and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford ”fully focused’ instead of “taking calls from head hunters”. This increased Mr Byford’s severance payment to more than £1 million. Recommendation: The BBC should ensure that severance payments do not exceed what is absolutely necessary.
3.  There was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people’s money. We were not able to account for every case in which a manager who approved a settlement in excess of contract entitlement themselves later benefitted from a similar arrangement. We believe this contributed to the prevailing culture at the top of the BBC whereby giving inflated severance payments to departing managers was an acceptable way of cutting senior manager numbers and salary costs. We share the view of the BBC’s Director General, Lord Hall, that the BBC had “lost the plot” in its management of severance payments in recent years. We welcome the changes that he has made to cap severance pay.Recommendation: The BBC should remind its staff that they are all individually responsible for protecting public money and challenging wasteful practices.
4.  The checks that the BBC Executive applied to severance pay for senior managers were totally inadequate. The non-executives who sat on the BBC’s Executive Board Remuneration Committee failed to provide an effective check on severance pay for the BBC’s most senior staff. In turn, the Executive failed to exercise sufficient oversight of the 40 BBC staff involved in authorising severance payments to departing senior managers. For example, senior BBC executives were seemingly unaware, until it was brought to their attention by the National Audit Office, that one departing manager received £141,000 more than their contractual entitlement. Responsibility and accountability must be clearly defined and transparent, not only at senior levels but across the organisation, to satisfy the licence fee payer that public money is being used appropriately.Recommendation: To protect licence fee payers’ interests and its own reputation, the BBC should establish internal procedures that provide clear central oversight and effective scrutiny of severance payments.
5.  It beggars belief that the BBC Trust could not locate key documents about the most significant restructuring in recent years of the BBC’s Board and the associated severance payments. These documents, which included proposed payments to the BBC’s former Deputy Director General, Mark Byford, came to light after the BBC Trust Unit had concluded it held no such documents. The documentary evidence also suggests that the BBC wrote to Mr Byford to confirm his severance terms before these terms had been approved by the
Executive Board Remuneration Committee. Poor documentary records contributed to the confusion and lack of transparency about what had been proposed, discussed and approved. Recommendation: The BBC Executive and the BBC Trust need to overhaul the way they conduct their business, and record and communicate decisions properly.
6.  By choosing not to challenge very large individual severance payments, the BBC Trust and its officials failed to fulfil one of its primary duties, which is to ensure the rigorous stewardship of public money. The BBC Trust approves the strategy for executive remuneration but does not examine its implementation in detail. The witnesses from the BBC Trust told us that they do not question individual payments as they are operational decisions for which the BBC Executive Remuneration Committee is responsible. In our view, this is too narrow an interpretation of the BBC’s Trust’s responsibilities. Recommendation: Given its overarching responsibility for the stewardship of public money, the BBC Trust should be more willing to challenge practices and decisions where there is a risk that the interests of licence fee payers could be compromised.
7.  Our examination of severance payments exposed a dysfunctional relationship between the BBC Executive and the BBC Trust that casts doubt on the effectiveness of the BBC’s governance model. The unedifying disagreements between witnesses and the conflicting accounts of what was disclosed about individual severance payments are symptomatic of a wider breakdown in the relationship between the BBC Trust and the Executive. At present the governance model is broken. The Trust and the Executive have a limited amount of
time to demonstrate that the current governance model can be made to work. Recommendation: The BBC Trust and the BBC Executive need to ensure that decision-making is transparent and accountability taken seriously, based on a shared understanding of value for money, with tangible evidence of individuals taking public responsibility for their decisions.
Liddle: Patten ‘ordered to give EU coverage evidence’

Liddle: Patten ‘ordered to give EU coverage evidence’

