EU Referendum

BBC Bias – A Progress Report

BBC Bias – A Progress Report

News-watch’s monitoring of the BBC’s EU referendum coverage has now been underway for three months and this is a progress report.

In one sense, tectonic plates have moved.  Speakers who support British exit have invited on BBC news programmes to discuss the topic. For years anyone who was an ‘outer’ was completely ignored, or – in their rare appearances, as Ukip spokesmen regularly were – treated as xenophobic, or crassly inept, or worse.

But, as always with the BBC, the devil is in the detail.  The reality is that the Corporation has no choice; it has had to change. Research so far indicates there is a very long way to go before anything approaching genuine impartiality is achieved, and the exit case treated with respect.

Exhibit A is from Radio 4’s World at One starting on Monday.  Presenter Martha Kearney introduced a new series which she said would explain how the EU ‘actually works’. The first two were presented by Professor Anand Menon, who, Ms Kearney said, is Professor of European Politics at King’s College, London.

What she did not say is that her guest is not neutral about the EU. Far from it. He is also director of a think-tank called  The UK in a Changing Europe which contains a raft of papers that, to put it mildly, are hugely critical of the Brexit case. The one about the Norway option, for example, is headed: ‘Norwegian model for the UK; oh really.’

Further digging yields that back in 1999 – when the entire European Commission of Jacques Santer was forced to resign because of a financial scandal – Menon wrote a long article for the London Review of Books defending the importance of the Commission and claiming that, in effect, the impropriety involved was inconsequential.

Menon’s first talk was about the Commission set in the wider context of the governance of the EU.. Basically, he argued that the EU – despite claims to the contrary – is no more complex than any other system of governance; that the Commission is not made up of ‘unelected bureaucrats’; that the Parliament and the Council of Ministers acting in concert are a model of democracy in action; and that – although the Commission is the sole originator of EU legislation – this is a perfectly legitimate form of operations because it has the interests of Europe as its main objective. Europe.

In other words, he completely rubbished the ‘exit’ case and presented the Peter Mandelson view of how the EU works.

Exhibit B is a Newsnight special – one of six focused on the EU referendum – on Monday night which examined the issue of sovereignty. A full analysis of this programme will follow in due course,  but one factor immediately stood out.   Someone in the production team decided that the best illustration of what Brexit might look like was Sealand.

Where? Well it’s a very ugly pair defence towers built illegally by the British government during the Second World War in North Sea international waters near to the Thames Estuary. Back in the 1960s the huge ‘fortress’ was stormed and occupied by an ex-army major called Roy Bates and he and his family have since turned it into what they claim  is an ‘independent country’.

Presenter Evan Davis was duly winched down to Sealand, and used this as a subtle-as-a-brick metaphor for how the UK would  look if it was outside the EU: battered, totally isolated, totally eccentric, if not downright batty, completely on its own, a decaying hulk battered by the North Sea and outside the law.

That editor Ian Katz could not see that this was totally negative and totally inappropriate illustrates how far away from understanding the Brexit argument he and his senior BBC colleagues are. Light years.

Exhibit C was Sunday’s The World This Weekend. The presenter was former BBC ‘Europe’ editor Mark Mardell, and he chose to mount the programme from a rather select conference  in Lake Como organised by a strongly pro-EU think thank called The European House – Ambrosetti.

They had  gathered there, it was said, to discuss global economic problems including the possible impact of Brexit. Mardell produced an Obama adviser, a Chinese economist, a German government minister and the president of huge global investment fund (Allianz), all of who, with differing degrees of stridency, attacked the effrontery of such a ‘stupid’ (as one contributor said) prospect. In their collective eyes, membership of the EU was unquestionably absolutely vital to the UK’s future.

This carefully-edited sequence of pro-EU frenzy was followed by a live interview with Labour donor John Mills, who Mardell introduced as ‘the founder of a mail order company’.  Mardell’s tone and approach changed immediately. With his Ambrosetti guests, he had politely elicited their views. With Mills, he became sharply interrogative and sceptical.

To be fair, Mills was given a far crack of the whip in answering the points raised – and gave credible answers – but it was in a much narrower channel, and under far deeper scrutiny. And Mardell’s careful editing meant that every element of the pro- EU side appeared more authoritative and more polished.

Overall, the BBC may have upped its game in terms of the breadth of coverage in in some respects. News-watch analysis has revealed big problems not only in the examples above, but also serially and cumulatively in programmes such as Newsnight and World Tonight. The referendum campaign enters its final stage this week. The BBC is not yet mounting properly balanced coverage, and seems blind to its shortcomings.

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Radio 4 World Tonight investigation finds more BBC pro-EU bias

Radio 4 World Tonight investigation finds more BBC pro-EU bias

A News-watch investigation into one of the BBC’s flagship news programmes has found it to be heavily biased in favour of Britain remaining in the EU.

Twenty  consecutive editions of the programme – one of the main ‘hard news’ formats on the BBC – between February 22 and March 19 were surveyed. The main finding was that staunchly pro-EU figures had the lion’s share of comment.

Senior figures such as former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson and Alan Johnson, the head of Labour’s Keep the UK in the EU campaign, were given a platform to advance detailed arguments on why the UK should remain in the EU.

But only one supporter of the ‘leave’ camp – Wolfgang Ott, a member the German AFD party – was given the time to explain why he thought the British vote was essential in the interests of democracy. Ritulah Shah, the presenter of the programme, introduced him by saying he was from an “anti-immigrant party” that was “criticised for its links with the far right”.

World Tonight carried a dozen features focusing on the upcoming EU referendum, including an entire programme based on a range of contrasting views in the twinned cities of Freiburg and Guildford, as well as special features in other editions that included surveys of attitudes towards the referendum among ex-pats in Berlin and on the Costa del Sol.

Of the named guests (some were in vox pop items and therefore not named) who offered views about the EU, nineteen expressed pro-EU or pro-remain ideas, seven wanted exit or were clearly anti-EU, and eleven were neutral. This imbalance was made worse as seven of the pro-EU figures were given the opportunity to outline detailed arguments, whereas only three of the leave figures were allowed more than one or two sentences.

There were three editions in which the programme went out of its way to elicit comment from strongly pro-EU figures without balancing on the leave side in any of the 20 editions.

The three editions were:

  • On February 22, former Irish PM Dick Roche, former French PM Edith Cresson and former Polish finance minister Jack Rostowski discussed their reaction to the announcement of the referendum date. Both were strongly in support of remain and advanced detailed arguments why. The only criticism was that the referendum was taking place at all and of the concessions granted to the UK. Dick Roche warned that an EU exit by the UK would damage European security, and would trigger the emergence of “disruptive (Front National-type) forces from Holland to Hungary”.
  • On March 11, leader of the Labour Keep the UK in the EU campaign, was asked about his lecture to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Harold Wilson in which he had argued that the former prime minister would be a strong supporter of the EU now, and even more so than in the past because of its role in globalisation.  The interview was more than 1,000 words and ran for around eight minutes. It gave Mr Johnson the framework to attack Gaitskell’s dismissal of the EU as ‘hyperbole’, to claim that voters had known they were voting for more than an economic union in the 1975 referendum, that the EU stood for democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law and was the reason it had won a Nobel peace prize in 2012.
  • On March 14, P.J. Crowley, a former advisor on foreign relations to the Obama White House, was interviewed about his reactions to claims by Boris Johnson and others on the ‘leave’ side that Barrack Obama should not overtly support either side in the referendum debate during an expected visit to the UK in April. He advanced detailed reasons he believed the US should support the ‘remain’ side, and why the EU was important to the US.

None of these exchanges were adversarial to the extent that the presenters’ approach was sufficient to cancel out the heavily pro-EU points put across by the respective guests. Neither did material in other features balance these elements. In all other features, the presence of remain views was countered or balanced by further remain figures.

David Keighley, Managing Director of News-Watch said:

“This analysis shows that yet another BBC flagship programme is not being impartial in its referendum coverage. Far too much prominence on World Tonight has been given to ’remain’ figures. Their guests, such as Alan Johnson,  have taken the opportunity to expound their case with both hands. By contrast, ‘leave’ supporters have been far less prominent and the details of the arguments for ‘out’ have not been explored to anywhere near the same depth.”

 

Peter Bone MP said:

“This is yet another example of BBC bias in the EU referendum. The broadcaster has been warned time and again but they continue to fly the flag for the EU. I urge them, to refrain from bias on this issue of vital importance. This is a once in a generation opportunity for the British people to have their say on whether we remain or leave the EU and the BBC has an important duty to the public to provide balanced, impartial coverage and it is fundamentally failing to do this. It appears to many people that the BBC is institutionally bias towards the EU. I will be writing to the Secretary of State urging an investigation into the BBC’s coverage of the EU referendum.”

 

Other News-watch observations about EU referendum coverage on World Tonight:

  • On February 29, in a report from ex-pats living on the Cosa Del Sol in Spain, several ‘remain’ reasons were advanced by pro-EU contributors, including the likelihood increased medical bills and restrictions in freedom of movement. Christine Rowlands, chair of Conservatives Abroad declared that “you would be hard pushed’ to find anyone in the Costa Del Sol who wanted to leave the EU.” Against that, a radio show host said that ex-pats were put off by the EU because it had wasted money in Spain and had diluted Spanish culture. More time, approximately 48%, was given to the Pro-EU contributors, against 36% for those who wanted out.
  • A report by Simon Jack (2/3) about a warning from BMW that exit from the EU would hit badly the prospects of British subsidiary Rolls-Royce carried comment that Vote Leave had dismissed the claims. In that sense it was even-handed, but the choice of a ‘scaremongering’ story as the subject of a correspondent interview elevated the story in importance, and there was no balancing interview about fears of the impact of remaining. It thus added to the overall skewing against the ‘leave’ case.
  • On 7/3, there was a survey of opinion about EU fisheries policy from Peterhead. The commentary emphasised that there was much discontent over quotas, and reporter Paul Moss found two fishermen who outlined the reasons for their discontent. He also included opinion from Business for Britain (their local spokesman Mev Brown) who explained that he would use the plight of fishermen to illustrate the Brexit case.  Moss found two local political figures who favoured staying in the EU to improve the fisheries policy, and also felt the EU was a vital market for the fish. On balance, slightly more time was given to the Brexit/anti-EU side.  It was the only feature that did favour marginally the ‘leave’
  • The next special survey of ex-pat attitudes to the referendum was in Berlin on 16/3. It was clear from the overall tone and comments that the four selected and named interviewees – who it was said had got together because of concern about their status in the event of a ‘leave’ vote – that they were both pro-EU and considered themselves ‘Europeans’. The questioning was about what they had done to ensure that they could stay living in Germany if the UK decided to leave the EU. Two of the figures were classed as ‘neutral’, because they were speaking purely about their own experiences, but it is likely from the context that they were pro-remain.

 

  • Finally, on 17/3 came the special feature from the twinned towns of Freiburg and Guildford. Three of the named figures selected for comment – Wolfgang Ott, from the AFD, Gordon Bridger, a former mayor of Guildford, and Michael Gorman from the Guildford branch of the Town Twinning Association made clearly anti-EU points. Mr Ott said there should be a referendum on leaving in all the EU countries, Mr Bridger that UK exports to the EU would not be affected by exit, and Mr Gorman that he thought the deal secured by David Cameron was very poor to the point where the UK should reconsider membership. In the final sequence, Hans-Olaf Henkel, of the German Eurosceptic party Alliance for Renewal, attacked the euro, and increasing Brussels centralisation, but he was not asked specifically what alternatives they could be. He contended that the rise of populist movements in Europe was because the EU had not handled the immigration issue properly. It was impossible to discern the extent which Her Henkel was actually anti-EU (if at all – in the same way that David Cameron now strongly supports the EU but regards himself as eurosceptic) but for the purposes of this analysis he has been classed as such.  So in total, there were four voices who clearly had reservations about the EU. Against that were a sprinkling of voices in the Anglo German club in Freiburg who were clearly pro EU and thought that the UK leaving would be a negative step; Marcus Adler who ran the Freiburg refugee camp, who put across that the German approach to immigration was working and had the full support of the local community;  Malcolm Parry, manager of the Surrey Research Park, who said that not one of the 1,800 local businesses in his orbit wanted to leave the EU; two named members of Guildford choirs, who between them claimed that it was vital to belong to ‘Europe’ and that the EU had scored important successes in human and working rights; Ian Stewart from the Twinning Association who said Britain should concentrate in staying in; and finally Ralph Brinkhuas from the ruling Christian Democrats in Germany and Almut Moller the pro-EU Council on Foreign Relations, who argued against Herr Henkel that the EU was doing a very important job in terms of security, the economy, foreign relations and immigration, and that it would be damaging if the UK left.

There was thus a very significant imbalance in this very lengthy (40 minute) item. The pro-EU, anti-UK- exit said was given greater prominence. In basic terms, there were only four significant clearly ‘exit’ contributors against eight who were strongly pro-EU and wanted to remain. The ‘remain side’, as exemplified by the triple-hander at the end, had significantly more space to put their case.  The choice of such strikingly affluent towns could have had a role in that.

It can easily be seen that the ‘remain’ side supporters heavily outnumbered Brexit supporters in many features, the only exceptions being those from Peterhead and Spain

The full list of guests was:

Pro-EU/remain: Dick Roche, Edith Cresson, Jack Rostowski (all 22/2);  Rheinhold Lopatka  (25/2); Christine Rowlands (29/2), Christian Allard(7/3), Charles Buchan (7/3), Alan Johnson (11/3), P.J. Crowley (former Obama advisor) (14/3); Jane Gordon (lawyer) (16/3); Amanda Deal (16/3), Vatrod Fleismann (17/3), Marcus Adler (17/3), Malcolm Parry (17/3); James Garrow (17/3); Leslie Scordelis (17/3); Ian Stewart  (17/3); Ralph Brinkhaus, a Christian Democrat MP  (17/3); Almut Moller of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Against: Richard Tilsley (29/2), Mev Brown (7/3), Jimmy Buchan (7/3); Wolfgang Ott (17/3), Gordon Bridger (17/3); Michael Gorman (17/3); Hans-Olaf Henkel (17/3)

A handful of very short vox pops from Freiburg and Germany (17/3) on both sides of the debate were not included in the analysis because they were too short to include reasons.

Neutral: Damian Lyons Lowe, of Survation (25/2), John Curtice of Strathclyde university (25/2); Paul May (16/3), Martin Gordon (16/3); Ronald Ash 917Gillian Cameron (17/3); Mark Edwards (17/3); Harry Schindler (18/3).  Jacob Rees Mogg (18/3) argued that Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation was nothing to do with the EU; his contribution was therefore also neutral.

Andrew Gimson and Isabel Oakeshott (26/2) have also been classed neutral commentators. Both, however, were strongly critical of the tactics of the ‘leave’ side.  They agreed that the ‘leave’ side was also all over the place and Isabel Oakshott suggested that Number 10 believed the economic arguments were on its side. Andrew Gimson noted that eurosceptics could not agree where the last ditch was over sovereignty so had disagreements among themselves.

 

 

 

 

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BBC Environment programme flouts BBC impartiality rules

BBC Environment programme flouts BBC impartiality rules

Costing the Earth; The Environment after Exit (BBC Radio 4 March 15 and 16)

h/t Craig Byers of Is the BBC Biased?

The programme, presented by Tom Heap, investigated the current impact on the UK of EU-related policies affecting conservation, fisheries, farming and renewable energy, and explored what might happen in the event of Brexit. The main fulcrum was whether, in the light of the evidence presented, the United Kingdom was likely to start afresh policy debates in each area, or whether it would be safer and more effective to stay in the EU.

Detailed analysis of the programme transcript shows it was heavily biased to the ‘remain side’ and was not impartial in the handling of the people and topics it covered. The impression conveyed was that Brexit would risk undermining the current conservation regime, would lead to a severe reduction in farming subsidies, would put small farms at risk, that the fast-expanding renewable energy business on farms would be threatened, and that the UK’s efforts to combat climate change and atmospheric pollution would be diminished. The programme did acknowledge that at least one farmer believed the Common Agricultural Policy did not work and that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was very unpopular. Three figures who opposed it were included – but the main sign-off, contribution on that topic was from a senior industry figure who favoured remaining in the EU.

In summary, the programme presented significantly more evidence that it was better to remain in the European Union. Speakers supporting ‘remain’ were given more time and space, largely uninterrupted, to advance their arguments, and their credentials were prominently mentioned. All of the eight were acknowledged experts working for national organisations or involved in campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU at a national level. Their expertise covered the entire terrain of the programme.

By contrast, none of the speakers supporting Brexit was a national ‘expert’ – they were a farmer, a fisherman, a harbourmaster, a snack bar owner and the press officer of a small charity/pressure group fighting windfarms in Scotland. It was thus a programme with contributions of unequal weight.

The handling of the two sides of the debate was also uneven in that more adversarial questions were asked by the BBC figures in the programme (Tom Heap plus two other correspondents) to those who supported Brexit. The ‘remain’ contributors had more uninterrupted time to explain their respective positions. for example, one of almost two minutes from Stanley Johnson, the main ‘remain contributor. By contrast, the contributions from advocates of Brexit were generally much shorter and fragmented by challenges from the presenters. None was able to present a long-form, detailed response.

This imbalance was not offset by the contributions of the presenters. They put only a couple of adversarial questions to the ‘remain’ contributors. More were posed to the Brexit side and they were more challenging, especially in the sequences covering fishing and windfarms.

A further problem was that the exact status and allegiances relevant to the programme of some of the remain guests was not explained to the audience. Matt Shardlow, who spoke about conservation, was correctly introduced as chief executive of Buglife.  It was not mentioned – directly relevant to his likely outlook to the EU – was that his charity receives significant project funding from the EU. Andrew Blenkiron was introduced only as the estate manager of the Euston Estate. But he is also a prominent regional official on the NFU, and has written strongly pro-EU articles in that capacity for Farmers’ Weekly. Tom Clothier was introduced as the ‘renewable energy manager at Wyke farms’.  The farm’s owner, Richard Clothier, was a signatory to a recent pro-remain letter to the national press by ‘leading figures from the farming industry’ – as was Andrew Blenkiron.  Finally, Andrew Whitehead was said only to be an ‘energy analyst’ from the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau. The clear impression was that he was thus independent. But he is also a leading official of a pan-EU energy organisation and has written articles for the Birmingham Post warning about the downsides of Brexit as regards Britain’s energy needs.  These connections all illustrate that figures introduced as ‘experts’ were not likely to be independent in their outlook, and, indeed, were each strongly pro-EU. This was seriously misleading to listeners.

The problems in imbalance are further illustrated by word count analysis. The total contribution of spokesmen on the ‘remain’ side was 1,847 words, whereas the combined figure for supporters of ‘leave’ was 1,040, a ratio of roughly two thirds to one third. The longest single contribution on the pro-EU side was 290 words (Stanley Johnson), compared with only 117 words for Linda Holt. Length of contribution as a measure on its own is not a definite indicator of bias, but in this programme, where the ‘remain’ side was in other respects heavily favoured, it underlines and confirms the problem.

In more detail, the key issues relating to the failure to achieve impartiality were as follows.

 

Guest inequality

The programme featured several figures who were introduced as ‘authorities’ on EU legislation. All their contributions, with only minor reservations, supported ‘remain’ and that the EU had a strongly positive influence in

  • supporting wildlife habitats:
  • in ensuring that farming was highly prioritised in the national agenda and highly subsidised for the benefit of both farmers and food production;
  • and in the transition to renewable energy.

In this category were  eight contributors: Stanley Johnson, who had worked at both the European Commission and in the European Parliament in framing the EU Habitats Directive; Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, Andrew Blenkiron, from the Euston Estate in Suffolk; Bertie Armstong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (speaking in a personal capacity); Brian Gardner, a policy adviser for Agro-Europe, which provides intelligence to farmers about EU legislation; Richard Clothier, a farm owner who was using an anaerobic digester to provide energy; Andrew Whitehouse, an energy analyst with the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau; and Juliet Davenport, chief executive of ‘green’ power company Good Energy.  Some of these, as is noted in the introduction, had declared in writing that they were strong supporters of the ‘remain’ side.

Ranged against them on the anti-EU side were five figures:  fisherman Andy Giles; harbourmaster Keith Bromley, Pam of Pam’s snacks (all in the fisheries section and opposed to the CFP); farmer Colin Tyler; and Linda Holt of the Scotland Against Spin anti-windfarm group.

This was a significant and unfair imbalance. All the arguments made by the pro-EU side were articulated by authority figures and experts who were identified and projected as such. By contrast, the anti-EU side was expressed by individuals, who, though clearly articulate and able, did not have the same ranking in their respective areas of activity as the pro-EU figures. The only minor exception was Linda Holt, who is press officer for the pressure group Scotland Against Spin. But it is a small charity surviving entirely on charitable donations – unlike Buglife (the nearest comparison on the Pro-EU side), which is an international organisation and receives significant grant aid from the European Union – a factor which was not mentioned on the programme.

Analysis of the contributions by the pro-EU experts also shows that all were allowed significant time to put and explain their respective cases, a total of 1,847 words; all their contributions were edited so that they included supportive facts and figures; and also so that their pro-EU points were the longest in the programme.

Tom Heap/ BBC presenter roles:

Examination of the role of the presenters, Tom Heap, assisted by Robin Marks (who interviewed the guests in the fishing section), and Nancy Nicholson (who interviewed anti-windfarm campaigner Linda Holt) raises further issues of concern.

In a 30-minute programme, they asked relatively few questions and presented very little analysis – their main role was to provide a framework for the contributors to express their views. In this process, they were not sufficiently rigorous, and not even-handed.

Only one mildly adversarial question about EU policies was put to any of the ‘remain’ contributors. Andrew Blenkiron was asked the cost of saving each great-crested newt in a conservation scheme he had manged; he replied that it had been £6,500.

By contrast, the Brexit contributors, Cornish fisherman Andrew Giles, farmer Colin Tyler, and windfarm opponent Linda Holt, were each directly challenged about their views. It was suggested to Mr Giles by Robin Marks that his opposition to the CFP would result in the environment not being protected and was based on self-interest; to Mr Tyler by Tom Heap that he could advocate less EU (or government) subsidy because he was closer to the markets of the south-east; and to Linda Holt by Nancy Nicholson that her resistance against more windfarms would cause more global warming and pollution.

The questioning of the respective sides of the debate was thus biased against the Brexit side.

As was established in the previous section, the ‘remain’ figures had most time to advocate their case. To rectify that, it would be expected that there would be balancing material and comment from the presenters. There was some, but it was very limited.  Tom Heap said that the Common Fisheries Policy was unpopular and thought by scientists to be a failure, and that elements of energy policy did not sufficiently encourage insulation.

Mr Heap, however, also made pro-EU comments in his linking material. On fisheries, he noted that the Marine Conservation Society credited EU legislation for the clean-up of beaches and the creation of marine protected areas. He then noted that the CAP, in contrast to the CFP, ‘really matters’ because farming spent 40% of the EU budget’.

At the end, Mr Heap, in his conclusion, suggested that leaving the EU would involve starting each debate afresh, with issues such as ‘where should we get our low-carbon energy’ at the centre of the debate.

 

Programme summary:

Costing the Earth set out to investigate how ‘Europe’ has its fingers and ‘tendrils’ in ‘an awful lot of issues in our countryside’, and chose farming, fisheries, energy and wildlife conservation as examples to investigate.

Tom Heap pointed initially to that the ‘bedrock of European conservation law’ was the Habitats Directive

Within its framework, several experts spoke positively about this involvement.

