Deluded BBC’s mission to mislead

Deluded BBC’s mission to mislead

New BBC director general Tim Davie, who cut his professional teeth marketing Pepsi-Cola, was appointed last week to head a £5billion-a-year media empire with a guaranteed income and a news operation which is the largest of its kind in the world. Here is an early item for his in-tray.

The BBC’s annual plan for 2020/21 – required by Ofcom as part of its policing of the Corporation’s public service remit and published quietly a couple of weeks back – is a chilling exercise in self-delusion. 

It provides further evidence that BBC chiefs are hell-bent on intensifying the use of the Corporation’s out-of-control news machine as a weapon of propaganda.

Taking opportunistic advantage of the lockdown, which rather predictably has generated a surge in media consumption, BBC chiefs trumpet that improved audiences in March and April are proof that its output is a vital part of national life and that continuation of its funding via the licence fee is essential.

The document also bellyaches that its income to spend on public services has dropped in real terms by 24 per cent since 2010 (what happened politically back then, one wonders, which makes that date so significant? Could it have been that Labour was voted out?); that it has been forced to make £800million of savings in the coming year; and that continuing to supply free television licences for the over-75s has cost it another £125million.

The plan runs to 78 pages and requires full reading to appreciate the monumental scale of self-delusion and leveraging of the lockdown to justify its existence and argue implicitly for more funding. This paragraph summarises the self-righteous tone:

‘The role of the BBC is never clearer than at times of national crisis. We provide the public – in great numbers, locally, nationally and internationally – with trusted, impartial news and information they can rely on. We help bring the country together, to share, to understand, to laugh and to commemorate. We examine the big decisions taken by those with responsibility over our lives, explaining the choices and making sense of the challenges. We connect people who are isolated, bringing companionship and a link to the world.’

The document was written in response to Ofcom’s annual review of BBC performance, which was published in October last year and – Ofcom being of the same mindset as the BBC itself – largely gave the Corporation a clean bill of health while, with wearying predictability, demanding that more steps be taken to ensure ‘diversity’.It also asked that more should be done to reach young people – and that editorial complaints must be handled better.

So how has it risen to such challenges?

On complaints, the BBC plan says it will become more transparent. But it does not explain how and at the same time it parrots the usual stonewall defence against those who criticise the Corporation, that opinion polls (self-commissioned, of course) show that it is the most trusted source of news in the UK.

The signs are that in reality, it is business as usual.

Exhibit A  is that, as was reported on TCW,  News-watch submitted a highly detailed five-page complaint about the April 27 edition of Panorama which claimed that the government was killing people by not providing enough  personal protection equipment (PPE) for NHS staff. As Michael St George astutely observed on TCW on June 2, the programme resembled more a Labour Party political broadcast than investigative journalism.

The fulcrum of the News-watch complaint was that that the programme produced no concrete examples of failures of PPE provision by the government, and that in any case PPE supply was the responsibility primarily of the NHS rather than the government.  

The BBC response? That a detailed, specific reply would be a wasteful use of resources.

Greater transparency? Pigs might fly.

Further issues that emerge from the Annual Plan document  will be discussed in future TCW blogs, in particular a deeply sinister plan to convert news into wall-to-wall propaganda-based ‘story-telling’; to extend its so-called ‘Reality Check’ approach to news; and to deluge audiences with a blizzard of ‘climate change’ stories.

General Election Report – December 2019

News-watch monitored Radio 4’s Today programme in full from the dissolution of Parliament on Wednesday 6 November until the eve of polling on Wednesday 11 December 2019, an interval of five weeks and one day.  This coincided with the period in which the BBC’s Election Guidelines were in effect, applicable to all the Corporation’s outlets, which set out its obligation to ensure that political parties are covered ‘proportionately’ during the campaign.

 

BBC: licence fee  is sacrosanct

BBC: licence fee is sacrosanct

The BBC has issued a robust defence of the BBC licence fee as virtually perfect,  and argues that it should continue indefinitely, or be replaced by a universal tax on broadband services.

The document states that the BBC is massively loved, that its output is exactly what people want and completely impartial, that change would cripple the media economy, and that any other system of paying for it would cause misery, especially for the poor.

In another age, a little known ancestor of Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the current Director General, framed a similarly historic intervention. TCW, taking advantage of the as yet untaxed internet, has brought this dramatic document to light.

Missive to my fellow peers from Lord Hall of Knotty Ash,

April 30, anno domini 1833

Chaps,

My chum, the exceedingly honourable – but seriously deluded  – Lord Stanley, aided and abetted by that parvenu William Wilberforce, is soon presenting to Parliament the Slavery Abolition Bill. For two decades now we have had to put up with the massive inconvenience of not being able to trade in slaves, but this new measure will be the last straw.

Said Wilberforce, as everyone knows, has been a troublemaker and agitator  for more than a decade since he set up his wretched Abolition Society. The people of my realm in Liverpool are deeply apprehensive that he wants free trade and freed labour because without it, their jobs will be at risk and Things Will Never Be The Same Again.

I have every sympathy with his desire for a different system but has he no sense? Everybody knows that the sugar trade is vital to the national economy and that if slavery is ended the whole system of Transatlantic trade will collapse. Penury will ensue.

Further, my Lords, Abolition will mean that the poor will be deprived of sugar, a product which they love, which keeps them exceedingly happy and nourished.  Much misery and wailing and gnashing of teeth will be caused.

Some foolish members say that it will be possible to continue production in our Colonies, and that the molasses on which  the future industry will be based will be every bit as wholesome as those we have now.  But this is first grade Atlantic bilge water.

Without slaves in the Caribbean, without the current plantation labour system  – which actually benefits the workforce by giving them secure accommodation and access to food and water (they even have some recreation time, I am told) – sugar prices will rocket, standards will plummet  and the End of the World will soon follow. The British people will be deprived of a vital service and bodily nutrition which could never be replicated.

I am, my Lords, your obedient servant

Knotty Ash.

Justice closes its eyes to BBC bias

Justice closes its eyes to BBC bias

It is very disappointing to have to report that three judges (two in the High Court, one in the Court of Appeal) have thwarted David Keighley’s application for judicial review to challenge the impartiality of the BBC.

Very frustratingly, they have acted without calling a full oral hearing to consider evidence put forward by David and his legal team, relying instead on written submissions to the court. That shows an almost casual disregard for the importance of the need to make sure the BBC meets its main Charter obligations – and leaves no line of redress except through Ofcom, which is itself stuffed full of ex-BBC staff of the same mindset.

Judges lined up to assist Gina Miller in her manic efforts to stop Brexit, but faced with extensive evidence of the need to stop the BBC’s negative reporting of Brexit, they have performed the judicial equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and closing their eyes.

Last summer TCW’s readers helped support the crowdfunding effort get this judicial review in motion.

As David reports on the crowdfunding site, Lord Justice Singh in the Court of Appeal has refused to grant leave to appeal against the decision of Mr Justice Supperstone who on 14 November 2019 rejected his application for judicial review to challenge the impartiality and performance measures of the BBC. This hearing was a review of the refusal of Mrs Justice Lang to grant leave for the judicial review (on the most cursory of grounds).

You can read about the rejection of the appeal in detail, with links to both rulings, here.

David Keighley is left with considerable costs – approximately £18,000 – to shoulder, on top of the £57,000 very generously donated in the crowd-funding appeal, which paid the considerable costs of taking the case through its various stages.

The brick wall nature of the judgment is extremely worrying and frankly raises nearly as many questions about our judiciary as it does about the BBC.

It seems extraordinary, too, that Mrs Justice Lang has decreed this level of costs. She might as well have said: ‘This is a warning to anyone who has the temerity to challenge the action of the nation’s monopoly broadcaster – you will pay for it.’

Neither judgment, of the High Court or the Court of Appeal, took into account the inability of the BBC to exercise its judgment, analyse its performance and properly measure it. There’s no doubt, as David writes, the lack of impartiality of the BBC continues to be a matter of grave public concern – the recent raft of negative newspaper reporting of BBC bias supports that. You would be forgiven for believing there was no current debate about the BBC or the anachronism and inequity of the Licence Fee.

The BBC remains its own judge and jury – which we pay for. As David has written repeatedly, the ‘supervision’ of OFCOM has made no difference. Its October 2019 review of BBC News and Current Affairs content and elsewhere demonstrated that it is not prepared to tackle this issue. 

David has not stopped in his endeavours. This judicial review case is over, but with the support of other like-minded individuals, he will carry on trying to make the BBC accountable and comply with its Charter obligations.

European Election Survey – Summer 2019

News-watch monitored all editions of Today over a seven week interval, starting on the day campaigning for the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections began, Friday 12 April 2019 and culminating on Thursday 30 May 2019, a week after the UK vote. The 42 consecutive editions of Today were recorded and listened to in full, and a detailed running log was compiled of all the items broadcast. Each was timed and categorised by theme, and all sequences relating to the EU, the European Parliamentary Elections or Brexit were fully transcribed, generating almost 333,000 words of text.

Shock news: BBC-dominated Ofcom backs the BBC

Shock news: BBC-dominated Ofcom backs the BBC

The 2017 BBC Charter bestowed for the first time supervisory regulatory powers on Ofcom, which had previously been in charge of only the independent sector. Its first review of BBC news and current affairs performance shows that this has achieved nothing except to confirm that the broadcasting ‘establishment’ is deeply biased and complacent, and that there is an urgent need to cleanse the Augean stables.

The naive aim – based on recommendations by Sir David Clementi, who subsequently, of course, became BBC chairman – was to create independent scrutiny of complaints and impartiality.

In March 2016, when the Clementi proposals were first published by then culture secretary John Whittingdale, I wrote on TCW:

‘Disaster! The malaise of the BBC is principally that it is run by broadcasting establishment figures with no desire to think radically or independently – and Ofcom is no different. It is a quango, peopled by liberal left quangocrats cast from exactly the same mould as the BBC Trustees . . .

‘Even worse is Sir David’s suggestion that Ofcom becomes the final court of appeal. . . nearly every. . . member of the [content] board has cosy links to the BBC and has spent considerable parts of his or her career in the BBC orbit. Thus, the handling by Ofcom of BBC complaints will not make one iota of difference to the current regime.’

Sadly, the predictions have proved to be spot-on. Recent examples of folk appointed to the Ofcom advisory committee for England are:

· Paula Carter, whose career has been principally at Channel 4 and the BBC;

· Aaqil Ahmed, the former head of religion ethics at both the BBC and Channel 4, and famed, for example, for mounting a BBC Songs of Praise from the Calais migrants’ camp and claiming that inmates could be likened to Joseph, Mary and Jesus nhttp://isthebbcbiased.blogspot.com/2015/08/songs-of-displeasure.html;

· Matthew Littleford, who is a trustee for the theatre companies Frantic Assembly and Paines Plough. He was previously a joint managing director of the TV production company Betty, editorial director for digital at BBC Worldwide, controller of UKTV (joint-owned by the BBC), and controller of entertainment for ITV’s digital channels.

Despite the relentless tide of anti-Brexit bias, the Ofcom content board – eight of the 13 members are ex-BBC – has dismissed the vast majority of BBC complaints appeals referred to it with the same cavalier liberal-Left disdain as the BBC itself.

Most strikingly, a meticulously researched complaint about the anti-Brexit bias of BBC1’s Question Time was dismissed on the basis that a single contribution from Theresa May crony Damian Green proved that the ‘hard’ Brexit perspective had been adequately represented in 25 editions. 

Ofcom has now completed at significant expense – it includes a glossy focus group report from PwC – a year-long review of the BBC’s performance in the news and current affairs domain. Is there any sign that its approach to its new responsibilities might be improving?

In a word, no. I will analyse in more detail the huge inconsistencies of the findings in a second blog, but for now, an outstanding feature of this so-called review is that while it was designed to examine impartiality, it has in reality done no such thing.

As well as the PwC report, Ofcom commissioned the School of Media, Journalism and Culture at Cardiff University to undertake content analysis of elements of BBC output. 

That in itself was a biased decision, because Cardiff, as has been demonstrated by News-watch, is deeply biased towards the BBC. For example, its director of journalism is Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s former director of global news. Irrespective of the personnel, Ofcom unbelievably asked the academics to focus mainly on the depth and range of coverage rather than impartiality.

One of their areas of investigation was Brexit. But none of it was about potential bias and its only finding, from a minuscule sample size, was that in terms of range and depth there might not have have been enough speakers from the EU. Given that most of the Remainer Parliament was made up of those who spoke passionately about the need to stay within the EU, this defies belief.

So how did the wise people of Ofcom decide that output was impartial? A main plank was that they had considered 300 complaints about BBC bias in 2018-19 and upheld none of them. Well, that’s okay then. Or maybe – more likely – it confirms the need for an urgent external investigation of Ofcom itself into confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses.

The second main plank of their approach was the PwC report mentioned above. A key element of this was based on 13 interviews and workshops around the country, each attended by a dozen consumers of BBC output. How precisely these were framed is not disclosed – it is assumed by Ofcom that PwC knew what they were doing. But a striking feature of the exercise, at a time when the news agenda was dominated by Brexit, was that those with strong views about the topic were deliberately excluded.

Finally, what were the recommendations of the Ofcom report? News and current affairs is largely tickety-boo – with one major caveat, the ‘D’ word. Wait for it: not enough diversity!

Postscript

Cardiff University’s journalism department has strong links with the BBC other than Richard Sambrook. One is that Ian Hargreaves, who is Professor of the Digital Economy at the university,  was Professor of journalism there  from 1999-2010, and is now on the BBC board of management (the body which replaced the former Trustees), and according to the BBC is is ‘responsible for upholding and protecting the independence of the BBC by acting in the public interest and exercising independent judgement’ 

Further, the BBC is currently moving into a new £100m HQ building in Cardiff. Joining them there is the Cardiff University media department  – and students there are offered placements by the BBC. In that context, it is hard to see how the Cardiff report for Ofcom can be considered even remotely ‘independent’.

BBC censures presenters – but not very much

BBC censures presenters – but not very much

Two rulings have been made in the past ten days by the BBC’s editorial complaints unit (ECU) against Corporation presenters. Both the offending broadcasts, one an attack on Donald Trump, the other the ‘sneering’ handling of an interview with Rod Liddle about Brexit, took place in July.

This is hold the front page territory. Usually, the unit dismisses everything thrown at it, on grounds which have turned stonewalling into a whole new art form. The nature and extent of this is detailed in this blog dealing with the rejection by the ECU of a complaint from News-watch about the pro-EU, anti-Brexit bias in the BBC Radio 4 Mark Mardell series Brexit: A Love Story?

So who are the two who have earned such exceptional opprobrium? Step forward Emily Maitlis, of BBC2 Newsnight, and Naga Munchetty, a regular BBC1 Breakfast Time presenter.

An immediate observation is that those in the ECU should now watch their backs. Under the Corporation’s separate but over-riding equal opportunities agenda, singling out in quick succession two women in this way could be deemed by internal and external thought police as both sexist and anti-feminist. Labour MP David Lammy has already called the ECU’s decision against Ms Munchetty ‘appalling’, and 150 black broadcasters are demanding that the BBC reverse the ruling on her.

The pair’s transgressions, according to the ECU? Ms Maitlis was ‘too personal’ when she quizzed Sunday Times columnist and former BBC Today editor Rod Liddle about his book on Brexit, The Great Betrayal, suggesting that his views in it were often racist and xenophobic. The full ten-minute interview is on YouTube, and you can read the transcript here. 

In the sequence, Mr Liddle’s fellow guest was Tom Baldwin, the communications director of the People’s Vote campaign.

Ms Munchetty, for her part, had ‘gone beyond’ what editorial guidelines allowed by asserting that Donald Trump’s views were ‘embedded in racism’ when he tweeted that Democrat politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib should ‘go back home’ to sort out problems there rather than criticising the US. A 40-second extract from the sequence was tweeted by the BBC itself on the day of transmission.

The ‘partly upheld’ ruling added: ‘She went on to comment critically on the possible motive for, and potential consequences of, the President’s words. Judgements of that kind are for the audience to make, and the exchange fell short of due impartiality in that respect.’

Excuse me, if that’s the case, where does virtually all of US correspondent John Sopel’s reporting of Donald Trump stand? His bias is evident in almost every utterance. And what of Roger Harrabin’s almost risible partisanship in the climate change arena?

Miracles sometimes do happen. This might be the start of a whole new chapter in BBC accountability and rigour in enforcing Charter impartiality requirements, a sign that the Corporation is beginning to take action against the blizzard of biased reporting that dominates its coverage of issues such as climate change and Brexit.

But don’t hold your breath. At this stage, the full ECU rulings against the two women are not available; there are only the briefest details on the BBC complaints website.

What’s the point of guilty findings if precise reasons are not given? The BBC is its own judge and jury in the vast majority of complaints, and for that reason, maximum transparency and explanation should be a matter of course so that licence fee-payers can be confident that their concerns are being scrupulously considered.

Further examination of the brief details of the ruling in the Maitlis case in the light of the transcript and video of the exchange with Mr Liddle raises huge concerns.

Point number one is that we are told that Ms Maitlis was said by the unnamed complainant to have been ‘sneering and bullying’ towards Mr Liddle. The ECU does not address this grave core charge at all.

It says simply: ‘The ECU did not agree that it was possible to deduce Emily Maitlis’s view on Brexit from the discussion. It also believed that it was valid to press Mr Liddle on his personal views and noted that he had the opportunity to vigorously defend himself.’ As an action point it adds: ‘The programme has been reminded of the need to ensure rigorous questioning of controversial views does not lead to a perceived lack of impartiality.’

Looking at the interview and checking against the transcript, it’s easy to see why the complainant thought Ms Maitlis was both sneering and bullying. She spoke over Mr Liddle, aggressively interrupted him, relentlessly suggested he was racist and xenophobic and focused the interview in that territory, refused to accept Mr Liddle’s point that some of his barbs in his columns were humorous, allowed fellow guest Mr Baldwin to join in to underline her claims of racism, and throughout reinforced her verbal onslaught with body language which expressed what looked like contempt and was arguably sneering in tone for much of the time.

Her approach was cumulative, but was best typified halfway through the exchange when she asserted in connection with her allegation that Liddle was racist: ‘It’s so consistent, it’s week after week, the bile that you spew up has to be who you are.’

To be fair, towards the end, Ms Maitlis put two adversarial questions to Tom Baldwin, based on the point that holding a second referendum was not democratic. But her tone towards him was strikingly less negative, and she did not follow through with the sort of treatment handed out to Mr Liddle. To be fair again, her questions opened the door for Mr Liddle to attack Mr Baldwin’s approach and to assert that if the second referendum did not back remain, his group would probably press for a third vote.

To sum up, the ECU’s ruling is both disingenuous and an affront to common sense. What it ruled was simply this: ‘It was insufficiently clear that this was not Ms Maitlis’s view of Mr Liddle but that of his critics, and the persistent and personal nature of the criticism risked leaving her open to the charge that she had failed to be even-handed between the two guests.’

Pardon? Her questions, observations, body language and overall handling of the interview can only be described as overtly hostile. This was an outright open attack on Mr Liddle.

The most disgraceful aspects of Ms Maitlis’s handling of the exchange, such as sneeringly calling Mr Liddle a xenophobe – which were the main substance of the complaint – have been glossed over in the outline finding or completely ignored.

Trust in the BBC will only return, if ever, when its complaints procedures become rigorously robust and independent and genuinely tackle the current rampant bias. There is no sea change here. Ms Munchetty and Ms Maitlis behaved in the way they did because the current editorial framework fosters such bias.

Humphrys ‘was biased in handling of EU issues’

Humphrys ‘was biased in handling of EU issues’

Kathy Gyngell clearly highlighted on The Conservative Woman blog yesterday the hypocrisy of John Humphrys revealed in his forthcoming memoirs, being serialised in the Daily Mail. Today she discusses further evidence of his double standards, this time over the Iraq Dossier affair.

How could he have continued to work on BBC Radio 4’s Today – drawing massive pay from the pockets of the public he professed to serve – with the concerns he says he had about the anti-Brexit bias of the BBC hierarchy and the Corporation’s general liberal left groupthink bias?

Some would call that fraud.

There is another glaring contradiction in his stance. Mr Humphrys declares that he still believes that the BBC is a wonderful institution, is a ‘tremendous and irreplaceable force for good’ and that the country is stronger because it exists.

How does he square such sycophantic hyperbole with his assertion that the flagship BBC programme Today and news output generally is infected with institutional bias? It’s a massive contradiction. Impartiality is a core BBC Charter obligation and his grave allegations are that the Corporation has been in breach of it at least since the EU referendum (as well as at other times, as outlined below).

Digging into the Humphrys archives unearths rafts of similar inconsistencies in his approach and conduct which suggest he has worked for at least the last 20 years in a bubble of what at best can be described as selective vision and hearing.

Much of what Mr Humphrys has put into his book is not new at all. In 2014 perhaps when he started drafting his memoirs? – there was no other obvious peg) and again in 2017 (h/t Is the BBC Biased?), he gave interviews to Radio Times which contained strikingly similar key points: that there was at the Corporation an all-pervading liberal outlook, and that the BBC’s reporting of the desire for EU withdrawal and concerns about high immigration levels had not properly reflected widespread public concern.

Then, as now, he was noticeably vague on detail. He seems to lay most of the blame on ‘bosses’ who were upset by the referendum result. Is his view that they have directly influenced programme content – and if so, who was it who followed their instructions? The Today editor? Presenters? Producers and behind-the-scenes staff?

In 2014, when the first Radio Times piece appeared, News-watch noted this point, and stated in a blog:

‘He doesn’t say in which interview, with which guests or how or when he arrived at the judgment . . . No, this “bias” happened at some undefined, mysterious time in the murky miasmic mists of the Blair era. It evidently made Humphrys queasy and uneasy, but back then, he and his chums above and below him in the BBC hierarchy did nothing at all about it. Now, though, says the great man, the bias is fixed – it’s a matter of regret, but move along there, folks, nothing to see: everything in the BBC garden is tickety-boo.’

News-watch has analysed over the years more than 1,200 EU-related interviews conducted by Mr Humphrys. Analysis in the News-watch reports highlight that his approach to Brexit was shot through with the bias he now seems to blame others for creating.

Two prime examples stand out. In 1999, when a thirty-something Nigel Farage was standing for the first time in the European Parliamentary elections as a Ukip candidate, most of the interview was taken up with suggesting that Ukip was, in effect, a maverick aberration. A News-watch blog observed: 

‘Farage said he simply wanted his country back on an amicable basis, and free trade; Humphrys’s stance was that this was ‘literally unthinkable’. . . . (he) did everything he could to attack the credibility of Ukip and asked nothing about the thinking behind the need for withdrawal. His opening gambit was to observe that it was “funny” (peculiar) and “puzzling” that Ukip was contesting seats in the European Parliament when it wanted to withdraw from the EU.’

Spool forward to the closing days of the EU referendum, and Mr Humphrys filed a highly unusual (in terms of its length) 27-minute Today item on attitudes towards immigration based on visits he made to Keighley in West Yorkshire, Shirebrook in Derbyshire and Hackney, east London. The News-watch analysis concluded:

‘Humphrys’s approach was heavily biased. In his world those who oppose immigration do so . . . from a position of prejudice. He . . . missed out numbers and rate of expansion – the key bedrock of opposition to current levels of immigration. Contributions of those who expressed concerns about immigration came across as shallow and prejudiced, a picture that was made worse by Humphrys’s repeated putting of “racist” claims to them. They had to deny they were racists, and were given only minimal space to advance their fears about numbers.

‘On the other side of the coin, Humphrys heavily stressed the contributions of those who were, in various ways – in their own estimation – victims of prejudice . . . Immigrants he spoke to wanted a better world, and had been thwarted in that quest only by white prejudice.’

All this, coupled with other more detailed analysis in News-watch reports, boils down to the fact that Mr Humphrys is as responsible as everyone else at the Corporation for BBC bias. What he is alleging now will probably generate book sales, but do nothing to sort out the problems he identifies. Those inside the BBC bubble, Mr Humphrys included, are incapable of seeing outside it. And complacency of the type displayed by Mr Humphrys for at least 20 years (the period of News-watch analysis) has blocked any chance of a solution.

Will Mr Humphrys now be thrown to the wolves by the bosses he so clearly despises? No. The Corporation will carry on regardless. As it always does.

When will Team Boris wake up to BBC bias?

When will Team Boris wake up to BBC bias?

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? 

She tweeted:

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.’

And inquired:

‘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?

WC: What?

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.

Appeal: Help us stop BBC bias!

Appeal: Help us stop BBC bias!

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.

You can donate here.

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.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/stopbbcbias/