ACCORDING to weekend press reports, Boris Johnson’s director of communications Lee Cain has had a lightbulb moment. He has told Downing Street staff that appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme is a ‘waste of time’.
Well, golly gosh. An old saying about a pikestaff rushes to mind.
In reality, it is hard to believe that the Johnson administration wants to do anything serious to tackle the BBC because the new Culture Secretary is Nicky Morgan. Her reaction when 70 MPs wrote to BBC director-general Tony Hall complaining about BBC Brexit coverage?
— Nicky Morgan MP (@NickyMorgan01) March 21, 2017
Theresa May, of course, was not concerned about BBC bias at all. That’s because she and her communications chief Robbie Gibb – a former BBC news executive – knew that the Corporation would assist in every way possible to undermine a clean break departure from the EU. It is reasonable to infer that they were probably not disappointed in the support they received.
News-watch research, contained in six separate surveys, has shown consistently that since the EU referendum in 2016 the Today programme has massively under-reported and misrepresented the withdrawal perspective, and in parallel characterised ‘no deal’ and those who support it as extremists or ‘hardline’.
Perhaps the most egregious example was that in the six months after the vote, the programme’s business news section carried only ten interviews with supporters of Brexit out of a total of 192. The introduction to the survey stated: ‘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, rising inflation, a drying up of investment, job freezes, of a drain of jobs from London to mainland Europe, skills shortages because of the ending of free movement, the introduction of tariffs, and endless, complex renegotiation.’
For three years, this has been the hallmark of the BBC’s mindset. Preliminary findings from the latest News-watch survey, covering Today’s coverage of the European elections in April and May, show that as the May administration collapsed there was a doubling down on the BBC’s projection of concentrated Brexit gloom.
There were 487 EU-related speakers, of whom only 76 (15.6 per cent) were from withdrawalists (drawn from the ERG, the Brexit Party, UKIP, or those who had voted Leave in 2016 and were opposed to Theresa May’s ‘deal’). Between them, they spoke 14,000 words, which is only 10.5 per cent of the total of 133,500 spoken by all the EU-related contributors.
Figures, of course, are only part of the story. Perhaps the most striking exchange, illustrating the overall editorial approach, in the survey period was an interview by Nick Robinson with Sir William Cash on April 23. The background was that Nicky Morgan had complained the day before on the programme that she had received death threats because people such as Sir William had written an unhelpful letter to the press about her stance containing words such as ‘capitulation’ and ‘betrayal’.
The transcript of the interview with Sir William has to be seen to be believed. (It follows below.) Nick Robinson adopted a tone reserved by BBC presenters for those whom it regards as especially unsavoury, such as former BNP leader Nick Griffin. In an aggressive barrage of questions, Robinson asserted:
‘. . . what’s at issue here is the language you used, Sir Bill. No, the issue here is the language you use and I want you to address the language you’ve used rather than the argument.’
‘Do you think we’re still at war with Germany, Sir Bill? You refer to “appeasement”, “collaboration”, “surrendering”, “being on our hands and knees to Germany”. Do you think the war is continuing? . . . Why do you use the language of wartime, “appeasement”, “collaboration”, “surrender”, Sir Bill?’
Sir William patiently and politely explained that he had chosen the words because they were appropriate in the context that the EU were being very intransigent and ‘doing everything possible to make it difficult to leave’ on reasonable terms. Robinson was having none of it. Nicky Morgan had been offended and penance was required.
In sharp contrast, the programme’s general approach to the numerous Remain guests who suggested that leaving the EU with ‘no deal’ would be damaging or ‘catastrophic’ was benign acceptance.
Finally, a comparison with BBC’s 2014 European election coverage yields a startling statistic. The percentage of Brexit supporters who appeared in the survey period before the EU referendum was more than in the 2019 equivalent!
In this context, it would be an exciting development if the Johnson government did decide to do something concrete about such overwhelming BBC bias. Can Lee Cain succeed where others have so clearly failed?
Footnote: The News-watch legal application for a judicial review of the BBC’s approach to impartiality has been formally lodged with the BBC and the legal team is awaiting their formal reaction.
Transcript of interview with Sir William Cash, Today programme, April 23, 2019
Nick Robinson: ‘A forced and humiliating surrender. Appeasement on bended knee, the Prime Minister is making us crawl on our hands and knees to Germany and France.’ Not my words, the words used by the veteran anti-EU campaigner, Sir Bill Cash, who was condemned on this programme yesterday by fellow Conservative MP Nicky Morgan who, like many MPs who back Remain, has received a series of death threats and blames, in part, the language used in this debate. Sir Bill Cash joins us on the line now, good morning to you.
Sir William Cash: Good morning.
NR: Will Nicky Morgan’s words make you reconsider the words you use?
WC: No, for a very simple reason that considering the anger in the grass roots against what’s been going on and the broken promises that have been made and the fact that I don’t think she’d read my article, in fact I’m pretty certain, because she referred to the article in the Daily Telegraph today, when it was the Sunday Telegraph and didn’t give me the impression that she’d actually read it. But there we are.
NR: (speaking over) But she’s not the only person who’s condemned it. A fellow Conservative MP Alistair Burt said, ‘Does it ever cross your mind what you’re contributing to?’ So does it?
WC: Well, no. And the answer to that is this: that this is actually about the question of our leaving the European Union. We are standing up and I’m certainly standing up and have been consistently for the vote that was cast in the election, in the, in the referendum vote and also democracy itself and the manner in which . . . and this is what my article is actually about, which is about the legality of the extension of time and the broken promises that were associated with that by the Prime Minister and in the . . . in the House of Commons. (words unclear due to speaking over)
NR: (speaking over) Indeed, but what’s at issue here is the language you used, Sir Bill. No, the issue here is the language you use and I want you to address the language you’ve used rather than the argument.
WC: (speaking under) Yeah, okay.
NR: Do you think we’re still at war with Germany, Sir Bill? You refer to ‘appeasement’, ‘collaboration’, ‘surrendering’, ‘being on our hands and knees to Germany.’ Do you think the war is continuing?
WC: No I don’t, I think . . .
NR: (speaking over) So why do you use that language?
WC: As . . . well as, as quite clearly you can gather from looking at the situation as I’ve described it, I’m talking about what is going on now. This is the problem. (fragment of word, or word unclear due to speaking over)
NR: (speaking over) Why do you use the language of wartime, ‘appeasement’, ‘collaboration’, ‘surrender’, Sir Bill?
WC: Words mean what you choose them to mean, Nick, and the reality is that . . .
NR: (interrupting) They’re your words and you chose them, and I’m asking you why you use the language of war to describe a political disagreement.
WC: Well it is actually about a (fragment of word, or word unclear) as the European Scrutiny Committee made clear last year, we are, have been, consistently in these negotiations supplicating the European Union and thereby France and Germany. That is the position as it is now. We made a report, we made it clear, (words unclear due to speaking over)
NR: (speaking over) Are they the enemy, Sir Bill?
NR: Are our nearest neighbours in Europe the enemy, in your view?
WC: They’re not the enemy, but what they are, are people who are being very intransigent and are doing everything possible to make it as difficult as possible for us to leave the European Union on the terms on which we have a right to leave. (words unclear due to speaking over)
NR: (speaking over) But what I notice, that you use very different language now you’re on the radio to the language that you write . . .
WC: (speaking over) No, I . . .
NR: . . . in the article. You used the words, I put it to you again . . .
WC: (speaking over) That’s your interpretation . . .
NR: . . . of war.
WC: . . . of it, Nick. (words unclear due to speaking over)
NR: (speaking over) It’s not my interpretation, it’s a fact. You use the language of war, ‘surrender’, ‘hands and knees’, ‘collaboration’, ‘appeasement’ – why do you use that language?
WC: I’m using the language because it is an accurate description of what is actually being done over the last two, two years in negotiations.
NR: So Theresa May is a traitor to her country, is she?
WC: No, I’ve never said that. What I’m saying is it’s a complete misjudgement. It’s the manner in which the negotiations have been conducted. It’s the manner in which the extension of time has been made. And when I said, in the House of Commons, it was an abject surrender, I meant what I said, because that’s what it was.
NR: So, brief last question if I may, if someone issues a death threat and echoes the language you use, is your view, ‘so be it’?
WC: They certainly, they certainly wouldn’t be justified in doing so. I’m absolutely and totally against all those sort of death threats and anything of the kind. What I do say is that actually we have to express our language in a manner which reflects what’s been going on, and that’s what I did.
Act now! A £30,000 crowd-funding appeal is being launched today in an effort to #stopBBCbias. All donations gratefully received! Details of how to contribute are below.
For 20 years – since the European elections of 1999 – News-watch has been monitoring the BBC reporting of EU affairs to analyse whether it is meeting its Charter and Public Purposes requirement to be impartial.
It hasn’t and it isn’t. One survey after another has reached the same damning conclusion.
The reports, which use accepted academic research methodology, have established that the case for withdrawal from the EU has, from the start, been seriously under-represented. One of them, a report published in 2017 detailing the BBC’s coverage of ‘leave’ sympathy on the Left, summarises the extent of the failure; the standout statistic is noted in a ‘results table’ here.
In 274 hours of monitored BBC EU coverage between 2002 and 2017, only 14 speakers (0.2 per cent of the total) were Left-wing advocates for leaving the EU. Yet a strong Eurosceptic movement existed within Labour and the trade unions throughout that period.
There has also been systematic bias by omission in explaining the workings and negativities of the EU.
The BBC has always regarded News-watch’s surveys as unwanted attention to the extent that it has refused to engage with the vast majority of the News-watch reports.
On the very rare occasions it has deigned to offer a formal response to News-watch, it has been a travesty, as this Civitas paper conclusively demonstrates.
After Lord Wilson’s 2005 report into BBC EU coverage, which attacked the Corporation for not conducting proper monitoring and assessment of its output, it did claim to start such internal scrutiny. But no findings were ever published. Then, in 2015, the Corporation abruptly announced that it had abandoned such an approach and now relied on internal editorial processes.
Since the EU referendum, things have got massively worse. From the moment a palpably shaken David Dimbleby announced the result on that June 2016 morning, the Corporation has seen its duty as vigorously pushing the case for Remain and the EU perspective, while under-representing and often undermining the case to Leave. Exemplifying this is the current projection by BBC staff that ‘no deal’ is a Doomsday option.
At the same time, the BBC complaints procedure remains a brick wall designed to reject complaints and defend its bias rather than to make the Corporation’s journalism properly subject to scrutiny. In parallel, Parliament, which should police such a fundamental failure of the BBC Charter requirements, is so dominated by those who support the EU that it, too, is ineffective.
Enough is enough. That is why a judicial review process is being launched today. The goal is to push the Corporation towards becoming much more robust, transparent and equitable in meeting its fundamental requirement to be impartial.
Such cases are complex because the law is itself hugely complicated. But the action is cleverly pitched by the barristers who have framed it. The focus is not on the thousands of individual cases of bias that News-watch has exposed – that would be a fool’s errand in the courts. They are, though, part of the supporting evidence. Rather, the attack is on the BBC’s internal processes for ensuring impartiality. Put bluntly, they are simply not fit for purpose.
As already stated, News-watch analyses Corporation output by deploying rigorous research techniques accepted worldwide as the benchmark of scrutiny. The BBC does not. Instead, it relies mainly on internal meetings and processes. That in itself is a major issue of concern, because a fundamental of any research is to ensure against contamination through what is called confirmation bias. Those inhabiting an environment which has a particular set of values are oblivious of their bias, and indeed, will defend it to the hilt. In other words, they create a self-reinforcing echo chamber.
The BBC’s failure to exercise proper policing of impartiality does not stop there. It has emerged during exchanges with the BBC over the past year in connection with the case that its second major approach is via opinion polling. Participants are given a list of news providers and asked which they deem the most accurate, trustworthy and impartial. Around 50 per cent opt for the BBC in the impartiality category, and this, says the Corporation, is a key factor in showing that it is impartial.
This is nonsense. Polls do not calibrate anything other than people’s opinions. They do not, and cannot, measure whether the BBC is impartial, only the degree to which people think it is impartial (by comparison with other manifestly partial news outlets).
It boils down to this: on matters of impartiality, the Corporation is its own judge and jury, and has no verification other than the impressions of a sample of its audience.
It is against this background that the judicial review is being launched. It is nothing short of a national scandal that a public corporation which has a protected income of £3.5billion a year from licence-fee payers relies on such flimsy processes to deliver and verify such a crucial element of its Charter requirements.
In order to challenge the BBC in this vital way, a crowd-funding appeal is being launched today to raise £30,000 to cover the legal costs, and to ensure the message is spread as widely as possible. This will lead to a judicial review application being filed at the end of July.
We do hope you will contribute – any donation large or small will be very gratefully received.
Q and A
What is a judicial review?
It is a legal process allowing the courts to intervene if a public body is not complying with its statutory duties. Our case is the BBC does not police its impartiality rigorously enough – and has no independent verification – and that, as a result, the Corporation has become very biased on many issues, especially its coverage of Brexit.
How much money is needed and why?
Bringing such a court case is expensive, and the BBC has deep pockets. To have the best chance of winning, we need the best legal opinion and representation. Crowdfunding has been chosen because we believe that members of the public are as concerned as we are about BBC bias. The £30,000 being sought now will cover the judicial review application – further funds will be sought towards hearings when they are arranged.
Why should I support this action?
The BBC is a public corporation funded by a compulsory licence fee and enjoys an income of £3.5billion a year. It is required by its Charter to be impartial, but there is abundant evidence that it is not. Further, it has emerged that its internal processes for ensuring impartiality are inadequate, and rely to a large extent on opinion polling, which is not a reliable or appropriate way of measuring bias. The review is thus necessary in the public interest to improve the Corporation’s performance in a very important area of operations.
What is the timetable?
The goal is to submit the application for the review to the Administrative Court by the end of July, before the current legal term ends. A judge will decide the next steps, including when and if a hearing is to be held. These are fast track proceedings, so the hope is that a hearing will be held in October.
Why is David Keighley the claimant?
This is because he is a licence fee-payer with extensive media experience, especially in the monitoring of BBC output. His organisation News-watch has prepared dozens of surveys in this field using rigorous academic analysis. The BBC have largely refused to engage with the findings, and this is one of the main reasons why the judicial review is now being undertaken. His background evidence will be a core component in demonstrating why the BBC’s internal procedures for preventing bias are not adequate.
How very predictable. The BBC have never treated Nigel Farage or his core message seriously. During the European elections of 1999, when he was spokesman for the fledgling UKIP, they virtually ignored the party’s plans for withdrawal and gave far more airtime to the pro-Euro Conservative party. In all the years in between, they ignored as much as they could of the Brexit perspective and bracketed it firmly with bigotry, xenophobia and extremism. For example, News-watch surveys show that of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on Radio 4’s Today programme in survey periods between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
And so on Sunday night, as the European parliamentary results rolled in, what was the BBC’s focus? Undoubtedly, virtually from the off, it was to discredit pro-Brexit developments in any way possible. The programme rapidly became the Emily Thornberry/Alastair Campbell show, complete with unchallenged allegations from the latter that the Brexit Party was funded by roubles, and from Lady Nugee that those who had voted for Brexit first time would see the error of their ways at a second poll. Both worked flat out to discredit Nigel Farage and rubbish the strength of the pro-Brexit vote.
It quickly became apparent, too, that part of the strategy was that BBC presenters and reporters crudely lumped together the votes for Greens, Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties, and claimed they were all Remain.
This was poppycock, and at odds with what election results can indicate. For example, pollster Katherine Peacock said on the Today programme on May 3 when discussing the rise in the Liberal Democrat vote in the local elections, which Vince Cable had claimed was a vote for Remain:
‘You know, Vince Cable said that a vote for them is a vote for Remain. But I think it’s much, much more complex than that. And Lib Dems have a tradition of being that protest vote and of running councils and of making gains in local elections and I think that’s what you’ve seen a return to. Whether this actually can be transferred across to the European Elections is quite challenging. I think the issue of identity with political parties is very interesting. You’ve got only 8 per cent of the public who say they very strongly support a political party. Forty per cent say that they very strongly hold their position on Brexit, either Leave or Remain.’
There is no doubt that many of those who voted Liberal Democrat last Thursday were voting for Remain. But political allegiances are not currently as simple or binary as that, and to lump all the votes for one party together in the way the BBC did was highly questionable.
Yesterday morning Nigel Farage appeared on the Today programme. His interviewer was Justin Webb, and it was obvious from the outset that his mission was, as per usual, to attack and seek to discredit the Brexit Party’s success in every way he could, to the point of belligerence. There is a full transcript of the interview at the end of this article.
Mr Webb’s very predictable first point, continuing the overnight BBC theme, was that with ‘a total of 40 per cent of the vote’ Remain had won. Nigel Farage countered that parties who had entered the election supporting Brexit had won 52 per cent of the votes. Undaunted, Mr Webb resumed the attack. He said: ‘What they don’t accept is a no deal Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a no deal Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.’
And there we had it. News-watch research shows that this is what the BBC has been saying in various ways since the referendum took place. Of course, Corporation journalists have a duty to be adversarial when appropriate. But the overall treatment of the Brexit Party went well beyond that, and the negativity was only one way. On the results programme, by contrast, when a Plaid Cymru spokesman claimed at length that the Welsh vote was without doubt a victory for Remain and reversed the referendum vote, no one challenged him.
To be fair, Mr Farage managed to make some telling points of his own, such as that the two-party system served nothing but itself. But the relentless dogs-of-war onslaught continued, with Mr Webb openly laughing and incredulous at the idea of the Brexit Party standing in the next general election with a full manifesto, and then claiming Nigel Farage’s past policies included ‘a liking for President Putin’ – and no doubt in BBC terms the biggest heresy of all – ‘you don’t want the health service’.
In this one interview, all the BBC’s editorial doubts about Brexit, which have been the focus of their EU coverage for the 20 years that News-watch has been monitoring it, came into play. The difference now is that the BBC is seemingly transforming into what looks increasingly like a campaigning organisation with an agenda of its own – and that, as became crystal clear overnight, is to work all-out to discredit the idea of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, no matter how much the people of Britain might want it.
Here is the full interview:
JUSTIN WEBB: Let us turn to Nigel Farage who’s here in the studio, morning to you.
NIGEL FARAGE: Good morning to you.
JW: Nobody won, did they?
NF: Well, I don’t think we did too badly. I mean, the party didn’t even exist six weeks ago. We set it up and, of course, we had no ground campaign, no branches and yet, with a big simple message which is ‘We’ve been badly let down by two parties who’ve broken their promises’, we’ve topped the poll in a fairly dramatic start.
JW: And with a big simple message on the other side, ‘We want to remain’. They actually did better than you, got 40 per cent of the vote you, you and UKIP got 35 between you.
NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .
JW: So actually, they . . .
NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .
JW: Let me just put it to you . . .
NF: Hang on a second . . .
JW: They can legitimately, on the other . . .
NF: (speaking over) No.
JW: . . . side of the argument, claim victory this morning.
NF: (speaking over) Of course they can’t, because the Conservative Party position is they support Brexit and us leaving, add the Conservative vote are up. If you go around the country . . . do you know what it is? It’s about 52/48. We’re pretty much where we were three years ago. Things haven’t changed, people haven’t changed their minds. Now, actually, you know, that referendum was won by a clear majority of 1.3million. In a democracy, it’s the majority that wins. The problem we’ve got is that for a democracy to really function properly, you need the loser’s consent. And it’s pretty clear, listening to those clips, that the Remain parties still don’t accept Brexit. So these battles will go on.
JW: What they don’t accept is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.
NF: Yeah well, the point is . . .
JW: (speaking over) And that is the point that these European elections have made to you and your supporters.
NF: Well, we couldn’t have been clearer. You know, the next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as March 29. And all I can say is this: if we don’t leave on March 31 [sic] then you could can expect to see the Brexit Party’s success last night continue into the next general election.
JW: If a Conservative leader, new Conservative leader, new prime minister, comes to power and says, ‘Okay, we are going to leave on October 31 without a deal.’ And some Conservatives, as seems very likely, say, ‘We can’t support that,’ so there is an election. Will you do a deal with that leader to make sure that that side wins the election?
NF: Well, the first thing I want to say is this: that we’ve got a two-month period now during which there’s going to be this Conservative contest. That’s two of the five months we’ve got left until the leaving date. And I absolutely insist that we do have a mandate to now be part of that team. I want the Brexit Party . . . we’ve got some businessmen and women of considerable experience, quite happy to help the government get ready for 31 October by becoming part of that team . . .
JW: (interrupting) You haven’t got any MPs?
NF: Well, we will actually be in Brussels. You know, that’s where, that’s where . . .
JW: (speaking over) Yeah, but you don’t have any standing in this country to be part of the negotiations, any more than the Lib Dems do.
NF: Well, I don’t know, we’ve just won a national election. I would have thought we do have quite considerable standing. And we’ve also got the right people and the right expertise. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is whatever any Conservative leader says, well why would I believe them? Because we’ve heard it all before, Theresa May telling us 108 times we were leaving on March 29 and we didn’t, so . . .
JW: (speaking over) So hang on a second, even if there’s a manifesto then, say for the sake of argument, Boris Johnson is in charge, there’s a manifesto, he’s, he’s brought down by his own party effectively . . .
NF: (words unclear, speaking under)
JW: . . . there is a general election . . . well no, all these things are . . .
NF: (speaking over) We’re a long way from . . .
JW: . . . entirely possibly.
NF: We’re a long way from that.
JW: And they came to you and said, ‘Let’s do a deal, let’s say “no deal” Brexit, but let’s get it across by doing a deal your party’ are you . . . you’re not ruling it out, are you?
NF: I do not believe that the Conservative Party is even capable of producing a leader through this contest with that kind of clear message. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.
JW: But if they do, if they do, and a lot of Conservatives not only think that it’s possible, but think that is likely, and want it to happen, a lot of Conservative members . . . members. What they want to know from you is what then is the electoral setup going into that . . .
NF: (interrupting) If I see a Conservative manifesto at the end of this year, with an autumn election that says absolutely, unequivocally and clearly, ‘We are leaving the European Union with or without a deal and we mean it’, I’d be delighted to see it, but, but again, would they (words unclear due to speaking over)
JW: (speaking over) And, and . . .
NF: But they, but they . . .
JW: (speaking over) No, but you, hang on a second . . .
NF: (words unclear)
JW: (speaking over) No, excuse me, because you were (words unclear due to speaking over)
NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .
JW: . . . almost getting there . . .
NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .
JW: . . . but then you didn’t tell us what you were going to (word unclear due to speaking over)
NF: (speaking over) In 2017, the Conservatives told us we would be leaving on March 29 with or without a deal, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t . . .
JW: (speaking over) And if they tell you now, at the end of October, what do you do?
NF: I wouldn’t believe them.
JW: What, you’d simply, you’d simply blank them and stand against them?
NF: Firstly, it isn’t going to happen. I don’t think you . . . I mean, we’re not going to get a Conservative leader with that degree of clarity. And secondly, I wouldn’t believe them. How could I, with the track record of the last couple of years?
JW: But, but what you’re doing then is (laughs) suggesting to the country that you are going to stand as a political party . . .
JW: . . . with a whole gamut of policies . . .
JW: . . . and recently, on The Andrew Marr Show, when you were reminded of what those previous policies were, that you’ve held, you didn’t much like it. You are going to have to turn yourself into a full-scale political party?
NF: It’s a heck of a job. You know we’ve done amazing things in six weeks. I’m not pretending that to set up the infrastructure to fight 650 seats, perhaps for an October election is easy, but that, that work . . .
JW: (speaking over) But you’re intending to do it?
NF: . . . that work starts (words unclear due to speaking over ‘this afternoon’?)
JW: (speaking over) With a full manifesto?
NF: Absolutely. (words unclear due to speaking over)
JW: (speaking over) And we’ll be reminded of your previous liking for President Putin . . .
NF: (words unclear, speaking under)
JW: . . . and you don’t want the health service and all the rest of it . . .
NF: (speaking over) Hang on, they were never policies. I mean, I know the job of media is to close down debate, but those things that were talked about on the Andrew Marr programme . . .
JW: (speaking over) No, I’m opening it up, they’re your policies.
NF: (speaking over) were never, ever policies. But we will, of course, talk about policies, to have a policy platform . . .
JW: (speaking over) Right . . .
NF: . . . no question about that.
JW: (speaking over) Right, you are, you are going to stand in the next election with a full set of . . .
NF: (speaking over) But I’ll tell you what’s also, I’ll tell you what’s also very interesting, all the focus this morning is on the impact we’ve had on the Conservative Party. Just look at what happened to the Labour vote in the north-east of England and in Wales, where for the first time in over 100 years the Labour Party have not won an election in Wales. We’re also taking huge numbers of votes from the Labour Party too.
JW: You are going to challenge those two parties, right across the board . . .
NF: (speaking over) Yes.
JW: . . . and you think you can supplant them or live with them . . .
NF: (speaking over) Well . . .
JW: . . . in, in an election?
NF: I think that the two-party system now serves nothing but itself. I think they’re an obstruction to the modernisation of politics in our country, an obstruction to us moving forwards and yes, we’re going to take them on and I accept it’s a hugely ambitious thing to do, but that is what we’re going to try.
JW: So you’re going to stay in politics, because you had said you’d gone. In fact, you had gone.
NF: Well, I was quite happy to have gone . . .
JW: (speaking over) But you’re not any more.
NF: . . . and had we left the European Union . . .
JW: You are sticking with this for the long term?
NF: Yes, absolutely.
JW: Final thought about Donald Trump who’s coming here soon, are you going to see him?
NF: Well it’s difficult because, you know, whilst I’m a friend of his and I saw him quite recently in America, you know, this is an official state visit. And we know that Number 10 are saying, ‘Please don’t meet that person’, so if I do, it’ll be in private.
On March 29 last year, one year before non-Brexit day, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a day-long series of programmes called Britain at the Crossroads which the Corporation’s PR hype said was designed to examine the steps towards Brexit.
At its heart was the first of a multi-part series presented by Mark Mardell called Brexit: A Love Story? which purported to give a history of the love-hate relationship between the UK and the EU.
Predictably, it proved very one-sided. There was a deluge of pro-EU/EEC comment, – from both the presenter and contributors – but much less from those who were anti-EEC/EU. The News-watch survey into the programme, and of Britain at the Crossroads series can be accessed here.
A complaint against the blatantly biased approach was duly submitted by News-watch. Richard Hutt, the Director of the BBC Complaints Unit, finally responded, appropriately, perhaps, on April 1.
Mr Hutt relied for his defence on overarching ‘due impartiality’. This allowed him at a stroke to rule out the main findings of the News-watch report. Under this rubbery concept, of course, the BBC is allowed huge flexibility. They argue that most topics are not ‘binary’ but discussed from multiple viewpoints, and it is thus up to BBC editors to decide the degree to which the various perspectives are included.
It’s an all-purpose ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card, allowing the BBC to decide what it likes.
On this basis, Mr Hutt declared in his letter that it was perfectly acceptable for Brexit: A Love Story? to contain a predominance of pre-EU views (in a ratio of 9:4) – indeed that it was ‘inevitable’ – because the programme team had decided that the relationship would be examined through the lens of successive governments. Well, of course.
It did not seem to occur to him at all that on day of programming about Brexit, such an approach was grossly partisan. As most people in Britain voted for Brexit, why was the chosen programme angle (as an example of an alternative) not instead about how Parliament had for 50 years flouted British public opinion against the EU/EEC and continued to do so?
Put another way, why were the main contributors legions of fawning civil servants, along with Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, rather than figures such as Nigel Farage – who spoke a mere 134 words, most of which were taken up by him explaining the correct spelling of his name – or veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash (who did not appear at all)?
Mr Hutt also argued that the low number of eurosceptic contributions was defensible, because those who were included were of a high quality and their comments were edited in a way that skilfully and succinctly conveyed their core arguments. He claimed that this was an acceptable ‘editorial technique’; their contributions might have been small in volume, but they were punching above their weight and ‘fairly represented’.
This, too, is a highly dubious defence. The supposed expert selection of such contributions meant that the most prominent included Enoch Powell, Tony Benn, Jimmy Goldsmith and Kelvin Mackenzie. Of course, all these were ‘eurosceptic’ in their outlook. But were they typical of such opinion? Hardly. This was further evidence of the BBC ’bubble’ – those opposed to the EU were at every stage (and are) immoderate or extreme.
Mr Hutt, it also emerged, does not believe that academic techniques of content analysis of the type used by News-watch can be used to assess bias. It boils down to that, to him, that 9:4 imbalance was totally irrelevant because any attempt at ‘simple quantification’ of BBC content is not helpful. He argues that views about the EU/EEC are not generally ‘binary’ and that in any case, someone who might be classed as ‘pro-EU’ might actually have been making an impartial contribution.
This has now become a standard and fossilised BBC defence. Chief political advisor Ric Bailey made exactly the same stone-wall point on the BBC’s Newswatch programme which discussed the recent blatant imbalance against pro-Brexit panellists on BBC1 Question Time.
Lord Wilson of Dinton, the former cabinet secretary, conducted an inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of the EU in 2004/5 when a referendum about the proposed EU Constitution was being considered. He observed (p.5 of the report):
‘Senior managers appear insufficiently self-critical about standards of impartiality. . . This attitude appears to have filtered through to producers, reporters and presenters in the front line. There is no evidence of any systematic monitoring to ensure that all shades of significant opinion are fairly represented and there is a resistance to accepting external evidence. Leaving decisions to individual programme editors means that if there is bias in the coverage overall, no-one in the BBC would know about it.’
Almost 15 years on, Mr Hutt’s letter is clear evidence that nothing has changed.
In its first major ruling on BBC impartiality, media and telecoms regulator Ofcom – which became BBC complaints watchdog under the new 2017 BBC Charter – has starkly rejected any suggestion of bias in the Corporation’s news and current affairs coverage of Brexit.
Ofcom claims that requirements of ‘due impartiality’ in the Brexit debate were met in the 50 hours of monitored BBC Radio 4 programmes – which included 24 editions of the Today programme as well as ‘Britain at the Crossroads’, a special day-long strand of Brexit-related material – simply through the inclusion of a range of voices and opinions.
Ofcom’s programme standards team – which took in total nine months to consider its response – also ruled that because the debate about Brexit in the survey period was no longer ‘binary’ (divided into Leave and Remain, as it had been during the 2016 referendum), there was no requirement to ensure that coverage reflected these viewpoints on an equal basis.
In reaching their conclusions, the Ofcom verdict astonishingly ignores completely the specific, detailed claims of bias against the Brexit case in the News-watch reports, and maintains that balance on Brexit matters can be achieved simply by including an unspecified range of voices and opinions, apparently without consideration of by whom those opinions were delivered.
The major problems highlighted by News-watch, and based on rigorous scrutiny of every programme transcript, are detailed in the executive summaries which follow, and include:
- In all the surveys, those who were pro-EU and Remain outnumbered figures who wanted a decisive Brexit by ratios of up to 5:1 and never less than 2:1.
- BBC presenters and correspondents were not neutral in reports and interviews, but exaggerated the problems of leaving the EU while ignoring the potential benefits of developing new trade policies and restoring national sovereignty.
Ofcom justified its ruling by stating baldly:
“The public debate had. . . developed from a discussion of a binary question – whether the UK should ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ in the EU – into a much more complex and nuanced discussion comprising many different viewpoints on the form that the UK’s exit from the EU should take, and the potential implications on a range of different areas. In Ofcom’s view, it was likely that the audience of the programmes assessed would have expected the discussion of Brexit-related issues to reflect a range of different viewpoints on the UK’s exit from the EU and its implications, and how the public debate on these issues shifted and developed over time”.
A spokesman for News-watch commented:
“This ruling raises very disturbing issues about Ofcom’s neutrality in handling BBC complaints. It has completely sidestepped the very voluminous and meticulous evidence of bias, and has given the BBC a clean bill of health despite the abundant evidence to the contrary conducted using internationally-recognised techniques of assessing media content.
“Ofcom’s assertion that ‘due impartiality’ can be achieved simply including a range of opinions in coverage creates ‘due impartiality’. This is an absurd stance at odds with broadcast research practice followed by, among many others, bodies such as the former BBC Trust.
“The BBC’s handling of the Brexit debate is of major national importance because of its vast resources and reach. But Ofcom, who assumed backstop regulatory responsibility for Corporation impartiality as part of the BBC’s new Charter in 2017, seem to have adopted an extreme laissez faire approach, which is also reflected in the length of time it has taken to reach its ruling”.
The latest News-watch report assessed EU content in 24 editions of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme between October 9, 2017 and November 4, 2017. There was an unusually high level of such coverage hinged mainly on the Brexit negotiations. It amounted to 451 minutes, 93 per cent of which was devoted to Brexit.
The main finding is that there was an unjustified heavy bias towards exploring the difficulties and potential negativities of Brexit. In this context, there is a special investigation of the pervasive and indiscriminate use by this BBC coverage of the word ‘divorce’ – with all its negative overtones – to describe the EU exit process. In academic media analysis, it is held that such value-loaded ‘framing’ of issues by the editorial process can negatively influence audiences. The point here is that with all the resources available to the BBC news-gathering process, the use 47 times of such a controversial word to describe Brexit was at best poor journalism; at worst a sign of deliberate intent to frame Brexit in a particular light.
There was also an almost complete absence in the coverage of ‘ordinary’ people who had voted Leave, and of UKIP, the only political grouping with substantial electoral backing which supported without reservation the need for a decisive Brexit. Only 76 words, 0.2 per cent of the total words spoken on the EU by guest contributors, were in this category.
Another main finding is that in the news bulletins, there were 13 items which projected major problems in the Brexit arena, against none which were positive. The problems highlighted in bulletin stories included plummeting registration of nurses from across the EU, a Brexit cost to every household of £500, the loss of thousands of jobs in the City of London, the government denying ‘panic’ in its attempts to deal with Brexit talks, along with claims from Hillary Clinton that the Brexit vote was based on a ‘big lie’.
Overall there were 199 speakers in Today’s EU coverage, of whom 102 (51.3 per cent) were broadly pro-EU or were negative about Brexit, against 54 speakers (27.1 per cent) who were positive, a ratio of 2:1 (the remainder were neutral). Thus, Today, despite the Leave vote in the EU referendum , inexplicably gave substantially greater prominence to anti-Brexit opinion.
The imbalance was worst among programme guests who were not allied to political parties in the House of Commons, where there were only 16 appearances by supporters of Brexit, or who were against the EU, against 52 from those opposed to Brexit or in favour of the EU. This was 4 a ratio worse than 3:1. In words counts there were 13,498 in the former category against 3,433, a ratio of 4:1.
These 52 non-allied speakers opposed to Brexit or ‘no deal’ predicted a litany of woe for the UK, including the intractable difficulties of reaching new free trade deals; collapsing farm incomes; exports hit by new red tape, tariffs, customs delays and rising prices; Brexit causing a ‘massive energy suck’ against the British economy; ‘panic’ in the government camp because Theresa May’s Florence speech had not worked; that the UK’s xenophobic approach to Brexit would lead to long-term decline; that the cost of dairy exports and imports could soar; and that Brexit was hitting car exports from the UK.
The picture of negativity against Brexit was worsened throughout the period by comments from BBC correspondents and presenters, who projected a picture of a government in panic, insuperable difficulties related to reaching agreement with the EU and in striking new trade deals, and collapsing business confidence. Of course the government’s progress towards negotiations was not smooth, but the BBC’s editorial focus was disproportionately and relentlessly negative.
The third series of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed’ was broadcast on five consecutive days between 19 February and 23 February, 2018. Each programme was 12 minutes long and was presented by the BBC’s EU ‘Reality Check’ reporter, Chris Morris. Each edition dealt with the projected impact of Brexit and there were five separate themes: the UK pharmaceuticals sector, food and agriculture, the future of British Overseas Territories (the featured ones were Gibraltar and Anguilla), the regions of the UK outside London, and the socalled ‘transitional phase’ after March 2019.
The series was projected as an objective examination of the issues of Brexit, but it was not. Instead, Chris Morris and the programme team assembled and edited a range of contributions which were overwhelmingly biased against Brexit and pro-EU in their outlook.
There were 46 speakers in total but 22 made very short contributions, often as part of montage sequences, amounting to 285 words in total, and equating to just 3 per cent of the overall programme airtime.
The ‘meat’ of the programme was delivered by the 24 main interviewees who provided longer contributions. This group accounted for 48 per cent of the total airtime. 18 of the 24 were pro-EU/anti-Brexit; only three were anti-EU/pro-Brexit; two contributors made points both for and against; and one was neutral. The imbalance was startling. The 18 who made negative points on Brexit delivered 3,824 words (76 percent of words spoken by guests in this category), those speaking positively 352 words (seven per cent), and mixed/neutral speakers 838 words (17 per cent). The anti-Brexit to pro-Brexit word count ratio was thus almost 11 to one. The ratio of pro-EU to anti-EU speakers in this category was 6:1.
Bias in broadcasting, of course, is not measured by metrics alone, but such calculations are held in academic methodology to be a reliable pointer to its existence. Transcript analysis confirms that the negativity from these contributors against Brexit was very strong. At a headline level, it included predictions of serious problems in the regulatory regime governing the pharmaceuticals sector and huge delays in Britain being able to use pioneering medical drugs; the danger of food price rises of up to 46 per cent; the sovereignty of Gibraltar and the economic well-being of both Gibraltar and Anguilla coming under unprecedented attack; the West Midlands, as the chosen main example of a region of the UK, facing serious threats to its prosperity; and a transition period likened to walking the plank, with the likelihood of a UK ruled by the EU without any say.
The overall pessimism was heavily compounded by the comments and opinions of Chris Morris, who spoke 49 per cent of the words across the five programmes. His positive points were a very minor part of the programmes. Mostly, Mr Morris amplified the negativity of those gloomy about the impact of Brexit, and he strongly challenged or cut short those who made positive points. His primary intent seemed to echo the ‘walking the plank’ metaphor introduced in the final programme. Mr Morris did not tell listeners in his introductions and commentary that some of the key contributors who were negative about Brexit had clear pro-EU views and had been campaigners for Remain since before the EU Referendum. One, Professor of Law Catherine Barnard, held the Jean Monnet chair at Cambridge, and was thus at least partly paid for by the EU.
Thus, BBC ‘Reality Checking’ is a complete misnomer. In this series, the BBC seemed intent to cram into 60 minutes as many potential problems about Brexit as it could, with only a fig-leaf acknowledgement of the belief that it presents the UK with vibrant new opportunities.
Report 3 – ‘Britain at the Crossroads’, March 29, 2018
On March 29, 2018 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a day of programmes about Brexit designed to reflect the issues involved one year before the EU departure date. Eight separate programmes were involved: special editions of Today, The Long View (a historical discussion programme), The World at One, Dead Ringers and the World Tonight, along with ad hoc commissions The Channel, The Brexit Lab and The EU after Brexit.
News-watch transcribed and analysed all the programmes. With the exception of The Brexit Lab, the word-counts and speaker totals established by the survey found a heavy bias against Brexit. Only 15 speakers out of 92 during the day were confirmed withdrawalists. 49 were in favour of remain, pro-EU or critical of the government’s approach to the negotiations with the EU 28 supported Brexit or were anti EU
The overall word-count was 15,554 from those who broadly favoured Remain (the 49 above) against 6,889 from those making contrary points. In Today – which accounted for one third of the day’s output – the bias was much worse, with only eight guest contributors pro-Brexit against 26 negative about it, or positive about the EU.
But, as noted in the introduction, the textual analysis shows that the bias was much worse than the figures.
Of most concern, was that BBC presenters and correspondents, especially in the Today programme, seemed on a mission to highlight every possible snag in the Brexit process, and played down or ignored the opportunities.
The sequences which explored the future of the EU contained heavily pro-EU comment from BBC correspondents, and guest speakers – though pointing out some structural problems – were at core in different ways all strongly in favour of the EU. Entirely missing were any commentators calling for drastic reform – or withdrawal – who were part of so-called ‘populist’ or ‘right-wing’ movements within the EU.
The Brexit Lab, though clearly – and possibly uniquely in BBC history – an attempt to examine post-Brexit opportunities, was announced by the BBC immediately before transmission to be a ‘strongly personal view’ from the freelance journalist Iain Martin. 5
Overall, despite the exploration in The Brexit Lab, ‘Britain at the Crossroads’ was deeply skewed against Brexit. This has been the case in all eight News-watch surveys completed since the EU referendum. It is a matter of major national concern that the BBC is breaching its Charter requirements towards impartiality in this way.
BBC Director General Lord Hall of Birkenhead has declared that the Corporation is on a mission to counter fake news.
He publicly announced this back in the summer at the Prospect annual conference – the day before the white-collar trades union announced it would be campaigning for a Brexit ‘people’s vote’.
Others who addressed the conference included arch-Remainers Hilary Benn and Rain Newton-Smith, the chief economist of the CBI.
Perhaps it might be a little unfair to judge Lord Hall purely on the company he keeps, but latest research by News-watch shows that under his stewardship, the Corporation has in fact now morphed into a major purveyor of the commodity he allegedly so despises – and especially that which will thwart Brexit.
Strong documentary evidence in this vein came to light recently when Guido unearthed an internal circular from BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed, who is shortly to assume the elevated role of Corporation Editorial Director (whatever that means). From his lofty perch, he told BBC journalists that whatever Brexiteers might think, predictions from economists proved that leaving the EU is ‘rubbish’.
But how systematic within the BBC is the approach decreed and endorsed by Ahmed? How much has the fake news virus entered into the Corporation’s DNA?
News-watch is currently analysing the BBC’s coverage of the steps towards Theresa May’s reviled so-called EU ‘deal’ during the autumn, and as always, the devil is in the detail.
On September 17, as the Salzburg EU ‘summit’ unfolded, BBC’s ubiquitous reality check correspondent Chris Morris was in action on the Radio 4 Today programme. His mission? To tell listeners of the dangers of ‘no deal’ and to ram home to the maximum extent the chaos and misery which would ensue if Mrs May did not accept the terms on offer from her EU masters.
In this vein, a Morris voice-piece was prominent in that morning’s bulletins. He declared that a report from ‘a political research group’ warned that in nine out of ten areas of economic and legislative activity, it would not be possible to avoid ‘major negative impacts’ because time was running out to avoid ‘no deal’, and also that another major problem was that a 21-month transition period was not enough to be able to secure any free-trade deals.
The source of all this gloom and doom and Brexit impossibility? Morris said the ‘political research group’ involved was a body called the Institute for Government. Sounds authoritative, even-handed and ‘expert’?
That was clearly what Morris wished to convey, because he did not include any further details about the Institute. But dig about on its website debate and instantly several red-letter points central to the Brexit debate leap out.
First, it is chaired by Labour peer and ex-minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who, according to the Daily Telegraph, spent a cool £8m trying to avert Brexit. The report claims he created four different aliases so he could spend so lavishly.
Second, also on the board of the Institute are two other former Labour ministers, Baroness Amos and Liam Byrne MP; Sir Andrew Khan, the UK’s former permanent representative to the EU, who, surprise, surprise, is another fervent supporter of the EU; and Sir Richard Lambert, formerly editor of the Financial Times. It is hard to imagine a more arch-Remain grouping.
But third, there is more: The Institute’s director (chief executive) is Bronwen Maddox, a former Times foreign editor, who then became editor of the Prospect current affairs magazine before taking up her current role. Her views on Brexit are also pretty clear – she is a declared full-scale fan of George Osborne’s Project Fear.
For most people, details such as these would have sent a clear signal that the Institute would not exactly be sympathetic or even-handed in its attitudes towards the Brexit cause, and that any report by them must be handled with caution. And a few minutes’ perusal of the report confirms that it is shot through with hyperbolic ‘no deal’ misery in the ‘Project Fear’ mould.
But to the BBC and Morris this was of no concern regarding impartiality, despite editorial guidelines which stipulate that sources with potential bias must be identified.
And not only that. Sharp-eared listeners would have also heard in the 7am bulletin a very brief mention that the Institute’s report was not merely being reported by the BBC – it had actually been commissioned by BBC News!
And that’s a smoking gun. On the one hand, Editorial Director Ahmed is circulating notes to BBC journalists telling them that they must believe in and shout from the rafters the predictions of the doomsters of the IMF and the Treasury; on the other the BBC’s self-declared ‘reality check’ unit is commissioning and integrating slyly into its news agenda authoritative-sounding reports commissioned by the BBC to exaggerate to the maximum extent the dangers of ‘no deal’.
Question to Lord Hall: Is this not the very definition of ‘Fake News’?
The BBC’s visceral negativity towards Brexit was displayed on Monday in an extraordinary attempted ambush by Today presenter John Humphrys and the BBC’s ‘reality check’ correspondent Chris Morris.
The intended victim of this double onslaught was Peter Lilley, now Lord Lilley, and the subject was a report he had written suggesting that life outside the EU could be prosperous and free.
In the BBC’s world that, of course, is a thought crime. So Lilley was subjected first to a Humphrys grilling of the type reserved for those in the Corporation’s rogues’ gallery. But for the editorial team that was not enough. Next came a spot of BBC-style reality checking from Morris who claimed, in essence, that the Lilley report was pie in the sky fantasy.
A lesser man than Lord Lilley would have been banjaxed by such a bare-knuckle assault. As it was, he gave at least as good as he got. But the BBC tactics show that their efforts to discredit the possibility of a clean exit from the EU have reached new heights. They now believe that the elevated expression of their own biased judgments are a totally legitimate part of their so-called journalism.
The BBC’s so-called ‘reality check’ unit is, of course, nothing of the sort. Why? Exhibit A is that back in February, Morris presented a five-part series called Brexit: a Guide for the Perplexed. His lens was so distorted that 18 out his 24 main interviewees were anti-Brexit and only seven per cent of the words spoken were from the withdrawal perspective. That report by News-watch is currently under investigation by Ofcom following a formal complaint, and the outcome of the appeal is expected imminently.
Meanwhile, Morris has ploughed on regardless with his opinionated perspective, to the extent that, judging by the frequency of his appearances, the Today programme now regards his input as an essential part of the editorial process.
The transcript of the Lilley-Humphrys-Morris sequence on Monday (it can be read in full here) reveals just how biased this approach has become. Recent analysis by News-watch (not yet published) has shown that appearances by the so-called ‘Brexiteers’ on BBC programmes, or analysis of their perspective, remain much less frequent than those by Europhiles.
But the Corporation is not happy with skewing the debate by numbers alone. Its editorial imperative is to rubbish as hard and as much as it can every element of the Brexit case while paying lip service to its existence, thus retaining (in its view) a fig-leaf nod to its concept of ‘due impartiality’.
Thus it was on Monday’s Today, as already noted, that Lord Lilley was first grilled by Humphrys. Fair enough, perhaps, though Remain advocates very, very rarely face such rigorous scrutiny. What was also very clear was that John Humphrys was out of his depth in terms of his knowledge of the terrain.
Next came Morris with his titular stamp of ‘reality check’ authority. Lord Lilley himself has written about this encounter in the Sun.
His article is excoriating. He observes: ‘. . . they then brought on a chap called Chris Morris, described as the BBC “reality checker”, who was invited to rebut my document. But all he did was oppose my facts with the opinions of people with whom he agreed.’
Lord Lilley added: ‘He systematically argued the Remain case and defended their Project Fear scare stories. The one thing he did not do was bring in any new facts. My central claim was that if we leave the EU Customs Union but have a free trade agreement with the European Union, our businesses have little to fear.
‘The main difference will be that traders will have to send in a customs declaration detailing the goods they are buying from or selling to Europe. That is a nuisance which we should try to simplify as much as possible.
‘But allegations that “this will be hugely costly, cause lengthy delays, disrupt supply chains and undermine economic growth” are imaginary or exaggerated.’ These allegations were presented by Morris as ‘facts’ but showed he was setting himself up as a fortune-teller on the lines of the Delphic Oracle. In pointing out that the current EU border regime is not frictionless (something apparently unknown to Morris) Lord Lilley further undermined both Morris’s ‘reality check’ credibility and his Brexit doom-mongering. It also seems that Morris is totally impervious to evidence like this.
Why does this matter? Because this was without question a new low in the BBC’s coverage of Brexit and in their journalism as a whole. For years they have seriously under-reported and distorted the case for leaving the EU. Their coverage has also been marked by massive bias by omission, a feature first noted by the Wilson report of 2005 in that they have never properly reported the case against the EU or the benefits of leaving.
To what extent has this biased reporting bedevilled the steps towards withdrawal? Not content with that deluge of negativity, Monday’s Today showed the Corporation have now formally adopted within the editorial process a mechanism that they say is ‘objective’ but in reality – in the hands of Morris – is the official adoption of a process designed to discredit Brexit.
BBC bias seems to be sinking to new depths each week. It has become an advanced case of infestation by deathwatch beetle. The question is not any more, ‘is it biased?’ but rather, ‘what is not?’
Take Doctor Who on BBC1. Once it was an original, entertaining, and exciting sci-fi show brimful of intriguing ideas. Not now. Led by a female Doctor, it has fully transformed into an exercise in the Corporation’s box-ticking multiculturalism and the rewriting of history according to the creed of political correctness.
This week’s episode saw Gallifrey’s Time Lord and her motley multicultural crew witnessing Indian partition in 1947. The villains? Not, of course, the Muslim League. In the BBC’s alternative universe, it could never be that. No, it was us empire-obsessed Brits, aided and abetted by a rampant, murderous Hindu who demanded separation.
The latest News-watch report into BBC bias – an analysis of former Europe editor Mark Mardell’s 13-part series Brexit: A Love Story?, covering the UK’s relationship with the EU from joining to possible exit – shows equally serious distortion and partisanship. The full report is here.
It was claimed that the programme, which was broadcast fortnightly as a segment in Radio 4’s World at One between March and September, and was thus projected as ‘news’ with all that this entails in terms of adherence to standards, was a journalistic examination of the ebb and flow of the UK’s membership.
Not so. According to Mardell and the editorial team, there were villains and heroes in the tale. And just as in the now pantomimic Doctor Who, there was no doubt who the baddies were.
Step forward as the ringleaders – boo! hiss! – Margaret Thatcher, whose alleged love of conflict and dislike of Germans alienated Brits against the nice, well-meaning EU folk; the British press, which, dominated by barons such as Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch, and dolts such as Kelvin Mackenzie and Boris Johnson, lied continuously about benevolent EU rules; the ‘odious’ arch-capitalist Jimmy Goldsmith, who used his ill-gained cash to panic or blackmail the hapless John Major into accepting the Pandora’s Box idea of an in-out referendum; Nigel Farage, who opportunistically used events outside the EU’s control to force David Cameron to actually hold that referendum; and of course those in the Conservative party who dared over the years to challenge the EU’s goal of ever-closer union.
In Mardell’s estimation, it was the factors above plus Tory ‘civil war’ – not dislike and distrust by the British public of the EU itself and a desire to re-assert national sovereignty – which was a primary propellant of the exit vote.
The deluge of pro-EU opinion in the series was overwhelming. Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of the 38,000 words spoken by contributors were from figures who supported the EU and only 28 per cent who could be described as Eurosceptic or in favour of leave. Farage and supporters of leave such as the late Peter Shore were reduced to bit parts in the saga; most time was devoted to Brussels-loving senior civil servants, diplomats and politicians. Of course bias, cannot be measured by such numbers alone, but in the context of the overall editorial framework in the series, are an important indicator.
Another measure is that only six speakers of the 121 contributors who appeared in the series as a whole made what could be called substantive points against the EU.
Perhaps the most serious skew in terms of the rewriting of history was found in the episode which examined the handling of the BSE crisis during the 1990s. In Mardell’s hands, this was projected simplistically as a battle between a stupid and reckless Conservative government – putting lives at risk in their headlong defence of British beef – – against those nice EU bureaucrats who were doing nothing but taking reasonable steps to protect the hapless British public.
According to Mardell, was immigration at all a contributory factor towards the Brexit vote? Even he could not ignore the opening of the EU free movement gates from 2004, and one of the episodes dealt with this. But his primary contributor on this theme was Tony Blair, buttressed by then home secretary David Blunkett and an ‘expert’ from the London School of Economics, who argued one-dimensionally between them that the EU influx was an economic benefit and not at all a mistake. Opposition to that view? Only in the form of very brief vox pops which were clearly edited to convey the BBC’s wearyingly predictable version of anti-immigration bigotry.
The report as a whole shows a level of bias which is of the deepest concern. The series – as the endgame of the Brexit negotiations approached in the autumn – was cast as an overview appraisal of the the UK-EU relationship and scheduled accordingly in one of the BBC’s flagship news programmes. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, Mardell and his team were bent on showing that leaving the EU was an act of national mutilation triggered by the prejudice cultivated by the carefully-assembled cast of pantomime villains.
The BBC Radio 4 Today programme is in dire trouble. It is haemorrhaging listeners and, according to latest reports, more than one million have deserted over the past year, bringing the weekly audience down to 6.7m.
This should, of course, be a matter of urgent and very significant concern. The reality is that in the UK, only the BBC – by dint of its guaranteed vast licence-fee income – can afford to put out such a heavily-resourced news and current affairs radio programme. If the Corporation can’t get it right with flagship programmes such as Today, it is failing in its core remit.
Those multi-million figures, by the way, are somewhat misleading. They are simply the total number listening at some point for a few minutes to the 17.5 hours each week of Today output. The peak audience (on which basis television audiences are measured) is normally no more than two million at 8am.
What is the reason for the sharp decline? Could it be the programme’s relentless alienating bias? And might it be that the format – devised more than 40 years ago – has ossified over the decades into a diet of engineered difficult-to-listen-to confrontation on lines dictated by the BBC’s Leftist, politically correct worldview?
Tim Montgomerie recently adroitly summed up this growing antipathy. Explaining why he had become an ‘ex-Today listener’, he said:
‘On reflection, it’s the lack of illumination on almost any topic (as much as the bias) that makes me glad to have finally broken free. The biases are to “the State must do something about X” rather than “how can X best be solved?”; to short-term gloom rather than to long-term context; to politics; to supra-nationalism; to liberalism over conservatism . . . and any bad news from Trump’s America over bad news from within Brussels’ empire (especially from Italy).’
The BBC, of course, is deeply disdainful and dismissive of such views. World affairs editor John Simpson summed up the Corporation’s stance when he declared in Radio Times: ‘I’m getting really fed up with the complaints and criticisms being directed at BBC News at the moment. Not so much from our usual critics, the hardliners on the Left and the Right, who habitually claim we’re biased because we’re not actually biased in their favour. No – it’s middle-of-the-roaders who are doing the complaining now.’
However the slump in Today listening is now so acute that the Corporation has been forced into remedial action. Enter stage left with much huffing and puffing James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio, who, of course, was formerly a Blairite Labour minister. He emerged this week from the corporate shadows in Portland Place as the man with a plan for tackling the decline – even though before his appointment to his current role he had no direct broadcasting experience.
His wheeze? A daily 20-minute Today podcast, dubbed imaginatively Beyond Today. Which 1A 1AA committee thought of that?
To be fair, there is no doubt that media audiences of all kinds increasingly prefer to be in charge of their own agenda, and in line with that podcasts have grown in popularity, along with visual services such as Netflix. According to Ofcom, the number of weekly podcast listeners has increased from 3.2m five years ago to 5.9m in 2018.
What appears to have got Purnell particularly excited, though, is that 49 per cent of these podcast enthusiasts are adults aged under 35, and because Today’s existing audience is significantly older, his plan envisages that the lost million oldies will be replaced by youthful eager-beaver trendies.
In line with that, Purnell has appointed 37-year-old Tina Daheley – previously a stand-in presenter of a range of BBC news programmes including BBC1 Breakfast – and Today reporter Matthew Price as the presenters of the new podcasts. They will be assisted by a production team of ‘mainly women’.
Their agenda? Well, Ms Daheley – whose Twitter account shows clearly her preferences – has not been backward in coming forward. She told the Observer: ‘Anyone who has been paying attention knows podcasts are hugely popular with under-35s, and if you’re serious about reaching that audience, it’s the logical thing to do. For me, a big thing is class and social background. We’re supposed to be holding a mirror to society and be representing them, but when was the last time someone who didn’t go to public school or Oxbridge presented the Ten O’Clock News?
‘The BBC gets a lot out of me. I should be thinking: “This is brilliant, I’ve got this whole area locked off, I tick all of those boxes in terms of strategy – young women, brown people, so-called C2DE demographics” – but I wish there were more of me. I had to work twice as hard and be damn good at my job to develop my career. I was doing 19 jobs and working for months without a day off [to get noticed] but there should be more people who look like me.’
So there we have it. Mr Purnell’s strategy to win back the Today deserters is not to address issues of bias, or to make an atrophied programme format less BBC agitprop and more accessible. Rather, it’s to ram yet more opinionated ‘diversity’ – in all its multi-faceted Corporation splendour and zeal – down our gullets. Whether we like it or not.
The first edition of Beyond Today was published on Tuesday. What had it to offer? Exactly the same BBC diet, with Evan Davis and someone from the BBC’s favourite think tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, warning that more money needs to be spent on public services.
How idiotic has the advocacy of climate alarmism by the BBC become?
Last month, as was reported on TCW, BBC News Director Fran Unsworth issued a formal directive stating, in effect, that alarmism is proven and cannot be challenged on the BBC airwaves.
One of her key minions, James Stephenson, the BBC’s overall editor of News and Current Affairs, has now appeared on the latest edition of BBC Radio 4’s Feedback to ram home the message.
Full reading of the transcript is recommended to to appreciate the jaw-dropping scale of the bias involved, but in essence, he declared that, despite viewer concerns the Corporation was adopting a partisan approach, ‘the science’ is beyond doubt and the IPCC’s word on the subject must be considered gospel.
His stance amounts to a total junking by the Corporation of basic scientific empiricism, which – since Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus in 1267 – has been based on the premise that one new set of verifiable data can sweep away any theory.
In that context, the alleged existence of ‘consensus’ between climate scientists on which Stephenson relies for justifying his propaganda position, matters not one jot.
In fact – despite all the IPCC’s posturing, politicking and blustering – the study of workings of the globe’s climate is in its infancy, not least because measurement of variables is so unreliable and incomplete.
Leading anti-alarmist scientist (and true empiricist), the Australian Jo Nova, excoriatingly reports that the world’s major climate ‘record’ – on which are anchored many of the IPCC’s alarmist predictions – is riddled with massive errors, gaps and assumptions.
So extreme was Stephenson’s partisanship in favour of the climate alarmist stance on Feedback that he bloody-mindedly defended a major mistake in the Corporation’s IPCC-related coverage.
Presenters John Humphrys and Sarah Montague both wrongly said the IPCC report was warning about a 1.5 per cent rise in global temperatures when the reality was that it referred to 1.5 degrees. Whoops, but in the BBC’s manual of climate change reporting, who cares? Stephenson accepted this was inaccurate, but claimed it did not matter because ‘audiences would have recognised it was a slip’.
Eh? In other words, in the BBC’s climate change universe, never let the facts get in the way of a good scare story.
Ironically, perhaps, the BBC position on alarmism can also be compared to that of the Catholic Church as imagined in Bertolt Brecht’s 1938 play The Life of Galileo. This in the 1960s was a ‘must see’ drama for all those on the left. They wanted to ridicule the play’s projection of the unreason and unbending conservatism of Catholicism, then one of the biggest targets of every left-winger. Ultra Marxist Brecht represented Galileo as the voice of ‘reason’ against the Church’s defence of bigoted religious orthodoxy. The BBC, of course, would love to see themselves as Galileo in the climate change debate.
In reality, though, they are not. The BBC, the IPCC and other bodies such as the EU, politicians and governments who have swallowed the IPCC agenda, the multi-national companies benefitting from ‘green’ energy, and academia are now all the vested interests defending the ‘warmist’ status quo at any and every cost – including the rejection of reason itself.
Every man (and woman) jack of them, like the Catholic Church in Brecht’s projection, is pitched against true scientific inquiry. Those who question alarmism are not ‘deniers’ as the BBC now so insultingly calls them. Rather, it is they, the ‘deniers’, the anti-alarmists, who are heroes and heroines fighting to smash the corrupt billions-of-dollars alarmist scam, which, on some estimates, is costing trillions of dollars.
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