Wildlife conservation

Stanley Johnson, introduced as the ‘father of Boris’ with the explanation that ‘they don’t agree on the European Union’, said that the Directive was now a ‘huge oak tree’ that protected 18 per cent of the land area of the 28 countries in the EU.   He said it was ‘an extra layer of protection’ to this precious landscape ‘provided by Brussels’. It meant that even if the British government wanted to frack in the national parks, there would be ‘a lot more hoops to go through’. He suggested that people wanted this, ‘they do care’.

Matt Shardlow was introduced as ‘chief executive of the organisation Buglife. Tom Heap asked him what has ‘Europe’ done for the Roman snail., a species which Mr Shardlow said had been in the UK for hundreds of years. He said the creature had been brought here by the Romans and was thus part of our heritage. He explained when the European Union Habitats Directive was introduced  in 1992, it was a protected species, and it meant  that the member states had to keep it in good condition. He was asked ‘how confident are you that ‘Europe’ was needed to deliver that’. And ‘it couldn’t be delivered by national governments?’

Mr Shardlow replied that it could have been done by national government but was not, and for the past 20 years conservationists had relied upon the European Court of Justice – ‘the bigger scope of the Habitats Directive…to make sure that wildlife here is ultimately protected’. He added he did not have enough faith in the government (UK) ‘in suddenly stepping up and gaining…this moral sense of responsibility, this great urge and vitality about looking after wildlife…’

Tom Heap observed that the Habitats Directive had proved itself as ‘powerful tool’ in influencing development in this country.  He spoke to Andrew Blenkiron (introduced as the manager of the Euston Estates in Suffolk – it was not mentioned that he was also regional chairman of the strongly pro-EU NFU and signatory of a recent anti- Brexit letter in the Financial Times) He said that as a  result of the Habitats Directive, it had cost £65,000 to establish great crested newt habitats as part of a reservoir development.    Tom Heap observed that he and other land owners were ‘irritated’ by such cost and delays for protecting a creature that was ‘actually quite common in England and Wales’ but rare in most of the rest of Europe.  He said that Mr Shardlow of Buglife sympathised but ‘blames national government interpretation of the of the law rather than the EU’.  He blamed the UK government for not monitoring the status (degree of threat) to species…if they did that properly ‘you don’t have to introduce Draconian laws’.

Fisheries

Tom Heap opened by saying that the Marine Conservation Society credits EU legislation with cleaning our beaches and creating marine protected areas.  He added that said there was no avoiding the link between the EU and the pictures of fishermen throwing perfectly good fish, dead, back into the sea. He said British fishermen were no fans of the Common Fisheries Policy, and main scientists thought they had done a poor job of conserving stocks.  A report followed containing fishermen’s reaction to the CFP. One said it prevented haddock fishing when there was plenty of stocks, the monthly quota was ‘ludicrous’. He asserted that ‘if we came out of Europe, maybe it would change’.  The fisherman also noted that the haddock quota did not apply to the French – but if he went into their waters, they would be ‘blown up.’   Pete Bromley, the harbourmaster at Sutton in Plymouth, said the CFP rules were flawed ‘even after four attempts at reform’ and put a lot of pressure on British fishermen.  Pam, of Pam’s Snacks, also said the UK should pull out of Europe because the rules and regulations were ‘killing the fishing industry’. The BBC reporter put it to the first fisherman that the CFP rules were there to protect the environment and ensure there was enough fish to go round.   The first fisherman disagreed and said discards were still happening. The reporter said that was being phased out. The fisherman replied that instead, fishermen were being forced to stop fishing. The BBC reporter (Robin Markwell) said there weren’t many people who would defend the CFP. But he said that Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation had a personal view that exit from the EU would make matters worse. He asserted:

‘Common sense suggests that collective action is better than a load of individuals competing, and in the fishing industry that’s largely true.  Collaborative action so that no one individually over-fishes, or you don’t have what could be referred to as the tragedy of the commons of everybody trying to fish a little more than their neighbour.  The negotiations, to have a sensible place outside the tent would be very complicated and full of hazard, particularly full of hazard for us, and this is highly significant, in that fishing – it’s very important to me, you would expect that, it’s very important in the areas where it happens, but, overall it’s less than half a percent of GDP.  And so when a state is negotiating they will have pressure points, and fishing is unlikely to be a pressure point for the negotiating people who are trying to look after the UK’s relationship with Europe.’

Farming

Tom Heap said the feeling among farmers to the Common Agricultural Policy was ambivalent. He asserted that it had been at the heart of the ‘European project’ for 50 years and ‘in environmental and financial terms, it really matters. Farming spends 40% of the EU budget.’ Brian Gardner, a policy adviser with Agra Europe, a provider of intelligence about the EU to farmers, explained that farmers received a subsidy worth £100 an acre, and there was not guarantee that would be maintained post-exit. In addition, they received stewardship and other subsidies designed to encourage environmentally-friendly farming.  That would be cut from £3bn to £1bn a year.  Colin Tyler, a farmer from near Heathrow, said it was time for farming to kick away its subsidy crutch and leave the EU. Tom Heap asked him how many farmers shared his view at the recent NFU conference. Mr Tyler said he was the only one. Mr Heap suggested it was easier for him to support exit because he was in the South-east and relatively close to markets. He agreed, but warned that if the UK stayed in the EU, the amount of subsidy would get lower over the next 10 years and the amount of regulation would increase, and hill farmers might not be allowed to graze sheep on mountains because it threatened the environment. Brian Gardner said that if subsidies reduced, it would force out smaller farmers, especially dairy farmers, and larger farms without government intervention would be bad for the environment. Heap said that Brian Gardener believed that out of the EU, the UK might be more free to plant genetically modified crops, but did not expect changes in the chemicals that farmers would be allowed to use. He expected that the UK government would continue subsidising hill farms ‘so don’t expect sheep to disappear from the Welsh hills, the Yorkshire dales or the Scottish Highlands’.

Heap then said that one recent money-spinner for farmers had been renewable energy: solar panels, wind turbines and bio-energy plants.  There was a actuality from Wyke Farms. Tom Clothier, in charge of the farms’ renewable energy business (and a signatory of the same FT letter as Andrew Blenkiron, mentioned above) explained they had an anaerobic digester unit which converted waste from dairy production into gas, one third of which went into electrical production and a third to the grid.  Tom Heap said this anaerobic digester was ‘part of an extraordinarily swift energy revolution led from Brussels’. Andrew Whitehead, introduced as an ‘energy analyst’ with lawyers Shakespeare Martineau (and a strong opponent of Brexit) as well as being a member of the Association of European Energy Consultants), said the UK’s target under the climate change act was an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. He said the UK had to meet the ‘binding European target’ for renewables. Mr Whitehead claimed that the UK had been quite influential in making sure the EU’s 2030 target for renewables was not so prescriptive.  Juliet Davenport, introduced as CEO of Good Energy, said that anaerobic digester technology had improved and that meant it could produce economically gas and electricity. She said the legislation part had been ‘really strong’. The European Renewables Directive set an outlying target for renewable energy in each country, and that was supplemented by the UK Renewables Electricity Act, which brought in a 15% target across transport, electricity and heat in the UK.

The next section was based on an interchange between Nancy Nicholson, a BBC reporter, and Linda Holt, who said she was opposed to windfarms.  Tom Heap said that in Fife, Linda Holt agreed that the EU had encouraged renewable energy ‘such as the windfarms that provide Good Energy with half its electricity’ but was not keen on the consequences and was a member of the campaign group Scotland Against Spin. Ms Holt explained that the EU Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 stipulated that Europe as a whole should produce 20% of its energy needs from renewables by 2020, with the UK target set at 15%. She said that Alex Salmond had ‘gold-plated’ this for Scotland and set a target of 100%. Nancy Nicholson put it to her that they were looking at a very industrial landscape in a hill near Mossmorran (a power station) ’we can see big chimneys, and I don’t know whether it’s steam or smoke that’s coming up from there. The point is really that if we did not have renewables, we would have more of these – coal fired power stations- and that would mean more climate change and worse air quality’.  Ms Holt disagreed about the coal-fired power stations and suggested alternatives could be gas or nuclear power, as well as more research into other renewables ‘that are better than wind’.   Ms Nicholson asked if she would like to see Britain out of the EU…do you think Britain would not support windfarms?’ Ms Holt replied that the UK had stopped supporting onshore windfarms, and the days of those offshore were perhaps also numbered.

Mr Heap concluded:

‘That, perhaps, is the nub of the debate over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The future of the environment would depend upon the UK governments that follow exit. Each of these enormous issues will need to be reassessed and weighed in the list of national priorities. Exit would just be the start of a debate on what’s best for our environment. Should landowners be subsidised to manage the landscape? How do we protect our fish stocks? Where should we get our low-carbon energy? They are all question we have, to some degree, allowed politicians and officials in Brussels to take the lead on. Are we happy to start each debate afresh?’

 

 

Programme transcript:

Transcript of BBC Radio 4 ‘Costing the Earth’ 15th March 2016, 3.30pm

TOM HEAP:          I’m standing in front of a small pond, probably 10 metres across, there’s a willow part-tumbled into it on one side, a bank of brambles and some open ploughed feels around the rest.  It doesn’t, in many ways feel particularly, if the locals will forgive me, beautiful, and yet, within it is something that’s become iconic within European environment circles, lauded by some, a bit of a pain in the neck to others – I’m talking about the great crested newt.  Protected by the Habitats Directive. Today on Costing the Earth, we’re going to be looking at how Europe has its fingers, its tendrils, in an awful lot of issues in our countryside.  Farming, fishing, energy and through wildlife conservation.  And that’s particularly why I’m here.  And I’m with Andrew Blenkiron, of Euston Estates, who look after the land in this area.  Andrew, tell me what issues you have with the inhabitants of this pond.

ANDREW BLENKIRON:       Well, Tom . . . actually, when we came down to it there were no great crested newts in this pond, there may have been, and that’s why we were refused our permission to apply for planning application to put our solar panels on the two fields adjacent to this site.

STANLEY JOHNSON:           So what we’re doing now it’s driving . . . following the river really towards Exford, and Exford, you know, is the heart of Exmoor, and this farm has been in our family since 1951.

TH:         The bedrock of European conservation law, responsible for protection given to great crested newts and a wide range of rare threatened and unique species is known as the Habitats Directive.  One of its architects, when he was a European Commission official, was Stanley Johnson, father of Boris.  They don’t agree on the European Union.

SJ:          The funny thing for me is that so many aspects of my life seem to be coming together at the moment.  I spent 20 years in the EU, you know, first in the Commission doing environmental policy, then in the European Parliament.  And now these two items, Europe on the one hand and environment on the other are coming together for me in a quite remarkable way in the context of this referendum.  And the third element of course is Exmoor, a huge chunk of Exmoor is a protected area under the Habitats, directive, and for me it’s completely wonderful, because little did I know, that way back in Brussels in the late 80s that this tiny acorn . . . the Habitats Directive would grow into such a huge oak tree.  Taking the 28 countries of the EU as a whole, something like 18% of the land area of those 28 countries is now protected under the Habitats Directive Why is that important?  In practical terms, it means there is an extra layer of protection to this precious landscape, provided by Brussels.  Yes, I’m afraid to say, it is provided by Brussels, it means that even if the government said, ‘Yes you can frack in national parks’ – if that’s part of the national park was also protected under the Habitats Directive there would be a lot more hoops to go through.  Now, there may be people who shout ‘boo, boo, that’s not what we want’, but my view is that taking the population as a whole, they do care.

TH:         I’m with Matt Shardlow who’s chief executive of Buglife, and, Matt, we’re on our hands and knees here, (laughs) very close to the ground, looking at a certain lifeform, what is that?

MATT SHARDLOW:            Well, this is a fantastic beast, this is our biggest terrestrial snail, it’s called the Roman Snail, it’s about the size of a golf ball, pale, almost white, but with a sort of pale, fawny brown patterning on the shell.  This one’s actually hibernating, and it’s got a huge great big door over the front, that protecting the snail and keeping it moist and safe inside its shell.

TH:         So this little thing, about the size of a big thumbnail over the opening is actually what’s keeping it alive at this time of year is it?

SH:         Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing that they’re actually out here, even in the winter, they’re out, actually exposed on the surface, they haven’t burrowed down, and by sealing themselves in with this, you know, it looks very calcified and white shell over the front of the snail, they’ve sealed themselves in and it’s a, it’s a very successful hibernation strategy.  They’ve been here for hundreds of years.

TH:         Now what has Europe done for the Roman Snail?

MS:        Well, I mean if you go back far enough to Roman Snail is called the Roman Snail because it was brought here by the Romans.  So this is part of our cultural heritage, as well as our natural heritage.  It’s a European species, brought here for people to eat.  So, in 1992 the Habitats Directive came in, and this is one of the species that was put down as . . . the member states need to keep it in good condition, they need to make sure it’s not disappearing from those member states, and if it is, they need to take whatever action they need to to make sure that it survives and it’s looked after. In the UK that meant, in the early 2000’s, when cases came about of people collecting bag loads of these things and selling them to the restaurant trade, er, that meant that we stepped in and asked the government to bring in some protection and they did, they put it on the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and since then there have been reduced number of incidents.

TH:         And how confident are you that needed kind of Europe to deliver that? It couldn’t be delivered by national governments?

MS:        Well, it potentially could have been done by national governments but it hadn’t been done by the national governments.  We’ve spent the last 20 years relying on the bigger scope of the European Court of Justice, and the bigger scope of the Habitats Directive and other pieces of legislation to make sure that the wildlife here is ultimately protected. You don’t then have much face (sic, means ‘faith’?) in, in the government, in suddenly stepping up and gaining, you know, this moral sense of responsibility, this great urge and vitality about looking after wildlife when the last 20 years has been like trying to force a limpet off a rock frankly. (laughs)

TH:         The Habitats Directive has certainly proved itself to be a powerful tool in influencing development in this country.  Often you hear about it in terms of where do houses go all roads go, but I’m back on the Euston estate with Andrew Blenkiron and we are standing in front of a reservoir.

AB:         75 million gallons of water capacity here which gives us the ability to irrigate approximately 700 acres of root crops on an annual basis.  And it’s a significant part of our business.

TH:         So take me through the process, you wanted to build this reservoir, and what hurdles did you come across?

AB:         There’s about eight ponds within 300 metres of this development site.  So what we had to do, at the right time of the year, which is sort of end of February through to May, we had to establish the great crested newt population at all of those locations.  The next thing that we had to do once we done that is wait till the following year after gaining a licence from Natural England to catch and relocate the newts that would be on the development site.

TH:         And so that took a couple of years, and added how much did you say to the cost?

AB:         £65,000.

TH:         And how many newts did you find?

AB:         We found ten great, great crested newts.

TH:         so that £6500 per newt.

AB:         Yeah, and I actually think that’s er, we, we got off quite light, because I hear people have spent £20,000 per newt.

TH:         Andrew Blenkiron is absolutely nothing against the great crested, or any other kind of newt.  In fact, he’s rather proud of the newt habitat he’s constructed in recompense for the damage caused by building the reservoir.  But he’s one of many land owners and developers irritated by delays caused by an animal that actually quite common in in England and Wales.  It’s protected because it’s rare in most of the rest of Europe.  Matt Shardlow of BugLife sympathises, but blames national government interpretation of the law rather than the EU.

MS:        As long as that species is in favourable conservation status, then it’s possible for governments to be more flexible about how it’s conserved.  What happened at the moment is we don’t know what its statuses.  If you can set your monitoring up so that you know how well it’s doing, so that you can address the problems it’s facing, then you don’t have to introduce Draconian laws that protect every single newt wherever every newt is.

TH:         European Union rules don’t just affect the land, the EU also rules the waves, or at least the natural life beneath. The Marine Conservation Society credits EU legislation with cleaning our beaches and creating marine protected areas. However, there’s no avoiding the association between the EU and those pictures we’ve seen so often of fishermen throwing perfectly good fish, dead, back in the sea from which they’ve just been caught.  British fishermen are no fans of the laws that strictly control their business – the Common Fisheries Policy.  Many scientists think it’s done a pretty poor job of conserving stocks. Robin Markwell has been to one of England’s biggest fish markets in Plymouth to gather opinion.

ROBIN MARKWELL:            Well, it may be five in the morning, pitch dark and raining, most of Plymouth is still asleep, but here in the harbour the fishing boats are preparing for a day’s fishing.

ANDY GILES:        I’m Andy Giles, I’m a fisherman from Looe, but the boat is in Plymouth, so we fish from here every day on a . . . 15 metre Twin rigged trawler.

RM:        How long have you been fishing for?

AG:        Been fishing since I was 16 and I’m now 44 so, what’s . . . 28 years.  Fishing mainly for erm, lemon soles, whiting, squid.

RM:        Tell me about the Common Fisheries Policy, what does it mean for you as a fisherman?

AG:        I’m not sure the Common Fisheries Policy is working, there’s lots of plentiful stocks of haddock which . . . they’re saying that there isn’t any, which we are seeing on the ground is different, it’s full up with haddock.  We can catch our monthly allocation of quota in . . . probably one haul – 250 kilos.  To us, it’s not fair as we’ve got Frenchmen on our doorstep which are catching 2000 kilo a day, which to us is just ludicrous, they’re 6 mile from our coast so it’s not really much good for us at the moment, but . . . who knows, if we came out of Europe, maybe it would change.

RM:        The French have a higher quota than you then?

AG:        Yes, and they’re fishing into our 6 mile limit.  They have some sort of historic rights of some description.

RM:        Can you get that close to French waters then, more than six miles?

AG:        No we can’t.  If you went in six mile in France, I think you’d probably be blown out the water.

PETE BROMLEY:   I’m Pete Bromley, and the harbourmaster at Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, and I’m also the fisheries manager responsible for the infrastructure of the fish market.

RM:        And there are crates upon crates upon crates upon crates of glorious fresh fish stacked up, going out to merchants at the moment, conger eels, lemon sole, you name it, you’ve got it here, Pete.

PB:         Yes, this is the through the night and early morning sort of business, and the fish is being sold now to be transported away, in all parts of the country and eventually a lot of it will go on to Europe. Anything that a fisherman does is governed by the Common Fisheries Policy – the amount of fish they can catch, the sort of gear they can use, their entire lives are ruled by the Common Fisheries Policy.  And quite rightly so, because it’s a pretty flawed policy, even after four attempts of reforming it, it’s still not really doing what it was set out to do.  And it’s certainly putting a lot of pressure on the British fishermen.

RM:        Well, this is Pam’s Snacks, which is where I think fishermen who’ve had a night on the trawler can come to get some breakfast.  Pam, we’re looking at the issue of Europe and how it affects fishing, what are you hearing?

PAM:      Well, to be honest, I think we should pull out of Europe, there’s a lot of rules and regulations that are coming in now, that Europe are, are doing, that’s killing the fishing industry. And there’s a lad that came in last week, and he said, ‘I had to throw about three boxes of haddock, beautiful haddock, and chuck it back in the sea.’ – Why, why, it’s crazy, it’s ludicrous.

UNKNOWN MALE:             I’m voting for Pam when she goes in to the next election.  Very well put Pam, very eloquent (laughter)

RM:        You’ve been in the business 40 years, and is in the truth of the matter things are much better now, it’s been through this series of reforms, that it was when, when the Common Fisheries Policy first came in.

AG:        No, not really.  The fishermen have made huge efforts in gear technology, reducing the amount of undersized fish they catch, and the sacrifices that have been made that have led to the improvements of the fish stocks, we’ve had no payback for it.

RM:        But the quotas are there for a reason, and they, they’re there to protect the environment, to make sure there’s enough fish to go round for everyone.

AG:        That’s the theory behind it, but (exhales) if a fisherman is only allowed to catch a certain amount of fish – his quota – and he catches any more, then it gets thrown back, dead into the sea.  So you tell me how that conserving?

RM:        But the discards policy that you mentioned there, that is being phased out, isn’t it, under the latest reform?

AG:        Yeah, okay, so now instead of the fish being thrown back into the sea, the fishermen has to stop fishing.

RM:        You won’t find many people willing to defend the Common Fisheries Policy.  It’s largely failed to protect the fishermen and the fish.  But Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation says that in his personal opinion, and he stresses this isn’t the view of his organisation, exit from the EU could actually make things worse.

BERTIE ARMSTRONG:        Common sense suggests that collective action is better than a load of individuals competing, and in the fishing industry that’s largely true.  Collaborative action so that no one individually over-fishes, or you don’t have what could be referred to as the tragedy of the commons of everybody trying to fish a little more than their neighbour.  The negotiations, to have a sensible place outside the tent would be very complicated and full of hazard, particularly full of hazard for us, and this is highly significant, in that fishing – it’s very important to me, you would expect that, it’s very important in the areas where it happens, but, overall it’s less than half a percent of GDP.  And so when a state is negotiating they will have pressure points, and fishing is unlikely to be a pressure point for the negotiating people who are trying to look after the UK’s relationship with Europe.

TH:         This is Costing the Earth  on BBC Radio 4.  Today we’re examining the potential impact of exit from the European Union beyond the city walls.  We’re looking at wildlife, fishing, farming and energy.  If many fishermen actively dislike the Common Fisheries Policy, the feeling amongst farmers about the Common Agricultural Policy is ambivalent.  It’s been at the heart of the European project for 50 years and in environmental and financial terms it really matters.  Farming spends 40% of the EU budget.  Brian Gardner is a policy analyst who’s just written a report for Agro-Europe, on the impact of Brexit on UK farmers.

BRIAN GARDNER:              It’s quite complicated, but essentially they get a direct income subsidy which is worth something in the region of about £100 an acre, whether or not they grow any crop on it or not.  In addition, they get stewardship and other subsidies which are designed to encourage an environmentally kindly approach to farming.  And there’s no guarantee, of course, that a Brexit government, and ex— EU membership government would maintain support at that sort of level.  In fact, I’m quite sure they would not.  At the moment, the total expenditure on subsidies for the British farmer is about £3 billion a year – it’s quite clear that they would cut that to about £1 billion a year, in that order, I mean it’s a rough estimate.

COLIN TYLER:       Their family came here in the 17th century, we’re looking over some parkland, we’re only a mile from Heathrow South runway, we’re looking over some old parkland where the Milton the poet’s family lived, and we’ve got some sheep who are grazing our parkland, and we have some highland cattle.  And they’ve all just done a runner.

TH:         Colin Tyler farms dozens of fields scattered to the west of Heathrow airport.  He doesn’t deny the British farmer’s dependency on money from Europe, but he thinks it’s time for his industry to kick away its own subsidy crutch.  So you would favour voting to leave the European Union.

CT:         Yes.

TH:         You went to the National Farmers Union conference recently.  How many people shared your view?

CT:         Erm, I arrived on the Monday night and our hotel was with my friends from the Welsh contingency and the Berkshire contingency and after about midnight, when all of us had one or two drinks we decided to talk about Euro (sic) and the exit.  And I was shocked to find that, of a hundred people, farmers in that bar, I was the only one for exit. And . . .

TH:         And what did that tell you?

CT:         That either I’m wrong and they’re right . . . but my view is, is that they’re still saying they can’t farm without subsidies, they won’t have access to the markets, their business will end.  I don’t think it’s that black and white.  We have this one opportunity in our life to say, ‘We’ve had enough, it’s time for us to leave, time for UK farmers to stand on their own two feet.’  We produce the best milk in the world, the best beef, the best sheep.  And thousands of other products, I think we can export to elsewhere.

TH:         Have confidence in that ability?

CT:         Have confidence in that ability and be brave enough.

TH:         Maybe that’s easier for you to say here in the South East, relatively close to markets, a few opportunities for making money outside conventional farming. If you were a hill farmer a long way away you really need those subsidies. They make up a big proportion of your income.

CT:         I would have to agree with that. It’s easier for me to make the decision, but let’s look . . .  We’re in Europe, ten years time. Have we made any changes? The subsidy will be lower, the regulations will be higher. Would they allow us still to graze sheep on mountains, because they say we are destroying the environment?

TH:         Of course, what’s bad for farmer’s income isn’t necessarily bad for the environment. Would lower subsides affect the landscape?

BG:         Well, the problem is, from a social, from an environmental point of view, is that it would tend to push out the small family farm, which is essential really to the maintenance of the current structure of the rural areas, particularly the dairy farmers, of course, because they are suffering most at the moment, and if they lost that 30 to 40% of their income, if that subsidy was scaled down, then of course they would be forced to give up or become much larger, so there would be a tendency towards larger farms, fewer farmers – a move towards the countryside being dominated by large farms would tend, without government intervention, would tend to be not good for the environment in my view.

TH:         Agricultural analyst, Brian Gardener sees an increase in intensification of agriculture in the lowlands.  Out of the European Union we might be more free to plant genetically modified crops, but he doesn’t foresee any major in the chemicals that farmers are allowed to use.  He also expects any UK government to continue subsidising upland farms, so don’t expect sheep to disappear from the Welsh Hills, the Yorkshire Dales or the Scottish Highlands.

TOM CLOTHIER:   I’m Tom Clothier, I’m in charge of our renewable energy business here at Wyke Farms, and we’re on our anaerobic digestions site, where we generate most of our energy for our cheesemaking operation.

TH:         One recent money-spinner for farmers has been renewable energy.  Solar panels, wind turbines and bio-energy plants have popped up across the country.

UNKNOWN MALE:             So we’ve got a tank here for holding strong waste, which is pumped down from our cheese dairy.

UNKNOWN FEMALE:         So is it producing gas constantly, 24 hours . . .

UM: 24 hours  day, yes, we’re, we’re producing gas.  Erm . . . a third of the gas goes into electrical generation, and then the rest of the gas gets upgraded and goes into the grid.

UF:         Yeah.

TH:         This anaerobic digester here at the Wyke Farms cheese factory is part of an extraordinarily swift energy revolution led from Brussels.

ANDREW WHITEHEAD:     Renewables’ share of the power generation mix in the UK rose from around 7% in 2010 to 22-23% at the moment.

TH:         Andrew Whitehead is an energy analyst with the lawyers Shakespeare Martineau in Birmingham.

AW:       We’ve got, in the Climate Change Act 2008, our own self-imposed carbon reduction target, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, so that’s a really ambitious target.  At the same time, in Europe, there is a binding renewable energy target which says that all member states must contribute towards helping the EU increase its share of renewables across the energy sector, and the UK is a share of that is 15%.  And that’s binding.  And that applies not just to power generation, but also to heat and transport.

TH:         And how powerful has that target been up until now in delivering?

AW:       Well, it’s been very influential, we’ve seen the problem has been that it’s quite prescriptive.  So, in trying to meet carbon reduction targets the UK government is, to some extent, constrained, because it has to meet that binding European target for renewables while there are obviously other ways in which carbon reduction targets can be met, for example, energy efficiency, nuclear and more gas for example.

TH:         Some people think it actually rather handcuffed policy, this renewable energy target and, for instance, made, you know, building a biomass boiler on a school more attractive than insulating it properly which some people think is a bit mad?

AW:       I think that’s probably a fair comment, but I think the UK government has been quite influential in making sure that the EU’s new 2030 targets for renewables are not so prescriptive.

TH:         Those European Union targets have been great for those subsidised to produce renewables and for an electricity company like Good Energy that buys that power and sells it on to consumers.

JULIET DAVENPORT:          My name’s Juliet Davenport, I’m the founder and CEO of Good Energy, a green energy company.  So we are here at Wyke farm in Somerset, which is a cheese manufacturers, but actually we are on their 100% renewable energy site, which is an anaerobic digester which generates electricity from gas, that is anaerobically digested from the waste of the cheese plant, and we are involved in buying some of the power from that site.  There’s been a lot of technological development, not just in the UK, but worldwide, we’ve seen the Chinese come very strongly into the solar market, we’ve seen the Germans and the Danish move very strongly on the wind market, and then we’ve seen things like technologically, anaerobic digestion reduce in size so we can actually produce, economically gas and electricity from sites like this.  So, I think you’ve seen the technological part, through, but obviously legislation part has been really strong so we saw a lot of the renewables directive, the European Renewables Directive that then set an outlying target for renewable energy in each country and we have the Renewables Electricity Act in the UK which brought in the 15% target across transport, electricity and heat in the UK.  So it’s very much been driven by legislation, as well as by technological change.

LINDA HOLT:          Looking at (placename unclear) we can see nine 125 metre turbines, but behind as there’s another four or five.  If you were to sort of look up and jump in that direction, you’d see another windfarm with 125 metre turbines, I don’t know, there’s 12 or 13, so there’s quite, this is quite heavily saturated in terms of development, and quite a lot more have been consented that haven’t been built yet.

NANCY NICHOLSON: And they’re quite visible, actually, from the main road that leads down to the Forth Bridge and into Edinburgh.

UF:         That’s the right, the A92, yes.  Nobody can fail to see the turbines in Fife when they drive into Fife from Edinburgh.

TH:         In Fife, Linda Holt agrees that the EU has encouraged renewable energy, such as the wind turbines that provide Good Energy with half its electricity, but she’s not keen on the consequences.  Linda belongs to the campaign group Scotland Against Spin.  She met our reporter, Nancy Nicolson, on a snowy hillside overlooking the Firth of Forth.

LINDA HOLT:        It all comes back to the EU energy, Renewable Energy Directive of 2009 which stipulated that Europe should produce 20% of its total energy needs from renewables by 2020, and then the EU gave each country a percentage that they had to produce from renewables by 2020 and the UK was given 15%.  Alex Salmond decided to gold plate this and declared the most ambitious renewable energy targets in the world by saying that Scotland should have 100% renewable, or the equivalent of renewables by 2020.

NANCY NICHOLSON:          But this is a very industrial landscape. Yes, we’re looking at windmills, but we’re also looking just over the hill at Mossmorran. We can see the big chimneys, and I don’t know if it’s steam or smoke that’s coming up from there. The point is really that if we didn’t have renewables we would have more of these – more coal-fired power stations – and that would mean more climate change and worse air quality.

LH:         Well, I don’t think we would have more coal-fired power stations, actually, what we would have is combined gas, and we’d have more nuclear.  And perhaps we have had more research and development in other forms of renewables that are better than than wind.

NN:        So, you would like to see Britain out of the EU?  Do you think that Britain wouldn’t continue to support windfarms?

LH:         Well, it’s not continuing to support wind— . . . certainly, onshore wind farms, the UK government has stopped all new subsidy for onshore wind, it’s still supporting offshore wind, but I think the days for offshore wind for new offshore wind farms are numbered.

TH:         That, perhaps, is the nub of the debate over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The future of the environment would depend upon the UK governments that follow exit. Each of these enormous issues will need to be reassessed and weighed in the list of national priorities. Exit would just be the start of a debate on what’s best for our environment. Should landowners be subsidised to manage the landscape? How do we protect our fish stocks? Where should we get our low-carbon energy? They are all question we have, to some degree, allowed politicians and officials in Brussels to take the lead on. Are we happy to start each debate afresh?

Photo by vauvau

Analysis of Newsnight reveals strong imbalance against Brexit case

Analysis of Newsnight reveals strong imbalance against Brexit case

News-watch has completed preliminary research on 40 editions of Newsnight between January 13 and March 11   based on the full transcription and analysis of the relevant parts of each programme.

Daily news and current affairs programmes such as Newsnight  are not required to be balanced within each edition, but it would be expected that over a two-month period, the handling of the remain and leave sides of the Brexit case would be even-handed, especially as the period covered David Cameron’s Brussels negotiations and the formal suspension of cabinet collective responsibility on the topic.

A major concern is that the analysis of the guests who appeared on the programme speaking on referendum themes on a none-to-one basis showed a strong imbalance towards the remain side. There were 12 occasions (covering 14 guests, because one of the interviews featured three ‘remain’ figures) when guests clearly favouring staying in the European Union appeared in one-to-one interviews. There were only six featuring Brexit supporters.

The ‘remain’ figures involved were: Alan Johnson  (13/1), former Swedish prime minister and Eurocrat Carl Bildt  (27/1), David Liddington , (2/2), Rob Wainwright, from Europol   (8/2), Jose Manuel Barosso  (9/2), Ross McEwan , chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland (12/2) , Peter Mandelson    (18/2),  Kenneth Clarke (22/2),   Sylvie Bermann,, the French ambassador to the UK  (23/2),  Damian Green  (24/2), Anne Applebaum, Timothy Garton Ash and Tom Snyder (all commentators explaining why the EU was a vital bulwark against the likely excesses and failures of Donald Trump)   (4/3), and  Inga Beale, chief executive of Lloyds of London ) (7/3).

On the exit side, the guests who appeared in equivalent one-to-one exchanges were: the Conservative MP Maria Caulfield  (2/2),  Steve Baker MP  (3/2), Kate HoeyMP   (5/2);  Nigel Farage MEP )  (18/2), Iain Duncan Smith (22/2),  Richard Tice, one of the founders of the Leave.eu organisation  (8/3),

Analysis of the transcripts of these exchanges shows that each guest was given a clear opportunity to state arguments from their respective perspectives. For example, Inga Beale spelled out in detail why she believed that Brexit would damage her company. There was thus a significant imbalance on one very important level between the two sides.

Looking at EU referendum items as a whole, including the interviews above plus those where ‘leave and ‘remain’ guests were interviewed simultaneously, there were a further 11 guests who were clearly in favour of staying in the EU,  and a further eight who were supporters of Brexit. Thus the overall imbalance between the two sides was 25-14.

The additional remain figures were Lucy Thomas (twice) of the British Stronger in Europe group ( 29/1 and 16/2), the journalist Anne McElvoy (26/2). Charles Powell  (8/2, ) Emma Reynolds MP  (15/2);  Lord Finkelstein)  (18/2): Chuka Umunna (19/2) ; Ken Livingstone and Caroline Lucas MP   (29/2); Heidi Alexander MP (8/3); associate professor Khuloud Al-Jamal (10/2)   and Will Self (who was arguing against the ‘project fear’ allegedly generated by a Brexit supporter  (11/3.)

The remaining Brexit camp figures were:

Daniel Hannan  (29/1);  Anunziata Rees-Mogg ( (8/2) Nigel /Mills, fromn the Vote Leave group   (15/2);  Simon Jenkins (18/2): Tom Pursglove  (19/2) ; Toby Young (26/2);   the cleric and socialist Giles Fraser  (29/2); Gisela Stewart MP (8/3); Professor Angus Dalgleish)(10/2)   Munira Mirza, member of the London Assembly (11/3).

Again, this was a very significant imbalance. Several of the packages that featured both sides  provided impartial and absorbing interview sequences. News-watch’s investigation also found that although the BBC have been warned over many years that their coverage of EU affairs focuses too much on the Westminster bubble, there has been little attempt to go outside it. Only four Newsnight guests were not politicians, journalists, or attached to the political campaigns.

Three striking examples of bias include:

  • On February 5, the Labour MP Kate Hoey appeared – a very rare appearance on the BBC of a Labour figure supporting EU exit.  The main thrust of the interview by James O’Brien was not her reasons for wanting to leave, but rather the extent to which the exit movement was split, and what was happening next. Other interviews of exit supporters focused disproportionately on allegations of discord in the leave campaign.
  • EU figures, the former president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barosso, and  the former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, have had the clear opportunity in main interviews to explain why leaving the EU would not be in the UK’s interest. There has been no balancing opinion from similarly weighty figures who support exit.   In associated correspondent reports, other EU figures such as the former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, has also been able to express pro-EU and anti-Brexit views.
  • In a feature linked to the continued success of Donald Trump, three commentators on EU affairs – journalist Anne Applebaum, the historian Tom Snyder and  Oxford don Timothy Garton Ash – were given space to collectively explain why it was vital that the UK stayed in the EU, and for the EU to unify even further against the threat of Russia, China and if Donald Trump was elected, the United States.

Another issue with the coverage was that some supporting background packages intended to reflect a range of views, were pro-EU. For example, a feature about the passengers on the Polish bus between Cracow and London, contained only views from those who were coming to the UK to work, and supported the opportunity to do so. Reporter Katy Razzell visited Peterborough but the views in her package emphasised most heavily support for immigration and the EU.

Full analysis of this large sample will be completed as soon as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo by Chatham House, London

Bridgen putdown underlines rot at heart of BBC complaints process

Bridgen putdown underlines rot at heart of BBC complaints process

As the crucial referendum vote looms, how DO you complain about the BBC?

The reality is that the Corporation is its own judge and jury in dealing with complaints and has neatly-honed putdowns for almost every eventuality.

The odds are particularly stacked in the EU debate, as the News-watch submission to the DCMS consultation on BBC Charter renewal outlines. In the nine years since they were formed, the BBC Trustees have never upheld a complaint about EU coverage – even though senior BBC figures have admitted at various times that this aspect of their output has been biased.

Tough cookie MP Andrew Bridgen explained in the Daily Telegraph that he is the latest to try registering a complaint – only to be swatted aside like a tiresome bluebottle.

He very reasonably noticed that in the kick-off to the referendum campaign, the Corporation, as usual, is favouring the ‘remain’ side by, for example, allowing them to dominate the guest list on Newsnight; that coverage is representing David Cameron’s agreement as legally binding when it is not; and that business news on Today is regularly inviting pro-EU commentators to say what a vital and wonderful institution it is. All of which has been evidenced elsewhere.

Surprise, surprise, BBC Director of News James Harding disagrees. On what basis? Well primarily, it seems that because what poor, naïve Bridgen has observed is only the early days of the campaign and it will all even out in the ‘ebb and flow’ of events. Well silly him for not realising.

Of course balance is not a precise daily calculation and James Harding is right that there are days when almost inevitably, one side will receive more exposure than the other.

But the problem here is that – as Ryan Bourne of the IEA pointed out on the TCW – the BBC has got form in this respect, lots of it. For example, over 11 years of Today’s output, in monitoring by News-watch that covered almost half the programmes transmitted, only three Labour or other left-leaning guests favouring Brexit appeared. Was that down to the ‘ebb and flow’ of events? – or was another factor, such as outright BBC bias, in play? More examples abound on the News-watch website.

What Harding’s letter also underlines is that the BBC has got a neatly worked out answer to almost every situation. Another favourite is that both sides have complained, so the offending item must be balanced. Today editor Jamie Angus recently used this on Radio 4’s Feedback programme (which is supposed to represent listeners, but is mainly a conduit through which BBC executives rubbish them). He stated:

‘It’s a bit glib in a way to say if both sides are complaining volubly then we’re just about in the right place but I do sometimes fall back on that…..Genuinely, my perception is that I’m getting a pretty balanced mailbag.’ 

Any academic researcher would tell you the pitfalls of such crass generalisations.

Another is the ‘find the lady’ approach. When News-watch complained about Newsnight’s coverage of the David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech back in 2013 because the programme that evening contained 19 pro-EU guests ranged against only one definite withdrawalist (Nigel Farage, of course), the response was that we had missed that the previous December, there had been an edition which had debated the exit option and both sides had been evenly balanced.

This was bunk – in reality, the programme did not give the out camp a fair shout – but it was a classic BBC response which is wheeled out regularly: the complainant is wrong because somewhere in the thousands of hours of BBC output is something that miraculously balances the offending item.

James Harding has recently deployed yet another of his classic arguments. Here, the complainant alleged that on Today, Sir John Major had not been challenged firmly enough by James Naughtie (on December 16 last year) when he claimed that Brussels would become hostile to the UK, if God forbid, the electorate decided they wanted to leave the EU.

Harding’s response? He stated:

‘The ebb and flow of political discourse cannot, I think, be reduced to a check list of rebuttals’.

Clearly, ‘ebb and flow’ is a favourite phrase – but in other respects, too, this was a perennial favourite defence: it boils down to that in the BBC’s book, and especially on EU issues, presenters can do whatever they want, even when a pro-EU guest is getting away with blue murder.

What has now emerged through the response to Andrew Bridgen is that Harding and the high command at the BBC are likely to persist in this stonewall denial against Brexit complainants throughout the referendum campaign. He, Tony Hall, the Director General, and David Jordan, the Director of Editorial Standards, told the European Scrutiny Committee last year that this would not be the case.

Pigs, it seems, might fly.

BBC referendum coverage flunks early impartiality test

BBC referendum coverage flunks early impartiality test

At the heart of David Cameron’s renegotiation claim is something deeply contentious and what many believe to be a bare-faced lie: that he has secured for Britain an unqualified opt-out from the ‘ever closure union’ ratchet clause in the treaties that underpins and drives the EU project.

The BBC – as the UK’s main public service broadcaster – ought to be subjecting the claim to thumb-screw scrutiny, as it does when anyone has the temerity to suggest that immigration might have disadvantages. Early signs are that this is not going to happen – and at least one pivotal feature on the BBC website suggests that it is tamely going to repeat the claim and trumpet it as a ‘Cameron victory’.

The PM’s pitch on this subject sounds highly attractive, if not irresistible; one of the main fears among British voters about the EU has seemingly been legally banished forever, leaving the UK to get on with ploughing its own furrow separate from the federalists across the water.

But there is mounting evidence that this is blatantly untrue. A leading authority on EU affairs says the decisions taken by the EU heads of state last week were not at the level of binding treaty change because it is a fundamental principle of international law – especially so in EU treaties – that governments cannot define what future treaties will be, or commit future governments to decisions at this level. If you doubt this, here is a quote from the arch-federalist lawyer and former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff:

‘But there is another argument as to why a formal promise of the European Council to change the treaty in the future – even if put into a Council decision and tabled at the UN – can never be ‘legally-binding and irreversible’. This is because the Lisbon treaty, now in force for six years, has changed the constitutive procedures of the EU by adding in the wild card of the Convention (Article 48(3) TEU). The Convention is made up of the European Council, the Commission, the European Parliament and national parliaments. Its job is to propose amendments of the treaties to an intergovernmental conference. So while the member states can still lay claim to being the ultimate ‘masters of the treaties’, their prerogative is not unqualified: they cannot change the treaty, or even promise to change the treaty, left to their own devices. And it’s the European Parliament, not the European Council which gets to decide on whether to call a Convention.’

David Cameron and his pro-EU lackeys must be aware of arguments like this (they have been circulating the web for months) and so it suggests they may be deliberately projecting an untruth; they are dressing up the low-level, aspirational agreements reached so theatrically on Friday as a cast-iron triumph in the hope that, dashing for a quick-as-possible vote, they can hoodwink voters.

There’s an irony here: the EU is intrinsically fiendishly complex in its rules and its intent, and for those reasons, is fundamentally undemocratic. Cameron – who promised to reform that in his Bloomberg 2013 speech – is now relying on that complexity to ram through his so-called ‘deal’.

Why is the BBC complicit in this?

Exhibit A is a feature on the BBC website which, with the headline ‘What Cameron wanted and what he got’, purports to give a balanced overview of what is now on offer. It states:

‘This has to go down as a win for Mr Cameron, with the commitment to exempt Britain from “ever closer union” to be written into the treaties.’

So, in other words, accepted at face value in this key article, and without subsequent qualification, is that Cameron has secured an opt-out from the notorious clause, and that future treaties can be manipulated in this way.  There’s not a peep that others, including leading jurists, and experts on EU procedures, beg to differ.

Exhibit B was Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show. He raised the subject with David Cameron, and suggested that there were those disagreed that the opt-out was binding without actual treaty change. But Cameron flatly contradicted him and there was no further response from Marr.

The BBC has a special duty because of its public service remit and its massive taxpayer-funding to present impartial news, and to get at the truth. Here, at the start of the dash to the referendum, is clear evidence that it is failing in its mission. The newsroom has at least 5,000 journalists and 3,000 further staff in support roles. With those numbers comes massive capacity to investigate, and yet it is seemingly conveying basic untruths that are government spin.

Back in 2004, when the prospect of an EU referendum was looming over the Lisbon Treaty, the then BBC Governors commissioned former Cabinet Secretary Lord Wilson of Dinton to undertake a survey of the Corporation’s EU-related output. In retrospect, it stands as the only genuinely independent survey of the BBC output ever undertaken, and it was only commissioned because former Conservative Minister Lord Ryder of Wensum was appointed stop-gap chairman following the ignominious resignation of Gavyn Davies in the wake of the Hutton inquiry. Lord Ryder persuaded Davies’ permanent successor Lord Grade (also a Eurosceptic) that such an inquiry was essential.

Lord Wilson, when he submitted his report at the beginning of 2005, was coruscating about aspects of the poor quality of the BBC’s EU output, its inherent bias, and especially about the overall lack of level of knowledge at all levels of the Corporation of EU affairs. The report observed (section iv para 16):

‘Journalists are unlikely to be able to explain the issues (of the EU and a possible referendum) clearly unless they understand them themselves. There is much evidence that the public do not get the clear and accurate explanations they need because there is a lack of knowledge of the EU at every stage of the process from the selection of an item to the conduct of the interview.’

The BBC promised in response to devise special training courses to remedy this major defect, but the evidence of dozens of subsequent News-watch reports, in revealing serial and consistent bias in the coverage of EU affairs suggests that this was a totally ineffective exercise.

James Harding, the current Director of News, acknowledged this, in effect, when he appeared before the Commons European Scrutiny Committee last December. Committee members – worried about referendum coverage – had strong reservations that there remained an all-pervading Corporation ignorance about EU matters. In response, Harding promised that before the referendum all newsroom staff would get a further half day’s training.

Has this happened? The BBC has not said. But it appears not to have done, if the reporting of the Cameron deal is anything to go by.

 

Photo by Brett Jordan

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

This is a guest posting from Craig Byers of the Is the BBC Biased? website.

Further to an earlier post
 
This is what that Ofcom statement says:

“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.”

Isn’t that extraordinary?
For starters, they’ve clearly conceded David’s point that Mr Emmott’s appointment is problematic and, even more strikingly, they’ve shown themselves to have absolutely no confidence in the poor man’s capacity to behave in an impartial fashion in his new job on matters related to the EU referendum!
So, if what Ofcom are saying is true, Mr Emmott will surely have to leave the room or keep his mouth firmly shut every time matters relating to the EU referendum are raised?
Given that he’s supposed to be chairing those meetings, that isn’t exactly going to be an ideal situation for his fellow board members, is it?
Especially as Ofcom’s Content Board is likely to have quite a lot of discussions and make a lot of decisions on matters of related to the EU referendum over the coming months (or years).

Photo by UK in Italy

BBC anti-Brexit rhetoric continues with alleged lies over ‘Norway option’

BBC anti-Brexit rhetoric continues with alleged lies over ‘Norway option’

Anti-Brexit group Britain Stronger in Europe has started its propaganda push with a £1.5m leaflet drop. It focuses – with hackneyed predictability – on threats that outside the Single Market, three million UK jobs will be at risk.

News-watch research shows that for years, BBC presenters and reporters have been allowing Europhiles to get away with these totally unfounded claims – devastatingly debunked by the Institute of Economic Affairs in March – virtually without challenge.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that nothing is going to change in BBC coverage in the run-up to the EU referendum.

Why? In effect, a Radio 4 programme broadcast on Thursday was a clear declaration, that the Corporation will be actively campaigning to amplify such messages – especially those about the Single Market.

Perhaps there is no surprise in this – after all an ex-BBC strategy chief, Carolyn Fairbairn, is now director-general of the fanatically Europhile Confederation of British Industry and has been declaring her referendum plans to the Guardian; and Sir Roger Carr, a former president of the CBI, is now deputy chairman of the BBC Trustees. The Corporation is so steeped in the importance of Brussels that it cannot see or think outside that bubble.

At what point, however, does biased BBC reporting tip over into being deliberately untrue?

