Brexit

BBC ‘hardline’ bias brackets Brexiteers with extremism

BBC ‘hardline’ bias brackets Brexiteers with extremism

Craig Byers, of Is the BBC Biased, has astutely nailed down that the BBC’s use of ‘hardline’ in the EU debate is deeply slanted.

The adjective, he spotted, was reserved especially for those who the Corporation perceived are most opposed to staying in the European Union. He also noted that its derogatory application was much broader – it boiled down to a catch-all label for the figures on the right whom the Corporation classes as extremists.

Further intensive analysis of the BBC’s application of the word across its entire output using tracking software through all of June and into July as the Chequers Brexit-showdown meeting unfolded, confirms a fascinating picture of selective, targeted usage in what appears to be systematic bias. There were around 700 examples.

The first point to note is that across the six weeks, hardline was almost invariably NOT applied to someone whom the BBC perceives to be progressive or liberal. It is exclusively reserved for those who are deemed to be extremist, fundamentalist, oppressive  and on the so-called right.

There was a glaring demonstration of the deliberate polarity involved when one BBC reporter – describing the latest battles in the Brexit talks – said the Brexiteers were ‘hardline’. What were the remainers? The same? No, they were merely ‘stubborn’.

A possible fine tooth-comb exception here was the use of the word in the description of the former regime in Serbia, which was said to be ‘hardline’ communist Stalinist’ (and thus possibly of the ‘left’). However, perhaps even John McDonnell, deputy leader of the Labour party,  would find it hard to regard the Serbian government in the land of President Tito as anything but totalitarian and so the exception is not so.

So who else other than Jacob Rees-Mogg and those who want a ‘hard’ (another BBC journalistic distortion) Brexit are classed as hardline?

It’s a fascinating list. The key markers include opposition to uncontrolled immigration wherever it exists (from Mexico to Japan), any opposition to the EU’s prevailing policies and moves towards federalism, religious extremism practised by ‘Islamic’ imams and cultivated in madrassas, the anti-Western government regime in Iran, and the North Korean government.

And who are the people involved? Step forward first, of course, Donald Trump. His are multiple hardline sins: separating illegal immigrants from their children (though Presidents  Obama and Clinton’s pursuit of the same approach was not mentioned); wanting to stop illegal immigrants; proposing a new tougher immigration bill; and having policies similar to the Ku Klux Klan. Around 200 of the uses of the ‘hardline’ dog-whistle applied to him for his brazen attempts to prevent illegal immigrants entering the US.

Next were those in the new Italian government of Matteo Salvini, primarily for wanting to stop NGO ‘immigrant’ ships landing in Italy, but also for not honouring the Schengen agreement and worrying generally about volumes of immigration in opposition to the EU;  then Sebastian Kurz, the Chancellor of Austria, and all the governments in the EU (including especially Hungary and Slovenia) who are opposing the immigration policies of Angela Merkel; opponents in Germany itself to the immigration policies of Mrs Merkel; the Polish government, for wanting to reform its legal system in opposition to the EU; and last but not least, Shintaro Ishihara, the former Governor of Tokyo for 13 years, for opposing levels of immigration and championing Japanese culture and values.

Is this nit-picking? The BBC, of course – which maintains it gets its journalism right 99.999 per cent of the time – would no doubt say it is. Their defence would probably be (based on long experience!) that ‘hardline’ is a commonly-used word and any linkage with the ‘right’ is coincidental.

But that most definitely does not stack up here. For starters, why are Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell, who openly advocate Marxist economics, and have demonstrably supported terrorist regimes, not in the ‘hardline’ category? Why are Brexiteers, who want only to leave the EU in accordance with the vote of the EU Referendum, described with the same word as imams who conduct or encourage acts of terrorism? And why is any opposition to illegal immigration and open borders now also bracketed by the BBC with the same language reserved for those ‘Islamist’ terrorists or the repressive regime of President Tito of the former Yugoslavia?

Another important point in this slanted use of language by the BBC is that in the News-watch survey of the Brexit coverage by the Today programme in autumn/winter last year, it was noted that the BBC had started using the word ‘divorce’ routinely to describe the Brexit process.

The report concluded (p3:)

“The main finding is that there was an unjustified heavy bias towards exploring the difficulties and potential difficulties of Brexit. In this context, there is a special investigation of the pervasive and indiscriminate use by this BBC coverage of the word ‘divorce’ – with all its negative overtones – to describe the EU exit process. In academic media analysis, it is held that such value-loaded ‘framing’ of issues by the editorial process . . . negatively influence audiences.”

It boils down to that in this sphere, the BBC has form. It systematically uses negative labels to disparage and undermine the perspectives it opposes.

 

A figleaf swept away in the torrent of anti-Brexit bias

A figleaf swept away in the torrent of anti-Brexit bias

In BBC Radio 4’s Feedback on Friday, host Roger Bolton introduced a classic edition of Corporation Complaints Stonewalling.

The subject? Primarily coverage of Brexit. The message? As always, the BBC is getting it right.

The full transcript is below.

Element one, carefully orchestrated by Bolton, was to convey that the BBC was receiving complaints that its Brexit coverage was biased from both ‘sides’, those who supported Brexit and those who opposed it. Because of this, it was risibly suggested, complaints of editorial imbalance must be unfounded.

Element two was that two BBC bigwigs – Gavin Allen, controller of daily news programmes, and Ric Bailey, chief political adviser – confirmed why, in their view, the BBC’s coverage was completely impartial and met Charter requirements.

Element three was that Today presenter Nick Robinson – now seemingly firmly ensconced as the Corporation’s defender-in-chief – was wheeled out to defend the relentless tide of anti-Brexit negativity.

None of the three men produced a shred of credible, verifiable evidence to support their claims. Their approach boiled down to that they know what they are doing; anyone who disagrees is simply deluded.

In other words, with more than 20 tedious minutes devoted to Brexit, Feedback was yet another edition of the favourite BBC refrain in response to the tens of thousands of complaints it receives: ‘Move along there, nothing to see!’

Reading the programme transcript confirms that these BBC luminaries truly believe this, and have constructed elaborate, self-justifying arguments to support their stance. Allen, for example, argued that the BBC’s only fault in this domain is actually that it doesn’t explain enough its internal processes. If listeners and viewers only knew how hard he and Corporation editors think about bias, they wouldn’t complain.

Poppycock! What actually seems to be the case is rather that Bolton, Allen, Bailey and Robinson – and seemingly all of the BBC’s battalions of journalists – are locked in a bubble of their own making and can’t see the acres of bias they churn out each week. This is confirmation bias.

Exhibit A, based on the BBC output being broadcast as the four men were congratulating themselves on their journalistic brilliance and rectitude, is an analysis conducted last week by Craig Byers of the website Is the BBC Biased? Using a monitoring service called TV Eyes, Craig painstakingly tracked every mention on BBC programmes of the word ‘Brexit’ between Monday and Friday last week (April 16-20).

What he found was a deluge of Brexit negativity. Craig’s blog needs to be read in full to appreciate the sheer scale. It permeated every element of its news output and even percolated down to BBC1’s The One Show and EastEnders, which had a pointed reference to these ‘tough Brexit times’. In the BBC’s world, Brexit was a threat to EU immigrants (in the context of the Windrush developments), to farmers, to interest rates, to airlines, to personal privacy (via Cambridge Analytica), to house prices, to security in Northern Ireland, and more.

Among all these sustained mentions of the problems, the positive words about Brexit could be counted virtually on the fingers of one hand.

Exhibit B was mentioned by Ric Bailey on Feedback in an attempt to show that Brexit coverage was balanced. It did no such thing. He instanced that during a special day about Brexit on Radio 4 on March 29, the corporation had broadcast a half-hour programme called The Brexit Lab about the opportunities of Brexit. It suggested, for example, that environmental controls could be tougher and that British Rail could be re-nationalised once the UK was freed from the EU’s regulatory shackles.

What Bailey did not say, however, was that the remainder of this special programming – including an edition of Today, sequences on The World at One and The World Tonight, plus two much longer programmes, one about the historical relationship between Britain and ‘Europe’ (45 minutes), the other about reaction in EU countries to Brexit and their views about the future of the EU (60 minutes) – was heavily dominated by Remain themes and Remain speakers.

The suspicion must be that The Brexit Lab had been devised and broadcast as a figleaf. Within days, it was being used by one of the corporation’s most senior editorial figures as ‘proof’ that its Brexit output is balanced. The reality is vastly different. Craig’s analysis above, plus News-watch reports that can be seen here, provide voluminous evidence that since the EU Referendum, the BBC has been engaged in an all-out war to undermine Brexit.

And even concerning March 29, which the BBC trumpeted as evidence of its ‘balance’, senior executives seem totally and even comically unaware that the reverse is true. The Brexit Lab was totally swamped by other negative programming. Whatever the reason, the pro-EU, anti-Brexit propaganda spews forth regardless.

 

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, Feedback, 20 April 2018, 4.30pm

ROGER BOLTON:  Hello is the BBC the (montage of voices) Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit (montage ends)  Broadcasting Corporation? We’re devoting most of this last programme of the present run to your criticisms of the BBC’s Brexit coverage. And respond to them we have a veritable galaxy of the Corporation’s frontline journalists and executives.

NICK ROBINSON:  I’m Nick Robinson presenter of the Today programme and formerly political editor of the BBC.

GAVIN ALLEN:      I’m Gavin Allen, controller of daily news programmes.

RIC BAILEY:          I’m Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser.

RB:         And arguably the most talked about BBC Radio programme of the year.

ACTOR PLAYING ENOCH POWELL?:  It’s like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.

UNNAMED SPEAKER:         When I read that actually they were going to play the whole speech, I was flabbergasted.

ROGER BOLTON:                Rivers of Blood. We hear from the man who commissioned that controversial documentary about Enoch Powell’s infamous speech. But we begin with Brexit. Almost two years ago, just under 52% of those who voted in the referendum said they wanted to leave the European Union. 48.1% voted to remain. The Kingdom is still bitterly divided. Time was when the vast majority of complaints to Feedback of Corporation bias came from the Leave side; in recent months though, in part due to a concerted online campaign, we have been receiving many more from Remainers who routinely refer to the BBC as the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation, accusing it of tamely towing the government line. Here’s a sample of some of those comments from both sides of the Brexit divide.

SUE KING:            I’m Sue King, and I’m from Herefordshire. I’m dissatisfied with and disillusioned by the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. In news and current affairs programmes I’m frequently aware of a pro-Brexit bias in subtle ways, particularly in the Today programme. Interviewers let misleading statements by Brexiteers  go unchallenged.

ANDY FRANKLIN: My name is Andy Franklin and I live in Suffolk. The problem as I see it now is that the BBC can deny biased against Brexit until it’s blue in the face, but just about everyone I’ve ever met who voted Leave has come to that conclusion in droves.  Even on the morning after the vote, the very first interview broadcast was some University Professor declaring that all the intelligentsia had voted Remain and all the thickos had voted Leave, a bias the BBC has been peddling ever since.

JONATHAN MILES:             I’m Jonathan Miles, and I’m from Woking.  Given just how important this issue, the BBC really has done little to educate the public on important aspects of how the EU works and hence what are the likely or possible consequences of leaving.

MARGARET O’CONNELL:    Margaret O’Connell.  In a democracy you accept the result and move on, it is over.

JULIAN GREEN:    Julian Green: ‘Why does the BBC always refer to ‘when’ the UK leaves the EU, when properly, it should be ‘if’ – the BBC are promoting a falsehood.

ROGER BOLTON:  Listening to those critical comments are Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programmes, and the Corporation’s former political editor, now Today presenter, Nick Robinson.  Could I start with you, Ric Bailey, and that point Margaret O’Connell makes, she says ‘It’s over, move on,’ and yet you also heard Julian Green say, ‘You’re talking about when we leave, it should be ‘if’.’ Should it be ‘if’?

RIC BAILEY:          I think you’ve got to look at the context of what you’re talking about.  There’s been a referendum, one side has one, both major parties have gone into a general election saying that they will put that referendum result into effect.  And, of course, it’s possible that all that may be reversed and the political reality may change, and so both ‘if’ and ‘when’, in different contexts might be entirely appropriate. It’s not for me to send out pieces of advice to individual journalists like Nick, telling them individual words they should and shouldn’t use.

ROGER BOLTON:  Alright Nick, would you use ‘when’ or ‘if’.

NR:         I’d use both. And I would use both.  The truth is, a decision was taken in the referendum.  The government is committed to the decision, the Labour Party is committed to that decision, there’s an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons who say that they voted for it, they voted for Article 50. But it is occasionally worth reminding people this could be overturned, if the public changes their mind, if there was a different vote in Parliament, but let’s not treat it as if . . . no one thinks that we’re going to leave in March 2019, that’s the overwhelming likelihood, but people who want something else to happen want is to try and say that.

ROGER BOLTON:  And Gavin Allen, when people use the expression, ‘The country has decided’, don’t you feel like saying, ‘Well has it?’ I mean, Scotland has decided they’d like to remain, Northern Ireland say it would like remain, Wales, yes, and England decided that they would like to leave, but to what extent can you say ‘the country has decided’?

GA:        I think you have to, you know, it was a UK-wide referendum, and it was 52-48 and we have to reflect that.  So, I think that . . . that’s not to say that we won’t hear views in Scotland, he views in Northern Ireland, across the English regions and Wales that are very different to the outcome of that referendum, but it’s no good pretending that, well, hold on, Peterborough voted this way, so you should reflect that in . . . so it wasn’t the country after all.

ROGER BOLTON:  Could I ask you Nick, do you think that there is a campaign against the BBC at the moment? Now, we’ve heard Lord Adonis talk about the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation, a number of people have used that phrase, we do seem to be receiving quite a number of emails that appear to be written for people, shall I put it in that way, is there a real active campaign going on to stop Britain getting out?

NR:         I don’t think there’s a campaign, there is a campaign, it’s clear there is. The very use of the hashtag #BrexitBroadcastingCorporation on social media is evidence of a campaign.  Now, people are entitled to campaign, we get campaigns all the time, only the . . . about a year ago, there was a campaign by Leavers to say that the BBC was biased, there was a complaint about my questioning. We get campaigns all the time, but let’s not be in any doubt that when people start using the same words and the same critique, they’re trying to put pressure on us. Now, it doesn’t mean that the things we heard in your introduction from listeners aren’t genuine, a lot of people feel really, really angry about this, they hope that the country will change its mind, and they’re entitled to do that, but we’re also entitled to . . . to say, as I have in number of recent articles, we know what’s going on here, there’s an attempt to try to shift us.

GA:        But it’s important as well, it doesn’t mean that we dismiss – and I know Nick’s not saying this either – we don’t dismiss the campaign, so the fact that it is a campaign, the fact that we can recognise it as such, doesn’t mean there won’t be sometimes perfectly legitimate points they raise that make us stop and think, well, actually . . . we do need to tweak our coverage on that element, or do need to give a bit more to this, that we’ve underplayed.

ROGER BOLTON:  Can I just finish this section, Nick, by asking you, if you’re optimistic, you see the opportunities that the Brexit gives us, if you’re pessimistic, you see all the problems that exist in trying to change our arrangements.  Of course, it’s easier for journalists to look at the pessimistic side. When you’re trying to deal with the opportunities, that’s more difficult to construct a discussion about, do you think that’s a problem that you have?

NR:         Well, it’s undoubtedly a challenge, I think that’s absolutely right, and the key therefore is to hear from people who can, as it were, see it optimistically.  That’s why you will occasionally get a Dyson on, for example, James Dyson who’s in favour of leave, or the boss of Wetherspoon’s, we will have him on because he is able to say, ‘This is how I see it’, now the difficulty for listeners who are Remainers then they go, ‘Well why is he saying that, why isn’t he challenged?’ Well, we have them on in order precisely to say that there is another way of looking at this to the way that you do . . .

RIC BAILEY:          But there was an entire programme . . .

NR:         The problem with predictions, Roger, there is in truth, you can’t prove a fact . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  It’s not factual, it’s not factual.

NR:         . . . about someone’s vision of the future. You can’t do it.  It’s not that the BBC isn’t robust enough to do it, you can’t.

ROGER BOLTON:  Ric?

RIC BAILEY:          And incidentally, there was an entire half-hour programme which Iain Martin did on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, precisely on that point about the opportunities Brexit, so they are there, and we are, you know, it’s an active part of our journalism.

ROGER BOLTON:  Ric Bailey, Nick Robinson and Gavin Allen, thanks for the moment. A little later will be digging deep into the whole issue of balance and due impartiality.

Moves on to discuss Enoch Powell programme.

ROGER BOLTON:  And now back to . . .

MONTAGE OF VOICES:       Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

ROGER BOLTON:  Still with me in the studio is Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programs, and the Corporation’s former political editor, now Today presenter, Nick Robinson.  Now, we’ve already touched on issues of impartiality with respect to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit.  Although it might sound like a contradiction in terms, if Feedback listeners are anything to go by, balance and impartiality are in the eye of the beholder.

JOHN NEWSON:   John Newson.  I do hear BBC Radio 4 broadcasting as the voice of Remain, giving others a daily diet of scary stories about how Brexit will harm Britain.  This doesn’t seem very factually based, because Brexit has not happened yet.

FERN HANSON:    This is Fern Hanson from Woking. The audience would be much better informed of the facts around Brexit if the BBC moved away from a political balance towards facts balance. In pursuit of a fact balance it should be noted that there is a huge consensus amongst professional economists regarding the negative economic effect of Brexit.  I have never witnessed the BBC demonstrate this disparity in analysis.  Each side get equal prominence and time programmes.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, let me take up Fern Hanson’s point, with Ric Bailey. Should you move towards a facts balance, rather than a political balance?  Is that possible?

RIC BAILEY:          Well, facts are just there to be reported, you don’t balance facts, you have fax and you say what they are.  One of the issues with Brexit is that a lot of this is looking forward, it’s about trying to work out what is going to happen, which, by definition is often speculative or it’s something where different people have different views, they are in the end judgements. So you’re not balancing facts as such.  Balance is something which, during the referendum there was a binary choice, between Remain and Leave, and we were very careful to make sure that we heard from both sides, not necessarily equally, but we did represent facts in the sense of saying, ‘Look, the balance of opinion amongst big business is this – but there are other voices’, since then, that binary choice has gone away, because we now have impartiality in the sense of trying to make sure that all those different perspectives . . . is Theresa May now a Remainer or is a Leaver, of course, she is the person who is actually putting into effect that choice. So that idea that there is now a simple choice between Remain and Leave is no longer there.

ROGER BOLTON:  But haven’t you put it too simply yourself, because the people voted to Leave, they didn’t vote on the destination, and there is an argument, which one keeps hearing, ‘Why wasn’t the BBC exploring the destinations,’ because people voted, if you like, to jump, but not know what we were going to jump to?

RIC BAILEY:          I think it would be hard to say that we haven’t been doing that.  We’ve been giving a huge amount of coverage to Brexit and to the negotiations and to all the different possibilities.  I think we are doing that, Roger, actually.

GA:        We’ve also talked, we’ve also talked about Canada+++ as an option, or Norway the model, or the Swiss model, I think we are looking at lots of different ranges of outcomes for this.  And also just . . . I think one of the dangers as well, of balance of facts, as if, if only everyone had the core facts they would make the ‘correct’, in inverted commas, decision and we would all agree on it, it does ignore the fact that in the referendum, in any election, there is visceral emotion as well, there are things that are not to do with facts, or that you don’t even hear the facts that you disagree with, it’s a blend of these things.

ROGER BOLTON:  Nick, can I bring up an article you wrote for the New Statesman recently, stressing the importance of impartiality, in part in response to an earlier article by the LBC and, at one time, occasional Newsnight presenter, James O’Brien, where he was arguing that media impartiality is a problem, when ignorance is given the same weight as expertise.

NR:         The assertion made by your listener is that if only people knew the facts, we’d know, the assertion made by James O’Brien is that, you know, look, don’t put on someone who is ignorant.  Who decides this?  Who is this person who drops down from the skies and says, ‘This is true, and this is not’ . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  Well . . .

NR:         Now, in certain cases it can be, Roger . . .

ROGER BOLTON:  Well it can be known about climate change . . .

NR:         No.

RB:         . . . and for example we see a case reported last week, where Ofcom said that one of your fellow presenters didn’t actually do what he should have done which is to say Nigel Lawson was factually wrong about something he claims.  So, people also want to know are you prepared to do that and,  actually, are you prepared to do that about Brexit?

NR:         (speaking over) Goodness, yes. And, and . . . yeah.

RB:         (speaking over) And are you sufficiently well informed, do you think?

NR:         Not only, not only do we want to do that, but the BBC apologised for not doing that in that particular case. Here’s the point though, it won’t often apply to things that passionate Remainers and passionate Leavers see in their own minds as a fact, but in fact are a judgement or a prediction, or an instinct or an emotion.  The BBC’s job is to hear from people who have unfashionable views, and where possible we should always challenge them and if we don’t get it right, and of course we won’t always get it right, you know, I’m here, I got up at 3:30 in the morning, I’ve done about 10 subjects already, occasionally you will make mistakes, then we explain why we didn’t get it right.  But it’s not a conspiracy.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, I’ll just, if I may, wrap up this discussion by asking you to stand back a little bit and just reflect on what you’ve learned over the past 2 to 3 years.  And one of the things that’s struck me very much is the amount of anger out there, and people irritated, fearing that you, all of us around this table are out of touch and have ignored them.  Nick Robinson, does any of that, across to you?

NR:         Oh yeah, you can’t help but listen to the views that we’ve heard on this programme and think, there are people deeply, deeply frustrated and anger . . . angry about it. And I . . . what I take away from this, why I wanted to appear, I could keep my head down and just do my normal interviews is, we think about this, we agonise about it, we debate much more than people often think, and why do I know this is true? Not because I’m virtuous about it, anybody who comes to the BBC from papers, anybody who comes from commercial telly, where I’ve worked, goes, ‘Boy, you spend a lot of time worrying about this’.  I would urge listeners one thing though: we do it with the best of intentions.  Not that we get it right, we don’t always get it right, we sometimes get it wrong but if you complain with some sense that there is a conspiracy, people will tend to put their fingers in their ears, and go, ‘You know what, we know there isn’t.’ If you say, ‘We just don’t think you’re getting this quite right, you’re not reflecting us’, you will be listened to.

ROGER BOLTON:  Gavin Allen, have you changed anything as a result of the last 2 or 3 years, in the way you approach the programs and what you’ve told your producers and your reporters?

GA:        Well actually, funnily enough, one thing, sort of picks up on what Nick’s just said, which is behind-the-scenes, we have all these discussions, endless debates, and one of the things I do think the BBC is probably quite bad at showing our workings.  I think we can’t plead that we are really battling this every day, we’re having long debates, editorial policy discussions, really self-analysing everything we do, and then not come onto a program like this.  I think there’s also, the other thing I’ve learnt I guess, it’s not that we don’t do this, there is a bit of a default in journalism, not just the BBC, in journalism of ‘where’s it gone wrong, who can we get?’ rather than actually people are desperate for an explanation of just what is happening, just explain it to us.  And I do think that we could do more on that as well, as well as the politics of what’s going wrong, on both sides.

ROGER BOLTON:  And Ric Bailey, final word from you? A BBC boss in the past once said, ‘When the country is divided, the BBC is on the rack’, are you actually enjoying being on the rack?

GA:        (laughs) We’re enjoying Rick being on the rack.

RIC BAILEY:          ‘Enjoy’ is probably not the word I’d pick out. Erm, but I think it’s true that when you have something as polarised as a referendum, that it does divide opinion in a way which is different from other sorts of elections, I think people understand what impartiality means when they’re talking about normal politics, and the Conservatives and Labour and government and opposition.  I think what happens in a referendum when you are literally given the choice between X and Y, is that people find it really difficult not just to understand that other people have a different view, but they are entitled to put it, the BBC should be there to do it, and the BBC should scrutinise that very clearly.  And I suppose the last point about that is, accepting completely what Gavin says about we should concede when we get it wrong, and Nick has said that as well, and we should be analysing this and making sure we’re getting it right. We also sometimes need to be really robust against that sort of political pressure, and by that I don’t just mean the parties or the government, but I mean campaigns who are trying to influence us because they know that on the whole, people trust BBC, that’s why they want us to change what we’re saying.

ROGER BOLTON:  Well, I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for, my thanks to Rick Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser, Nick Robinson from the today programme who’s been up since 3.30, and Gavin Allen, controller of BBC daily news programmes.

BBC assault on Brexit prospects continues

BBC assault on Brexit prospects continues

The third series of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed’ was broadcast on five consecutive days between 19 February and 23 February, 2018. Each programme was 12 minutes long and was presented by the BBC’s EU ‘Reality Check’ reporter, Chris Morris.

Each edition dealt with the projected impact of Brexit and there were five separate themes: the UK pharmaceuticals sector, food and agriculture, the future of British Overseas Territories (the featured ones were Gibraltar and Anguilla), the regions of the UK outside London, and the so-called ‘transitional phase’ after March 2019.

It was projected as an objective examination of the issues of Brexit, but it was not. Instead, Chris Morris and the programme team assembled and edited a range of contributions which were overwhelmingly biased against Brexit and pro-EU in their outlook.

There were 46 speakers in total but 22 made very short contributions, often as part of montage sequences, amounting to 285 words in total, and equating to just 3 per cent of the overall programme airtime.

The ‘meat’ of the programme was delivered by the 24 main interviewees who provided longer contributions.  This group accounted for 48 per cent of the total airtime. 18 of the 24 were pro-EU/anti-Brexit; only three were anti-EU/pro-Brexit; two contributors made points both for and against; and one was neutral.  The imbalance was startling. The 18 who made negative points on Brexit delivered 3,824 words (76 percent of words spoken by guests in this category), those speaking positively 352 words (seven per cent), and mixed/neutral speakers 838 words (17 per cent). The anti-Brexit to pro-Brexit word count ratio was thus almost 11 to one. The ratio of pro-EU to anti-EU speakers in this category was 6:1.

Bias in broadcasting, of course, is not measured by metrics alone, but such calculations are held in academic methodology to be a reliable pointer to its existence. Transcript analysis confirms that the negativity from these contributors against Brexit was very strong. At  a headline level, it included predictions of serious problems in the regulatory regime governing the pharmaceuticals sector and huge delays in Britain being able to use pioneering medical drugs; the danger of food price rises of up to 46 per cent; the sovereignty of Gibraltar and the economic well-being of both Gibraltar and Anguilla coming under unprecedented attack; the West Midlands, as the chosen main example of a region of the UK, facing serious threats to its prosperity; and a transition period likened to walking the plank, with the likelihood of a UK ruled by the EU without any say.

The pessimism was heavily compounded by the comments and opinions of Chris Morris, who spoke 49 per cent of the words across the five programmes.  His positive points are detailed in Part Two and were a very minor part of the programmes. Mostly, Mr Morris amplified the negativity of those gloomy about the impact of Brexit, and he strongly challenged or cut short those who made positive points. His primary intent seemed to echo the ‘walking the plank’ metaphor introduced in the final programme.

Mr Morris did not tell listeners in his introductions and commentary that some of the key contributors who were negative about Brexit had clear pro-EU views and had been campaigners for Remain since before the EU Referendum.  One, Professor of Law Catherine Barnard, held the Jean Monnet chair at Cambridge, and was thus at least partly paid for by the EU.

This boils down to that BBC ‘Reality Checking’ is a complete misnomer. In this series, the BBC seemed intent to cram into 60 minutes as many potential problems about Brexit as it could, with only a fig-leaf acknowledgement of the belief that it presents the UK with vibrant new opportunities.

The full report is available here:

Radio 4 Feedback programme mocks Brexit supporters

Radio 4 Feedback programme mocks Brexit supporters

This is a guest post from Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?
Whatever reservations some of us might have about Samira Ahmed’s Newswatch and its usefulness (though I’m glad it exists and that it’s to the credit that the BBC broadcasts it), I really don’t think it can be credibly denied that its teeth are a heck of lot sharper than its Radio 4 equivalent, Roger Bolton’s Feedback
…or that the otherwise very opinionated, censorious Samira Ahmed does a far, far better job of concealing her own views than Roger Bolton ever manages to do.
For example, Samira would never begin an edition of Newswatch like this:

Roger Bolton: Hello. It’s nice to be back. Nothing much has happened at the BBC since we’ve been off-air, just a little local difficulty about gender equality and presenters pay and the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias. Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of ‘Shoot the Messenger’. The reason? This:

BBC newsreader: Senior ministers will meet tomorrow to discuss what the government wants from the final Brexit deal.

Roger Bolton: Yes, Brexit.

Note the dismissive, mocking tone of “the usual accusations of leftie-liberal bias” followed by the emphatic, preemptive, opinionated, even-more-dismissive defence of the BBC in “Oh, and the BBC is now the prime target in the age-old political game of ‘Shoot the Messenger'” (specifically in connection with the BBC’s coverage of Brexit).
Yes, Samira Ahmed (however opinionated and illiberal she might be on Twitter, or in newspapers, or in magazines, or on other BBC programmes) would never glibly mock viewers’ concerns on Newswatch itself.
She’s a professional.
And, likewise, nor would she openly prejudge the main subject of her programme (such as the BBC’s impartiality over Brexit) by openly giving her own view of the subject in advance – as Roger Bolton did here.
We were less than a minute into the first episode of  a new series of Feedback today and already the presenter’s own bias had completely scuppered it for me, impartiality-wise.
I can still see the point of Newswatch, but, really, what is the point of Radio 4’s Feedback?
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That was, of course, just the introduction to today’s Feedback and Roger, in true BBC style, might have come over ‘all impartial’ later.
Did he?

(Go on, have a guess!)

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So let’s move on to his introduction to main segment:

First, what is the point of trying to make a balanced and impartial programme about Brexit? The country is so divided that members of the same families aren’t speaking to one another, and the generations and the nations are split down the middle. Facts are scarce and always contested, and fears are omnipresent. So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris who, this week on Radio 4, began a third series of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Subjects covered include: medicines, potatoes and Gibraltar. As with Brexit itself listeners, were deeply divided in their responses…

Professors of English Language could use this a case study of how to skew an argument in a certain direction before either the pre-interview listener comments or the interview itself had even begun.
The opening rhetorical question was obviously intended as a preemptive sigh on behalf of Chris Morris.

The next sentence is hyperbole.

The third is loaded.

The fourth (beginning “So I admire the courage and ambition of Chris Morris…”) is another blatant signal of where the ‘impartial’ presenter stands.

The fifth sentence is descriptive.

The sixth is a variant of our old ‘complaints from both sides’ friend…

but the vox pops then featured did NOT show a classic ‘complaints from both sides’ situation, or that the audience was particularly divided. A man called Alan criticised Chris Morris’s programme for being pretty relentlessly negative about Brexit. All of the other criticisms weren’t bias-related. And none of the others went all ‘Lord Adonis’ by claiming the reverse.
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And then came the interview with Chris Morris.
Well, as with Chris’s previous series of his Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed, I found this one to be a severe test of patience because of its overwhelming negativity about Brexit. I intend, time permitting, to spell out why at huge length over the coming couple of weeks why I’ve found the latest series so biased (as I’ve done with previous series), but what interests me here – besides Chris Morris’s utter blindless to his own bias – is Roger Bolton’s questioning.
Note how feebly Roger represents the views of Alan.
And note how, intentionally or unintentionally, he weakens him even further by turning him into a straw man with his suggestion that Alan would say “And, of course, you’ve got to trust our governments” (shades of Cathy Newman ‘So you’re saying’ there!)
And note how Roger tells Chris “You are right to point out it’s a problem” before employing an emphasis on ‘he’ to say that he – Alan – would say something else. [Rhetorically-put: ‘You’re right but some bozo would say…’].
Poor Alan strikes me as being the fall guy for pro-Brexit BBC bashers here. Roger isn’t helping him.
And note how the ‘complaint from the other side’ is presented with much greater clarity and conviction…
and by misstating the argument…(19 anti-Brexit economists v 1 pro-Brexit non-economist, as if Patrick Minford & Co. aren’t economists.
And note how Roger then amplifies that marginal, hardline Remain view about BBC false balance’ yet further with his  2+5=4′ v ‘2+2=5 stuff…
…and how he then again sympathises with Chris about how “very, very tricky” his position is. And under how much “pressure” he is.
And Roger’s final line, however jokingly, one final time expresses sympathy with poor put-upon Chris too. (“I hope he’s getting well paid for it”).
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As for Chris Morris’s replies, well, he’s obviously sticking to his guns and conceding nothing..
…except (in classic BBC style) in conceding that the ‘false balance’ Remain hardliners complain about might be “a problem”!
His one concession, you’ll note, goes in just one direction.
He’s content – despite knowing how much it infuriates people who want Brexit – to say he thinks concentrating on the worst case scenario is justified because….well, because “that shows that we’re taking Brexit seriously”…and it’s a massive “challenge”.
Hmm, I’m not sure that will reassure people that the BBC is being impartial here!!
And I don’t think the two questions he cites as being the ones to ask – ‘What are your concerns?’ and ‘What are your worries?’ – will convince such people either. Couldn’t he, in his ‘road-testing’, have also chose the questions ‘What are your hopes? and ‘ What good things are you expecting?’ as just-as-valuable questions?
Isn’t the positive worth road-testing as much as the negative?
And our Chris is very fond of the word ‘experts’ – rather provocatively so. His tone made the intent of his provocation clear.
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Please feel free to call this post a sledgehammer to crack a nut…
…but for BBC Radio 4’s flagship ‘watchdog’ programme to discuss the crucial question of bias and for its presenter to dismiss it and mock BBC critics at the start and then for that same BBC Radio 4 presenter to conduct a biased pro-BBC interview with the BBC reporter supposedly ‘in the dock’ is  beyond being funny. It disgraces the BBC, doesn’t it?
Please listen for yourselves here or read, at leisure, our transcript below:

Roger Bolton: Well, I’m now joined by Chris Morris, presenter of Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. Chris, why are doing the programme? Because Alan Giles says, “It’s just all based on supposition”.

Chris Morris: I think that began with the desire to get away from some of the political maelstrom, the daily mud-slinging, as you heard from one of the contributors there. A lot of the coverage in the media is about the politics of Brexit. To begin with – it’s changing a bit  now – but there was less about the practicalities of Brexit. And when we were asked to do this programme – essentially 15-minute bite-size chunks (not just for Radio 4 but of importance for a podcast audience as well) l said, well, I’m happy to do so long as it as doesn’t sound like 15 minutes of the Today programme because there’s plenty of coverage of the politics of Brexit elsewhere on Radio 4.

Roger Bolton: But that’s not a surprise because this is essentially about judgment about the future, isn’t it, and, going back to Alan Giles’s point, it’s supposition. So where are the facts that you can, if you like, you know, bring out?

Chris Morris: Well, there are plenty of facts in  there. I agree that what is difficult is the debate around economic forecasting, because by its nature that is something which is essentially trying to predict the future. Now, maybe it’s done by people who have expertise in economics, but it’s still a prediction of the future. But let me give you one example: a programme we did this week about medicines. There are thousands of medicines which are currently registered in the UK, and if we leave the European Medicines Agency pharmaceutical companies will have to move the registration of those medicines to elsewhere in the EU to continue to be able to sell them. That’s a fact. They’ve told us that, and they’re going to do that fairly soon. Similarly with the nuclear medicines, we heard Alan complaining that it’s just about supposition, Well, the people we were talking to – with the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, a representative of the British Nuclear Medicines Agency – these are people who I don’t think have axes to grind. They are experts in their field…

Roger Bolton: But Alan’s point would be: Well, this is the worst case scenario. And, of course, you’ve got to trust our governments. They’re not going to do anything suicidal like this. They’re obviously….you are right to point out it’s a problem but he would say the assumption is it’s an insuperable problem. ‘Be more optimistic!’ That’s what he’d say.

Chris Morris: In some cases it is the worst case scenario, but I think that shows that we’re taking Brexit seriously. We’re assuming it’s going to happen and I think it is without doubt the biggest change this country is facing in decades and, so, I think we have a responsibility to road-test it. And by road-testing we can say, well, we go to the people in various sectors – whether it be medicines or the nuclear industry or potatoes – and say ‘What are your concerns?’ and ‘What are your worries?’ and then we explore them.

Roger Bolton: Now, there’s a lot of criticism about balance, in it’s simplified form, because some people would say, ‘You’ve got 19 economists saying this is potentially disastrous, and you’ve got one non-economist saying ‘No, it won’t be’ and the BBC will have one person representing the 19 and another person representing… what? In other words, you are simply going tit-for-tat and the public is no wiser. Is that a problem with what you’re doing, this almost artificial sense of balance?

Chris Morris: It can be. And I think when it comes to our coverage of…One of the reasons why we wanted to avoid politicians is that we didn’t want to have a say, well, if we’re talking to that person from this party we have to talk to somebody from another party. So we have gone to what we believe are experts in the field. Now everyone has an opinion. I understand that. That’s natural. But I think, as a journalist, you do have to make a judgment whether you think the opinion that somebody brings to the table is valid, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Roger Bolton: So you’re not impartial between right and wrong? If somebody says to you ‘2+5=4’ and the other says ‘2+2=5’ you say ‘One’s wrong; the first one’s right’? You have due impartiality -where it’s, as it says, it’s due. That is very, very tricky in such a toxic political atmosphere.

Chris Morris: It is very tricky but we’re not, in this series, trying to say ‘Brexit is good’ or ‘Brexit is bad’. We are trying to test what Brexit might mean.

Roger Bolton: How much pressure are you under? You’re obviously under pressure from those, as it were, outside the BBC who have passionate views about this, and the various campaigning groups. What about within the BBC itself?

Chris Morris: You know, we have what I would say are robust editorial discussion all time. As we should, I mean, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t have editors who say, ‘Are you sure you want to say that?’. That’s part of the process of journalism. In some ways, because you’ve got people saying ‘Are you sure this is correct? Are you sure you’re comfortable saying this?’, it sharpens the editorial process. I mean, I was based in Brussels – two different postings for eight years. We had that all the time in coverage of the European Union. And my argument about the EU has always been: I don’t really care whether you love it or hate it you but you should take it seriously.

Roger Bolton: Well, let’s look at the way you presented the programme because Rosalind Fox talks about ‘gimmickiness’. She thinks you’ve gone too far. When you listen to some of the things you’ve done, including some of those puns – ‘cheesy’ would describe one or two of them! – do you think you did go too far?

Chris Morris: No, I think it’s been deliberate. I think it’s sort of knowingly cheesy, if you like. I’ve done hundreds of hours of very serious, very sober broadcasting on the EU and on Brexit. If you look at a lot of the audience research we get , it’s (a) that people are a bit bored of the political mud-slinging. Some people get turned off by the ‘He said. She said’. And this is an attempt just to present it in a different way. I accept that some people won’t like it. That’s fine. It’s their right to have that opinion. But I think it’s not patronising the audience – which I think was the suggestion from one of the callers. I think which would be patronising the audience would be playing fast and loose with the facts. We are as scrupulous as we can be that we get the facts right, that we try and have a bit of fun with the way we present them. I think we should always be looking at different ways to present things because we know there’s a big audience out there that we don’t tap into yet, and we want to do that.

Roger Bolton: Chris Morris, the presenter of Radio Four’s Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed. I hope he’s getting well paid for it.

Photo by masochismtango

Kathy Gyngell: BBC lights the red touch paper

Kathy Gyngell: BBC lights the red touch paper

Guest post from Kathy Gyngell – this first appeared on The Conservative Woman

The BBC has just started its latest anti-UK democracy drama, Gunpowder, which plumbs new depths of brutality. One by one, it seems the barriers against barbarity are being crossed in the media, with the BBC in the vanguard. But perhaps it is no surprise when you look at who they commission.

The series is written by a gentleman called Ronan Bennett, a novelist and screenwriter who was once a self-styled Irish republican revolutionary who grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Belfast during the Troubles. So he would know a thing or two about trying to destroy the British state. At the age of 18 he was convicted of murdering an Inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary during an IRA bank robbery. After 18 months in Long Kesh his conviction was declared unsafe and he was released. He still cites his time there as an ‘inspiration’ to him.

After moving to London he mixed with people he himself describes as ‘young enemies of the state’: activists, anarchists, revolutionary socialists. Before long, perhaps unsurprisingly, he was arrested again and accused of leading a terrorist gang. He spent 20 months on remand but was cleared after a 14-week trial at the Old Bailey  in which he defended himself, helped by leading Left-wing advocates Michael Mansfield, Helena Kennedy and Geoffrey Robertson.

You might wonder who else apart from the BBC would employ a man such as this self-styled activist who admits his fiction is ‘his way to play his part politically’? Two guesses and both are right. Step forward Jeremy Corbyn, who hired him as a researcher, a position which caused a huge security headache and, not surprisingly, a fair whack of controversy. But don’t worry, in case you want to direct him to the nearest food bank, stay your hand. The Guardian also keeps this ‘controversialist’ in business and keeps his measured suggestions flowing. ‘Let’s put May’s grisly new coalition out of its misery as soon as possible’ being a recent highlight of an outpouring of victim propaganda.

No, this no-doubt talented writer is not on the breadline. His focus on violence and his romanticising of terrorism have made him the darling of the liberal luvvies. No doubt, successful and in demand, our film maker, now a reformed fellow who adores British democracy as much as he values the freedom it gives to propagandise what he wants, would never wish to harm innocent people.

However, I put it to the fair-minded readers of News-watch and members of Biased BBC that had he been a man of Right-wing terrorist leanings, no amount of self-analysis and reform would make him fit to be commissioned to write a BBC drama.

Photo by The British Library