Former BBC R4 Today editor Rod Liddle has noted that speaker John Bercow has ordered BBC Chairman Lord Patten to give evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee
about the corporation’s EU coverage.
Liddle picked up in his Sunday Times column that Mr Bercow – responding to a question from Labour eurosceptic Kate Hoey – stated:
“I must say that anybody who is invited to appear before a Committee of this House should do so. No one, however senior, should imagine him or herself above such scrutiny. That is a very important principle.”
Andrew Lansley, leader of the House noted:
“I am aware of what the hon. Lady is talking about. I note from Lord Patten’s correspondence with the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee that he expressly did not rely on the fact that he is a Member of the House of Lords in this regard. I will have conversations with the Committee’s Chair and the BBC on the matter, because there is a difference between independence for the BBC, which we absolutely must respect, and accountability, which should enable this House to ask reasonable questions.”
Mr Liddle, in his column, asserted:
“It (Lord Patten’s response) will be interesting because there is not a single British public figure I can think of – not even Ken Clarke, not even Tony Blair – who was more in thrall to the EU than Fatty Pang (the Chinese nickname for Lord Patten when he was governor of Hong Kong). And it will be interesting, too, because the corporation’s director general until September last year , Mark Thompson, accepted there had been a bias against those of eurosceptic…viewpoints.
“It is par for the course for departing DGs to announce airily that the BBC did exhibit bias on one issue or another , terribly sad, hopefully everything’s tickety-boo now, and so on….But the joy of having Lord Patten appear before a committee is that he will be forced to justify a current bias; forced to defend the corporation’s viewpoint – which was once expressed to me – is that those who oppose the EU are ‘all mad’.”
Lord Patten’s response to the EU Scrutiny Committee is here. 
The full chain of correspondence between Lord Patten and the committee is here.
News-watch evidence about the BBC response to the European committee includes this.

Photo by Nanagyei

BBC Chairman ‘disgracefully’ stonewalls EU Scrutiny Committee

BBC Chairman Lord Patten has refused to give evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee about the BBC’s coverage of EU affairs.
His refusal follows an earlier Scrutiny Committee hearing in which Newswatch gave evidence that the BBC was failing in its Charter duty to report EU affairs to an extent that allowed audiences to understand properly the issues involved.
Scrutiny Committee chairman Bill Cash followed up by asking Lord Patten to appear before his members to explain why the BBC was apparently under-reporting such a vital area of public policy. Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, in a question to Bill Cash on the floor of the House said:
“The British public not only expect us to scrutinise EU legislation in this place but want to see us doing it. Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that the chairman of the BBC Trust should refuse to appear before his Committee? Does that not send a very bad signal to all the other Select Committees of this House, and what can we, as the House of Commons, do about it?”
Mr Cash replied:
“This is all covered in the report—we make extensive reference to it and include the correspondence that was exchanged between the chairman of the BBC Trust and me, as Chairman of the Committee. I think that most people would conclude that his not appearing voluntarily before the Committee to give evidence was really quite disgraceful.”
Newswatch primary evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee is here:
And the supplemental evidence is here: 
The report of the European Scrutiny Committee containing reference to Lord Patten’s refusal to appear before
The debate about the European Scrutiny committee containing Philip Hollobone’s question is here: 
BBC ‘Pays double the rate for their taxis’

BBC ‘Pays double the rate for their taxis’

BBC staff have slammed their bosses for paying double the going rate for taxi journeys made at the licence fee payers’ expense.
A story in the Daily Telegraph reveals that the Corporation pays £10m a year for over 350,000 journeys by staff and guests.
To handle this business, the Corporation has a contracted supplier of taxis, which are booked through an internal website. But staff say that the taxi firm is giving a raw deal and charges on occasion almost double the rate of local cab hire companies.
The discrepancy was highlighted in the BBC’s internal magazine Ariel, following a letter from staff member Marc Settle, a project producer at the BBC Academy’s College of Journalism.He said the organisation’s workers are told to book cabs through internal website Gateway, which promises ‘More money for programmes’.He added: “When you book a taxi via Gateway, you’re greeted with a comforting strapline of ‘More money for programmes’.”Is this actually the case? I rang the number on Gateway to get a quote for a journey from Tonbridge in Kent to Gatwick and was told £87.”That seemed high, so I rang a few local companies and, on average, was quoted £45.”Another journey from Stanmore to Heathrow was £61 via Gateway yet a local company quoted just £25.”I know that any receipts which are submitted need then to be processed, and that has a cost. Equally, a central booking system may have merits for auditing purposes.”I would like to know, though, why taxi journeys booked through the central system seem to cost twice as much as those booked locally.”
The article reported that the BBC maintained that costs were higher in order to ensure that taxi firms were ‘legally compliant’ and that drivers were vetted properly.

