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David Keighley

Referendum Blog: June 14

Referendum Blog: June 14

BERLIN BIAS:BC Radio 1 decided to visit Germany in its Newsbeat bulletin yesterday evening. The referendum vote is now fast approaching…and the need for balance, it would be thought, would demand a variety of opinions would be included. Wrong.  It was what could best be described as a deluge of pro-Remain propaganda. Reporter Greg Dawson first set the scene by noting that on the Brandenburg Gate – in the tourism centre of Berlin – you could not miss the EU flag. Contributor Nicklaus stepped in to say:

The flag symbolise (sic) unity, freedom . . . freedom of rights, freedom of speech.

Dawson expanded on the theme, and noted that the flag also flew from ‘several buildings here, even the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament’.  He added:

You don’t get that in Westminster.

Now it was the turn of contributor Hendrik. He declared:

The pride is not coming from seeing the flag, but more like seeing Germany as a part of Europe.

In case the listener had missed it, Dawson then chipped in to emphasise their point, and noted  that they were both ‘proud Germans’ – but ‘feel strongly tied to  the European Union’.  Hendrik reinforced the theme. He said:

The EU encourages peace all over Europe, so that’s basically the achievement of the whole European Union. And maintain this peace.

Dawson now warmed to the peace theme. He suggested that Berlin was a city ‘with a lot of history, much of it bleak’, and pointed out that reminders of World War II were never far away. He observed:

People here think the decades of peace since then has much to do with the EU.

The next contributor reinforced that. He warned that if Britain left the EU,  the stability (created by the EU) would not be guaranteed any more. To ram home his message about the need to stay, he added:

If Britain would leave, I feel like this stability would not be guaranteed any more. I think the UK at the moment is a very strong player in the European Union, if they don’t see it sometimes maybe.

Next up was Arthur, a Briton who had moved to Germany to work. He, too, seemed very unhappy about the prospect of the UK leaving the EU.  He declared:

My name is Arthur, I’m from Essex in the UK, I moved out here to take a job, I basically had to fill in no paperwork, there was no risk for me, I just turned up and it’s weird to think that all of that might disappear after June 23.

Mel, from Derby, also working in Berlin, also warned about  the problems of leaving:

Being in the EU it’s kind of, it’s kind of . . . it’s brought a lot of benefits more than it brings negatives I think.

Dawson then piled in with an explanation, He said:

That’s probably not very surprising to hear British people living in another EU country being so in favour of Remain. But it’s not just the expats. Germany does a huge amount of trade with the UK. That noise you can hear in the background is one of the big sellers – last year, about one in five German cars was sold in Britain, and there are worries here about what Brexit means for business.

To magnify how important those concerns were, Dawson then spoke to Markus Kerber, who, said Dawson, ran the German Federation of Industries, ‘a group of more than 100,000 German companies including BMW’.  He helpfully explained – presumably to emphasise the importance of the latter company to UK trade – that BMW made the Mini, ‘a car make in the UK’.  Kerber said:

Hundreds of Britons involved in producing that car regularly travel and get trained in Germany, and all that, I think, would become a little bit more difficult – and I’m not sure whether the parent company BMW would see that necessarily as an incentive to invest more in that company.

Dawson wondered whether Germany was acting in self-interest to push the ‘don’t leave’ message.

No, said Kerber:

I don’t think we’re acting in self-interest, we’re acting out of the common interest between Britain and Germany that together we cannot only shaped the European Union, but we can shape many, many other parts of the world.

Analysis

This was not a news item, but rather could have been put together as a party political broadcast on behalf of the ‘remain’ camp.  Every aspect was positive towards the EU and the UK remaining within it – the framing around the EU flag, the selection of the first vox pop contributors, the observations of the Britons working in Germany and finally the warning from a nigh-level German businessman that if the UK withdrew, BMW was likely to cut back on investment in the Mini. The feature was edited to put across the core message that the EU was responsible for peace in Europe, that it brought co-operation and jobs between member countries and was the passport for industrial expansion in the wider world.

Questions the BBC must answer here are whether equivalent balancing material has been broadcast elsewhere. News-watch monitoring suggests otherwise, and – for example – Mark Mardell on the World This Weekend and World Tonight have broadcast from Berlin similarly pro-EU material.

It seems scarcely credible that with the referendum just days away, such a blatantly one-sided piece was broadcast. It would have been relatively easy to introduce contrasting opinion in this item.

An issue here is that the BBC are not transparent about how they are keeping track of bias – the Complaints website has no record of any EU-related complaints, and programmes such as ‘Feedback’ have also carried minimal material on the referendum.

Full Transcript:

BBC Radio 1, Newsbeat, 13th June 2016, EU Referendum and Germany, 5.53pm

PRESENTER:       We’re off to Germany next, just ten days to go now before many of us make a massive decision about our future. So should that future be inside or out of the European Union? Our politics reporter Greg Dawson has been to Berlin, where the main message seems to be ‘please don’t go’

GREG DAWSON:              We’re in Pariser Platz, one of the most touristy areas of Berlin, all the cameras here point towards the Brandenburg Gate, one of the city’s main landmarks.  And here’s another thing you can’t miss:

NICKLAUS:          The flag symbolise (sic) unity, freedom . . .  freedom of rights, freedom of speech.

GD:        The EU flag flies from several buildings here, even the Reichstag Germany’s parliament. You don’t get that in Westminster.

HENDRIK:           The pride is not coming from seeing the flag, but more like seeing Germany as a part of Europe.  My name is Hendrik, I’m from Düsseldorf in Germany.

N:          I’m Nicklaus, I’m from Flansberg, a northern town in Germany.

GD:        Nicklaus and Hendrik say they’re both proud Germans, but feel strongly tied to the European Union.

H:          The EU encourages peace all over Europe, so that’s basically the achievement of the  whole European Union. And maintain this peace.

GD:        Berlin is a city with a lot of history, much of it bleak.  The reminders of World War II are never far away, with memorials and even the shells of bombed out buildings.  People here think the decades of peace since then has much to do with the EU.

If Britain would leave, I feel like this stability would not be guaranteed any more.  I think the UK at the moment is a very strong player in the European Union, if they don’t see it sometimes maybe.

GD:        Another thing you notice as you move around Berlin: British accents.  In recent years, the city’s become home to thousands of young people who’ve left the UK to settle here.

ARTHUR:            My name is Arthur, I’m from Essex in the UK, I moved out here to take a job, I basically had to fill in no paperwork, there was no risk for me, I just turned up and it’s weird to think that all of that might disappear after June 23.

MEL:     Hi, I’m Mel, I’m from Derby.

GD:        How long have you lived in Berlin?

MEL:     About five months now.  Being in the EU it’s kind of, it’s kind of . . . it’s brought a lot of benefits more than it brings negatives I think.

GD:        That’s probably not very surprising to hear British people living in another EU country being so in favour of Remain.  But it’s not just the expats.  Germany does a huge amount of trade with the UK.  That noise you can hear in the background is one of the big sellers – last year, about one in five German cars was sold in Britain, and there are worries here about what Brexit means for business.

MARKUS KERBER:           Britain is our second biggest trading partner. We’re probably not closer to anyone else but, er, Britain.

GD:        Markus Kerber runs the German Federation of industries, a group of more than 100,000 German companies, including BMW who own mini, a car made in the UK.

MK:       Hundreds of Britons involved in producing that car regularly travel and get trained in Germany, and all that, I think, would become a little bit more difficult – and I’m not sure whether the parent company BMW would see that necessarily as an incentive to invest more in that company.

GD:        Is this Germany acting in self-interest to say, ‘don’t leave’, because of the impact it might have on your economy?

MK:       I don’t think we’re acting in self-interest, we’re acting out of the common interest between Britain and Germany that together we cannot only shaped the European Union, but we can shape many, many other parts of the world.

 

 

Photo by masochismtango

Referendum Blog: June 12

Referendum Blog: June 12

MORE ANTI-FARAGE BIAS: An earlier blog noted that the coverage by BBC1’s News at Ten of remarks made by Chancellor George Osborne in his high-profile  interview by Andrew Neil, was sharply skewed to the ‘remain case’, and, indeed, that the editing out of Neil’s questions made his comments into what amounted to a party political broadcast. The earlier blog also observed that News at Ten’s treatment of the comments made by David Cameron in ITV’s programme in which both men put their respective referendum cases  reduced Farage’s comments to an incoherent defence against claims that he was racist.

The unfairness to Nigel Farage – and thus to the ‘exit’ case – continued in Friday night’s News at Ten.

Farage was introduced by Fiona Bruce as having said he ‘stood by’ comments that dozens of sex attacks that happened on New Year’s eve could happen in the UK if current levels of immigration continue and had also responded to accusations of racism from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Carole Walker then observed, in introducing the sequence about the interview, that some on his Brexit side were uncomfortable with the Nigel Farage ‘tone and style’.  She added: “Tonight just a sip of red wine ‘before the confrontation at least.” She said that it was no surprise that immigration ‘the big issue for the leave campaign’ was the focus’. In the clip that followed, Walker substituted her own commentary over some of the Andrew Neil questions.

NIGEL FARAGE UKIP Leader, Leave Campaign:    The real point about this referendum is who makes the decisions. Do we have the ability to control the numbers that come to Britain or not?

CW:    Mr Farage said he wanted to get net migration down below 50,000 and he said this was not just about the economics.

NF:    There is something called quality of life, and that means the ability to get your child into the local primary school. It means being able to get a GP appointment.

CW:    He was less keen to talk about his controversial warning on LBC of sexual attacks like those in Cologne if we stay in the EU.

ANDREW NEIL:    So you did predict Cologne style sex attacks.

NF:    I, I may have done months ago but I chose . . .

AN:    (interrupting) Well you did, we’ve just seen it.

NF:    But I chose, but I chose in this referendum to try and make it a non-issue.  Why? Because there are so many other things for us to talk about.  However, is what I said at LBC wrong?  Of course it’s not.

CW:    But what about the criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who accused him of legitimising racism?

NF:    We have good archbishops and bad archbishops.

AN:    Which category does he fall into?

NF:    Given that he was talking specifically about what had appeared in a Sunday newspaper, he clearly had read a headline and not very careful words that I used.

CW:    Nigel Farage insisted Britain would be safer outside the EU and dismissed opponents who said his vision was mean and divisive.