According to many EU experts, that divide was crossed by the programme in question, an edition of the In Business slot which, in essence, on the basis of what can loosely be called unchallenged misinformation, purported to show what it claimed was the hugely negative impact on Norway of daring not to be a member of the Brussels club.

Hot on the heels of a similarly massively anti-Brexit programme by Carolyn Quinn – described here on The Conservative Woman – reporter Jonty Bloom conveyed to listeners without qualification or counter opinion a central untruth: that even though Norway was not in the EU, it was forced to follow EU directives, with potentially disastrous consequences. He suggested that being on the outside entailed vast expense for the Norwegian economy and meant it had no input into policy-making.

To illustrate this, he put centre stage in the programme an interview with a spokesman from an Oslo boiler manufacturer (called Oso, no doubt also chosen partly for its ardently ‘green’ agenda) which, it was alleged, had faced near disaster. Bloom said that the company had been doing very well until an EU directive covering tough changes in the regime around safety and ecological requirements of water-heating equipment suddenly appeared on the horizon.

He contended that the company had only been saved from ruinous new costs of up to £10m by last minute intervention by France, which had used its offices to secure an opt-out for Norway from the new regulations.

He larded the tale with dark warnings about other costs and pitfalls of being outside the Single Market – exactly in tune with the Britain Stronger in Europe leaflet and the direst warnings of the CBI. The full transcript of the programme is below.

Bloom’s programme opened with almost-reasonable interviews with Norwegian fishermen and farmers. He explained that opposition to the EU was rooted in these core economic areas.

But then the rot set in. According to website Leave HQ, what followed about the boiler-maker and Norway’s involvement with EU rules and the Single Market was ‘a pack of lies’, essentially because it most certainly does have influence, through its participation in the European Economic Area (EEA) and membership of EFTA (the European Free Trade Association).

The EU Referendum website explains:

‘In fact…right from the very start, the heating world exploded in outrage (against the proposed regulations). Not only did Norway object, but the issue was taken up by the Nordic Council of Ministers….It took until August 2013, more than three years after the draft regulations had been published, for the highly revised regulations, during which period the Norwegians were fully consulted.

‘To allow a claim that it was simply “blind luck” that prevented the original, more draconian proposals coming into force is a travesty. It simply isn’t true.’

There is not the space here to go into everything that Bloom got wrong – or about subsequent alleged highly dubious tampering with copy on the BBC website – but at its heart was the parading of a blatant untruth: that Europhiles from David Cameron downwards want us to believe: for countries outside the EU, and especially Norway, there is only darkness and despair.

There are dozens of different sources that Bloom could have approached to obtain a different and more realistic picture why up to 85% of Norwegians do not want to join the EU and why it is, in consequence, one of the richest countries in the world. One is Katherine Kleveland, leader of the Nei til EU campaign , who explains admirably here the advantages for her country of being outside the EU. To her, it is emphatically not a second best, involves no loss of national sovereignty or control, and allows Norwegians at every level a better and fuller say in trade negotiations because they are not funnelled through the EU.

This underscores that with EU affairs, nothing that the Corporation broadcasts can be trusted; everything is crafted with one end – to show that life outside the EU is, for the UK, and every other European country that is not yet a member, an unsustainable impossibility.

 

 

Transcript of BBC Radio 4, In Business, 21st January 2015, 8.30pm

ANNOUNCER: Norway’s relationship with the European Union is often held up as a potential model for the UK if we vote to leave the EU in the referendum that’s expected later this year. But what exactly is that model? Our business correspondent, Jonty Bloom, has been to Norway to find out.

JONTY BLOOM:     Deep in the Arctic Circle where at this time of year the sun barely rises, this is the regional capital of the North of Norway. It’s a good two hour’s flight from Oslo, over hundreds and hundreds of miles of snow-covered mountains, icy islands, and long fjords reaching far inland. Tromso is right on the edge of Europe, closer to Moscow than Brussels and far further north than Iceland. It’s bitterly cold. I’ve come here because Tromso is at the heart of the Norwegian fishing industry. From here, trawlers venture deep into the stormy and freezing cold Barents Sea in search of cod, haddock, mackerel and prawns. During the 1994 referendum campaign on whether Norway should join the European Union, Tromso harbour filled with fishing boats all flying flags saying ‘Nei til EU’ – ‘No to the EU’ and since then, little has changed. So, did you used to take the boat out all did you er . . .

JAN ROGER LERBUKT: Yeah, I’ve been doing fisheries for many years.

JB:           Jan Roger Lerbukt was almost born with webbed feet. I notice his massive hands bear the scars of many years at sea in rough dangerous conditions. He owns and runs one trawler, The Hermes – that spends up to five weeks at sea at a time, in fishing grounds that Norway owns and controls. Norway regards the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy with disdain. It has managed its fishing stocks successfully for years, and as a result, the fishing industry has been one of the bulwarks against entry to the EU. You used to go out with your father, did you?

JRL:         Yeah, I started out, actually I was 10 years old, first time, but that was just for one week or something like that.

JB:           And the most important man on board is the chef, I take it, is he?

JRL:         Of course.

JB:           Yes (laughs)

JRL:         (laughs)

JB:           I assume you had a vote in the ’94 referendum? Which way did you vote then?

JRL:         I voted ‘no’.

JB:           And why was that?

JRL:         Based on the agreement and the deal we got with the EU at that time, and, and . . . and the whole question, I voted ‘no’. I think that was the best for . . . for the industry and Norway as a whole. Er, the situation for the stocks in the Barent Sea are very good now, and that comes, in my opinion, to the fact that we have been able, in Norway, to, have legislations and regulations which has been able to build the stocks up, and that’s vital to us, of course, because this is . . . this is for the future, it’s not a business for today. It’s, it’s for the future to, to keep the stocks in a, in a good condition, to be able to harvest of them (sic) for, for many, many years to come. For my children, for their children, for the future – it’s food.

JB:           And what is it that you would fear about being in the EU?

JRL:         Loss of control. Loss of control of the fisheries, of the stocks of the . . . the regulations, depleting the resources. That’s what I would fear. If that should be the result, I will always vote ‘no’.

(mournful music)

JB:           Although Tromso is remote, it’s still the regional capital. In fact, once called the Paris of the North, it’s home to the Arctic Philharmonic but I wanted to get out of town to visit one of the many fish farms that use the pure icy water of the local fjords to rear millions of salmon. To get there takes another three hours . . . by ferry and then by car. Across the island of Senja, on snow-covered roads through deep mountain valleys, until you finally reach the coast. And then it’s another half an hour by boat to the fish farm itself. I’m on the deck of a support vessel about two or 3 miles down Bergsfjord in North Norway. It’s permanent night at this time of the year round here, so there’s just enough twilight to see the huge mountains which surround us on nearly every side. Absolutely covered in snow and ice. And the reason we’re here is just in front of us, huge pens of an enormous salmon farm, there’s something like a million and a half salmon right in front of me, they love this environment, I can’t say I do, I’ve got about four layers on, including a complete emergent suit, but it is something like minus 13 or minus 15 out here at the moment, and I’ve found myself suddenly . . . willing to pay considerably more for a salmon steak at my local supermarket than I was previously. This is a, a vital Norwegian industry which is deeply affected by the country’s relationship with the European Union. Fredd Wilsgaard owns and runs this fish farm.

FREDD WILSGAARD:            It’s freezing and they are working, it’s okay it’s part of the game, it’s okay.

JB:           With a dry sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, Fredd has a remarkable resemblance to George Clooney. He even joked about it, but on the subject of the EU, he’s deadly serious. Did you vote in the ’94 referendum?

FW:         Yes I did.

JB:           Can I ask you how you voted then?

FW:         Yes you can. I voted, ‘no’. As a salmon farmer, I voted ‘no’. And if you look around, you can see . . . there are some sites, there are some farmers living here, and we have a little industry, mining here in (word unclear) the fisheries, you can see (fragments of words, or words unclear) you can see three fish boats, fishing herrings, and this community cannot survive, if you don’t pull it all together – fisheries, industry, farming. And the reason why I, I voted ‘no’ in ’94 was . . . that I was afraid of the consequences for the fisheries. And without the fisheries we can’t do this society alone, as farmers, but I’m not sure today that I would vote ‘no’ again.

JB:           To understand why Fredd is thinking again about how he would vote, I visited the factory he owns a few miles down the road.

FW:         This is (word or words unclear) gallery, and you can see the fish . . .

JB:           (words unclear) coming down, in towards the holding tank, I think.

FW:         Yes it is.

JB:           And they’re immediately, four at a time, they’re stunned and . . . and then killed.

FW:         Stunned and slaughtered, yes.

JB:           Every knock you hear, which sounds rather like a squash ball being whacked against a wall, is a salmon being stunned and killed. 14,000 a day are sucked out of the holding pens and within two minutes gutted, inspected and packed in ice. Now, the thing that strikes me about this is, I mean, it’s an amazingly automated process, and you’ve got lots of people in here checking and everything, but all you’re doing is killing and cutting the fish, and then putting them into a box whole.

FW:         Yes.

JB:           What would you like to do with them?

FW:         A small amount of the fish that we are processing in this plant is taken over to the next plant to make fillets but I would like to do a lot more, more fillets and, and I would like to smoke some salmon, and I would like to . . . do more, make it finish so that you could go to the store and . . . pick it up and go home and eat it.

JB:           So you could do ready meals and prepared fish with sauce, and all sorts of stuff.

FW:         Yes, or we could do ready meals.

JB:           And why don’t you do more of that?

FW:         A part of it is the taxes that we’ve got on the product, the more finished we do it, so er . . . that’s the price for being outside the Union.

JB:           Norway doesn’t process is much of the fish it ships to the EU as it would like. The tariffs are too high. Just 2% on gutted fish, but up to 13% unprocessed. As a result, its ships its fish to Denmark and Poland where they are turned into ready meals. Norway is losing their jobs that involves, and the higher profits it would bring.

(mournful music)

JB:           That helps explained why Fredd voted to stay out of the EU in 1994, but now he’s part of a small minority who would probably vote to join. Quite a shift for quite a traditional industry. But that’s not going to happen. Another referendum is not on the agenda and even if it were, a large majority of Norwegians, around 70% would vote against it again, according to the polls. One reason for that can be found in a cowshed, more than a thousand miles south of Fredd’s salmon farm on the outskirts of Oslo. The agricultural lobby in Norway is big and powerful.

TRON RAYOSTAR: See, think now it’s time for milking, so you go inside here, and then, er, the computer now, now it’s ready, time for milking or just feeding and then, open the door (words unclear) for feeding (words unclear) for milking.

JB:           And how does the computer know that?

TR:          Er . . . she has this number here . . .

JB:           Ah, she has a computer chip on her neck.

TR:          Yes, yes.

JB:           Tron Rayostar (phonetic) is a farmer, he says he knows every one of his 40 dairy cows, but Tron has another important job – he’s President of the TINE Cooperative, made up of 15,000 farmers which dominates the dairy industry in Norway. How is the dairy industry at the moment, how are . . . things for you?

TR:          ’15 will be a very good year for the farmers, yeah. For the milking production in Norway, it’s nice time now. So that’s the big difference from Europe.

JB:           Yes it is, isn’t it?

TR:          Yes, and that’s the Norwegian politics, to make that possible.

JB:           Because in the rest of Europe prices are falling, but . . .

TR:          Yes.

JB:           . . . here they’re still pretty good aren’t they?

TR:          Yes. They are stable or rising a little bit.

JB:           Norway looks after its farmers. There will be many a British dairy farmer who would like a price rise, and yet milk in Norway is already far more expensive than it is in the UK. Across the farmyard there’s a beautiful house, resting on the edge of snow-covered fields with wood-burning stoves, underfloor heating and effortless Scandinavian style. It’s a picture postcard pretty. In the farmhouse, we warmed up and tried some of Tron’s wife’s home-made biscuits. We talked to him in a mix of English and Norwegian with his TINE colleague, Bjorn Strom (phonetic) translating and chipping in. Just as Norway’s fishing industry wants nothing to do with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, its farmers want nothing to do with its Common Agricultural Policy. That still accounts for 40% of the EU’s budget and has often been criticised for subsidising farmers and protecting them from international competition, while forcing up food prices. But what, I wanted to know . . . was it about the Common Agricultural Policy which would not work for Norwegian farmers?

