BBC Bias

CHARLES MOORE SLAMS BBC NEGATIVE ‘GROUPTHINK’ IN REPORTING OF TRUMP

CHARLES MOORE SLAMS BBC NEGATIVE ‘GROUPTHINK’ IN REPORTING OF TRUMP

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
This week’s The Media Show featured a remarkable pair of interviews about BBC bias – especially regarding BBC bias against Donald Trump.

The first interview featured Charles Moore of the Spectator, laying into the BBC’s ‘groupthink’ and the corporation’s lack of even-handedness when it comes to disputing/believing ‘facts’ (i.e. questioning figures from the Trump side whilst simply taking on trust figures from the anti-Trump side), plus making the contrast between how the BBC greeted the election of Barack Obama with how it’s greeted the election of Donald Trump.

The second interview featured James Harding, Director of BBC News. It was one of those BBC interviews when the senior BBC manager essentially says little other than that ‘the BBC is getting it about right’. Even when he sounded as if he was about to concede one of Charles Moore’s points, Mr Harding spun around and refused to concede it:

JAMES HARDING  Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

STEVE HEWLETT:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point. Plus, he quite blatantly side-stepped some of Steve Hewlett’s sharper questions (or, to put it another way, failed to answer them), eg:

SH:         I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:      Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:        So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink. Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

Yeah right!

It was a strikingly weak performance, all in all.
Full Transcript:

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, The Media Show, 25th January 2016, James Harding on claims of BBC Bias against Trump, 4.30pm

STEVE HEWLETT: Hello, he’s certainly been in the news alright.

NEWSREADER:     The White House is accused of telling falsehoods in a battle with the media about President Trump’s inauguration.

SH:         But has the BBC’s coverage of him and his administration been duly impartial?  We’ll hear from the former editor and Telegraph columnist Charles Moore and James Harding Director of BBC News. (Discusses other stories coming up in programme).  So, is the BBC Biased? It’s not exactly a new issue, but it appears to have been given a new lease of life by Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.  Charles Moore, Conservative commentator and Telegraph columnist wrote a piece attacking what he suggested was the corporation’s one-sided coverage of Trump. Whilst Trump’s attempts to challenge the otherwise low estimates of the numbers attending his inauguration were given a fully rigorous going over, estimates for attendance at the women’s march against Trump, put by organisers into the millions worldwide, were allowed to pass without question. Moore sees this as indicative of a much deeper malaise. In a moment we’ll hear from James Harding the BBC’s Director of News, but first I asked Charles Moore to explain his problem with the BBC’s reporting of President Trump.

CHARLES MOORE:              Everything in the Trump side of things is challenged, not necessarily wrongly so, but it is challenged and everything on the anti-Trump side is not challenged. One of the reasons that Donald Trump is now President of United States is because of the massive counter-reaction in middle America against what they call the Liberal media, and in a way they are right, you know, the New York Times, ABC, CNN, etc, present particular view of the world which is extremely hostile to a certain sort of ordinary American. And the BBC, who Donald Trump describes as ‘another beauty’ is the most important exterior non-American network that also behaves like that. And so what this reporter is, about the figures is, is not actually really a sort of disinterested inquiry into the figures, it’s a battle between the Liberal media and Donald Trump.

SH:         I mean, whereas the New York Times clearly defines itself, or declares itself to be anti-Trump, called him a liar, recommended a vote for Hillary, are you saying that the BBC in some ways sees itself as fighting the, in inverted comas, ‘the good fight’ against the evil Trump?

CM:        Yes of course, it will try to, at least to some extent to present facts properly but secondly because it’s paid for by the licence fee and has a charter which says that it has to be unbiased, so it can’t actually write its own article as it were, saying, you know, ‘We hate Donald Trump’, which the New York Times can, but it does. And I think it’s so obvious it hardly needs description.

SH:         But do you think there are a group of people somewhere in the BBC, sitting around a table deciding that this is the way things . . .

CM:        (speaking over) No, no, no.

SH:         . . . should be done?

CM:        No, no, it’s like all, almost all BBC bias, it’s groupthink. It’s the same people thinking the same thing and it –  by the way doesn’t only apply to Donald Trump, it applies to the assumption made about Brexit, it applies to climate change, a whole range of issues where there is an automatic assumption about what a decent person would feel. And, I don’t regard this as a conspiracy, but I regard it as quite a serious dereliction of duty about reflecting the variety of opinion in society.

SH:         But if you have someone like President Trump, for example, issuing forth with – I think of myself as a reasonably independently minded observer of these things, things that are really demonstrably untrue, or at the very least massively exaggerated, I mean it’s just this weekend we had the inauguration figures, we had his assertion that the media had concocted his feud with the FBI and CIA, when you look back at the tweets he issued around the time, that seems to be just plain nonsense. He then had to go on illegal immigrant voters, that last claim was made without, from what I can see, a single shred of evidence, and even senior Republicans are saying to him, ‘Please stop saying this, it’s going to get us all into a lot of trouble’. When you have someone doing that, is there any other way of dealing with him?

CM:        I think the way you phrased your question shows what you think of President Trump in the first place and therefore confirms my point. By the way, I’m not defending the particular claims that President Trump makes. I personally haven’t criticised in public his tendency to exaggerate, but I think if you, if you think how you might approach other politicians with whom the BBC is less likely to disagree, they let them off, they don’t submit them to the same sort of relentless attack and investigation. He’s been treated like a witness who . . . and prosecution is . . . trying to pull him apart. If you were a challenger to the establishment from the left, the BBC would be welcoming him. So when President Obama comes in challenging a whole enormous range of American attitudes, partly because he’s the first black candidate, he gets the benefit of the doubt, 8 years ago, it’s . . . nobody’s going through all President Obama’s claims about whatever they may have been, because what you’re getting from the BBC is how wonderful it is that somebody has arisen against the white establishment. And now you have a great big white man who’s arisen against the establishment and he’s treated like a monster. This is simply because, or largely because, it reflects the BBC’s world view.

SH:         Do you think that there’s anything the BBC could do to remedy this?

CM:        First of all, I think it could knowledge it, and that would be a start to remedying it. Second, I think it should have an exterior investigation, not of . . .  bias in the sense of cheating, but about mindset, about the way almost everyone in the BBC thinks the same thing, and is therefore – and this is really my biggest objection to it all – so behind the game about what’s happening in world news. It didn’t understand that we were going to vote for Brexit, it doesn’t understand and therefore its viewers and listeners, it’s much harder for them to understand, what the revolt that has produced Trump is all about, because it’s just regarded as wicked, and that sort of bias against understanding, which is a phrase that John Birt used many years ago, is a really serious problem with the BBC which its own authorities and possibly exterior authorities should be invited to investigate.

SH:         So, James Harding, thanks very much for joining us. ‘A bias against understanding’ arising from groupthink, rather than kind of . . . any sort of clear, positive effort to mislead? Do you think there’s anything in that?

JAMES HARDING (sighs audibly) Well, firstly I should say, Steve, I think that having read you and listened to you for a fair few years now, I’m pretty sure that the way you asked the question about Donald Trump would be the way you would asked a question about a politician of any stripe. I mean, part of the job of the journalist is to lean into (fragment of word, or word unclear) people in positions of power. Erm, I think, let me say two things. One is: I think Charles Moore makes a really good point and made a really good point in that article which is, if you’re going to have an argument about the honesty of the President of the United States in picking a fight with the media about the size of his audience at the inauguration, then you’d better be as vigorous and as keen to monitor the numbers of people who go on marches. And I think that point is not just related to Trump, it’s related to that bigger issue about public protests and how do you make sure that you, you do that accurately?

SH:         So do you think there was an element in the BBC’s reporting . . .

JH:          (interrupting) So . . .

SH:         . . . that could fairly be described as ‘uneven’ slightly?

JH:          No, I just think, I think what that is an extremely important thing is (sic) to keep on reminding people that if you’re going to pick a fight over fake news – and there is a fight on all sides over fake news, then you keep coming back to the efforts you make to be accurate.  That’s a really important point.

SH:         (speaking over, fragments of words, unclear)_

JH:          But can I just make . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But when I looked at the website and so on . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         I haven’t seen all the broadcast coverage, but erm, it, it was quite clear, that whereas Trump . . . Trump’s numbers were being taken to task, now, in fairness to the journalists who did that, that might well be because there was direct, concrete evidence that what he was saying simply wasn’t true, or was massively exaggerated. When it came to the ‘millions of people’ quote . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . around the world, I mean, that may simply not be checkable in any meaningful way, but nevertheless, you know, march organisers are renowned for inflating their numbers . . .

JH:          Yes.

SH:         . . . and there was no sign of any scepticism, being . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . shown. Journalistic scepticism I mean, towards that number.

JH:          (inhales) Look, there’s . . . there is a real risk here that we all lose our minds and we disappear into a debate about something that doesn’t . . . matter as deeply as the real changes that are happening in the world . . .

SH:         (words unclear, speaking under)

JH:          (speaking over) But let me just, let me just finish. There is clearly a difference between the President of the United States challenging a piece of reporting that compares the audiences in 2009 with the audiences in 2017. That is a, that is about whether or not President of the United States is using the podium in the White House to try and challenge what looks to be demonstrably true. There’s a second point which is: is the BBC when it makes estimates and any other news organisation to that matter, makes estimates of crowds, is it rigorous enough about those estimates and does it take into account inflation. I’ll just stand back to this for a minute. There is a really important risk here that the media turns into a circular firing squad and starts having such a huge discussion about itself that it misses what are the really essential changes that are happening. And just to take it back to how the BBC is thinking about this is: there are going to be, by the nature of the way in which the new President of United States operates, huge media flare-ups. He’s picked fights with certain networks, he’s had arguments about actors, about shows and these are fantastically interesting. At the same time of course there are really important changes to the way in which United States is operating in the world of trade, in the world of aid and development. One of the things we keep saying in our morning conferences, ‘Let’s keep an eye on those executive orders, make sure we’re really rigorous in understanding . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay, (fragment of word, unclear)

JH:          . . .  what the President is doing. And  I think that is really important this, because the media spat actually could distract us from some of the things . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Okay.

JH:          . . .  that are quite important . . .

SH:         We’ll come back to how you’re dealing with him . . .

JH:          Yeah.

SH:         . . . and the things you may have to set up to do things differently given the sort of challenges that he and his regime clearly represent. Erm, but just to go back to one more specific thing, he says in the article, we didn’t hear it in the conversation there, that he says whenever Fox News comes up in the BBC’s coverage, it’s described as pro-Trump – there’s no real argument about that, it is,  unquestionably, pro-Trump and (slight laughter in voice) I’m not even sure Fox News would deny . . . would seek to, would seek to avoid the charge.

JH:          Actually, if you look back through the course of 2015-16, Fox as a Republican-leaning network actually had a quite ambivalent relationship with Donna Trump, it’s changed, obviously . . .

SH:         (speaking over) Well, as of last weekend you were describing him, describing them as pro-Trump. However, when the New York Times or CNN or NBC or ABC turns up, all of whom are in their own ways anti-Trump, they’re never described as such.

JH:          (inhales) I, I think, look, I think . . .

SH:         (speaking over)(fragment of word, or word unclear) You’re not giving the same signal.

JH:          (fragments of words, unclear) And again, this is my point about the media turning into a circular firing squad.  Different networks there would take different views, and, you know, if you look at the way the US media works, it’s different to the way it works here in the UK.  You know, in British newspaper, newspaper editor has control of the run of the news pages, and also the opinion pages, and the leader column.  In the US it’s different.  You run the news pages and there’s a separate group that runs opinions and leaders.  So clearly, if you look at the New York Times, they’ve taken a, they took a very strong pro-Hillary, anti-Donald Trump position.  Reporters there would say, ‘our job is also, in the news pages, to try and report the stories fairly and accurately.’  So, it is a complicated picture, I go back to my point I’m afraid, Steve, which is I think there is a big media argument happening, I don’t want to distract, it to distract us from actually the really key issue . . .

SH:         (speaking over) But, but, but (fragments of words, unclear)

JH:          . . . which is the presidency of Donald Trump.

SH:         But you could resolve these, these, these . . . these are footling in a way . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm.

SH:         I take your point, it’s not . . . you know . . . their nuclear policy appears to be changing, (laughter in voice) rather more significant.  Their policy towards China might be changing, you know, these things are really significant I actually get the point. But simply being even-handed about the way you describe other news organisations, being even-handed about the way that you deal with different claims to numerical accuracy, that’s not a . . . it’s only an issue if someone doesn’t fix this.

JH:          And I guess what I’m saying is some people will make judgements about, particularly, networks, particularly on the TV networks, on the US papers, I think it’s easier to make that point, I think it’s, I think they’re clearer in their editorial position on the President.

SH:         So, do you think the BBC should start describing CNN in matters Trump as being anti-Trump?

JH:          I think (fragment of word, unclear) I think the BBC should, should focus on, on Donald Trump. I think that . . . I think that where you can see particular papers or particular news outlets taking a very clear editorial position, and it’s there in black and white or there in the soundbites, we should make that clear. Where there . . . where, where it’s more mixed, I think that the business of branding and seeking to brand every different outlet is probably a fools’ errand and actually is a distraction from the real story.

SH:         So there are times when you wouldn’t label Fox News as pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) Yes. I think that’s right. And actually, if you look back at our coverage, that’s true.

SH:         Okay.  Just take his point more generally, or one of them anyway, about ‘groupthink’ – this is not the first time this has come up in the BBC, indeed, one of their own reports, run by, it was run by Stuart Prebble, ex-of ITV, and it looks at immigration and Europe . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . and it concluded that the BBC did suffer, in periods, through sort-of groupthink . . .

JH:          Hmm.

SH:         . . . because of the sort of people that the BBC was full of.  It didn’t suggest any active attempt at bias or whatever, but, you know, these are people who grew up in a world where being anti-immigration meant you were rather uncomfortably close to the National Front and neo-fascism. So racism and fascism became very connected with anti-immigration, and so, you know, people just didn’t go there.  So (fragment of word, or word unclear) sort of taken together, the BBC was exhibiting a sort of groupthink.  It . . . is there anything, do you think, in Charles’s argument that over Trump something similar could be happening?

JH:          I, I don’t think . . . I think if you look back at 2016, and people look back and say how do we understand the nature of Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton? Or the Leave victory over Remain? Actually, I think that in both of those cases, what the BBC sought to do – and we were right, to be honest with you, we were quite chastened by the experience of 2015 where, you know, as you remember, I think we discussed it, the experience of the polls, we weren’t reporting the polls, but the polls were reflecting the way in which we were conducting interviews, thinking about the likely outcome of the result. In 2016 I think we went into both . . . er . . . the June 23 referendum and the November election really clear in our mind that there was no trusting the polls, and one of two outcomes was possible in every case. And what we tried to do very differently last year was to make sure that we were not covering the, the race, we were covering the choice.  What we set out very clearly to do last year was to make sure, actually, let’s report the choice. I think that we did that, and we did it extremely carefully . . .

SH:         (speaking over) (fragments of words, or words unclear) The question, the question here . . .

JH:          I don’t think we, we, we (word or words unclear due to speaking over)

SH:         . . . I guess is . . . I mean, this is a very cheeky question . . .

JH:          Hm-hmm (laughs)

SH:         And there’s no reason why you should have a proper answer to it, in fairness . . .

JH:          Can I just say, ‘No I don’t’ (laughs)

SH:         Do you . . . well, that might be the answer. Do you know anybody on the journalistic or editorial staff at the BBC, who is pro-Trump?

JH:          (two second pause) (inhales) So . . .

SH:         As an individual I mean.

JH:          So, so really important . . . there’s a really important thing here, which is that, people inside the BBC, they are all journalists, actually, one of the great misunderstandings about journalists is that there is such a thing as groupthink.  Journalists, by nature, have really contrary opinions, they have different opinions, certainly when, when there’s a group of think— er, people who go in one direction, they, by nature, want to go the other direction, you know them as well as I do. Erm, one thing that is true of the BBC is of course, you leave all your personal opinions at the door.

SH:         So says James Harding.  And we also heard there from Charles Moore.

Photo by dgoomany

New boss Clementi faces uphill struggle against liberal bias

New boss Clementi faces uphill struggle against liberal bias

How totally hostile can the BBC’s coverage of the Trump presidency and Brexit actually become? Recent evidence suggests that the race to the bottom is well and truly on.

Exhibit A is the weight it gave on Tuesday morning to Kenneth Clarke’s utterly preposterous (and chilling) claim that the referendum vote is a reflection of the ‘tyranny of the majority.’ In the BBC’s world, that was worth Today headlines as part of the general Corporation-wide delight at the Supreme Court’s decision to put new hurdles in the way of Brexit.

Exhibit B in that same parallel BBC universe is that the prospect of a new free trade deal with America is no longer a potential benefit but a major threat to national wellbeing.

Mishal Husain (again on Today) suggested that such a deal would lead to a deluge of US Frankenstein chlorine and hormone-drenched foods on our supermarket shelves, bypassing (God forbid!) superior EU food regulations. In other words, to the BBC, trade with Trump’s America is a totally poisoned chalice.

Corporation chiefs claim with brass-necked obstinacy on their own tame ‘complaints’ platform Newswatch that they are justified in reporting in these terms because they are simply posing questions about unanswered details of policy.

Garbage. It’s an all-out war against what the Corporation sees as ‘populism’. The BBC is so locked in its £4 billion gilded cage of self-defined ‘truth’, ‘due impartiality’ and alleged fact-checking, that those who work there can’t even begin to see their grotesque bias against what the most senior among them so strongly dismiss – in lockstep with Kenneth Clarke – as the malign influence of demagogues.

Will it ever improve?

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee last week grilled former Bank of England deputy Governor Sir David Clementi about his credentials to take over as Chairman of the BBC, in charge of the so-called Unitary Board, which is part of the Corporation’s new charter.

Merchant banker Sir David, though possessing no broadcast experience, is unquestionably a smooth and accomplished operator, light years away in his abilities from the incompetent and utterly colourless predecessor as Chairman of the Trustees, Rona Fairhead.

But what also emerged from the Commons hearing was, in parts, deeply disturbing.

On the one hand, he said something encouraging, that – in the context of the reporting of Brexit – he felt that the BBC’s Public Purpose Charter requirement to ensure impartiality needed, in effect, more rigorous policing. He indicated that he wanted to consider the introduction of ‘scientific monitoring’ towards achieving that.

This would be a welcome development in that for years, senior news executives have strongly pooh-pooed such rigorous monitoring and have maintained that their own internal editorial meetings somehow keep an overview of coverage.

But – and it is a big ‘but’ – there were also clear signs that Sir David may already have gone native and is in the maw of senior BBC executives – even before his appointment is formally approved.

Why? Well, when asked further about coverage of Brexit, he declared that he believed the Corporation had got it ‘about right’, then added that the Brexit-related ‘reality checks’ introduced by the news department during the referendum campaign were a step in the right direction.

Poppycock! The BBC’s coverage of the referendum campaign was not anywhere near being impartial. This paper about Newsbeat explains why.

Further, as Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased? adroitly chronicles here, the checking unit is itself a mouthpiece of strident pro-Remain bias. Of the relevant EU-related rulings between November and January, seven were pro-Remain and none at all were pro-Brexit.

Sir David has thus, in effect, already endorsed the deeply-flawed internal BBC processes that over decades have made the BBC into a fountainhead of right-on bias.

Forces against Clementi’s plan for other ‘more scientific’ monitoring are in any case also already circling. Ray Snoddy, former Times and FT media editor who presented the BBC’s Newswatch programme, and has since become a mouthpiece of pro-BBC opinion, has forcefully attacked the concept.

He sneeringly dismisses all such work as being by right-wingers with stopwatches – despite the fact that the BBC Trustees themselves used such methodology by former senior BBC staff at Cardiff University to defend the Corporation’s output.

Clearly, Director of News James Harding is of the same mindset, as he showed when the BBC Trustees made a rare finding against BBC journalism. He simply dismissed it as wrong.

The reality is that until BBC journalists – including Harding – are subject to properly independent and highly-rigorous scrutiny in terms of impartiality, they will continue to inhabit their deeply biased, liberal bubble covering not just Trump and Brexit but populism in general, climate alarmism, multiculturalism, and much more.

Sir David Clementi, an outstanding operator with a sharply analytical mind, undoubtedly has a window of opportunity to transform things. But on the evidence so far, don’t hold your breath.

Photo by CraigMoulding

Confirmed: BBC complaints process is unfit for purpose

Confirmed: BBC complaints process is unfit for purpose

At the heart of the BBC’s reform under its new Charter – due to come into effect imminently – is that for the first time, an outside body, Ofcom, will become the final court of appeal in complaints about impartiality.

The idea is that this will clean the Augean stables and the Corporation will end its rampant bias towards Brexit, climate alarmism, the impact of immigration, multiculturalism and rafts of other issues.

This is looking increasingly like poppycock. For a start, the members of the Ofcom Content Board are drawn from exactly the same prejudiced background as the BBC Trustees. But putting that aside for one moment, the tale below illustrates precisely why.

On August, 31, Arkadiusz Jozwik, a Polish man living in Harlow, was killed in a late-night fracas in the pizza parlour where he worked.

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, police arrested six local youths (all under 16) but quickly released them on bail without charge.   There were no further developments until this week when a 15-year-old from Harlow was charged with Mr Jozwik’s manslaughter. Of fundamental importance, it has also emerged that a race hate charge in connection with the death is not being pursued.

When news of the killing emerged, the BBC’s news operation went into hyper-ventilating overdrive.

On the BBC1 News at Six, reporter Daniel Sandford compiled a report in which the fulcrum was there were now fears that this was a ‘a frenzied racist attack triggered by the Brexit referendum’.

A few hours later, John Sweeney, on BBC2’s Newsnight – one of the Corporation’s main investigative journalists – took matters a step further in the editing of his report. He included as the conclusion so that it could not be ignored this inflammatory sounbdbite from another local Polish man:

But I mean, Nigel Farage, I mean, thank you for that, because you are part of this death, and you’ve got blood on your hands, thanks to you, thanks for all your decision, wherever you are, er . . . yeah, it’s your call.

Clearly in play and being reinforced to maximum extent by the Corporation was the central idea – evident in other programmes, too, as is documented on the News-watch website here –  that June 23 had unleashed a torrent of racist venom. In the BBC’s world the jackboots were now out – and on the march.

The following Monday, Guardian columnist and political activist (sorry, ‘rights campaigner’) Garry Younge was allowed to put together for a BBC Radio 4 series a barrage of sensationalist allegations in the same vein: that Britain, overnight since June 23, had become a seething cesspit of race-hate. Attacks were underway in terrifying, unprecedented volume.

On the advice of a senior BBC news executive – who claimed that the Corporation was listening to problems about post-Brexit coverage – News-watch submitted a formal complaint about the coverage of Harlow killing to the BBC Complaints Unit, focusing principally on the Sandford report.

Over seven-pages, it detailed that his approach was sensationalist, deliberately contrived to give maximum impact to the race hate claims, and also pointed out that it was seriously irresponsible and premature – in the light of the facts known to the police on August 31 and more generally about race-hate crime – to speculate so prominently either about race-hate motivation or about the crime’s possible link to Brexit.

The BBC’s response? A curt high-handed letter. It asserted that such speculation was legitimate because there had been a rise in reports of race-hate crime since June 23, and because other possible motives for Mr Jozwik’s death had been included in Sandford’s report.

The letter – which was mostly in an obviously standard format, and was so slipshod that it even spelled the name of Sandford incorrectly, omitting the ‘d’ – glossed over with what can only described as haughty arrogance the key points.

In response, News-watch submitted a second complaints letter pointing out the omissions and stating that the reply was totally unsatisfactory. That was on October 20.  On November 30 (ironically, the day of the manslaughter charges were laid) came the Complaints Unit’s second reply. It states:

‘We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions made about this issue or our responses to it.’

The lessons learnt? The core BBC complaints process, which will remain as the conduit which will deal with most of the complaints submitted to the BBC after Charter renewal, is intrinsically and, irrevocably unfit for purpose. The Corporation remains the primary judge of what is deemed a ‘significant issue of general importance’

The second Complaints Unit letter does point out that the BBC Trust, in some circumstances, does entertain appeals. But the fact is that – as Richard Ayre, one of the current Trustees, has admitted – it has not upheld a complaint on EU-related matters in its entire existence.

Will Ofcom change that approach? Don’t hold your breath. And meanwhile, the totally inaccurate BBC assumptions about Brexit and race-hate continue to spew forth.

 

 

News-watch Referendum survey of Radio 1 Newsbeat finds strong BBC bias towards ‘Remain’

News-watch Referendum survey of Radio 1 Newsbeat finds strong BBC bias towards ‘Remain’

During the EU referendum, the BBC adopted special editorial guidelines which required strict even-handed treatment of the Leave and Remain cases.

News-watch has now completed a rigorous academic survey which shows conclusively that these guidelines were effectively ignored. There was heavy bias towards the Remain side in BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat, a flagship news programme which reaches millions of the under 30s.

A summary of the findings is below and the full report is here. The key points include that audiences were 1.5 times more likely to hear Remain opinions and speakers, alleged ‘fact checking’ by the programme which favoured the Remain side, and feature reports that were heavily skewed towards Remain arguments, especially with regard to immigration.

A disturbing implication of the survey is that – as the BBC refused to put in place rigorous bias checks – there is a high likelihood that other elements of the output were similarly skewed.

News-watch analysis found during the referendum build-up and campaign numerous examples of bias covering the flagship news and EU-related programmes on Radio 4, BBC1 and BBC2.

  • Newsbeat devoted only 10.7% of its available airtime to the referendum, and 83% of this coverage was in the three weeks immediately before June 23. Many issues particularly affecting young voters were ignored. There was a narrow editorial focus on immigration and the economy. Important topics, such as national sovereignty, the workings of the EU, travel and residence in the EU, and the impact on universities were only very briefly mentioned. This was thus major ‘bias by omission’ and an over-simplification of the issues involved. The BBC news programme with the biggest audience of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 did not explore the referendum sufficiently to meet the BBC Public Purposes requirements.
  • Newsbeat audiences were 1.5 times more likely to encounter a Remain supporter than a Leave supporter. 238 guest speakers contributed to the various discussions on the referendum. The analysis shows that 45% spoke in favour of Remain, 30% in favour of Leave, with a further 25% giving a neutral, undecided or factual perspective.
  • In 38 Newsbeat reports with guest speakers, 19 (50%), showed a speaker weighting in favour of Remain. Only five similarly favoured ‘leave’. Fourteen had even numbers of speakers. This demonstrates a severe imbalance in favour of Remain.
  • Politicians supporting Remain outnumbered those wanting Leave by 47 to 34. In terms of the number of words spoken by politicians, Remain supporters received 64% of the airtime, compared to 36% for Leave – a ratio of approximately 2:1.
  • There was a much greater breadth of opinion in Remain contributions – they came from Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Green Party. Conversely, the Leave side featured only Conservatives and UKIP. There were no Leave contributions from the Labour party or wider Left. There was no input at all from the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Just over half the contributors were ‘ordinary’ people – vox pop interviewees, members of the public or Newsbeat listeners. On occasions, the programme appeared proud of its ‘anti-politician’ stance, portraying the debate as ‘a playground argument’ and promising in one edition that there would be ‘no boring EU experts’. This trivialised the debate.
  • Throughout, Newsbeat found ways editorially of enhancing or even amplifying the views supporting Remain, and they did not subject such views and alleged related facts to due rigour.
  • Conversely, opinions and alleged facts in favour of Leave were robustly scrutinised, made to look ignorant or contradictory, xenophobic or unfounded (Section 2.4). The most striking example of this was that the Leave claim that EU membership cost the UK £350 million a week was categorically said to be untrue, whereas, George Osborne’s estimation that Brexit would cost each household £4,300 annually was subjected to far less scrutiny.
  • In an immigration special from Wisbech, significantly more prominence was given to views favouring EU immigration, and the ‘fact checking’ sequence was similarly skewed about the economic contribution of EU incomers.
  • A special report from Berlin promoted heavily the role of the EU, over-emphasised its role in creating ‘peace’, featured young expats who strongly agreed with free movement of people, and contained unqualified warnings that Brexit would result in damage to the UK car industry.
  • Overall, Newsbeat presented ‘Fact check’ assessments that were tendentious and imbalanced. It was said without qualification that immigrants contribute more cash to the UK than they received in benefits, when this is disputed. In addition, the impact on the UK of current levels of immigration was minimised.
  • Opponents of current levels of immigration were cast as xenophobic and inward-looking, whereas the comment from those who approved of immigration were made to appear outward-looking, open and broad-minded.
  • Newsbeat attacked editorially the over-presence of ‘experts’ in the EU debate and suggested their contribution was ‘boring’. Their appearances were limited to a handful. That meant conversely that by a large margin, most contributions came from members of the public and politicians.
  • Newsbeat sought strongly to encourage its young audience to register to vote. Was this in the light of the perceived wisdom that young people were more likely to vote Remain?
  • There were several occasions when the Remain case was put by contributors in the strongest possible light, whereas equivalent Leave contributions were edited to be more qualified, less convincing and less robust.
  • Also on this theme, alleged benefits of remaining in the EU were clearly identified in some items, for example, visa-free travel, or ‘very cheap travel’, but there was much more limited mention of the perceived advantages of Brexit. A Newsbeat presenter specifically said that one possible benefit – reduced immigration – might not be guaranteed by departure.

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Humphrys told Farage that Brexit is ‘literally unthinkable’

Humphrys told Farage that Brexit is ‘literally unthinkable’

Back in August, in the backwash of the referendum result, News-watch issued a challenge (during an off-the-record lunch) to a very senior executive of the Corporation: for the BBC to make a programme that properly celebrated Nigel Farage’s achievements as a politician.

The answer? None, directly, so far, but a few days later the Corporation announced the commissioning of Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back, described as a ‘sharp satire’ about the then ex-Ukip leader readjusting to his former life.

It was produced at great speed, broadcast on BBC2 at the weekend, and is now available on the BBC iplayer.

How was it?   A full review of the whole sorry car crash can be read here.

In summary, an alleged ‘satire’ that was not remotely funny. It showed that, without doubt, the comrades at the BBC think the man who many believe was a decisive influence in securing the Brexit vote is a racist, vacuous, inept, unfunny pub bore.

This was called ‘satire’ but in reality was the equivalent of taking gurning pot-shots at the disabled.  And it was exactly in line with how the BBC have been treating Farage ever since he rose to national prominence in the late 1990s as the then 30-something chairman of Ukip.

Proof of the stereotyping of Farage – together with the Corporation’s unwavering adherence to the importance of Brussels – can be found in the News-watch archives. A short interview from back in 1999 illustrates this perfectly, so much so that it deserves a re-airing.

The underlying approach undoubtedly also throws light on why the BBC continues to treat the referendum result with bewildered, indignant disbelief.

In 18 years, the Corporation has not changed its reverence for the Brussels machine one iota.  Farage said he simply wanted his country back on an amicable basis, and free trade; Humphrys’ stance was that this was ‘literally unthinkable’.

The exchange took place on May 20, 1999 in the build-up to the June 10 European Union Parliamentary elections. It was the only interview in the entire campaign by the BBC at national level of anyone from Ukip – even though the party went on to achieve its first electoral breakthrough with 7.7 per cent of the national poll (700,000 votes) and three seats.

The full transcript is included below.  In summary, Humphrys 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.

Humphrys then strongly challenged Farage’s assertion that opinion polls supported Ukip because they showed that up to 50% of the UK population wanted to leave the EU; contended that the party, if it did win seats, would simply jump on the Brussels ’gravy train’; and then asked if Farage was worried that a big supporter of the party was the British National Party, because of a positive article in their magazine Spearhead.

In the opening sequence, Humphrys thus put firmly on the agenda Ukip’s credibility, and bracketed the party with racism and venality. Next came the BBC’s unwavering belief that leaving the EU, and Farage’s hope of ‘getting his country back’ was cloud cuckoo land. Indeed, it was ‘literally unthinkable’.

The sequence dealing with this has to be seen in full to be believed. Humphrys said:

…but of course it can’t happen can it?  I mean the fact is that we are tied by innumerable treaties and it is literally unthinkable isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: No its not unthinkable – you may think its unthinkable but a growing number…

John Humphrys: (interrupting) … well I think in legal terms you know the turmoil that would be created is just, well it’s just extraordinary… (voice tails off) turmoil

Nigel Farage: (interrupting) I don’t think any turmoil would be created. Look, we’ve got countries like Norway, countries like Switzerland…(they) trade quite happily with France and Italy without being members of the European Union. All I am saying is that we want to divorce ourselves amicably from the whole process of the European Union and go back to the free trading agreement that the British people thought it was going to be in the first place.

Humphrys, clearly now lost in the fog of his own disbelief, finished by observing caustically that even if Farage did win a seat ‘he’d be there for a very short time’.

Back to the present, others are planning to honour Farage with a glitzy tribute event in central London next week. The BBC may not be prepared to do justice to Farage by examining his political achievements – but others are.

 

TRANSCRIPT:

John Humphrys: The UK Independence Party is launching its manifesto for the European elections today. The only one saying that Britain should withdraw from Europe entirely. The party Chairman is Nigel Farage. Good morning to you.

Nigel Farage: Good morning

John Humphrys: The thing that puzzles me about this is that you want to get us out of Europe altogether but you are standing for the European parliament and you will take seats if you win any in the European parliament – well that’s a bit funny isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: Yes, we will take seats in that Parliament and we will link arms with the other moderate groups from the other European countries who feel exactly the same as we do, and we will go there and we will find out what information we can about what is going on. We will expose further the frauds and corruption that are taking place within the EU. We will bring that back to this country and when we have elected representatives we will have a voice in the media. At the moment we’ve got 50% of the country that agrees with the UK Independence Party’s point of view …

John Humphrys: Oh, well come on – if that was the case you’d have had an awful lot of votes last time around wouldn’t you?

Nigel Farage: Well no, I’m afraid that’s not the case. I mean, 46% of people in recent MORI polls said they wanted to leave the EU immediately. Now, it takes time for political parties to get credibility and it’s taken the UKIP several years to get to this position.

John Humphrys: And once you’ve got a chance to get it – you will, as your former leader said, jump on the gravy train…

Nigel Farage: No, that is not the case at all – every one of our candidates has signed a declaration that they will take only genuine expenses allowances. All of that will have to be receipted and we will put our expenses up for annual inspection by producing an audit – excess expenses that we have,and there will be excess expenses because they will force us to take money that we don’t really need – will all be given to a fund which we are going to establish to help the legal expenses of victims of the European Union.

John Humphrys: Does it worry you that you have been singled out for praise – you particularly, incidentally – by the British National Party in their newsletter, Spearhead?

Nigel Farage: Well, I haven’t read the BNP newsletter Spearhead and all I would say about that is that we have no links or associations with the BNP whatsoever. We are an alliance of people from the right, from the centre and from the left – all we want is our country back.

John Humphrys: But of course it can’t happen can it – I mean the fact is that we are tied by innumerable treaties and it is literally unthinkable isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: No its not unthinkable – you may think its unthinkable but a growing number…

John Humphrys: Interrupts well I think in legal terms you know the turmoil that would be created is just, well its just extraordinary… (voice tails off) turmoil –

Nigel Farage: I don’t think any turmoil would be created look we’ve got countries like Norway, countries like Switzerland…they trade quite happily with France and Italy without being members of the European Union. All I am saying is that we want to divorce ourselves amicably from the whole process of the European Union and go back to the free trading agreement that the British people thought it was going to be in the first place.

John Humphrys: (seemingly sarcastic) So if you won a seat you’d only be in it for a very short time would you?

Nigel Farage: Hopefully, it will be the shortest job that I have ever had in my life – hopefully we will be so successful we’ll hasten the day at which Britain does leave the European Union

John Humphrys: Nigel Farage thanks very much.

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BBC Radio 4 Brexit Collection: strong bias against leaving the EU

BBC Radio 4 Brexit Collection: strong bias against leaving the EU

The Brexit Collection is a selection of 31 programmes and features, originally broadcast on Radio 4, and posted by the BBC on its iPlayer website. It is presumably thus thought by the Corporation to be a balanced representation of its referendum coverage. Analysis by News-watch has now shown that the Collection was, on balance, very strongly anti-Brexit.

News-watch transcribed and rigorously analysed all the items (24 separate programmes, one collection of four brief clips on personal finance, and six news features in the Brexit Street series) that were posted between the launch of The Brexit Collection on July 11 and August 23 – two months after the referendum. In total, this amounted to eleven and half hours of broadcasting.

Overall, there were no attempts in any programme to explore the benefits of leaving the EU, but conversely, Brexit came under sustained negative attack. This was reflected in the balance of contributions and comment contained within the items. Analysis by News-watch shows that only 23% of contributors in the programmes as a whole spoke in favour of Brexit, against 58% in favour of Remain and 19% who gave a neutral or factual commentary.

Nine programmes and six features, amounting to 5 hours 20 minutes of programming, were strongly anti-Brexit, contained unchallenged predictions that civil unrest and rioting were now on the horizon and cast the ‘out’ vote in negative terms, inferring that the result had been a consequence of racism and xenophobia. The balance of programme guests in all of these items was strongly – and sometimes overwhelmingly – pro-Remain.

By contrast, only two programmes, from the series Points of View, were clearly Eurosceptic in tone. They both attacked the EU project as a whole, but did no explore the possibilities presented by Brexit.

A group of six documentaries in the Collection, originally broadcast in 2009 and 2012, looked critically at the EU and examined claims that there were structural faults in the EU project, especially in relation to the euro. However, the vast majority of guests on these programmes were wholly in favour of the EU project, or were EU officials, and as such the issues were observed through a strongly pro-EU lens.

A further eight programmes have been classed as neutral. Many of these, such as the comedy programmes Dead Ringers and The Now Show, contained strong anti-Brexit content, or expressed doubts about it, but did contain some balancing material.

The items that were strongly anti-Brexit were editions of culture series Front Row, The Briefing Room, six editions of the feature Brexit Street on the news programme PM, one edition of A Point of View, How to Make a Brexit (a one-off documentary about Greenland’s exit from the EU), Farming Today, More Less, The Food Programme, The Bottom Line and Call You and Yours.

In some of these, the range of anti-Brexit opinion was astonishing and light years from any definition of ‘impartiality’ and there was no balancing comparable pro-Brexit material. A majority of the country had voted ‘out’ on June 23, but this was not reflected in the space given to each side of the debate, or the thematic emphases of the various programmes.

The Food Programme, for example, contained predictions from ten contributors ranging through civil unrest, substantial food price rises, the demise of food businesses and years of turmoil.  Only one contributor (described disparagingly as a ‘former speech writer for Nigel Farage’), thought that Brexit could have positive outcomes.

And in The Bottom Line, presented by Evan Davis, three strong supporters of Remain (one a former Liberal Democrat candidate) feared a drying up of investment, the introduction of tariffs, an increasing complexity of doing business through the need for additional paperwork, price rises, unfair treatment of workers, unwise and impractical restrictions on immigration, a curtailing of the opportunities available to young people, and a rise of xenophobia and racism to the extent there was imminent danger of ‘personal attack’ for those supporting Remain. They were ranged against a contributor from Switzerland, who – although accepting briefly that Brexit could be positive – also warned that the process was very complex.

In all anti-Brexit programmes, presenters worked with the contributors to ensure that the negatives of Brexit were pushed to the maximum extent, and they did not challenge their extreme claims, for example, about civil unrest and racism.

Analysis of the contributions across the series as a whole raises other major issues of imbalance. Of the 59 politicians to appear, 37 were pro-Remain. With academics and lawyers, 11 supported Remain and none favoured Leave, and with businessmen and financial experts, 19 were Remainers and only six wanted ‘out’.  Another striking imbalance was that, across the board, 41% of the speakers who supported Leave were ‘ordinary’ contributors (i.e. members of the public with no obvious expertise, for example, in vox pops), compared to only 27% of pro-EU guests. In terms of the number of words spoken, members of the public contributed 34% of the Leave total, compared to only 8% on the Remain side.

Eleven of the 20 ‘ordinary’ speakers who spoke in favour of Brexit were from two locations in Northern England, Thornaby-on-Tees and Wakefield. All of these were from social classes D and E and together they were responsible for 80% of the words spoken by ‘ordinary’ Leave supporters.

News-watch research has shown that such serious imbalances have been a feature of BBC coverage of EU-related issues since 1999.

This raises big questions about how the BBC defines ’impartiality’ in the aftermath of the June 23 vote. During the referendum campaign, there were BBC-wide referendum editorial guidelines which stipulated that the Leave and Remain sides should be treated even-handedly. The evidence presented here suggests these rules have now been set aside and that a version of ‘due impartiality’ is in force which gives much greater precedence to the Remain side.

Whatever the reasons, the evidence presented here shows that the Corporation seems to be on a mission to show that Brexit is a fool’s errand, which elements within the BBC are doing their best to frustrate. There can be no other explanation why this flagship collection of programmes is so deeply biased.

The full report, including full transcripts of the 31 programmes analysed by News-watch is available here:


 

 

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Pro-EU zealot quietly dropped from Ofcom content board

Pro-EU zealot quietly dropped from Ofcom content board

Hallelujah! Quietly, a significant positive development in the broadcasting establishment may have occurred.

Might it be that the government is at last waking up to that the liberal figures who occupy the key regulatory posts are a menace to Brexit?

The current deluge of anti-Brexit propaganda emanating primarily from the BBC, but also from Ofcom-regulated services such as Channel 4, is the consequence of their current stranglehold over the regulation of broadcast services.

Back in January, the Department of Culture – as the referendum debate snapped into gear – incredibly appointed arch-Europhile and former editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott as chairman of Ofcom’s content board.

It meant he was in charge of investigations into allegations of bias in commercial radio and television’s coverage of EU affairs.

On The Conservative Woman, I wrote that this was, in effect, appointing a fanatical fox as guardian of the hen house. Emmott, with funding from the EU – and in close collaboration with the BBC – had made The Great European Disaster Movie, which envisaged right-wing Armageddon if the supremacy of the EU was challenged or changed.

Not only that, through his Wake Up Foundation, Emmott was engaged in a full-scale propaganda exercise – with Richard Sambrook, a former BBC Director of News, and using the BBC film as ammo – around the universities of Britain and across Europe to brainwash students  into believing that exiting the EU would indeed be a disaster.

Immediately after the piece appeared, however, Emmott’s appointment began to unravel. On this website, I wrote:

‘After the publication of this post, an Ofcom spokesperson has contacted Newswatch with the following statement: “Any conflicts of interest involving non-executive Board members are managed appropriately and Bill Emmott would not be involved in discussions or decisions related to the EU referendum.”

Ofcom thus formally acknowledged that – at a crucial time in the coverage of EU affairs – Emmott’s interests and pro-EU passions were a conflict of interest.

That was back in February. In the meantime, Analisa Piras, Emmott’s partner in the making of The Great European Disaster Movie, wrote to News-watch:.

the piece… (about The Great European Disaster Movie) is slanderous and full of falsities. Please remove the slanderous comments or take it down immediately.

Please note that in the absence of any action from you I will be taking legal action.

That was back in June. News-watch replied robustly that the item was fair comment on a matter of public and national importance and there has been nothing back since.

There matters hung. It seemed that Emmott was gradually taking up his role at Ofcom, despite the contradictions and his unbridled campaigning pro-EU zealotry. But then – without fanfare – it has been announced that he is definitely leaving. The Guardian here discusses the reasons without – surprise, surprise – mentioning the elephant in the room, Europe, at all. Neither side is commenting ‘for legal reasons’ but it is clear that Ofcom finally woke up to the massive conflict of interest issues.

This begs the question of why the hell the Department of Culture sanctioned the appointment in the first place – it was plain as a pikestaff to anyone with access to Google that Emmott’s pro-EU passions were a central driving force in his life.

But could now it be that the new Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has seen – and is taking action on  – the crucial issue  that such appointments are the core reason why the broadcasting establishment is so fundamentally biased?

Ofcom will become the court of appeal for complaints against the BBC from next year when the new Charter comes into force. Meanwhile, BBC Trustee Chairman Rona Fairhead – drawn from the same mould and outlook as Emmott – has also been given her marching orders. The crucial next phase will be the appointment of the new BBC management board. Watch this space.

 

 

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Complaints from both sides (again)

Complaints from both sides (again)

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
The BBC must be happy today.

Yesterday came Boris at the Conservative Party conference saying (accurately) that the BBC is sometimes “shamelessly anti-Brexit” before adding (doubtless to the BBC’s delight), “I think the Beeb is the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values”.

Today in strode (Sir) Craig Oliver in The Times saying that David Cameron had pressured the BBC in the other direction for “mistaking balance for being impartial”, demanding that “BBC editors should have been stamping their own independent authority and analysis on the output” (thus echoing the BBC’s very own John Simpson).

Inevitably, in response, in rides the BBC – bugles blaring, banners raised high – crying out its favourite mantra: “We’re getting complaints from both sides; ergo, we must be getting it about right!”…

and Politics Home quotes a BBC source as saying that very thing:

There’s nothing new in people having strong views about our coverage, but the public will notice a distinct irony in the BBC being accused of failing to do enough to stop Brexit on the one hand while being criticised for being anti-Brexit on the other. As we’ve said before, our job is to challenge politicians from all sides and interrogate the arguments. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll continue to do.
Of course, the two complaints are different in kind. The first is saying that the BBC is biased; the second is saying that the BBC is impartial, but too impartial and ought to be taking sides – i.e. its side. Neither is saying the BBC is pro-Brexit (of course, as that would be ridiculous).

Where the BBC’s ‘complaints from both sides’ argument falls down (as so often) is that anyone claiming that the BBC has been either balanced or impartial over Brexit since the referendum result is arguing from a very sticky wicket. (To put it poetically, in the manner of Sir Andrew Motion, “The evidence is strong/That they are wrong”.) The BBC has had a heavy anti-Brexit bias since June 23 (as demonstrated by Radio 4’s Brexit Collection, for example).

And, despite the bias being not as severe before the referendum result, the bias even then still ran overwhelmingly against one side (the same side) – as (hopefully) both Is the BBC biased? and News-watch demonstrated (in considerable detail, and despite honourable exceptions).

Boris was right. The BBC is sometimes shamelessly anti-Brexit.

The campaign from the likes of John Simpson, Mark Thompson, Chris Patten, Paul Johnson of the IFS, Roy Greenslade, Timothy Garton Ash, (Sir) Craig Oliver and David Cameron, etc, however, for the BBC to become even more biased in their direction goes on and is evidently gathering pace. And they are probably knocking at an open door.

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BBC News Chief James Harding shows anti-Brexit bias

BBC News Chief James Harding shows anti-Brexit bias

James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News, has fired a broadside against those poor, misguided souls who have dared to think that the BBC’s coverage of the referendum and its aftermath have been out of kilter.

His chosen medium for this homily? Why, where else but that neutral newspaper so loved by the BBC – The Guardian?

For those not versed in BBC obfuscation (otherwise known as complaints handling), this was a classic piece. His wheeled-out-a-thousand-times defence was that he and his battalions of heroic, do-no-wrong journalists have received complaints from both sides in the referendum debate, so the coverage must therefore have been balanced.

For good measure, he also quotes BBC audience research, which he says shows that 90% of the UK population tuned into BBC programmes – further ‘proof’ that everything in the impartiality garden was rosy.   That’s alright then.

Never mind that the BBC audience domination is only achieved because of the enforced regime of the television licence fee.

There’s also – as is customary in such exercises – an obligatory mea culpa. Harding accepts at the very end that mistakes in the EU coverage have been made, and states that the BBC must do better. But – as is also customary – there are no details, no examples to back this up.  Whatever it was that the BBC accepts it got wrong is not disclosed.

How very convenient (for the BBC) this is. Nothing to check, nothing to look at – only a nebulous, vague misdemeanour that only the Corporation knows about.

That aside, Harding, in fact, takes up most of the space in his article in dealing with those on the Remain side who think the BBC gave too much prominence to the lies and distortions of the Brexit side.  Clearly, he thinks that bias against Remain was the biggest problem. What does that say about his unconscious (and real) bias?

His defence here is that the BBC (from dear Newsnight presenter Evan Davis to that nice economics editor Kamal Ahmed) made it abundantly clear that the weight of economic opinion overwhelmingly showed – just like the BBC so rigidly maintains that there is a ‘consensus’ of scientists in favour of alarmism in the climate change debate – that leaving the EU was foolhardy.

In Harding’s book, the BBC had thus fulfilled its duty – and it was voters who got it wrong by having the temerity to ignore ‘the facts’.

Harding’s, analysis of the Brexiteers’ complaints, in sharp contrast, takes up only one paragraph, so little space that it can be quoted in full. He declared:

‘The Leavers’ complaint will, in no small part, be answered by what happens next and how we report it. The fact is that, since the EU referendum, there has been a revaluation of sterling, the Bank of England cut interest rates because it says the outlook for economic growth has weakened markedly and the government’s plans for Brexit are unclear. But consumer confidence has bounced back and manufacturing and services sectors have rebounded accordingly. In the months ahead, our job is to understand what Brexit actually means – without relish or alarm.’

This is yet more obfuscation.  Of course, no-one can yet tell the outcome of Brexit, and the ‘out’ side’s complaints are not rooted there.

The reality is that since the referendum vote, there have been mixed signals about the economy, but the IMF, the OECD , the Treasury and all those who the ‘remain’ side wheeled at as ‘proof’ that Brexit would spell immediate disaster for the British economy have been proved wrong.

The nub of the ‘out’ side complaints is that the BBC has been at best mealy-mouthed and begrudging about reporting this slow-motion car crash of economic forecasting. Night after night during the referendum campaign, Davis, Ahmed and Co. trumpeted the predictions of doom with relish; the reporting of the retractions and the back-tracking since June 23 have been delivered through gritted teeth.

The reality, too, is that since Brexit, there has been a torrent of BBC negativity about the consequences of out, and all normal rules of reporting seem to have been suspended to ensure that those 90% who Harding claims watch BBC bulletins can be in no doubt that they have made a grave mistake in ignoring the economic forecasters of the OECD and elsewhere in the BBC canon of approved sources.

Take, for example, the series of reports launched on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme called Brexit Street, which is supposedly a typical ‘out’-voting area in Thornaby-on-Tees.  The reality is that this is a hugely deprived inner city area with a highly atypical quota of asylum seekers.  The purpose seems to be to show primarily that ‘out’ voters are bigoted, bitter, irrational xenophobes.

And what of the killing of a Polish man in a Harlow pizza parlour at the end of August? BBC reports immediately speculated that there was a fear that this was is was a racial attack triggered by Brexit – even though police had made no charges, and had only confirmed that they had not ruled out such motivation from their inquiries. John Sweeney muttered darkly on Newsnight that Nigel Farage might now have blood on his hands.

Such sensationalist reporting by the BBC  gave European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker the ammunition to attack the Brexit vote and to insinuate it had unleashed a tide of racism.

James Harding has thus – as is usual for the BBC – ignored the elephant in the room.  The BBC has never reported the EU impartially, fundamentally because they totally do not acknowledge or understand the case for ‘out’.  Harding’s clumsy obfuscation confirms that – in spades.

Diane Abbot has reportedly asserted at the Labour Party Conference that those who voted ‘out’ were racists. How much has the BBC’s  reporting supported her in coming to that conclusion?

 

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BBC Concedes Political Bias – But Only Against Corbynistas

BBC Concedes Political Bias – But Only Against Corbynistas

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

Something highly unusual and rather disconcerting happened on Radio 4’s Feedback this week. Questions about BBC bias were put and a senior BBC editor repeatedly admitted that the BBC had got things wrong.

I cannot recall ever hearing such an interview before on Feedback – except over climate change, where various BBC editors have publicly confessed to the sin of not being hard enough on unbelievers like Nigel Lawson and Quentin Letts.

Still, this interview was even more striking than those because the BBC editor in question – BBC Political News Editor Katy Searle – admitted error on the BBC’s part not once, not twice but three times in the course of a single interview.

That must be unprecedented.

The issue at hand was: ‘Is the BBC biased against Jeremy Corbyn?’

Roger Bolton took the question very seriously indeed.

The first Corbynista complaint was that Traingate was a “non-story” and that the BBC should not have spent much time on it. Katy Searle rejected that particular complaint, saying that Traingate certainly was a significant story. (That is the one bit where she behaved like a typical BBC editor on Feedback).

The second Corbynista complaint was that an edition of The Week in Westminster had featured two Labour figures – Chris Mullen and Caroline Flint – discussing Jeremy Corbyn, both of whom said that Jeremy could not win an election. ‘Why wasn’t there a Corbyn supporter present?’ was the question asked. Katy accepted that complaint and said, yes, on that occasion, more could have been done to find a Corbyn supporter.

The third Corbynista complaint was that the BBC has run “factually incorrect” stories about thuggish behaviour by Corbyn supporters, citing the BBC’s reports about protests surrounding Stella Creasey that got where the protests happened wrong. Katy accepted that one too, saying, yes, a mistake was made there. “We” got it wrong, she said, adding: “In live broadcasting mistakes are made and I only think it’s right we put our hands up to that”.

The fourth Corbynista complaint was that the BBC has not been reporting what Jeremy Corbyn has been saying at packed meeting up and down the country. Katy rejected the idea that the BBC has not reported those meetings. However, she agreed that the BBC should talk more about the issues and said, “I would accept actually that we have done perhaps a little bit too much on the party leadership.”

Katy Searle was remarkably contrite and appealed, more than once, to Radio 4 listeners to believe that the BBC takes complaints about bias “very, very seriously”:

“Any accusation or perception of bias is taken very seriously and I, on a day to day basis, look at what we are doing on output and make sure we correct that”.

Isn’t that something?

Given all the years people like us have complained about BBC bias on issues of concern to us and got pretty much nowhere in terms of official concessions about, say, BBC pro-EU bias, or BBC pro-immigration bias, or BBC anti-Israel bias, etc, etc,…

…and given how often we have been told that single editions of ongoing programmes cannot be taken as proof of bias but must be judged, bias-wise, over time and many episodes, and how often our side is excluded from discussion after discussion (or utterly overwhelmed numerically on programme after programme) without the slightest chance of an admission of bias from the BBC…

and given how long and arduous the process of complaining about BBC bias usually is….

…isn’t it then utterly remarkable how easily Katy Searle conceded those points to Roger Bolton and his Corbynista listeners, and just how apologetic she sounded?

We have had pretty much all such complaints dismissively waived away on programmes like Feedback and Newswatch for donkey’s years only now to find that the merest whiff of grapeshot from a few Momentum types has the BBC bowing and scraping.

As I say, a truly remarkable interview.

Curiously, as Politics Home reports, the day before this edition of Feedback saw an intervention from far-left film director Ken Loach urging Jeremy Corbyn supporters to flood the BBC with complaints about bias.

Speaking to a Corbynista gathering, Mr Loach twice read out the number of the BBC Complaints line and coached his audience on the dos and don’ts of complaining to the BBC. (He did not mention Feedback though.)

“The BBC is an arm of the State. The BBC is not some objective chronicler of our time – it is an arm of the State,” he told them: “They have this pretence of objectivity where in fact it is propaganda on behalf of the broad interests of the State.”

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Given the preferential treatment he is usually accorded by the BBC (see Today here and The World Tonight here) “the State” seems happy about the BBC giving Ken Loach a platform. And yet he is not remotely grateful, is he?

Photo by garryknight