NF:    None of them go out and meet ordinary people and perhaps in my case occasionally have a pint with them, and let me tell you, my vision is to put this country and the British people first, and for us to divorce ourselves from political union and to re-engage with the rest of the world. It is upbeat, it is optimistic, and do you know something, I think we’re going to win.

CW:    Still two weeks to go. But there’s no disguising the upbeat mood in the Leave camp. Carole Walker, BBC News.

Overall, therefore, the Farage sequence contained two positive points from him about ‘exit’:

[blockquote]The real point about this referendum is who makes the decisions. Do we have the ability to control the numbers that come to Britain or not? … There is something called quality of life, and that means the ability to get your child into the local primary school. It means being able to get a GP appointment.

Then, at the end:

‘…my vision is to put this country and the British people first, and for us to divorce ourselves from political union and to re-engage with the rest of the world. It is upbeat, it is optimistic, and do you know something, I think we’re going to win.

Against this, however, the bulk of the interview was taken up with the BBC’s usual concerns about Farage – that he was racist and inept.  The introduction again stressed that Farage was facing accusations that he was racist, that his own side was uncomfortable with him, that he liked a drink, and had made over-stated claims about the sex attacks in Cologne. Then, the bulk of the extract from the interview itself was from the sequence where he was asked about these points.

In other sections of the Neil interview, Farage dealt with topics such as economics, sovereignty and immigration. The extracts chosen by News at Ten included only two fleeting sections of these, in sharp contrast to the programme’s handling  of the equivalent Osborne exchanges in which nearly all the sequences chosen were about the Chancellor’s positive points about the ‘remain’ case.

This, therefore was double bias: it contained the BBC’s usual negative approach to Farage on grounds of his racism and ineptness, and on top of that, the editors deliberately mostly ignored the parts of the Neil interview where he articulated the details of the ‘exit’ case.[/blockquote]

Full Transcript

BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 10th June 2016, EU Referendum, 10.09pm

FIONA BRUCE:   The Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who’s campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, has said he stands by his comments that the sex attacks on dozens of women that happened in Germany, on New Year’s Eve, could be repeated in the UK, if levels of EU migration continue. Mr Farage also responded to the subsequent accusation of racism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, saying, ‘We have good archbishops and bad archbishops.’  Here’s our political correspondent Carole Walker, and her report contains some flash photography.

CAROLE WALKER:           He’s one of the most high-profile campaigners for Brexit. Though even some on his own side are uncomfortable with the Nigel Farage tone and style. Tonight, just a sip of red wine – before the confrontation at least. No surprise that immigration, the big issue for the Leave campaign, was the focus.

NIGEL FARAGE UKIP Leader, Leave Campaign:     The real point about this referendum is who makes the decisions. Do we have the ability to control the numbers that come to Britain or not?

CW:       Mr Farage said he wanted to get net migration down below 50,000 and he said this was not just about the economics.

NF:        There is something called quality of life, and that means the ability to get your child into the local primary school. It means being able to get a GP appointment.

CW:       He was less keen to talk about his controversial warning on LBC of sexual attacks like those in Cologne if we stay in the EU.

ANDREW NEIL:  So you did predict Cologne style sex attacks.

NF:        I, I may have done months ago but I chose . . .

AN:        (interrupting) Well you did, we’ve just seen it.

NF:        But I chose, but I chose in this referendum to try and make it a non-issue.  Why? Because there are so many other things for us to talk about.  However, is what I said at LBC wrong?  Of course it’s not.

CW:       But what about the criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who accused him of legitimising racism?

NF:        ‘We have good archbishops and bad archbishops.’

AN:        Which category does he fall into?

NF:        Given that he was talking specifically about what had appeared in a Sunday newspaper, he clearly had read a headline and not the very careful words that I used.

CW:       Nigel Farage insisted Britain would be safer outside the EU and dismissed opponents who said his vision was mean and divisive.

NF:        None of them go out and meet ordinary people and perhaps in my case occasionally have a pint with them, and let me tell you, my vision is to put this country and the British people first, and for us to divorce ourselves from political union and to re-engage with the rest of the world. It is upbeat, it is optimistic, and do you know something, I think we’re going to win.

CW:       Still two weeks to go. But there’s no disguising the upbeat mood in the Leave camp. Carole Walker, BBC News.

 

For Europe, Against the EU

For Europe, Against the EU

The case for leaving the EU has never been put by the BBC in a programme wholly dedicated to the ‘out’ case. By contrast, the Corporation has, over many years, broadcast an unbalanced barrage of pro-EU material – as is documented on this site – and in March 2015, presented in prime time The Great European Disaster Movie, made by euro-fanatics Annalisa Piras and Bill Emmott. This was, as Toby Young wrote in the Telegraph, concentrated multi-pronged pro-EU propaganda, with the added twist that it envisaged that major civil unrest in the UK would be a consequence of departure. Young’s parting line in his review of the programme was that he wondered when the BBC would broadcast a similar programme from the ‘exit’ perspective.  The answer is ‘never’.

That is why For Europe, Against the EU, a film by the Spiked website is so important. Uninterrupted by the BBC injecting its own warped version of ‘balance’, it spells out some of the core arguments for leaving the EU and nails once and for all the prevailing myth so often perpetuated by the BBC, that being anti-EU is absolutely not the same as being anti-‘Europe’ and thus xenophobic.

This is what the folk at Spiked! say about their film:

At spiked we have long made the case that the EU is a deadweight around the neck of this exciting continent, limiting the power of its peoples and submitting its parliaments to petty bureaucracy and diktat. In this 20-minute film, featuring Brian Denny, Daniel Hannan, Kate Hoey, Tim Stanley and Bruno Waterfield, we make the democratic case for voting Leave on 23 June.

We argue that the referendum is an opportunity for the British public to strike out against the risk-averse, technocratic elites of Brussels and Whitehall, and an opportunity to inspire publics across Europe to do the same.

Do watch it. It’s revelation to hear the full case for British exit!

Referendum Blog: June 11

Referendum Blog: June 11

DID BBC FAVOUR ‘REMAIN’ IN VOTER REGISTRATION PUSH? The specially-extended deadline to register to vote in the EU referendum passed on Thursday night. According to the BBC, an extra 430,000 voters registered, approximately half of whom were under 35.

The official registration site crashed on Tuesday not long before midnight under pressure of sheer volume as the actual pre-set deadline approached. The government reacted swiftly in response, introducing special legislation to facilitate the extension.  Some – including Aaron Banks, leader of the Leave.EU group – claim this was a breach of electoral law because it broke the terms of a process that had been carefully agreed and set in stone to ensure fairness.

Does Banks have a case?  According to some sources, yes. The is what the Daily Mail wrote about the extra voters:

‘Nearly a quarter of a million people registered to vote on the first day of the extended window to sign up for the EU referendum – five times more than the number of people who were blocked when the website crashed.

‘Brexit campaigners accused David Cameron of ‘desperate cheating’ by extending the deadline for 48 hours, despite the website being down for just 105 minutes on Tuesday night.

‘The move has allowed 240,000 people to sign up for a vote, over half of whom are under the age of 35.’

The fact that over half the number of extra registrants are under 35 is the key point here.  Back in April, an opinion poll in The Guardian observed:

Opinium found that in the 18-34 age group, 53% said they backed staying in, against 29% who wanted to leave. But only just over half (52%) in this age group said they were certain to actually go out and vote.

Thus it was established that young people were heavily more likely to back the ‘remain’ side, but might not actually vote. It seems that in response, David Cameron and the senior command in the ‘remain’ side started (and allegedly funded)  a vigorous online social media campaign to encourage the young to register.

The registration site crash, it seems, would thus have been seen as a blow to the hopes of the ‘remain’ side, and the move to ensure an extension can thus be viewed as a knee-jerk response by Cameron – moving rapidly in his own interest. The upshot is that he has secured an extra 250,000 voters more likely to support him.

The BBC’s handling of the voter registration issue is deeply suspicious. Were they following the David Cameron agenda too closely and thus favouring the ‘remain’ side?

It can first be observed that voter registration isn’t normally a high-profile issue during elections. It is regarded as a procedural matter, even though many millions – up to 30% of the UK population – do not vote, and many of these are not even on the voting register. The proportion of population who voted at the last general election in 2015 was around only 66%.

By contrast, as an issue in the referendum, however, it seems that voter registration was treated as a matter of the highest priority by the BBC. On Tuesday, as the deadline approached,  it was a feature of almost every bulletin, and there were also several features about the topic.

BBC1’s ‘Breakfast’ (6am – 9am) ran registration items approximately every fifteen minutes, including a location report from Stratford in East London, where the studio presenter noted that ‘So far it’s young people under the age of 34 have been making the most applications to register’, but reporter Graham Satchell opened his report by noting, conversely, that the Electoral Commission had identified inner-city areas like Stratford as containing the highest percentages of young people who hadn’t registered to vote in the referendum.

On Radio 4, the Today programme carried an interview with Alex Robertson, Director of Communications at the Electoral Commission, who warned people not to ‘leave it too late’, explained the deadline, and noted that ex-pats who had been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years would be able to vote. In the Today sequence John Humphrys made it clear that those who were already on the electoral register did not have to reapply, and Mr Robertson confirmed that there was no ‘kind of special electoral register’ for the referendum.

As the day progressed many shorter bulletins (for example hourly bulletins on BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2) noted that this was the last day to vote in the referendum, and provided the website address for voting.

The BBC1 News at Six provided a breakdown of recent registration figures, including the numbers under the age of 35.  There was a location report from Lambeth College, showing young people being registered to vote, with the commentary that, ‘in or out, Britain’s future with the EU will probably impact this generation the most’, and interviews with some young people who didn’t seem enthused about voting, along with a soundbite from Josh Pugh, who was attempting to get people to register.  The correspondent did note ‘if you’re already on the electoral role, you don’t need to do anything, the voting cards should be on their way’ – but the reference was so short as to be potentially confusing, with no explanation, for example, that anyone who voted in the last general election ought to be already registered unless they’d moved house in the meantime.

BBC1’s One Show carried an interview with David Dimbleby, and a reminder that people could register to vote until midnight, and the brief BBC1 Bulletin at 7.59pm simply said “don’t forget you have just four hours to go to register to vote in the EU referendum. You can sign up at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

BBC 1’s News at Ten again focused on young voters, with Gavin Hewitt reporting from Reading College, and noted the midnight deadline and that millions were still yet to register, and spoke to a variety of young people who had and hadn’t registered, while noting that a number of people were ‘unsure’ whether they were registered.

On Radio 4’s World Tonight, Shaun Ley noted that registrations were closing at midnight, but set out in clearer terms that if people had voted in the general election, or this year’s local elections and hadn’t changed address then there was no requirement to register again.

On BBC2’s Newsnight, correspondent Nicholas Watt revealed in stark terms how voter registration – and a subsequent higher turnout – might benefit the Remain side:

Well, it looks like tomorrow we will get a statement from the Electoral Commission giving us an idea of the numbers of people who registered to vote, and the indications are that more people are registering to vote than registered for the general election, and what is interesting is coming through there, it appears that the 18 to 24-year-old age group, and people who live abroad seem to be registering in higher numbers than they did last year. And those are the sort of people who may vote for Remain. So, that might be quite good news for Remain, because, if you remember, if it’s a low turnout, below 55%, good for Brexit, if it’s between 55% and 70%, it’s good for Remain. But if you go right above 75% then Brexit are back in business.

Evan Davis subsequently noted that this was ‘good news for Remain on that kind of registration process, but there is some good news for Leave as well’ in the shape of a poll which predicted a win for ‘leave’.  Could this have been a further spur to lead ‘remain’ supporters voters to register?

By the end of Newsnight, the registration website was in overdrive and soon afterwards crashed.

In the context of the continuous publicity given to the issue during the day was this surprising?

Before the programme closed, Evan Davis again spoke to Nicholas Watt. He said that at 10pm, 50,000 people were trying to use the registration website at the same time. In a brief interview, Martin Lewis from Moneysavingexpert.com encouraged people to keep trying, given that web traffic in the UK ought to tail off towards midnight. Lewis also observed that there was ‘a democratic question’ in terms of the people who had attempted to register online earlier in the evening but had not been able to vote in what he said was ‘the most important consumer decision of our lifetimes.’ Evan Davis said it would be difficult for any leeway to be given, because the voter registration date is ‘set in law’.  He noted that he had been planning to remind viewers as he closed the programme that they had 50 minutes left to register.

Analysis

The issues here are complex. It could normally be argued that encouraging voters to register is a public service matter for the BBC. However, the referendum created complicating factors. First was that it had been widely been established (and reported by the BBC among others) that young people were less likely to bother to vote or register. That became a matter which David Cameron and the ‘remain’ side was specially pursuing via social networking in order to boost the ‘remain’ vote. In turn, that meant that registration was potentially a partisan matter to be treated with caution and with careful reference (under the BBC’s referendum coverage guidelines) to the issues involved. It seems ’however, that on the Tuesday, as the deadline approached, BBC editors on all the main news programme outlets had no such caution. Instead the volume of coverage, and the high priority afforded to it, suggest that editors went flat out to emphasise the ‘register’ message without any form of qualifying explanation.  It is arguable that the publicity afforded to this by the BBC programmes may have actually been a significant factor contributing to the registration site crash.  The knock-on effect was that David Cameron secured an extra 250,000 registrants who he believed were more likely to vote ‘remain’.

 

Photo by michael_swan

Referendum Blog: June 10

Referendum Blog: June 10

PRO-OSBORNE, ANTI-FARAGE BIAS: Two successive days, two key studio events in which the respective sides in the referendum debate put their respective arguments. One was George Osborne’s appearance (Wednesday) with Andrew Neil and the other, the ITV programme on Tuesday evening in which a studio audience put questions to Nigel Farage and David Cameron.  BBC1’s News at Ten covered both set-pieces as their lead story.

Huw Edwards introduced the coverage of the Neil interview by indicating that the Chancellor had rejected claims that he was trying to scare people into voting to remain in. Political editor Laura Kuenssberg provided commentary.

These are the edited points made by Osborne (Andrew Neil’s questions were mainly removed by the editors):

If we vote to leave then we lose control. We lose control of our economy, if you lose control of your economy, you lose control of everything. And that’s not a price worth paying.

(on screen behind them is ‘£4300 a year cost to UK families if Britain leaves the EU) Leave it out. Because people need to know, people need to know.

You listen to everyone, and they’re telling you that Britain will be poorer, the families in Britain will be poorer. Look, we can talk about any number of numbers, they’ve all got in common one big fat minus in front of each one, that’s the consequence for the people watching this programme.

When pressed, the Leave campaigners have basically admitted their policy would see more immigration from outside the EU

People should be clear, they might have concerns about immigration, but that is not on the ballot paper. Our membership of the EU and all the prosperity and our role in the world, that’s on the ballot paper.

Turkey is a key ally, they’re a member of NATO, by the way an organisation we all talk up on all sides of the campaign. But, is it going to be a member of the European Union? No, it’s not.

The British government policy is it (Turkey) should not join the European Union, today.

I do not want Nigel Farage’s vision of Britain. It is mean, it is divisive. It is not who we are as a country. …Britain is a great country.  …I’m fighting for the soul of this country. …Sadly, Nigel Farage and his vision of Britain has taken over the Leave campaign.

That adds up to 258 words in which Osborne put across the core economic parts of the ‘remain’ case’, dismissed the idea that Turkey would join the EU imminently, that the ‘exit’ side could not tackle immigration, that Nigel Farage had a ‘mean and divisive’ approach, and, sadly, that Farage policies had taken over Vote Leave campaign.

Andrew Neil’s strongly adversarial questions  in which he accused Osborne of telling untruths, and exaggerating the alleged threats to the economy, had been cut out. Kuenssberg’s inserted in her commentary her own alternatives, but they did not match Neil’s robust approach.

She said that Osborne had ‘defended’ the decision to hold the referendum, and the strength of his warnings to exit; that the Chancellor had said the use of financial forecasts rather than facts was justified; that Osborne’s worst nightmare was this becoming a vote on immigration (after which, Osborne claimed that the idea that dealing with immigration was on the ballot paper);  and that Osborne had tried to kill off the outers’ claims that Turkey was on the way to joining the EU.  Kuenssberg thus amplified some of the ‘remain’ points that the Chancellor put.

She concluded:

George Osborne was pretty defiant throughout, saying that he wasn’t trying to scare people but literally in the same breath saying there was a lot actually to be scared about. What I think we will hear more of in the coming days from his side is this claim that somehow the Leave campaign has been hijacked by what he described as Nigel Farage’s mean and divisive message… But I think the Remain campaign have seized on this as a tactic they will try to employ in the next few days in the fortnight just now left to go before the referendum vote itself. They clearly think that it might help their cause if they somehow tarnish the whole Out campaign saying it’s just Nigel Farage’s vision. But Mr Farage himself will be subject to the same kind of grilling in the same studio on Friday night.

FARAGE/CAMERON

The night before, Huw Edwards said at the beginning of the News at Ten bulletin that there ‘was no possibility of controlling immigration if Britain stayed in the EU’. There was a clip:

If we have an Australian-style points system, rather than an open door to 508 million people, then actually it’ll be better for black people coming into Britain, who currently find it very difficult because we have this open door.

Edwards added that David Cameron had claimed the reforms he had negotiated meant it was not time to walk away from the EU.

People I’m sure will share many of my frustrations about the European Union, but frustrations with an institution or indeed a relationship are often not a justification for walking away. They’re an argument for staying and fighting for what you need – for jobs, for investment, for security for our country.

Huw Edwards then said both men had been answering questions on a special ITV programme. He added:

Mr Farage rejected criticism, made earlier today by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Ukip leader was guilty of legitimising racism.

Laura Kuenssberg then said that Farage had made a career out of being blunt, and then observed that the path to the referendum was proving ‘far from smooth’. She said the audience had demanded to know of him why the economy would be safe outside the EU. Farage said:

12% is exports to the European Union. The other 88% . . .

CHAIR:          (speaking over) Mr Farage this question . . .

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:       (interrupting) This is specifically about pharmaceuticals, sorry, yeah .

CHAIR: (speaking over) And also about jobs too.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:       32.4 billion – 2004 (fragment of word, unclear) report from the Government, right, so get that around your head, 32.4 billion.  Now, the European Medicine Agency is in London. It’s all the medicines, all the ground-breaking ones for the whole of Europe are reviewed in London and Brussels listens to us. You can’t do that if you are not part of Europe.

NIGEL FARAGE: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry (applause) I’m sorry, this is entirely and utterly false.

LAURA KUENSSBERG:      Before long, rather than his warnings about immigration finding favour, several audience members turned instead on him.

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   You have basically suggested that a vote to remain is a vote for British women to be subdued to the same horrific assaults.

NIGEL FARAGE: Well, just calm down there a little bit.

CHAIR: (interrupting) She asked it perfectly calmly . . .

NIGEL FARAGE: (speaking over) No, no, no, but I mean, you know, sometimes in life, what it says at the top of a newspaper page and what you have actually said can be slightly different things. Look, I am used to be demonised.

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   Are you not embarrassed that Justin Welby today said you are legitimising racism?

NIGEL FARAGE: Well, I’m sorry, and I’m not going to stand here and attack the Archbishop of Canterbury . . .

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   But you are anti-immigration. You have used scaremongering and inflammatory comments.

NIGEL FARAGE: (speaking over) Well, look, I’ll tell you what . . .

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   . . . in your campaign  . . .

NIGEL FARAGE: (speaking over) I’ll tell you what . . .

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   . . . that have gone against people that look non-white.

NIGEL FARAGE: If you really . . .

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   How are non-white British people going to stop facing discrimination .

NIGEL FARAGE: (speaking over) If you really want to think that . . .

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:   . . . about their identity and nationality in this country, that’s what I really want to know? (applause)

NIGEL FARAGE: I’m sorry, I’m sorry . . .

The chosen sequence boiled down to that Farage said briefly that only 12% of British exports went to the EU; made a fleeting denial of a claim that the pharmaceutical industry would be hard hit by exit; and finally, a denial of angry accusation that he was racist (already foreshadowed and emphasised by Huw Edwards, and then mentioned in another link by Kuenssberg).  The 124 words he actually spoke, extracted out, were as follows:

[blockquote]12% is exports to the European Union. The other 88% . . . I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m sorry, this is entirely and utterly false… Well, just calm down there a little bit. …No, no, no, but I mean, you know, sometimes in life, what it says at the top of a newspaper page and what you have actually said can be slightly different things. Look, I am used to be demonised. …Are you not embarrassed that Justin Welby today said you are legitimising racism? …Well, I’m sorry, and I’m not going to stand here and attack the Archbishop of Canterbury . . . Well, look, I’ll tell you what . . . I’ll tell you what . . . If you really . . .If you really want to think that . . . I’m sorry, I’m sorry . . .

None of this added up to a coherent argument or point about the EU ’exit’ case. The BBC’s presentation in the main body of the report had pushed the ‘racism’ allegations against Farage to the forefront, and it had made the angry woman who pushed the point the fulcrum of the sequence.  The only positive point made by Farage – about the Australian immigration points system was in the introduction.

In the sequence involving David Cameron, Laura Kuenssberg noted that after Farage’s ‘hostile half hour’, David Cameron had faced ‘more tough demands’:

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:     You wanted to remove the free movement of people so that we could recruit skilled people from all over the world. Not baristas from the EU. You were, basically humiliated on that. So . . . why on earth are you now saying the EU is wonderful, you were saying you’d leave if you didn’t get those reforms?

What I said in the reforms that I sought, I said we need it to be less of a single currency club, so I wanted guarantees for the pound, our currency, and I got those, I said I wanted it to be less bureaucratic so I wanted targets to cut regulation, including on small businesses and I got that.

LAURA KUENSSBERG:      Again, the audience though turned to immigration. The Prime Minister pushed on the promises he made.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 3:     I voted for you in the last election because one of the things on your manifesto was to get immigration down. You haven’t been able to do that because you are not allowed to do that. That’s the bottom line. So, how are you – I can see my standard of living and my family’s standard of living going down because of this influx that we can’t control. Now, I am sorry to say but your closing statement last week was that if we leave the EU, we are rolling a dice with our children’s future. I think quite the opposite, by you telling us to stay in you have rolled that dice already. (applause)

DAVID CAMERON: Well, obviously I, I (pauses during applause) obviously I don’t agree with that. I think the biggest risk we can take is to pull out of the EU, pull out of the single market. We need to be in this organisation, fighting for British interests and for British jobs. Leaving is quitting. I don’t think Britain, I don’t think we are quitters. I think we are fighters, we fight in these organisations for what we think is right.

Mr Cameron thus faced complaints that he had not got he wanted – and had been ‘humiliated’ – in his negotiations with the EU, and then that he had not kept immigration down in accordance with the Conservative manifesto and as a result living standards were under threat. Cameron’s combined response, totalling 134 words, was marginally longer than Farage’s. But unlike with Farage, he was able to make two substantive points, uninterrupted, about his claimed achievements in the EU negotiations and that the biggest risk faced by the UK was not immigration but economic threats that would be caused by an EU ‘exit’.  In addition, in the introduction, he was able to stress prominently the importance of the EU to the UK.

ANALYSIS 

As almost always with dissection of what was actually said and presented, the devil here is in the detail.

Obviously in getting to air by 10pm the Cameron/Farage sequence, BBC editors were faced with a tough, against-the-clock task in whittling down the hour-long ITV programme that finished an hour earlier down to a digestible feature. But the end result showed considerable bias.

The sequence that editors chose featuring Farage contained at its heart an aggressively-put accusation of racism that had seemingly been backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a heated exchange, and Farage was on the back foot against strong invective, trying to put his response. The panellist was working hard to prevent him doing so, and Julie Etchingham, the ITV presenter, sided with her. As a result, Farage was unable to put forward a considered reply. In the preceding section about the impact of Brexit on the export of medicinal drugs, the Ukip leader was able to make only a fragmentary point about the proportion of British goods that went to the EU.

The editors thus chose a sequence about the ‘exit’ case which made for entertaining and tense television. But almost all elements of the exit case – put on a more measured basis by Farage elsewhere in the ITV programme – were not included. It looked and felt as if the core issue being faced was whether the ‘exit’ camp was racist, and this was emphasised, as has already been noted above, by mentions of this by Edward and Kuenssberg.

The sequence involving David Cameron also contained toughly-put questions and Kuenssberg said in her commentary that he had faced negativity from the audience.  But in sharp contrast to the handling of Farage and ‘the exit’ case’ Cameron was able to make two strong  uninterrupted points about the ‘remain’ case.

With the Osborne sequence, the editors chose to cut out almost completely Andrew Neil’s questions. In so doing, they threw out the baby with the bathwater. The Chancellor had in fact faced a barrage of negative points from Neil. It should have been left to the audience to decide whether he had answered them satisfactorily – but with the News at Ten editing, they had no chance to do so.  The excision of the Neil questions converted a tense, finely balanced piece of broadcasting into the equivalent a party political broadcast on behalf of the ‘remain side’, and nothing Kuenssberg said by way of commentary diluted this impression, if anything, her observations amplified his various messages. Then, in her summing up, she mentioned his reference to Nigel Farage’s ‘mean and divisive’ message. Her choice of this as her ‘out’ message compounded the bias shown the previous evening.  Not only was Nigel Farage, in the BBC’s chosen emphasis, a racist, but also he was – in line with what George Osborne claimed – in danger of dragging the whole ‘leave’ campaign down.

Balance in daily programmes is not required in individual editions, but here, in two consecutive nights, in the treatment by News at Ten of headline issues of the greatest importance in the unfolding referendum debate, the BBC’s main newsreader, its political editor and its editors on its flagship BBC1 news programme, showed strong bias against arguably the highest-profile figure in the ‘exit’ case. By contrast, they gave George Osborne the easiest possible ride, and in effect created a party political broadcast for the ‘remain’ case.

Full Transcripts:

BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 7th June 2016, Nigel Farage and David Cameron, 10pm

HE:        Good evening. Immigration and economic prospects have featured prominently in the latest exchanges tonight ahead of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Nigel Farage, who’s campaigning to leave, and David Cameron, who’s campaigning to remain, have both been answering questions from voters in a live television event on ITV. Mr Farage rejected criticism, made earlier today by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that the Ukip leader was guilty of legitimising racism. Our political editor Laura Kuenssberg watched the exchanges.

LAURA KUENSSBERG:     (Nigel Farage arrives on purple bus) He’s waited years for this, so was never going to turn up discreetly. A moment of visible nerves for the man who has made a career of being blunt. (On David Cameron) He wants and needs to win. And despite his demeanour, the path to the referendum is proving far from smooth. Both politicians taking on the toughest challengers, not each other, but the voting public. Without hesitation, the audience demanded to know why believe him that the economy would be safe outside the EU?

NIGEL FARAGE: 12% is exports to the European Union. The other 88% . . .

CHAIR:  (speaking over) Mr Farage this question . . .

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:        (interrupting) This is specifically about pharmaceuticals, sorry, yeah . . .

CHAIR: (speaking over) And also about jobs too.

MAM:   32.4 billion – 2004 (fragment of word, unclear) report from the Government, right, so get that around your head, 32.4 billion.  Now, the European Medicine Agency is in London. It’s all the medicines, all the ground-breaking ones for the whole of Europe are reviewed in London and Brussels listens to us. You can’t do that if you are not part of Europe.

NF:        I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry (applause) I’m sorry, this is entirely and utterly false.

LK:         Before long, rather than his warnings about immigration finding favour, several audience members turned instead on him.

FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER:    You have basically suggested that a vote to remain is a vote for British women to be subdued to the same horrific assaults.

NF:        Well, just calm down there a little bit.

CHAIR: (interrupting) She asked it perfectly calmly . . .

NF:        (speaking over) No, no, no, but I mean, you know, sometimes in life, what it says at the top of a newspaper page and what you have actually said can be slightly different things. Look, I am used to be demonised.

FAM:     Are you not embarrassed that Justin Welby today said you are legitimising racism?

NF:        Well, I’m sorry, and I’m not going to stand here and attack the Archbishop of Canterbury . . .

FAM:     But you are anti-immigration. You have used scaremongering and inflammatory comments . . .

NF:        (speaking over) Well, look, I’ll tell you what . . .

FAM:     . . . in your campaign  . . .

NF:        (speaking over) I’ll tell you what . . .

FAM:     . . . that have gone against people that look non-white.

NF:        If you really . . .

FAM:     How are non-white British people going to stop facing discrimination  . . .

NF:        (speaking over) If you really want to think that . . .

FAM:     . . . about their identity and nationality in this country, that’s what I really want to know? (applause)

NF:        I’m sorry, I’m sorry . . .

LK:         And look what he was ready to brandish, when asked how leaving the EU would keep us safe.

NF:        This is, should be a British passport, it says European Union on it. All right. I think, to make this country safer we need to get back British passports so that we can check anybody else coming in to this country.

CHAIR:  Can we allow Mr (name unclear) back in?

NF:        I really do. (applause) The project doesn’t work. I want us to get back our independence but to say we’ll be good Europeans, we’ll trade with Europe, co-operate with Europe, but govern ourselves.

LK:         After a hostile half hour, the Prime Minister walked on to more tough demands. A damming verdict on the deal he brokered with the rest of the EU.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:     You wanted to remove the free movement of people so that we could recruit skilled people from all over the world. Not baristas from the EU. You were, basically humiliated on that. So . . . why on earth are you now saying the EU is wonderful, you were saying you’d leave if you didn’t get those reforms?

DAVID CAMERON:          What I said in the reforms that I sought, I said we need it to be less of a single currency club, so I wanted guarantees for the pound, our currency, and I got those, I said I wanted it to be less bureaucratic so I wanted targets to cut regulation, including on small businesses and I got that.

LK:         Again, the audience though turned to immigration. The Prime Minister pushed on the promises he made.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 3:     I voted for you in the last election because one of the things on your manifesto was to get immigration down. You haven’t been able to do that because you are not allowed to do that. That’s the bottom line. So, how are you – I can see my standard of living and my family’s standard of living going down because of this influx that we can’t control. Now, I am sorry to say but your closing statement last week was that if we leave the EU, we are rolling a dice with our children’s future. I think quite the opposite, by you telling us to stay in you have rolled that dice already. (applause)

DC:        Well, obviously I, I (pauses during applause) obviously I don’t agree with that. I think the biggest risk we can take is to pull out of the EU, pull out of the single market. We need to be in this organisation, fighting for British interests and for British jobs. Leaving is quitting. I don’t think Britain, I don’t think we are quitters. I think we are fighters, we fight in these organisations for what we think is right.

LK:         Like the wider public, the audience wouldn’t swallow either side’s case without complaint. Tonight’s applause will have faded long before the arguments are won.

HE:        Well, those exchanges ended about half an hour ago, within the last half hour. Let’s go to the Olympic Park in East London where they took place, Laura is there for us, Laura Kuenssberg.  What was your impression then Laura, of the way that Mr Cameron and Mr Farage succeeded or didn’t succeed in getting their cases over?

LK:         Well, Huw, you know, one man, Nigel Farage, came here tonight probably with not very much to lose. One man, David Cameron, came here tonight with pretty much everything to lose. But I think at the end of the debate really neither of them were winners. This was a very hostile, intense hour of conversation with the audience. The clashes were dominated by immigration. But in a sense, I felt the audience was rather frustrated by what they heard from both of them. Nigel Farage was more or less accused of stoking up racism. But the Prime Minister was accused of breaking his promises too. And there was a sense, it’s so interesting and so telling when the public gets hold of politicians on debates like this that they somehow weren’t satisfied with what they have been hearing, either in the last few weeks or tonight here at the Olympic Park. There is a sense that audiences and perhaps the wider voting public wants more answers, more clarity, maybe even still more information from their politicians. But we are hurtling towards this referendum now and there is nothing at all certain about new or different answers being provided.

HE:        Okay Laura, thanks very much.  Laura Kuenssberg therefore is at those televised debates Thank you.

 

BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 7th June 2016, George Osborne and Andrew Neil, 10.09pm

HUW EDWARDS:             George Osborne says the forthcoming referendum is a fight for the soul of the country. In a BBC interview with Andrew Neil this evening the Chancellor rejected claims that he’s trying to scare people into voting to remain in the EU. Our political editor Laura Kuenssberg listened to the exchanges.

ANDREW NEIL:  Tonight in the studio live the Chancellor, George Osborne.

LAURA KUENSSBERG:     The money man, the Tories’ tactician, defending the decision to hold this referendum, defending the strength of his warnings about exit.

GEORGE OSBORNE:        If we vote to leave then we lose control. We lose control of our economy, if you lose control of your economy, you lose control of everything. And that’s not a price worth paying.

LK:         The Chancellor said the use of forecasts . . .

GO:       (on screen behind them is ‘£4300 a year cost to UK families if Britain leaves the EU) Leave it out. Because people need to know, people need to know.

AN:        I will leave it out . . .

LK:         . . . not facts was justified. Trying to stick to the economic script.

GO:       You listen to everyone, and they’re telling you that Britain will be poorer, the families in Britain will be poorer. Look, we can talk about any number of numbers, they’ve all got in common one big fat minus in front of each one, that’s the consequence for the people watching this programme.

LK:         But Mr Osborne’s worst nightmare is this becoming a vote just on immigration.

GO:       When pressed, the Leave campaigners have basically admitted their policy would see more immigration from outside the EU

AN:        If all this is . . .

GO:       People should be clear, they might have concerns about immigration, but that is not on the ballot paper. Our membership of the EU and all the prosperity and our role in the world, that’s on the ballot paper.

LK:         He tried to kill off the Outers’ claims that Turkey is on the way to joining the EU and millions of Turks could be on their way here.

GO:       Turkey is a key ally, they’re a member of NATO, by the way an organisation we all talk up on all sides of the campaign. But, is it going to be a member of the European Union? No, it’s not.

LK:         Never ever? Not quite what he said.

GO:       The British government policy is it should not join the European Union, today.

LK:         But the bigger clash he believes of ideas and of instinct.

GO:       I do not want Nigel Farage’s vision of Britain. It is mean, it is divisive. It is not who we are as a country.

AN:        Well (fragment of word, or word unclear)

GO:       Britain is a great country.

AN:        I understand that . . .

GO:       I’m fighting for the soul of this country.

AN:        But, but we’re also fighting for truth . . .

GO:       Sadly, Nigel Farage and his vision of Britain has taken over the Leave campaign.

LK:         Vote Leave led, not by Nigel Farage, remember it’s run by his Tory colleagues. This is a campaign, though, for every political party. And much more importantly, it’s a choice for every single one of us. George Osborne was pretty defiant throughout, saying that he wasn’t trying to scare people but literally in the same breath saying there was a lot actually to be scared about. What I think we will hear more of in the coming days from his side is this claim that somehow the Leave campaign has been hijacked by what he described as Nigel Farage’s mean and divisive message. Now, Nigel Farage, of course, isn’t even part of the official Leave campaign. It’s run by senior Conservatives and some people from the Labour Party too. But I think the Remain campaign have seized on this as a tactic they will try to employ in the next few days in the fortnight just now left to go before the referendum vote itself. They clearly think that it might help their cause if they somehow tarnish the whole Out campaign saying it’s just Nigel Farage’s vision. But Mr Farage himself will be subject to the same kind of grilling in the same studio on Friday night.

HE:        Okay, Laura, thank you very much. Laura Kuenssberg there for us at Westminster.

Referendum Blog: June 8

Referendum Blog: June 8

MORE BIAS BY OMISSION: The respected Pew Research Centre in the US released today a survey based on more than 10,500 responses in 10 of the main EU countries.

At its heart were some very strong findings that suggest that in many vital respects, support for the EU is sharply declining.  Britain is far from alone in its concerns about its EU membership.

The findings – many directly relevant to the UK referendum – included:

42% of the 10 nations want power returned to national governments, whereas only 19% want Brussels to have more power.

There has been a sharp fall in support for the EU in many countries over the past year, and longer term,  summed up dramatically by this graph:

PewSpelled out, support in France has fallen from 69% to 38%; in Spain from 78% to 47%; in the UK from 54% to 44%, and in Germany, there has been a decline from 58% to 50%. Even in Poland, which is benefitting hugely from EU grants, satisfaction has dropped from 83% to 72%.

This negativity to Brussels in the Pew research is not a one-off. Decline in support is also registered in the EU’s own research. It conducts opinion polls called the Eurobarometer series twice yearly. The latest one available is from November last year.

Key findings were:

Neutral or total negative views about the EU added up to 63%.  Those who were total positive were only 37%

Those who were ‘totally optimistic’ about the future of the EU were 53%, but ‘totally pessimistic’ or did not know came in at 47%, a rise of 5% over the previous survey.

Immigration as the major issue facing the EU had risen from 38% to 58% over the previous six months.  In Angela Merkel’s Germany, and many of the wealthier EU member countries the figure was above 70%.

How did the BBC reflect this?

The BBC website accurately reported that it showed that Euroscepticism is on the rise across ‘Europe’ (presumably they meant the EU because the research was conducted in solely EU countries), but then homed in on this:

‘Nonetheless (it) found that a slim majority – a media of 51% – of respondents still favoured the EU’.

The Corporation thus chose to emphasise one of the few favourable about the EU in the research, and quoted the precise figures showing that a majority were in favour. of the EU. What it did not say was what Pew had highlighted as a key feature of the favourability ratings:

‘…the EU is again experiencing a sharp dip in public support in a number of its largest member states.’

And it saved until much lower down in the report that key negative facts, such as that re support in France had crashed from 69% to 38%.

Elsewhere on the BBC, the Pew research was barely reported: Today carried brief items in the 7am and 8am bulletins. They mentioned the France figure, that support for the EU had fallen, but the voice report at 8am again stressed that satisfaction was ‘slightly higher’.

There were no interviews about the research on Today, and it did not feature in any later news programmes.

Thus the Corporation has thus explored only very cursorily an extensive study which shows that as the UK EU referendum saga reaches its final stages, support for the EU has fallen to historically low levels.  Put in another way, as the UK ponders exit from the EU, support for Brussels is 6% less in France and only 6% more in Germany itself, which the BBC – for example, Mark Mardell, here – regularly projects as being the most enthusiastic of EU members.

There are numerous other angles in the Pew report that could have made features or the peg for interviews, for example, that Euroscepticism – so often portrayed on the BBC as ‘right-wing’ and ‘populist’ – is actually supported more by the ‘left’ in Spain (and other countries).

There is no knowing for certain, but it is hard to believe that if  Pew had shown a rise in support for the EU, rather than a sharp decline, it would not have made the Corporation headlines – and would have led to presenters grilling figures such as Nigel Farage about why his  campaign for ‘out’  was failing.

 

Photo by EU Exposed

Referendum Blog: June 8

Referendum Blog: June 8

MERTHYR TYDFIL BIAS: On this morning’s Today programme, BBC reporter Sima Kotecha visited Merthyr Tydfil. There were three features.

In the first, she spoke to three locals whom she said were undecided, ‘leave’ and remain’ in the referendum debate. The first, Val Williams said she was undecided because the two sides were not making convincing arguments. And were ‘just scaremongering’ instead of using logical means.

David Brill – in favour of ‘remain’ said:

There are so many arguments which inform my decision in the matter, not least of all the fact that Wales benefits hugely from income from, from the European Community. This very square in which we are standing, beautifully restored in memory of erm, Janice Rowlands, who was Lord Ted Rowlands’s er . . . was Ted Rowlands’s wife. Funded from the EU. We’ve got a super College just across the river, funded by the EU. Erm . . . dual carriaging (sic) dual carriageways on the Heads of the Valleys road, there’s so much, and anyone who thinks that London, knowing London would, would give us that kind of money if we were cut away from the EU is mistaken.

Kotecha put it to him that he was a Labour voter (he agreed he was), and then wondered if Labour had been successful in getting its message through. He replied:

I had my concerns earlier on, but as I look at it, the more I applaud the way Jeremy Corbyn has conducted himself, he’s kept away from this marvellous scene of bloodletting within the Tory party, he’s refused to share platforms with these people who are just . . . I just being offensive and rude on a personal basis. And he’s retained a lovely, quiet dignity. People know what he stands for, even if the press doesn’t give him the appropriate publicity.

Next was Clare Jones. She replied that she was looking to the future of her children and grandchildren, and said it was time that the UK took a chance of doing as a nation what Switzerland (and, erroneously, Sweden) had done as ‘not part of the EU’. Kotecha pressed on her reasons. She said it was not ‘people coming to Great Brtitain to work  and border controls, because that had nothing to do with it’, but as a nation the UK could take back control of its agriculture and fishing. She asserted:

There are things there that we are able to do, and I just think that if we can take control as a nation, we’d be fine. It’s not for me, this is for my grandchildren, and I just feel that we need to take that chance.

Kotecha then observed that immigration was something people had been speaking to her about and asked undecided Val Williams about that. She responded:

Speaking as an historian, rather than just somebody . . . talk about the EU (sic), this town is built on immigration. Just up the road from us, there is what is the first English, sorry second English language Baptist Church in the whole of Wales, because there was immigration coming in here. Okay, in the early years, immigration was coming largely from other parts of Wales, but . . . we always had immigration, and I it’s more perceived than real, people here other languages and panic a bit.

Kotecha asked whether, having heard the arguments, she now knew which was she would vote. Williams said that David Brill’s point about EU money was very good, because ‘Wales benefitted more per head’ in that respect than anywhere else in the UK. She added, however, that her jury was still out.

In the second report, Kotecha  was at a local social club. She spoke first to Chris Smith, who wanted out because he wanted the country’s borders back and wanted to get rid of muggers. He claimed that it meant he could not get doctor’s appointments.

Kotecha noted that once coalmining brought people to the town, then after the war, factories that had been built to take advantage of the local unemployed workforce. She added:

Today, it’s these factories that have attracted thousands of European migrants to the town. You have a large Polish population, don’t you, here in Merthyr? CS: Well, that’s part of it, because the mess they leave round the place is unbelievable. A lot of them, they just don’t care like, they’ve got no appreciation for the country at all. You know.

SK:      You sound angry?

CS:      Oh, I am. You know, my father fought . . . the Second World War . . . to (fragments of words, unclear) to help Poland.  (word or words unclear) happened – they’ve all come over here. I . . . I just, there’s too many all coming in the country.

Kotecha observed that figures showed that Merthyr’s population of immigrants had rocketed by more than  200%  in the decade to 2011.  Val Sergison, also in the social club, said she would be voting in, and Kotecha said that her and her colleague Pat Jones believed that arguments that Poles were taking all the work were unfair.  Sergson said:

Like they say there’s no jobs for (fragment of word, unclear) for our youngsters, but I’ve got to be honest, where we’re from Phillipstown . . . some of the youngsters don’t even want work.

PAT JONES:  Old age pensioners, that have gone to Spain to live, if we come out . . . what happens then? Also the immigrants who come here are working. They’re youngsters and their working, they’re not draining our resources like we are in Spain.

Kotecha said that the lack of jobs, especially for older people, combined with poor health were driving people ‘to want change’.  A local bricklayer, Darren Lock said:

They’re taking jobs from people that . . . it’s our culture, isn’t it? You know what I mean? It’s where we’ve been brought up, isn’t it? No one knows the future.  So this is a gamble, and I . . . I still think we’ve got to go.

SK:      In the recent Welsh Assembly elections, UKIP took more than 20% of the vote in Merthyr Tydfil, an illustration of how significant the issue of immigration is to those living here.  With Port Talbot’s future uncertain, and thousands of jobs at risk, the national mood seems to have soured, and this could be a crucial factor in how people vote in June 23. (singing)

In the third feature, Kotecha spoke first to Mark Jones, ‘who says he’s had enough of the Polish and Portuguese immigrants’

Jones suggested that the migrants had broken into his shed and a bunker and had stolen his clothes.  Kotecha told him that he did not know the culprits were Polish.  Jones appeared to begin to say that they might have been Portuguese, but Kotecha interrupted and said that he could not know that.  Jones replied:

I can’t prove that. If . . . if an hundred of them take £150 out of our country, because they, they go home with their money, they send it home, right. We’re talking thousands of pounds leaving this country. And like, it’s not fair, they’re flooding our country. Your mum and dad have probably been here for donkeys years, right? But if we keep fetching them in and bringing them in and br— . . . we’re going to flood this country. I went to the doctors the other day, three weeks waiting. It’s absolutely full of foreigners, Bulgarians, Syrians . . . the schools are even for. It’s, it’s gone too far now.

Kotecha suggested he was going to be voting to leave the EU.  Jones said he was definitely out. He added:

There’s, there’s some of them, they come over here, they sit on the wall outside my property, and they just get drunk every . . . they not working, they can’t . . . and what irks me, they don’t want to speak our language, they’re not integrating in, into our country. And it’s sad.

Kotecha cut him off at this point and then spoke to Jorge D’Ascencao, who had moved to Merthyr in 2004 and now had his own pub.  She asked how ‘listening to that tape from Mark Jones’ he would respond.

Well, people need to understand one thing, er, when I come to the country first of all we were invited to come to the country, because we were filling a gap that it was on the system, because the job that needs to be done, they would not find the local people to do it.  So when we come to the country again, we come by invitation of people that they were needing our er . . . will of working, er to do the job that was needed to be done. Erm . . . and that’s what people need to understand.  Er, again, flooding the country – it’s something that the immigra— the immigrants they, they don’t have their own fault if they search for a better way of life, and if they can find it in the UK, especially in Merthyr, so probably Merthyr is so good that everyone want to come in here.

SK:      Having spoken to many people in Merthyr over the last couple of days, immigration seems to be the key issue, because there is a large Polish population here.  Do you think immigrants can do more to perhaps improve their image if you like?

JA:       Yes, I think, you know, if they come as I come in the beginning, with the aim of working, erm, yeah I think their image will improve, er, a lot, er . . . that, I think that’s the main thing. When they come, they needs (sic) to come with a job, er, in mind, and then it’ll be much easier, and then everyone will be able to work, and, you know, the economy will work much better as well. And erm, when erm, it’s mentioned behaving badly in the streets and all that, they don’t do nothing that locals don’t do, so probably, you know, they’re just trying to match.

SK:      And what about that ‘English’ comments he made, about speaking . . . the national language, do you find that people do do that, Portuguese people?

JA:       Well . . . the Portuguese people they, they, I, I cannot speak by the Polish (sic) I, I just know them, but I have, you know, no big relations with them. Er, but well you see me, when I come to the country, I barely speak English, and er, and I learn on my own, and er, the Portuguese people, I think they tend to adapt, wherever they go. Er . . . but, erm . . . yeah, I think it is some people, but like everywhere else, er, that they’re not able to pick up the language.

SK:      Okay, you’re going to be voting to stay in the EU.  What would you say to those people that I’ve spoken to over the last few days that say that immigrants are just really taking the mickey, if you like, depending on benefits and the free resources that this country offers?

ANALYSIS

Clearly, this was a carefully selected and partly pre-recorded assemblage of views across three features.

In the first, – ostensibly an equal selection of an undecided, a ‘leave’ supporter, and one in favour of ‘exit’ –  the ‘remain’ supporter had a polished and carefully considered set of reasons based on that Wales received heavy funding from the EU and that is had revived the local community with gleaming and useful new projects.  Kotecha also gave him the chance to say he was a Labour supporter and that the party was conducting itself well but the Conservative party was being ‘offensive’.

The ‘exit’ supporter actually favoured immigration, but felt the UK should ‘take a chance’ on its own to win back agriculture and fisheries.  The ‘undecided’ contributor berated both sides for their lack of logic and ‘scaremongering’, but then – at the invitation of Kotecha – stepped in to say that   local people were panicking about immigration, it (the threat) was more ‘perceived than real’ and had always been a feature of Merthyr.

For evidence of this, she claimed she was a historian and pointed to the local Baptist church, which she said had been founded by immigrants from within Wales.

In the second entirely pr-recorded feature, the anti-immigration interviewee was worried because the people who were in the town were muggers who took doctors’ appointments. swamped local surgeries, were messy, and did not care for the community. His father had fought in the war and he was angry now about what was happening.

Kotecha in response mentioned research which showed immigration was rocketing by up to 200% Her two remain interviewees said first that immigrants were perhaps not taking local jobs – the problem was more that local people did not want to work, second that immigrants were not draining local resources because they were working, unlike expats from Britain who went to Spain.

Kotecha then observed that older people not having jobs was a local problem and that Merthyr was a very deprived area. It was this that was driving people to want change. She then included another quote from a local who said that immigrants were swamping local culture.

On the face of it, this was ‘balanced’ with contributions for and against immigration. In reality, it was carefully crafted to illustrate that those who opposed immigration held deeply controversial views, whereas locals who supported immigrants had clear, more considered, reasons for their stance – locals did not actually want to work. Kotecha used this springboard to suggest that such anti-immigrant prejudice had fired a rise in local support for Ukip.

Kotecha, it is important to note, deliberately chose to include the pre-recorded interview with such controversial views. She could have sought out someone with a less provocative stance.

The third item could only be described as was blatantly biased against those who were against immigration.  Her anti-immigration interviewee  (like the one in the previous feature) clearly had no substantive evidence for his allegations of thieving and was edited for maximum impact.

The local Portuguese businessman rightly made mincemeat of his claims. The point here is that Kotecha deliberately selected both interviewees and constructed the piece to show that anti-immigration voices could be unreasonable.  There are more measured arguments against immigration and with more application, she could have found ways of including those views. Emphatically she did not. This was deliberate.

The aim of these three features from beginning to end was to show that ‘remain’ arguments were more valid. It was deeply biased reporting of the worst, superficial kind. The central goal appeared to show how negative and unreasonable anti-immigrant voices are.

 

 

Photo by Dai Lygad

Bias by Omission? BBC under-reports latest EU assault on Internet freedom

Bias by Omission? BBC under-reports latest EU assault on Internet freedom

BBC bias comes in many forms. One of the most insidious is bias by omission, when the Corporation chooses not to report key developments or perspectives in areas of major controversy.

It is a major issue in the referendum campaign. For example, the Corporation barely touched the story about a poster – ostensibly designed to encourage ethnic minorities to vote – which crassly depicted those who oppose immigration as a bullying skinhead thug.

The reason? Covering the story would have unavoidably opened a can of worms in the ‘remain’ strategy.

Front-line presenters John Humphrys and Nick Robinson have both admitted that such bias has been particularly evident in BBC coverage of the immigration debate. The views of opponents of the unprecedented levels of mass immigration into the UK since 2004 have routinely been ignored by the BBC or, just as bad, dismissed as racism or xenophobia.

It has also applied for decades in the BBC’s general reporting of the EU. Until forced to change by the EU referendum rules, the BBC vastly under-reported the withdrawal perspective, and anything to do with the case against the EU, as Brexit The Movie so vividly confirms. Emphatically, you did not hear those arguments first on the BBC.

Although the BBC is now reluctantly giving the opponents of the EU some airtime, it is mostly through gritted teeth. The default-position is still almost invariably Brussels good, Westminster bad.

Evidence of this? As Andrew Marr illustrated vividly at the weekend ‘remain’ figures such as Sir John Major – who was given a platform to attack viciously his perceived opponents – often get much better treatment than ‘leave’ supporters.

Such negativity to the ‘leave’ case is abundant elsewhere. For example, Today presenters Justin Webb and Mishal Husain filed three-part special reports (from Cornwall and Northern Ireland respectively) about what were said to be the local ‘facts’ in the referendum debate. Both, it turned out, injected a central theme: the cardinal importance of ‘EU money’ to the deprived economies in each area.

Neither bothered to tell the audience in their relentless focus on EU benevolence the simple but vital fact that, in reality, ‘EU money’ is actually from the British taxpayer.

Compounding the glaring omission, Justin Webb seemed conveniently not to know that a recent official report commissioned on behalf of local ratepayers in Cornwall had found that the spending of £500m of this ‘EU money’ had been so questionable and inefficient that, for example, it led to the creation of only 3,300 local jobs at a staggering cost of £150,000 per job.

Such blatant bias by omission by the BBC in the EU’s favour extends heavily into other areas.

Take for example, the reporting of one of Brussels’ latest highly controversial initiatives: to combine with Microsoft and other web giants in rooting out what the European Commission calls ‘hate speech and xenophobia’.

The BBC web story about this enthusiastically declared:

‘Microsoft, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have pledged to remove hate speech within 24 hours, in support of a code of conduct drafted by the EU. The freshly drafted code aims to limit the viral spread of online abuse on social media. It requires the firms to act quickly when told about hate speech and to do more to help combat illegal and xenophobic content. The firms must also help “educate” users about acceptable behaviour.’

What’s not to like? But hang on.  Did no-one in the 8,000-strong BBC newsroom think to check out the potential threats to civil liberty and journalistic freedom involved in such a move? Seemingly not. There’s not a peep about such issues in the web story.

The reality – as the Spiked! Website eloquently explains – is that phrases as vague as ‘hate speech and xenophobia’ and ‘acceptable behaviour’ are a legal nightmare and a lawyer’s paradise. They can be interpreted with deeply sinister intent, and, for example, can be used by the EU to attack and attempt to silence those who disagree with its free movement of people and immigration policies. Indeed, that may be the central agenda here.

The background of this new move also speaks volumes about how undemocratic and insidious the EU is.  The loosely-phrased laws against hate speech and xenophobia were first enacted by the European Commission in 2008. Has anyone ever been seriously consulted about them? No.

Yet since then, a vast continent-wide operation has gradually been set up to root these twin perceived evils out, including a European Commission against ‘racism and intolerance’.

The latest initiative with a Microsoft, therefore, is arguably a very substantial intensification of the Commission’s assault on those who disagree with its policies towards free movement, as the reams of explanation in the press release about the development clearly show.

And the BBC accepts this without a murmur. Why? Because, it still instinctively supports the EU, and will publish derogatory views about Brussels only if forced.

In this referendum, the BBC should be grasping every opportunity to explore EU-related issues, and especially the controversy surrounding them. Andrew Marr will call Boris Johnson ‘abominable’ for daring to raise Hitler in connection with EU operations, but he and his colleagues ignore EU actions that are patently and blatantly a threat to our fundamental, hard-won freedoms.

John Wilkes? He will be surely turning in his grave.

 

 

Referendum Blog: June 6

Referendum Blog: June 6

‘ABOMINABLE BIAS’: Andrew Marr interviewed John Major and Boris Johnson on his show yesterday (5 June). The BBC has characterised in other commentary the battle now as a ‘blue on blue’ fight, and with only two Sunday shows to go before the referendum, these were ‘big beast’ interviews where there would be expected to be scrupulously balance. There emphatically was not.

One set of indicators were that Sir John Major was interrupted 1.4 times per minute, compared to Boris Johnson 3.4 times. Overall John Major was interrupted 22 times, and Boris Johnson was interrupted 60 times. The Major interview was slightly shorter, at 15 min 55 seconds compared to 17 min 34 seconds, but the difference in words – approx. 3,000 in the Major sequence, 3,600 with Boris –  was the result of different rates of delivery, for example John Major speaking more slowly and more emphatically. The Major interview was also not as confrontational, which also meant the word count was lower.

Of course words alone and rates of interruption are not measures of bias. But in this case they were important pointers because – as will be shown in the analysis below – Marr’s approach to Major was mainly to ask him his views and then to let him speak, with only a few challenging or adversarial questions. With Johnson, the approach was mainly confrontational, including allegations that the campaign in which he (Johnson) was a lead figure, was telling on occasions a ‘flat lie’ to voters.

Marr’s approach to Major – as already noted – was mainly to let him outline his case that Vote Leave was advancing ‘squalid’ arguments in their cause.  His first questions, in effect, gave Major a platform to confirm his views that Leave was guilty of deceit. The only points put to him that were slightly adversarial were that Leave was reflecting genuine concerns about immigration, that concern about Turkey joining the EU was genuine, too, because the effects of the referendum vote would apply for 30 or 50 years in the future, and that the direction of travel of the EU was towards a super-state.  Nothing was taxing, Marr gave Major plenty of space to put his answers (the longest response was 372 words), and he had a platform to attack attacked the Leave side with finger-pointing, anger-filled vitriol.  Marr did little to get in the way of this onslaught.

The approach of Marr to Johnson, as has already been partly established by the much higher rate of interruptions, was very different: much more adversarial and challenging.  The longest answer or explanation given by Johnson was around 220 words, and most responses were shorter than 100 words. He had less time for detailed explanation.

Further, Marr used several of the points put by Major as means of attack. He had been provided with ammo which Marr used without compunction. His questioning was focused onthe credibility of the Leave campaign in line with what Sir John Major had alleged. He put it to him that Leave’s claim that EU membership cost £350m a week was ‘squalid’ (adding that the money that came back helped farmers and universities); suggested that the economic performance of the single market was getting better, and even though VL wanted to leave it Johnson had accepted it could cause business uncertainty; that Johnson was saying that David Cameron was untrustworthy, thus personalising the campaign that the VL claim that Turkey would join the EU imminently was wrong; that Johnson had been wrong to mention Hitler in connection with the EU because the EU had been created to ensure European peace; that he had changed his mind about wanting Turkey to join the EU; that his campaign’s  claims about Turkey  were a flat lie and ‘hogwash’; that in the Turkey and the £350m claims, he and the leave side were engaging in ‘untruth politics’, that because of what was happening the Conservative party was falling apart;  and that Major had said that he was pursuing ‘out’ only for personal ambition, he was  following ‘the best route to Downing Street’.

In addition to this, in the interview of Johnson was a central hugely controversial point made by Andrew Marr that undermined both his credibility and suggested that in his views of the EU, he is not impartial. He put it categorically to Johnson that the he had been wrong to raise Hitler in connection with the EU because it had created to ensure peace, whereas Hitler had been bent on pitching nation states against each other. He stated:

‘In terms of the big picture, isn’t it pretty abominable to compare what the EU as it is today with Hitler and don’t you regret that? Hitler believed in strong nation states fighting each other which has been a long European tradition going right back to Gustavus Adophus and all the rest of it. It’s what the Europeans did and we were drawn in again and again and again. And the EU was set up to stop that happening and we have both lived through a period of peace which the EU has to be given some credit for’.

The reality is that the EU was not set up to establish peace.  Peace after the Second World War and into the Cold War was created in ‘Europe’ long before the EU was established by NATO. The EU itself did not exist in its present form until 1992, and before that, its successor body, the EEC had no major role in foreign policy, it was primarily a customs union.  The EU’s alleged role as the creator of peace on the European continent is therefore a myth perpetuated primarily by the EU itself and parroted by Europhiles as a reason for not limiting its powers. The real ideological reason that the EU was set up was that Jean Monnet, the prime mover in steps towards what became the EU from the 1920s onwards, wanted to hobble the sovereignty of Europe by creating a technocratic ruling body that would take their place. His vision of a EU driving force loyal to only the EU itself is now embodied in the European Commission.

For many reasons, therefore, this was seriously unbalanced journalism. Marr gave Johnson a far tougher time, and isolated out that the Leave side was conducting a campaign that included a central ‘flat lie’, ‘abominable’ references to Hitler, and general political untruths.  No similar claims were put to Sir John Major about controversy (for example) linked to ‘remain’ predictions about the dire economic and social consequences that would follow exit.  Marr himself showed his own political bias in the erroneous claims about the origin of the EU, and also ignorance. He compounded that by making this the basis for his claim that Johnson’s conduct had been ‘abominable’.

BBC Transcript of Interview with Sir John Major

BBC Transcript of Interview with Boris Johnson

 

 

Referendum Blog: June 5

Referendum Blog: June 5

FEEDBACK BIAS: Radio 4’s Feedback, presented by Roger Bolton, ostensibly examined on Friday listeners’ concerns that BBC coverage was favouring the remain side in the EU referendum debate. Michael Yardley from Colchester said:

….I’m concerned about the way the referendum’s being reported by the BBC. It’s my impression that Remain gets better placement in BBC headlines. I also think there’s been a failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.

Now Roger Bolton – who was editor of Panorama when members of his staff controversially kow-towed to the IRA at Carrickmore – has got form in terms of bias in the presentation of Feedback. In the week when the EU referendum was confirmed back in February, he noted that there had already been listeners’ complaints and observed:

We begin with the much-anticipated announcement of a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. And some listeners are already lining up to shoot the messenger.

Before he had even explained what the complaints were, or given any of the complainants a chance to be heard, he was thus dismissing the idea of BBC bias – complainants were simply shooting the messenger.

Four months on, with the referendum now fast approaching, has he and his programme improved at all?

The first point to note is that Yardley’s main point, that ‘remain guests ‘get better placement in BBC headlines’, was not dealt with at all. BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith – who was asked by Bolton to respond to the various points raised by listeners and viewers, did not refer to it, and neither did Bolton.

In the absence of such a response, relevant here is a tally Craig Byers has been keeping on his Is the BBC Biased? website. He noted on 30/5 that in editions of BBC1’s News at Six programme containing headlines about the EU referendum, 21 had led with points from the remain side, whereas only seven were the other way round.  That’s a ratio of 3:1.

The question that Smith did try to answer from Yardley was whether there was a ‘failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.’ Bolton re-framed this and put it to Smith:

But I wonder if you’re also erm . . . finding it a little difficult to, er, how can I say? Take sides in the way perhaps BBC listeners would like you to take sides on matters of fact. Where one side makes a statement and another one, just, ‘Well that’s not true, it’s all rubbish’, whatever, but are you reluctant to go any further than simply say, ‘One side says this, the other side says the other.’

Smith’s response was extraordinary. He said first that the BBC so much leaned towards the need for impartiality, that they sometimes did not make judgment calls ‘that should be made’.  He cited the example of the Leave side claiming that Turkey would join the EU, and asserted that this was ‘factually wrong’ but said that there had been a lot of debate inside the BBC about this, and that this was diluted within the journalistic commentary to ‘Remain has said this is wrong’.

He stated:

in other words, we attributed the assessment to the Remain side, when we could, of our own, say ‘No, that is factually wrong.’ But, because as an organisation, more than any other organisation, there is a massive pressure and premium on fairness, on balance, on impartiality, I suspect we, we hold back from making those sort of calls, and I do think that, potentially, is a disservice to the listener and viewer.

Bolton then asked him about the BBC stating what the ‘facts’ were in the debate. Smith said there was so much controversy and complexity involved in what were ‘facts’ that it was ‘very difficult to present viewers and listeners with a whole string of unequivocal, clear as daylight facts about the EU.’

The implication being clearly that this was something that was not happening because of the difficulties involved.  Bolton did not press him further on the point and listener Yardley’s point was thus left dangling, there, only partly answered. What Smith did say was entirely in the BBC’s favour – in effect, they were so motivated by journalistic integrity they erred on the side of caution.

Is this true? Well, over recent days, BBC reporters have frequently noted that the economic part of the referendum debate is not the Leave side’s strongest suite, and when leave figures have tried to argue economic points, those same correspondents have stressed how many economists disagree.

In the same vein, the Vote Leave claim that EU membership costs the UK £350m a week has been subject to extremely close scrutiny on all BBC outlets, to the extent when on Today an 18-year-old ‘exit’ supporter mentioned the figure in passing, veteran BBC correspondent James Naughtie snapped at him in headmasterly tones and told him that he was definitely wrong (because the Commons’ Treasury Select Committee said so).

Various BBC programmes, such as Breakfast, have also wheeled out graphics to show how wrong the figure is.

Overall, Feedback was strongly biased against the complaint from Yardley, as it was against the Brexit side.  It was dismissed without considering the key points he made, and with undue focus on erroneous claims made by the Brexit side. Such cavalier dismissal of complaints is  endemic within the BBC.

Full Transcript:

BBC Radio 4, ‘Feedback, 3rd June 2016, Norman Smith and EU Referendum Coverage, 4.30pm

ANNOUNCER:    Now it’s time for Feedback with to Roger Bolton who talks to Norman Smith about listeners views of the BBC’s EU referendum reporting. He reveals which programmes listeners would like to hear much more of and asks is Radio 4 too posh?

ROGER BOLTON:             Hello. Three weeks to go to the biggest political decision for decades and the air is full of personal abuse, internecine strife and questionable statistics. Have you made your mind up yet and is the BBC’s European referendum reporting helping you decide where to place your cross? And who controls the agenda?

NORMAN SMITH:            We are there to report what the main combatants in this referendum say, do, argue and if they keep going on about the economy and immigration then I’m afraid the gravitational pull for us to do so, I think is pretty immense.

RB:        In feedback this week, the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith admits that the BBC could be bolder in its coverage and that sometimes a desire to be impartial gets in the way. The immigration question has dominated the last few days of the euro debate and Pakistani immigrant families were at the heart of the latest instalment of the Radio 4 series Born in Bradford the presenter is Winifred Robinson.

Extract from ‘Born in Bradford’ and a comment on ‘From Our Home Correspondent’.

RB:        But first, to Westminster. I’m standing outside the Houses of Parliament where party politics are the order of the day and which is usually the centre of political coverage. Not for the next three weeks. The European referendum debate that split the parties, split the countries of the UK, and the vote that matters will not take place in parliament but all over the country on June 23rd. How well has the BBC has been covering this crucial debate which will decide our future for years, probably decades ahead? Here are some of your views.

MICHAEL YARDLEY:        It’s Michael Yardley and I live near Colchester in Essex. I’m concerned about the way the referendum’s being reported by the BBC. It’s my impression that Remain gets better placement in BBC headlines. I also think there’s been a failure to emphasise that many fear-inducing statistical projections made by the Remain lobby are just estimates, guesswork.

LEON DEVINE (phonetic) Hi, this is Leon Devine from Worksop in North Nottinghamshire. The whole debate seems to more about the leadership issue in the Tory party rather than the issues behind the referendum. I think the coverage from the BBC has been more geared to generating controversy rather than illuminating some of the issues.

RB:        One of the corporation’s key journalists covering the campaign is its assistant political editor Norman Smith and I’m going to the BBC newsroom in the Milbank building behind me, to put to him some of your concerns about the coverage. Norman Smith how long have you been covering this campaign, does it seem most of your life?

NORMAN SMITH:            It has been, I suppose, the longest running story in British politics because it is the fundamental story of who are we? Are we’re part of Europe or are we something slightly different? It’s about identity, it’s about those fundamental questions of democracy and sovereignty so it is one of the defining political stories which has shaped our whole political narrative, certainly since I’ve been working as a political journalist.

RB:        And yet, there has been criticism of the coverage of this campaign, some from our listeners, some from other figures, for example John Snow said that it erm . . .  was an abusive and boring EU referendum campaign, he cannot remember a worse tempered one. Do you agree with him?

NS:        I don’t actually, no.  I know what he’s driving at, and that the level of invective, acrimony, even personal abuse, has been pretty ferocious, but I think also we have tapped into some of the big issues and big arguments. I mean, most obviously immigration is right up there in the headlights and we have delved into the arguments about levels of immigration, are they sustainable, what can we do about it and I think it’s also reflected in arguments about the economy. So I don’t accept that it has just been a sort of ‘he said, she said’ row, I think actually there has been quite a lot of grit to this debate.

RB:        It has of course been a fight for the agenda, each side trying to choose the territory they feel is most favourable to them.  You’ve got a dilemma, haven’t you?  On the one hand, you’ve got to report the debates that . . . is happening, on the other hand, you have a wider responsibility to cover the issues that you may, and the BBC may believe are really important and should be taken into consideration?

NS:        Hmm.

RB:        How do you deal with that?

NS:        I think there are limits to how far you can book the news agenda and say, ‘enough immigration’, ‘enough economy’, we think we really ought to be talking about the impact on agriculture or universities.  We are there to report what the main combatants in this referendum say, do, argue.  I don’t think it’s up to us to, as it were, go AWOL and say, ‘Well, fine, but we’re actually going to talk about this, because we think that’s what voters are interested in.’ I think we are to some extent bound to reflect their arguments, and if they keep going on about the economy and immigration then I’m afraid the gravitational pull for us to do so, I think is pretty immense.

RB:        You see, again, criticism from some of our listeners, but also, I think, contained into academic reports suggest a degree of bias and concerns about who is appearing.  Leon Devine says, for example, who tweeted us to say, why Tory politicians dominating the airwaves, while others, especially from smaller parties are ignored.

NS:        I guess because the Tory story plays to a bigger narrative about who governs the country after the referendum. So there is, editorially, a pull because of all the question marks about Cameron . . . leadership.

RB:        But I wonder if you’re also erm . . . finding it a little difficult to, er, how can I say? Take sides in the way perhaps BBC listeners would like you to take sides on matters of fact. Where one side makes a statement and another one, just, ‘Well that’s not true, it’s all rubbish’, whatever, but are you reluctant to go any further than simply say, ‘One side says this, the other side says the other.’

NS:        Well, I, I think that is a valid criticism. There is an instinctive bias in the BBC towards impartiality, to the exclusion, sometimes maybe of making judgement calls that we can and should make.  We are very, very . . . cautious about saying something is factually wrong. As I think as an organisation we could be more muscular about it.  I’ll give you an example, which is one that cropped up, and there was a lot of debate within the BBC about it, was when the Brexit campaign suggested that Turkey was poised to join the EU, and that there was nothing we could do about it. Now that is factually wrong, but when we initially covered the story, I think we said along the lines of ‘Remain had said that is wrong’ – in other words, we attributed the assessment to the Remain side, when we could, of our own, say ‘No, that is factually wrong.’ But, because as an organisation, more than any other organisation, there is a massive pressure and premium on fairness, on balance, on impartiality, I suspect we, we hold back from making those sort of calls, and I do think that, potentially, is a disservice to the listener and viewer.

RB:        But perhaps there is a larger problem that you face – which is . . . we in the country in a very long campaign, a lot of us haven’t made up our minds, in a way want you to tell us how to vote, want you to give us facts.  And there are some facts, but in most instances, this is a matter of judgement, er, about the future, but about a value system about what we hold most dear . . .

NS:        Hmm.

RB:        . . . and you can’t tell us, the answer . . .

NS:        (speaking over) No, I mean . . .

RB:        . . . to those things, can you?

NS:        I’ve done things for erm . . . telly and radio, along the lines of ‘EU Fact or Fiction’ and they are complete nightmares to do, because every fact is a matter of argument, there are, there are no sort of biblical tablets of stone which empirically prove one thing or the other, they are used as ammunition in both camps. And it is very difficult to present viewers and listeners with a whole string of unequivocal, clear as daylight facts about the EU.  And I suspect that is the subject of huge frustration for listeners, as indeed it is, indeed, the journalists.

RB:        Tell me, the answer to this honestly – are you enjoying this debate?

NS:        It’s incredibly physically wearing, because it is honestly exactly like a general election, except it’s a general election which seems to have gone on even longer. But it is enjoyable, because it’s one of those moments in your journalistic life when you are on the cusp of history, because of the decisions we make are momentous, and they will affect not just me but my children and grandchildren, so you genuinely feel you are sort of there is history is being made, and that’s a huge privilege.

RB:        My thanks to Norman Smith, the BBC’s assistant political editor.  The referendum will continue to be a subject that listeners have strong views on, of course, in the meantime I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on referendum coverage or anything you’ve heard on BBC radio lately, good or bad.

Photo by James Cridland