We are never keen on the argument that being attacked by both sides shows you must be getting it right. It’s quite possible to be wrong in two different ways, so we always take such criticisms seriously. In any case, few issues only have two sides, so teetering in the middle of the proverbial see-saw is seldom the right place.
It’s also characteristic of such pieces that our two brave BBC bigwigs give examples of what went right (eg. an interview with Douglas Carswell) but don’t give examples of what went wrong.
Plus they place complete trust in their own reality-checking process – something that continues to ring alarm bells with me. The BBC sitting in statistical judgement on hot topics of political controversy, and doing so under the banner of impartiality, is a much more questionable proposition than our two BBC high-ups seem to realise.
What a fascinating exercise in throwing everything at a subject, including the kitchen sink. Much of it is rehashing the usual defense talking points, but the Complaints From Both Sides thing was especially galling.
At first, I was prepared to be refreshed that they dared suggest that just because they get Complaints From Both Sides it doesn’t automatically mean they’re getting it right. Of course then they went on at great lenght to explain how they did.
Nor did the BBC shirk its responsibility to analyse the competing claims of both sides. Extensive use was made of Reality Check, the BBC’s fact-checking brand, in TV news bulletins, as well as online.
No, sorry, this is utter BS. Complaints about accuracy and detail are not the only kind they get, and it’s dishonest for them to pretend it’s the case. As for Fact Check, well, we know how that turned out. Bias by omission, bias by perspective, bias by contextualizing. Dateline London panels aren’t addressed here, nor is the ‘Brexageddon’ programming with no pro-Brexit equivalent, nor is the referendum vote night coverage.
Sometimes the stopwatch isn’t the best judge, but sometimes it is.
This reads like they had a whole list of ‘the usual moans’, with a ready list of defensive talking points. you can tell they sat down and went through some sort of checklist.
They make an interesting point about a referendum being a different animal to cover than other elections, as it’s a single issue. Brexit isn’t a single issue so much as it is a collection of specific issues, but fair enough.
But none of what they said addressed the issue of Laura K. with quivering lip and near to tears, Dimbleby croaking as he told us that sterling had crashed, the obvious anger and disappointment from so many Beeboids out in the field, Nick Robinson basically insulting 17 million people, with every single other reporter repeating his script, sometimes almost verbatim.
Nothing in the article addresses complaints about anything except ‘fact checking’ and time allotments, really.
Fail. I wonder if there’s some way to email a rebuttal to the journalism.co.uk editors.
Scenting Tory blood, the BBC cranks up its anti-Brexit propaganda. That was the conclusion I reached at the end of the BBC’s shameless last week of anti—Brexit coverage a year on from the referendum victory. The Tories’ election debacle appeared to have given them carte blanche to revolt.
Now they have declared all-out war. Last night on Newsnight Evan Davis used that time-honoured tactic to justify what is clearly now the BBC’s official stance. He rewrote history – in this case the very recent history of the election result.
In an aggressive and rude interview with David Jones MP – a minister in the Brexit department until the election – Evan Davis asserted as a fact that the ‘Theresa May plan for Brexit’ was one ‘which clearly didn’t grab the population in the election’. How he was party to this knowledge we were to find out.
“I don’t think it was that,” Jones immediately countered, “I think frankly the big issues were other non-Brexit-related issues, most particularly the issue of social care but also one or two other issues too. But I think so far as Brexit is concerned, we are now in the position where 80 per cent of the electorate of this country voted for parties who want to take Britain out of the EU.
To which our insolent BBC apparatchik replied: “Sorry, what planet are you on?
“Loads of swing voters who might have voted Tory voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party because they so detested the Theresa May version of Brexit. Metropolitan, liberal Remainers . . .”
Yes, of course, this was why the swing voters voted for Corbyn!
Quite rightly, Mr Jones retorted: ‘I don’t see how you can …’ but before he could finish, Evan bulldozed over him: “….We cannot vote for Theresa May because we don’t like her Brexit . . .’ This was his theory of the election result and that was that.
David Jones once more attempted to question this thesis: “I don’t see how you can possibly read that into the election result – 80 per cent of the population voted for parties that clearly support Brexit.”
No, they didn’t – not at least according to Newsnight’s mind reader: “ … the polls show more people didn’t like her version of Brexit than did like her version of Brexit. You can’t say that anybody who voted Labour was endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit, because they voted for a party . . .”
Mr Jones tried again, once more to be ridden roughshod over.
Davis was not letting go of his cherished theory: “But hang on, you were saying if somebody voted Labour they were effectively endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit and that is completely untrue isn’t it? They voted Labour as a protest against Theresa May’s Brexit.”
If that is not a fake fact I am not sure what is.
The valiant David Jones had one more go: “Well, I don’t see how you can possibly read that into it”.
And guess what, Evan couldn’t wait to explain to this poor idiot Tory what was going on in the mind of the man on the Clapham omnibus on the way to vote (according the Book of Evan, and the Holy Gospel of the BBC, that is). It was, he avowed:
“Because they thought they’d get a softer Brexit from Labour and potentially stay in the customs union, because they thought it was bonkers to leave it.”
Is that so? How many voters I wonder would have passed a quick test outside the polling booth on exactly what the customs union is?
You have to be quick with your repartee if you are not going to be a lamb for the slaughter on the BBC. By now poor Mr Jones, like a torture victim who manfully keeps repeating his name, rank and serial number, could only respond: “I think that that is a complete misreading of the election if I may say so”.
It was, of course. But that didn’t stop Evan triumphantly snarling: “Do you accept polls that show more people believe that Theresa May’s Brexit should be amended than support it?”
The much tried Tory didn’t contradict him. A pity. The polls show no such thing.
What one showed with quite crystal clarity on the eve of the election was nine out of 10 people rejected the idea that this was a “Brexit election” at all – insisting that it should also be about public services. A poll for The Independent showed quite simply they did not believe her. They saw the election as being about public services. This, not Brexit, was uppermost in their minds. It was, of course, the ground Mr Corbyn’s Labour fought on and what dominated the public debate – certainly from the ‘dementia tax’ cock-up onwards.
Evan Davis’s interpretation of the election was bizarre. In contrast to his assertions about a lack of support for Mrs May’s Brexit plan, eve of election polling showed that the Conservatives had a strong lead when people were asked which party has the best policy on Brexit – 47 per cent named the Tories against only 19 per cent naming Labour, and of Labour voters one in five thought the Tories had the best approach to Brexit.
I must say I am looking forward now to Evan’s creative take on the rejection of Chuka Umuna’s Remoaner amendment to stay in the single market and customs union in Parliament yesterday – by 322 votes which included the Labour leadership and the majority of Labour MPs.
I can’t imagine he will he let the truth get in the way of a good story. Especially when that story supposedly justifies an all-out BBC assault on the Brexit process over the next 19 months.
Transcript of BBC2 Newsnight, 28 June 2017, Interview with David Jones, 10.41pm
EVAN DAVIS: Well, I’m joined now by Conservative MP David Jones, who was, until very recently, the Minister of State for Exiting the EU. A very good evening to you. How long do you give Theresa May?
DAVID JONES: Well, I think we have to acknowledge that it was a difficult election campaign, we didn’t do as well as we wanted to. But I think that most Members of Parliament were very impressed by what she did immediately afterwards. She came to the 1922 Committee, she acknowledged that there had been mistakes, she put her hands up to it, and she got a great deal of support from everybody who was present in the room. And I think that slowly but surely, she is building up her credibility with the party and I think that she’s got quite a long time ahead of her.
ED: It’s interesting you say she’s building up her credibility, because today, the first vote in Parliament, so it was a vote on a Labour amendment to get rid of the public sector 1% pay cap. You stuck with the vote, you voted against the Labour amendment, the morning briefings were you were going to get rid of the cap, despite voting against the Labour amendment, this afternoon retreated on the change on policy. It was like complete confusion. Can the next 1722 days of this Parliament carry on like that?
DJ: Well, I have to acknowledge that today was not one of the best days. But nevertheless, looking at what has happened over the last two weeks, I have seen Theresa May stabilising the ship, and I think . . .
ED: (interrupting) Sorry, stabilising the ship? Since the election, which was a disaster, Grenfell – she’s had to apologise to the nation for the reaction to that. And she’s . . . we’ve had today, a complete confusion over policy?
DJ: It has been a very difficult time, I don’t deny that.
ED: But you said she’s building up her credibility rather than burning through her credibility.
DJ: Yes, well yes I do, because quite frankly, at the end of the election campaign, that credibility was very low, in fact, the entire party’s credibility was very low. But nevertheless I don’t detect any appetite within the Parliamentary party to see her go.
ED: Would you describe your old department, DExEU, the department you were dropped from, would you describe that as chaos?
DJ: No, I wouldn’t. I would actually say that DExEU is an extremely effective department, I think that it’s got an extremely strong team of officials and I think they’re very well prepared for the negotiations.
ED: But you were dropped and another one resigned about five days before the negotiations started, that’s madness isn’t it?
DJ: Well, I’m not second-guessing why the Prime Minister decided to . . .
ED: Well, why do you think she dropped you? Why did she drop you?
DJ: I just said, I’m not second-guessing why the Prime Minister decided to dispense of my services. Any politician who takes a ministerial role knows that from the moment he is appointed he is that much closer to leaving.
ED: Hang on, we basically five days before the negotiations started, we lost two of the people in the department who were going to be doing the negotiating. We had to bring in two new people who had five days’ notice to get ready to meet Monsieur Barnier.
DJ: Two very competent people who I think will do an extremely good job, but most importantly backed up by an extremely strong team of officials and led by the very competent David Davis.
ED: It’s all going so well, on your account, do you think David Davis and Philip Hammond can both stay in post for the next two years and agree something between them on . . .
DJ: Yes, I do. And in fact, quite contrary to the reports in today’s newspapers, they actually work very closely indeed, they have regular meetings and discussions. I think that today’s reports have been overblown and I think that it’s essentially a difference of emphasis. But I think that actually they’re working extremely closely and very effectively together.
ED: What is the difference of emphasis do you think between them?
DJ: Well, I mean, this morning for example, there was the suggestion that Philip Hammond wanted us to remain in the customs union and David Davis saying not. But in fact . . .
ED: (laughs) That’s not . . . that’s not an emphasis!
DJ: Well it is, because in fact both David Davis and Philip Hammond are agreed that we will have to be out of both the customs union and the single market by the end of this Parliament, in five years’ time.
ED: But what’s interesting is, because even though you were dropped from the government, you are behaving, if I may say, and this is not being, being rude, you’re behaving in a very loyal way, you clearly think Theresa May should stick it out for quite a while, you’re basically with the party on all of this. In a way it seems like the leadership issue has become a proxy for the Brexit issue. It’s interesting listening to Nicky Morgan thinking, well, the clock’s ticking on Theresa May and Jacob Rees-Mogg in that piece saying, no, she is the right person to steer us through. Is this the case now Brexiteers are putting their faith in Theresa May, soft Brexiteers or Remainers are saying maybe we need to get rid of her and we can get something moving on (words unclear due to speaking over)
DJ: (speaking over) I think there is no doubt that Brexit is going to be the defining issue of this Parliament and of course, we’ve only got a very limited timetable to work through: we’ve got one year and nine months. And so really, what we can’t afford is the indulgence of talking about alternative leaders, or putting in place somebody else, for someone who actually I think will do a very good job and will lead the country through these negotiations very effectively.
ED: Well, you’re making my point, the Brexiteers clearly have more faith in Theresa May than anyone else. But you say, you know, ‘this is no time for indulgence’ but it is surely the time for people to discuss and express their concern over the Theresa May plan for Brexit which clearly didn’t grab the population in the election.
DJ: I don’t think it was that, I think frankly the big issues were other non-Brexit-related issues, I think most particularly the issue of social care but also one or two other issues too. But I think so far as Brexit is concerned, we are now in the position where 80% of the electorate of this country voted for parties who want to take Britain out of the EU.
ED: Sorry, what planet are you on? Loads of swing voters who might have voted Tory voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party because they so detested the Theresa May version of Brexit. Metropolitan, liberal Remainers . . .
DJ: I don’t see how you can . . .
ED: . . . said ‘We cannot vote for Theresa May because we don’t like her Brexit . . .’
DJ: (speaking over) I don’t see how you can possibly read that into the election result.
ED: Well, the polls show, and I know we don’t put a huge amount of weight on polls, but the polls show more people didn’t like her version of Brexit than did like her version of Brexit. You can’t say that anybody who voted Labour was endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit, because they voted for a party . . .
DJ: Brexit, actually, to coin a phrase, does mean Brexit. We have already set ourselves on the course for leaving the European Union.
ED: But hang on, you were saying if somebody voted Labour they were effectively endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit and that is completely untrue isn’t it? They voted Labour as a protest against Theresa May’s Brexit.
DJ: Well, I don’t see how you can possibly read that into it.
ED: Because they thought they’d get a softer Brexit from Labour and potentially stay in the customs union, because they thought it was bonkers to leave it.
DJ: I think that that is a complete misreading of the election if I may say so.
ED: Do you accept polls that show more people believe that Theresa May’s Brexit should be amended than support it?
DJ: Look, Theresa May’s Brexit is absolutely clear and that is to leave the European Union but to seek the best possible relationship with the European Union in terms of a free trade agreement and in terms, of course, of access to the single market.
ED: (speaking over) Why not have a free vote on it? All those MPs have been honest about their views on the situation in the election, we’ve just had an election, they (words unclear due to speaking over) voted, post referendum . . .
DJ: (speaking over) We’ve had the vote already.
ED: Well, then let the MPs vote on which Brexit they want.
DJ: Forgive me, but we’ve already agreed and decided to leave the European Union, we . . .
ED: (interrupting) And there are multiple ways of leaving the European Union, it doesn’t have to be the way you want to do it.
DJ: The ways of leaving the European Union are specified in Article 50, and that’s the process we are going through at the moment.
ED: Are you saying, sorry, this is really important, are you saying there is literally only one way of leaving the European Union, there are no choices whatsoever in that at all?
DJ: The choice has already been made, we’ve served the notice under Article 50 . . .
ED: (speaking over) Yes . . .
DJ: . . . and we are therefore on our way out of the European Union. What we’re now doing is attempting to seek the best possible relationship with the European Union after we have left. And I think that is something that is shared by members of parties on both sides of the House.
ED: David Jones, thank you very much.
This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
There’s a warning today from Britain’s berry growers that Brexit could crush the industry.
UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.
Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.
I think this is a clear case of BBC bias (conscious or unconscious).
And it’s far from being the first time that the BBC has spun its own surveys in a favoured direction.
The so-called ‘leaders’ debate on BBC1 last night was a car crash of a programme that should never have been broadcast.
‘Balance’ was never going to be possible in a set-up involving five strident left-wing parties ranged against two from the ‘right’. Those at the Corporation paid substantial salaries to achieve ‘impartiality’, including the Director of News, James Harding, should have spotted this a mile away.
Further, despite anything that the BBC might say, the audience was seriously biased against Amber Rudd for the Conservatives and Paul Nuttall of Ukip. The Corporation afterwards claimed this was not their fault because they had sub-contracted the polling organisation ComRes to select the audience members on a ‘scientific’ basis.
Poppycock. The BBC are responsible for programmes that they broadcast and in a General Election the Corporation has a clearly-defined responsibility under both the Charter and electoral law to ensure balance.
The reality is that the make-up of audience was a first-order farce. Nothing the BBC broadcasts subsequently can ‘balance’ this, so gross was the problem.
This Cambridge mob was not just biased in its reactions throughout the 90 minutes but risibly so. Everything Jeremy Corbyn said was cheered to the rafters, whereas Rudd and Nuttall were subjected to catcalls. The camerawork (was that sub-contracted, too?) further exaggerated the problems by homing in on the negative reaction.
Returning to the intrinsic imbalance of the 5 ‘left’ to two ’right’ set-up, a major problem here was that the moderator, Radio 4 Today presenter Mishal Husain, was never equal to the task.
But there were deeper problems, that meant Husain’s basic failure of control was compounded. The result was that programme was shot through with basic unfairness.
Nowhere was this more risibly evident than in the handling of immigration. Put bluntly Paul Nuttall’s call for tougher controls was ganged up upon and shouted down by the SNP, Green, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat panellists – who, like playground bullies, called him a racist.
There was nothing new about this. Those on the left such as Tim Farron and Caroline Lucas have been disgracefully and indiscriminately using the ‘R’ word against anyone who disagrees with uncontrolled immigration for decades.
But that is where the BBC failed at the most basic level in their duty as public service broadcasters. They should have foreseen such unfairness, and known it would be an inevitable outcome. The problem is that the British political system is no longer binary, and the majority of parties are now left-wing, so ‘debates’ like this simply cannot work.
Another point is that the BBC intrinsically does not care a stuff about right-wing opinion. For years it has been working to undermine and belittle the views of Ukip, and so in that mind-set, the latest twist last night was only par for the course.
Everybody who watched last night could see this blatant bias, but not the BBC itself. Its headlines yesterday morning did not mention the bias claims, but focused instead on that Theresa May had been shown to be a coward for not turning up.
At what point do BBC ‘correspondents’ cross the line from offering a properly judged and impartial assessment into propaganda and overt electioneering?
News-watch surveys provide abundant evidence that it is all too often – and a new prime example was 556 words on the doctrine of climate alarmism from Roger Harrabin the BBC’s ‘environment analyst’ on Radio 4’s The World This Weekend yesterday. (His report starts at a round 1.25pm)
This amounted to a BBC party political broadcast against elements of the Conservative party, and especially – to Harrabin – the real villains of the piece, Ukip.
A transcript of the full horror of what he delivered in this ‘impartial assessment’ is below.
Where to start? In Harrabin’s world, our seas are ‘full of plastic’ (!), and the fact that Stephen Hawking thinks that climate change is the biggest long-term threat to humanity makes his speculation sacrosanct.
Then we must take into account that, according to government surveys, only 1% ‘strongly oppose renewables’ and so that, in Harrabin’s world, makes the spending of billions on such energy (instead of, say, the NHS) OK.
No mention in his equation of the thousands of old people who freeze in winter because of the huge bills generated by wind farm and solar subsidies.
And who, according to Harrabin, are the irresponsible and reckless parties who are opposing the climate alarmism agenda? Top if his list are ‘Conservative libertarians’, followed by – boo, hiss! – Ukip. Of course! Every BBC correspondent’s favourite whipping boys. Along with Donald Trump, who also dares to question this sacred dogma.
Next on the list of Harrabin infamy is The Mail on Sunday, which had the temerity to launch its Great Green Con campaign and thereby ‘legitimised’ anti-environmentalism’. How very dare they.
Next target? Brexit – this is the BBC so how could another aspect of related problems be avoided? , Now at risk is all the wonderful legislation emanating from Brussels designed to ‘restore nature’ (whatever that means). As a result ,too, of leaving the EU at risk will be flood control, along with the drive to spend billions on insulating millions of homes.
Harrabin concludes – with outrageous partiality – during an election campaign:
The Conservatives’ ambition looks limited here compared with the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru and also Labour who want to make home insulation an infrastructure priority. The SNP hasn’t published its manifesto yet but it too wants to take a strong line on climate change.
So there we have it. Vote anything but Conservative and Ukip, and avoid Brexit and all will be well with the world. Humanity will be safe.
Transcript of BBC Radio 4, ‘The World This Weekend’, 28 May, 2017, Climate Change, 1.27pm
MARK MARDELL: And as one Carlisle resident said, there hasn’t been much about the environment generally, even though it was once near the top of many a politician’s agenda. What happened? Here’s our environment analyst Roger Harrabin.
ROGER HARRABIN: Air pollution, melting sea ice, wildlife depletion, a soil crisis, seas full of plastic. Why isn’t the election full of environmental angst? Well I think it’s mainly a question of worry capacity. Stephen Hawking would tell you climate change was the biggest long-term threat to humanity but in the meantime we’re also beset by terrorism, the refugee crisis, Brexit – they’ve filled up our worry-space. Coupled with that there’s been a shift in the way the media discusses the environment. The old consensus on climate change has been rattled by a long campaign from Conservative libertarians and UKIP. They scored their first success with wind farms, scattered protests against turbines were at first below the radar of the national media, but those angry local voices were eventually amplified by the Telegraph, and that began to influence policy. The government’s own surveys actually suggest that just 1% of the populace strongly opposes renewables, but that’s by the by. Then the Mail on Sunday launched its Great Green Con campaign criticising failings in renewables and highlighting uncertainties in climate science. When it was previously non-PC to declare yourself a climate change sceptic, a stance of what you might call anti-environmentalism has now been legitimised. This steady pressure from over its right shoulder has led the government to mostly gag itself on climate change over recent years and the sceptics have been claiming victory. But wait a minute – except UKIP, all the manifestos published so far, that’s including the blue one, recommit to the Climate Change Act. That sort of consensus hardly stimulates media interest, but it does prove the issue hasn’t gone away. There are details over policy of course. The Conservative manifesto aspires to the cheapest energy prices in Europe. The Greens promise affordable energy, not cheap energy. But as a slogan that’s not quite so catchy. For all parties Brexit looms large, 80 % of the UK’s environmental policy comes through the EU. How will politicians translate that into UK law? How will they handle the massive opportunity to restore nature as they’ve promised following British withdraw from the common agriculture policy? Can they direct some of the agricultural budget to catching water on farmland to prevent the floods we discussed earlier? How will they improve the chaotic waste and recycling policies and how will our next government solve the conundrum of persuading tens of millions of people to insulate their own homes as part of the supposedly inexorable drive towards the low carbon economy? The Conservatives’ ambition looks limited here compared with the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru and also Labour who want to make home insulation an infrastructure priority. The SNP hasn’t published its manifesto yet but it too wants to take a strong line on climate change. Then how will the parties deal with the thorny issue of air pollution? Policies are there in other manifestos but details are strikingly absent from the Conservative document, presumably to avoid upsetting diesel drivers. So many environmental questions still, so many unanswered.
YouGov’s latest poll on attitudes towards Brexit – as the New Statesman outlines here – demonstrates that 69 per cent of the public now support leaving the EU and only 21 per cent want to ignore the result of the referendum.
Not only that, 25 per cent in the Brexit-supporting total are Remain voters who accept that the British people have voted to leave, and that the Government thus has a duty ‘to carry out their wishes and leave’.
In other words, they concur that the referendum vote is confirmation – despite the frantic protestations of Tim Farron – that Leave does indeed mean Leave. The 48 per cent support for Remain on June 23 is distant history. The majority of Remain voters have moved on.
Put another way, only around 9 million Britons out of the 43.5m who voted on June 23 are still hankering for a re-run.
Will someone please tell the BBC? New Statesman Political Editor George Eaton pulls no punches in his assessment of how devastating the figures are to the Remain case. He states:
“After voting Remain, they ceased to act as a unified political bloc. The crucial figure for understanding May’s decision to pursue Brexit is not “the 48 per cent” or “the 52 per cent” but the 69 per cent – the number who believe the Government has a duty to leave the EU (more than a third of whom voted Remain). A mere 21 per cent agree that the government should either block Brexit or seek to prevent it through a second referendum.”
Yet the BBC continues to behave as if it is their main duty to show audiences how difficult the Brexit road is going to be, and how suspect the ‘Leave ‘vote was, as is detailed by News-watch here.
BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan has now even also seriously floated on the Today programme (at 8.20am in the edition) what amounts to a conspiracy theory about the Vote Leave project. He has suggested it was backed by a shadowy ‘millionaire’ (how much dodgier in the BBC lexicon can you be?) combined with a publicity-shy software company called Cambridge Analytica, who – shock, horror – are also, in an equally shadowy way, behind Donald Trump.
All this is beginning to look like the BBC – in its dogged opposition to Brexit – is acting like a millenarian cult. A fascinating book on the psychology involved is here. The end of the world is nigh and they are jolly well going to tell us about it – despite what voters now think and very clearly want. And despite any amount of positive news to the contrary.
This is an election like no other for the BBC. They have a mission.
Two weeks ago, as is laid out here, Today presenter Nick Robinson effectively declared war on Brexit with his statement that the Corporation would henceforward work flat out to find the problems with Brexit, and not bring balanced coverage of the Leave perspective. Of which, more later.
Since then, it has become painfully evident what he meant. The Corporation’s Article 50 coverage relentlessly highlighted the difficulties, with pride of place given to predictions by correspondents of decades-long wrangles, inflation of perceived problems over Gibraltar, the continuing need for the European Court of Justice and dire warnings that the British tourist and hospitality industry would collapse if the UK did not have continued access to EU labour.
In the same vein, after the general election was announced, Today’s business news – like a heat-seeking missile – sought out the views of the (ex BBC) DG of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, on the need for continued free movement, reinforced an hour later by the ultra-Remain businessman Sir Martin Sorrell, who predicted that the real reason for the election was so that Mrs May could achieve a soft-Brexit in line with his own objectives.
To be fair, Andrew Lillico, a pro-Leave business figure also appeared, but there was no doubt which views were considered to be the most important.
So what will happen during the general election? This – despite what the Conservative Party machine might say – is effectively a second Brexit referendum, brought about because, as Theresa May has acknowledged, the Remain side are determined to thwart Brexit.
There are, of course, special rules for broadcasters during general elections. Broadly, they provide that much more attention must be paid to balance between the parties contesting the election.
But here, in this election, is an immediate problem. Those rules (as defined, for example by Ofcom in Section 6 of its programming code) are designed mainly to prevent imbalances between political parties.
That creates an immediate problem with an election so inevitably focused on a single issue: that the overwhelming majority of current MPs (most of whom will become candidates after May 3) were Remainers, and after the referendum vote want a strongly-limited and compromised form of EU exit.
Labour, for example, as exemplified by shadow chancellor John McDonnell on Today on Wednesday morning, says it now supports Brexit. But the form of Brexit it wants is continued membership of the single market, and qualified support for free movement. The Liberal Democrats and the SNP, of course, aggressively oppose Brexit – and make no bones about it.
The BBC, in this framework, has oodles of ‘wriggle-room’ to sidestep the election rules, and to continue to pursue vigorously its self-declared campaign to expose to the maximum the pitfalls of Brexit throughout the election period.
Of course, election coverage of the issues involved is also subject to the normal over-arching rules of public service impartiality. But it is precisely here that the BBC – as is clear in the Nick Robinson Radio Times piece – has interpreted the clauses relating to ‘due impartiality’ according to its own anti-Brexit ends. In the Corporation’s estimation, it is on a mission to spread ‘understanding’ about the exit process. In reality, that means something very different: the goal is to portray exit in the most negative light possible.
News-watch coverage of previous general elections has shown that, despite the supposedly strict general election impartiality rules, the BBC’s approach to EU coverage was seriously flawed. After the 2015 poll, it was noted:
…the analysis shows that the issue of possible withdrawal was not explored fairly or deeply enough…Coverage was heavily distorted, for instance by the substantial business news comment on the Today programme that withdrawal would damage British trade and jobs. The message of potential damage to the economy was supplemented by the provision of frequent platforms for Labour and Liberal Democrat figures to warn of the same dangers. The spokesmen from these parties were not properly challenged on their views.
Will this change in 2017? Fat chance. Subsequent News-watch reports have shown that this bias has continued, regardless of the June 23 vote.
The problem now is that – despite the new BBC Charter – the Corporation’s approach to impartiality in news coverage is mainly self-regulated through its own Complaints Unit. Ofcom only enters the frame if there is an appeal against the BBC’s own rulings, and that’s a procedure that takes months. News-watch’s complaint about the BBC’s fantasy race hate murder in Harlow took six months to grind through the BBC machine.
The Conservative Party under David Cameron fluffed the opportunity to achieve genuine reform of the BBC. Will that glaring failure now come back to haunt Theresa May?
BBC presenter and ex-political editor Nick Robinson has been sounding off aggressively against those who he complains are ‘moaning’ that the Corporation’s reporting of Brexit is biased.
‘Calm down dears’ is his core, patronising message.
The Radio 4 Today presenter has declared in the Radio Times that, as departure negotiations proceed, there is no need to provide balance between the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ sides in BBC coverage of post-Brexit developments.
Instead, the requirement is only for ‘due impartiality’(defined, as always of of course, by the BBC itself) and the goal is is to scrutinise ‘new questions’ about ‘immigration, trade and industrial policies’.
Robinson is bluntly critical of those who ‘do not accept that the war is over’ and have challenged the Corporation’s coverage by getting out their ‘stopwatches and calculators’ and by querying ‘the alleged tone of questions’ and ‘the number of interruptions’.
In terms of detail, Robinson’s praise for the BBC reporting seems to be based primarily on the Corporation’s Manual of Usual Excuses. This is wheeled out every time the word ‘bias’ is mentioned, and vigorously deployed by the BBC Complaints Unit to repel all boarders.
Direct from its grubby pages come the wearyingly predictable defences.
Robinson first claims that both sides have complained, so that means the BBC must be getting things right; then that Brexiteers such as Gove, Fox and Johnson are ‘remarkably reluctant’ to appear, so any shortcomings in that respect are their fault; and finally (the trump card!) that the BBC’s duty is in any case to its audiences, and they – he opines – don’t care about the obsessions of stop-watch wielding politicians. The only duty (again, of course, on the BBC’s terms) is to make sure they ‘understand’.
This all adds up to classic Corporation extreme stone-walling. It has been voiced by Robinson but has undoubtedly been cleared and co-ordinated by the BBC high command – and must also be seen as the official response to the complaint filed a couple of weeks back by Tory MP Julian Knight and 70 other cross-party MPs who wrote to Director General Tony Hall about the Corporation’s failure to explore and reflect the pro-Brexit perspective.
And, with Robinson’s scathingly condescending references to stop-watches and calculators, it is also framed as a direct attack on the latest academic research from News-watch into six months of Today’s business news output. This found a serious failure to air pro-Brexit viewpoints and an unjustifiably heavy focus on gloomy forecasts for the UK economy that added up to a continuation of the Remain side’s Project Fear.
But despite all the bluster, this exercise in smoke-screen obfuscation is remarkably threadbare.
It boils down to a chilling statement of intent that coverage henceforward will be whatever the BBC decides is impartial – no matter what evidence is produced to the contrary.
The reality is that, as the latest News-watch report detailed, the BBC’s coverage of post-Brexit developments is sharply skewed towards the Remain side – and that in the Corporation’s self-declared agenda-setting business slots, in six months, there were only only 10 contributions from clear supporters of Brexit, ranged against dozens who were not.
Robinson might rail against the use of ‘stop-watches and calculators’ but how can such lack of ‘balance’ or ‘due impartiality’ ever be defensible – and how else other than by careful, systematic counting can such blatant negativity be identified?
The BBC will NEVER countenance a complaint based on detailed research of their output – and that’s a gross affront to the licence fee payers that Robinson claims to be serving and helping to ‘understand’.
It is true that as Brexit unfolds, some elements of coverage do contain a wider range of anti-EU opinion than ever before. Prominent Leave campaigner, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, for example, was afforded a very unusual brief slot on Today on the day of the Theresa May Article 50 letter to outline her timetable towards Brexit.
But small morsels aside, the Corporation is otherwise relentlessly focused on the Remain agenda. There’s a continuing, avid search for anything that suggests that ‘race hate’ has escalated as a result if the Brexit vote; Nigel Farage and Ukip continues to be pilloried – on Wednesday night, BBC1’s main bulletins reported Farage’s contribution to the European Parliamentary debate on Brexit in the worst possible light; and every obstacle in the Brexit negotiations, such as the Gibraltar clause, are seized upon with over- enthusiastic glee.
Robinson may claim that this is simple scrutiny of ‘immigration, trade and industrial policies’, but he’s wrong. It adds up to that since June 24, the BBC has mounted a declaration of war against the Brexit prospects and has sided firmly with the remain side.
There has not been a single BBC programme that has looked at Brexit optimistically.
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.
The killing last August of a well-liked Polish man, ‘Arek’ Jóźwik, after a late night fracas in a pizza parlour in Harlow sent the BBC newsgathering operation into overdrive.
It was the end of the silly season and only ten weeks after the referendum.
The BBC, of course, was then, as now, hell-bent on finding and giving maximum exposure to every possible reason why the Brexit vote was a catastrophic mistake.
To the Corporation, which for years has also been on a mission to downplay the impact of immigration on the UK and to label opponents as at best xenophobic, at worst racist, this was a story that ticked every box. They dived into reporting the crime with grim, hyperbolic relish.
BBC1 man-on-the spot Daniel Sandford gave most prominence in his feature for the BBC1 bulletins on August 31 to that the alleged crime – prematurely said by him to be a ‘murder’ – was being investigated as a frenzied attack by a gang of six local youths triggered by race hate stirred up by the referendum vote.
To ram home the message about the race-hate dimension, Sandford carefully collected and edited quotes from the Polish ambassador and Robert Halfon, the local MP.
To be fair, he also mentioned that police were considering other options, such as ‘youths looking for trouble’, but there was no doubt which reason for the attack he thought was more likely.
And later that evening, on BBC2’s Newsnight, correspondent John Sweeney’s outro to his feature about the death was a quote from a friend of Mr Jóźwik, who declared that Nigel Farage had ‘blood on his hands’. The full transcripts of the Sweeney and Sandford reports are contained in the correspondence with the BBC, below.
Fast forward to the present. It has since emerged that Mr Jóźwik’s death was not murder at all. Nor, say the police, was race-hate involved, and nor was the crime committed by a frenzied gang of youths.
Instead, a sole 15-year-old youth has been charged with manslaughter. He has indicated a plea of ‘not guilty’ at a preliminary hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court and has been released on conditional bail until his trial, which is expected to be in July.
It has also emerged since Sandford’s report in August that police are now convinced that a rise in the reporting of race hate crimes during the summer – heavily stressed by the BBC after June 23 and undoubtedly part of the reason the facts of the Harlow killing were so heavily exaggerated – was not linked at all to the referendum, but was the result of better and easier self-report procedures.
After Harlow, some journalists (unlike the BBC) decided to investigate further. They found that ‘race hate’ domain has become a major self-perpetuating and highly lucrative industry in its own right. One of the main hubs of this new world-wide enterprise is Sussex University where its principal advocate is partly lavishly funded by (you may have guessed)…the EU.
News-watch filed a formal complaint about Sandford’s report. This claimed in essence that the reporting of Harlow was deeply irresponsible journalism that deliberately sensationalised the known facts about the killing, and too readily linked it to ‘race hate.’ There was supporting evidence showing how very rare killings with a racial motive are in the UK, and warning that the available statistics were not reliable.
This was rejected by the Complaints Unit. The verdict? Move along there, nothing to see – Sandford (whose name was misspelled by the complaints officer) was merely doing his job.
Under the Corporation’s elaborate complaints rules, News-watch in early January submitted an appeal to the BBC Trust about the ruling. Former BBC producer Fran O’Brien, who is now the Trust’s Head of Editorial Standards, has now, finally – a month later than the maximum time permitted under the BBC’s own rules – responded.
Her decision? Surprise, surprise, exactly the same as the Complaints Unit. There was, she ruled, no exaggeration, no inaccuracy, no breach of rules linked to over-emphasising ‘race-hate’. Everything was totally tickety-boo and in line with the BBC Editorial Guidelines.
And that, said O’Brien, was that. Her verdict was final: there could be no appeal. As far as the Trust is concerned, the matter is well and truly closed. The full letter from O’Brien can be read below.
In two weeks, of course, from April 2, the Trust will be no more. Under the new BBC Charter, its role in adjudicating complaint appeals is being taken over by the Content Board at Ofcom.
But this last-gasp ruling underlines yet again that BBC journalism exists in its own bubble, and the Complaints Unit does nothing to prick it; if anything the reverse. The Corporation reports on its terms, no matter how inflammatory or at odds with the facts and common sense its output is.
The blunt truth is that the Sandford report of Mr Jóźwik’s killing grossly and irresponsibly exaggerated the race-hate dimension and must be seen in the overall context of the BBC’s determined desire to undermine the referendum result.
It’s now down to Ofcom to sort out BBC bias. Don’t hold your breath. First, the Content Board is packed with ex-BBC staff, and second, the overall Ofcom boss, Sharon White, seems more focused on the diversity agenda and getting more women on screen than clearing the Augean stables.
The reality is that until BBC bias is governed by genuinely independent scrutiny, the Corporation will remain locked in that skewed journalistic bubble – massively and crassly out of touch with the British people.
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