Photo by [Duncan]

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees  to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’,  leading Eurosceptic MPs Kate Hoey and Philip Hollobone have said.

The complaint – based on research by Newswatch – centred on an edition of Newsnight last January which covered David Cameron’s decision to announce a radical overhaul of EU policy to include a referendum on withdrawal.

Mr Hollobone, who has written to BBC Trustees attacking heir ruling, said: “The programme featured 17 Europhiles pitched against one person who supported withdrawal. It was blatant imbalance.

“Yet the BBC says this did not matter because this was not a major news event and they were

therefore gauging reaction to the proposal from politicians and those affected by it. That’s the sort of sleight of hand excuse that shows that the BBC complaints process is completely rotten and stacked against complainants. They make the rules, they interpret them and they kick out most of them on the most spurious reasoning.”

A succession of top BBC executives, including former DG Mark Thompson, and more recently former head of television news Roger Mosey, have admitted that BBC EU coverage has been totally biased against the withdrawal case.

Mr Hollobone added: “Our complaint showed in detail that on the day of this major development in EU-related policy, this edition of Newsnight did not properly take into account the withdrawal case, and indeed went to absurd lengths to stuff the programme full of figures who wanted to shoot down both the idea of a referendum and the case for withdrawal.

“In terms of BBC coverage it was thus par for the course, but the Trustees have now performed a farcical series of contortions to argue the programme was fair”.

He added: “The BBC complaints procedure is clearly not fit for purpose because no-one involved is genuinely independent. It exists to protect the BBC’s back rather than the proper investigation of bias. It’s time for major change”.

Kate Hoey said: “I have grave concerns about how the BBC is going to be impartial during the coming debate on our relationship with the EU and a referendum.   Chris Patten as a former EU commissioner really must prove he has left his Europhile position behind him and that he can ensure genuine impartiality”

Read the Newswatch-researched complaint here.

Photo by rockcohen

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

Newswatch reports show that Today does not give EU ‘come-outers’ the chance to properly air their case.
When they do appear they are usually bracketed with ‘Loonies’, or given no chance to explain their support for leaving the EU.
Today presenter Evan Davis continued the tradition when he interviewed this week (November 18) Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes about his decision to support UKIP in the 2014 Europe elections. Mr Sykes – who announced his decisions to the Daily Telegraph – said he had decided to resume his political donations because UKIP was the only party clearly campaigning for withdrawal from the EU. But on Today, Evan Davis conducted in an interview that was so crammed full of interruptions that the longest Mr Sykes was allowed to speak was 94 words, about 35 seconds. In an interview lasting five-and-a-half minutes, Mr Davis interjected 35 times…once every 10 seconds.
The transcript here reveals the full gory story.  Read for yourself .
Of course it’s the job of a Today presenter to be adversarial and political donations must be subjected to scrutiny. But this was battering ram questioning that would have been appropriateif Mr Sykes was contemplating an illegal act rather than giving to a mainstream political cause he believed in.
The transcript shows that that Mr Davis deliberately set out to prevent Mr Sykes from explaining either his decision to support withdrawal as a political cause or his reasoning why he thought current policies do not chime with public opinion. It was only the third interview of a clear supporter of withdrawal in the latest Newswatch monitoring period, which is running from mid September until the EU Council meeting in December.

Photo by Astral Media

BBC Trustees reject Newsnight EU bias complaint

The BBC Trustees have yet again flatly rejected claims that their EU coverage is biased.
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone and Labour’s Kate Hoey filed a complaint about an edition of Newsnight on January 23, when David Cameron announced his policy of holding an ‘in/out’ referendum.
The programme contained just one ‘come-outer’ (UKIP’s Nigel Farage) ranged against battery of 17 studio guests and contributors who were in different ways against the referendum, in favour of staying in the EU or increasing its powers. The Trustees say this was ‘fair’ because the programme was considering the political context and implications of the issues raised by Mr Cameron and therefore the number of supporters of withdrawal was immaterial.
Philip Hollobone Newsnight complaint here: 
BBC response here: 
Transcript of Newsnight programme here: