A report by News-watch into the BBC’s coverage on Brexit covering the six month period after the referendum vote has found overwhelmingly negativity about Britain leaving the EU – breaching the Corporations rules on impartiality.
The report into the BBC flagship Today programme on Radio 4 found that of the 366 guest speakers who appeared in the Business News segment, 192 of them (52.5%) were negative about the impact of the vote and only 60 (16.3%) expressed opinions which were pro-Brexit or saw the post-referendum economic outlook as positive. There were 114 (31%) neutral contributions.
That there were three times more anti-Brexit speakers than pro-Brexit ones invited by the BBC to participate in the prestigious slot breaks its charter requirements to be impartial.
The most serious imbalance was that only 10 (2.9%) of the Business News interviews (from six speakers) took place with supporters of withdrawal from the EU. They were a tiny minority in the overall welter of negativity, and their positive points were generally not followed up by programme presenters and the pro-Brexit sector of business was virtually ignored.
News-watch, who carried out the investigation, has been scrutinising the BBC’s EU output since 1999.
In the six months between June 24 (the day after the EU referendum) and December 22, 2016 it monitored all 208 EU-related items broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme in its Business News slots.
The investigation – which involved analysing more than 130,000 words of transcription – took place to check whether the BBC’s coverage met Charter requirements to be impartial in what the Corporation declares is the ‘agenda-setting’ platform for the Business News sector.
The intensive analysis shows that the overwhelming editorial purpose of the Business News slot was to air sustained and multi-faceted pessimism about the immediate and long-term consequences of the vote to leave the EU.
In classifying 60 speakers as ‘positive’, News-watch has erred on the side of caution. Only 31 were strongly optimistic about the post-Brexit economic landscape. The others were favourable, but only lukewarm or qualified in their assessments.
The BBC’s negativity towards Brexit was also blatant in the introductions to the Business News sequences. Only 22 (10.6%) of the opening sequences were clearly positive – though often even they were immediately followed by negative interviews.
Between them, the negative guests painted a relentlessly pessimistic picture of gloom, doom and uncertainty; of plunging economic prospects; of a collapse of consumer confidence; of rising inflation; of a drying up of investment; of job freezes; of a drain of jobs from London to mainland Europe; of skills shortages because of the ending of free movement; of the introduction of tariffs; and of endless complex renegotiation.
Given the BBC’s over-arching requirement for impartiality, the simple question that must be asked is: how the BBC can justify this gross imbalance given the pro-Brexit vote?
Based on the analysis, it clearly shows that the Today programme has effectively continued the Remain campaign’s ‘Project Fear’, beginning at dawn on June 24 and persisting until Christmas despite mounting post-Brexit positive news.
Another startling finding which has come to light through News-watch analysis is the massive level of bias by omission: a failure to include on Today at sufficient levels those who favoured withdrawal. By largely ignoring and not following up the themes and perceived opportunities which the few pro-Brexit guests did raise, and excluding from coverage important business figures who supported Brexit, the BBC appears to have further compromised itself.
The BBC is now duty bound to explain to the people who fund it how this editorial imbalance could have been allowed to occur. Failure to do so will seriously damage people’s confidence in its future coverage of Brexit.
This analysis is being circulated with the endorsement of a cross-party group of politicians who urgently request that the BBC’s director-general, Lord Hall, tells the truth to all licence fee payers about the astonishing catalogue of failure which News-watch has uncovered.