BJORN STROM:     He says that in Norway we have very high costs, and there are also climatic conditions that is very difficult. We are, for most of the country, nearer to the North Pole than to Rome, and that means that we need a differential agricultural policy.

JB:           And how is Norwegian agriculture protected against imports.

BS:          We have tariffs, which are protecting the rich agricultural producers. And . . . there was also a quota system for import on some basic Norwegian products, which can be imported.

JB:           So, I think the famous example is cheese, is it, foreign cheeses get quite high tariff when they come into Norway? How high is that, do you know?

BS:          Some cheeses are in fact, er, free for imports inside the quota, some cheeses have a lower tariff than others, and so we have a few cheeses with very high tariffs, about 270%.

JB:           Yes, there are tariffs as high as 270% on some cheeses imported into Norway. The country doesn’t like the Common Agricultural Policy, because it’s nowhere near as generous to the EU’s farmers as Norway’s government is to Norwegian ones. No wonder the national anthem is titled, ‘Yes, We Love this Country.’

(Norwegian national anthem)

JB:           In the main square in the centre of Oslo, the iceskating rink is busy. It’s in a prime spot, between the Parliament and the Royal Palace. There’s snow on the ground and lights in the trees, and everywhere you look there are expensive international stores. This is an outward-looking, very successful and prosperous country. And for many people it illustrates what is possible for a European country if it’s outside the European Union. A short walk from the ice rink, and an office on the quite square, I discovered that although fishing and farming are totally outside the EU, the rest of the economy is surprisingly well-integrated. So chart 14.8 is . . .

ULF SVERDRUP:    Basically showing the economic integration, between different European countries and the internal market.

JB:           Ulf Sverdrup, director of the think-tank, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, was showing me a chart I think he knew would surprise me. It shows how much trade certain countries do with the European Union.

US:          And if you include Norway in that . . . listing of countries, you find that Norway is among the . . . economies who are most integrated and dealing the most with the European market.

JB:           So actually, you’re about, Norway on its own is about the fourth most integrated country, if you look at imports and exports.

US:          Yes.

JB:           Of all the countries of (fragment of word, unclear) of Europe. And the UK is the least.

US:          Yeah.

JB:           And yet, you’re not a member and we are.

US:          Yeah.

JB:           (laughs)

US:          (laughs)

JB:           In part, that huge trade with the EU is because Norway has something that the countries of the European Union desperately need: huge supplies of oil and gas from a safe, reliable and friendly neighbour. But that also means that Norway is closely tied to the EU. Ulf should know – the chart comes from a huge report on Norway’s relationship with the European Union he helped to write, called ‘Outside and Inside’

US:          Formally speaking, Norway is outside, it’s not a member of the EU, but if you look into the details, look into the agreements, we find that Norway is much more inside than outside. It’s more fair to say that we are three quarters inside, rather than an outsider.

JB:           Norway may not be in the EU, but it has signed up for an awful lot of EU projects, and it’s part of the Schengen zone, which currently means there’s free movement into and out of Norway for most EU citizens, and it cooperates and justice, crime and defence. The fisheries and farming sectors are outside of the EU, but the rest of the economy is pretty much part of the single market, just as Germany, France and the UK are. So why has Norway voted ‘no’ to EU membership, but become so closely tied?

US:          Some Norwegian voters wanted to preserve sovereignty, and national democracy. At the same time they also wanted to . . . protect economic interests, so you have to find a balance between these different things and . . . from 1994, when we had the referendum, on every occasion politicians faced with a choice have opted for more European integration rather than less.

JB:           But why then have the politicians and the business leaders failed to convince voters, the majority of Norwegians, that you may as well join?

US:          Formal membership is often seen as a kind of . . . making big leaps, kind of changing from one state to another basically, whereas these small, incremental adjustments has not been so hard to sell.

JB:           So what is it exactly that has persuaded the Norwegians to stay close to the European Union? The answer, it seems, is access to the single market. That’s worth a small fortune to Norway. As a country of under 5 million people, it gives Norway access to a population of potential customers a hundred times larger. But that access doesn’t come cheap. Norway pays hundreds of millions of euros a year to the EU.

US:          The EU is quite a tough negotiator (short laugh) yeah, so we pay more or less . . . I think if you rank it, it’s sixth or seventh, the biggest net contributor, if you were to compare. Pay more per capita than the Finns and the Danes.

JB:           It’s not much of a saving then? If you’re, if you’re not in then is it?

US:          No, but you have to remember that Norway’s association with the EU is not a model carefully decided, it’s more of an accident, a series of accidents that happened.

JB:           The single market is more than just a free trade zone. It regulates and enforcers rules and standards that in theory guarantee the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. That means a company can sell its goods in any EU member state as easily as in its own country. But the rules that make that possible are written in Brussels and Strasbourg. It’s almost 9 o’clock in the morning now and it’s still pretty dark outside. Er, but it’s a lovely scene as you come out from Oslo’s Central Station, past all the hills covered with trees and snows, and the odd ski track. There’s warm looking lights on everywhere, but it’s minus 10 outside. I’m on my way to meet a company that’s having real problems with Norway’s relationship with the EU. Although there are lots of benefits in Norway not being in the European Union, there are of course costs. I was met off the train by Sigurd Braathen, the managing director of OSO hot water – a family-owned maker of central heating boilers for private and business properties. The factory is almost completely automated with dozens of robots.

SIGURD BRAATHEN:             So this is where we marry the parts, we marry the top and the bottom on the cylinder.

JB:           Many of the machines are brand-new. They’ve been installed at huge cost, for one simple reason. Sigurd woke up one morning a couple of years ago to find a new EU directive on energy efficiency and environmental standards was threatening half his product range.

SB:          Yeah, that’s about it, we woke up one day and after doing the calculations, and the different way of . . . of calculating the ratings for our products, and we suddenly saw that, you know our [word unclear ‘products’?] will be useless. And it just happened overnight, we felt trampled upon I would say , especially since we can’t affect the decision, it was a difficult period to find out what to do, but we just need to get on with it and . . . and find solutions to the legislation as it was back then.

JB:           The European Union had decided to introduce new rules, which massively favoured gas boilers over electric ones. But Norway’s electricity is almost totally green, it comes from hydroelectric power plants. Because Norway has little say in EU rules, the company was stymied, and thought it would have to invest £10 million in new plant to meet new standards. At the last moment, France and Finland had the directive watered down – they produce quite a lot of green electricity as well, and thought the rules would hurt their boilermakers. That lucky break saved OSO £5 million.

SB:          It’s probably just dumb luck that we ended up with legislation that allows us to maintain most of our product range.

JB:           If you had to get rid of half your product range, what would’ve happened to this factory?

SB:          Well, the factory would have er . . . been in desperate need of investment, as a family business we would have been forced to borrow a lot of money, I think, we don’t like that, we like to have a safe business, to try not to have too much in debt, if we are to adapt to the way it was originally, then I’m sure it would’ve meant another £5 million investment, and for us that’s huge, when our turnover is about €50 million.

JB:           As it was, they still had to find £5 million to spend on new equipment – money SIgurd would’ve liked to have spent on entering new markets. What really surprised me about this story was that if OSO hadn’t changed its products to suit the new EU directive, it wouldn’t just have been banned from selling its hot water tanks in the EU, it wouldn’t have been able to sell them in Norway either, because EU single market rules apply in Norway as much as in Germany, France or Great Britain. Now, Norway is different from the UK, it’s a much smaller economy and the UK might be able to negotiate a better deal than Norway gets if it leads the EU. But Norway is small fry in EU terms and it accepts what is sometimes called ‘rule by fax’ – the story, probably apocryphal, is that somewhere in a Norwegian government office there’s a fax machine, every day, Norwegian civil servants are supposed to sit around it waiting for the latest pages of EU rules from Brussels to spew out, so they can quickly be passed into Norwegian law.

LARS HEIM:           Yes, hello, welcome.

JB:           Hello, I’m Jonty Bloom.

LH:          Lars Heim (phonetic)

JB:           Lars Heim is the undersecretary for industry. He’s in charge of that famous fax machine. Minister, so the first question is: where exactly is this fax machine when Norway receives all the . . . the new laws and . . .

LH:          (laughs)

JB:           . . . regulations from Brussels.

LH:          We don’t have a . . . a fax machine, but we get all our er . . . a lot of new legislation from EU and er, Norway being a part of the inner market, er, internal market we have to . . . apply and make them a part of Norwegian legislation as well.

JB:           In fact, experts I spoke to said it was not so much rule by fax machine, it’s more like the Norwegian government comes into work every day, turns on its computer and finds a new software update ready to load. So, has the government ever refused to implement a law, I asked. The previous government, the Minister said, had decided it would resist changes to the postal system, but when the new administration got in, they waved it through, believing it wasn’t worth the fight. There are other developments, however, they watch nervously.

LH:          Of course, if the EU and the United States reach a free trade agreement, that would impact Norway strongly, because we are part of the internal market but we will not be part of that agreement, and that of course will open up whole new situation that we have to decide what would serve Norway’s interests best in, in that kind of situation.

JB:           So what would the options be?

LH:          We don’t know yet. We keep our options open, but of course we had to consider should we try to . . . erm . . . be a part of the agreement, should we try to be a bilateral agreement with the United States? Should we try to find another kind of solution? But we follow it closely, we talk to both parties, both in the United States and the European Union, and we try to monitor the situation as closely as we can, not being a member, and we also try to evaluate what could the possible consequences be for Norwegian industries and businesses.

JB:           Could you just ask to have exactly the same terms and conditions with the United States?

LH:          Of course we can ask, but I don’t know if that’s feasible.

JB:           It does illustrate the kind of issue that . . . if you want to be outside the EU, but have complete access to . . .

LH:          Hmm.

JB:           . . . the EU, you have to accept the EU’s rules.

LH:          Hmm.

JB:           Of course, many in Norway’s business community would like to have a say on those rules, for obvious reasons.

KRISTIN LUND:      Mostly business just have to adapt, I mean, often there’s no other way around it.

JB:           Kristin Lund is the director general of the Norwegian Federation of Enterprise, the NHO – the main organisation for employers in Norway. I asked her why Norway doesn’t try to renegotiate the terms of its relationship with the EU.

KL:          Frankly, I don’t think we would have gotten those same terms today, and we also realise that, so we, we stick onto and hang onto that agreement.

JB:           So you think the terms now would be worse?

KL:          Yes.

JB:           And Norway pays a lot to maintain close ties with the EU. It is a rich country, it has immense benefits of huge amounts of North Sea oil and gas, which it can use to help an economy of under 5 million people. It’s cautioned by that oil and gas, and by the sovereign wealth fund it’s built up with the proceeds. That makes it pretty unique in European terms, but it knows those riches won’t last forever.

KL:          Let’s put it this way: that the fact that we’ve had such a successful oil and gas sector has made our economy grow and be very healthy and, and er . . . prosperous over the last two decades, and I think (inhales) . . . going into a new era now, where . . . where we can not rely to the same degree on that sector I think we will be faced with more of, let’s say, the economic realities that’s hit the rest of Europe. And I think . . . that’s going to make us more like the rest of Europe. You know we’ve been . . . in a bit of a different situation, and I think that has cautioned a lot different effects, economically, for Norway. And maybe this is not exactly raised some of these questions and issues to the degree it otherwise would have.

JB:           Still there is absolutely no evidence that Norway wants to join the EU. Over many years opinion polls have shown that there is consistently been a large majority against entry. And it’s not even on the political agenda. Certainly, all the Norwegians I spoke to were opposed.

VOX POP MALE:   In ’94 I vote ‘no’, I was very afraid that we will lose oil and the fishery to the European Union. It’s still ‘no’ for my sake, (word or words unclear) for sure.

VOX POP FEMALE:               I like that we have control over our money. Like, I want everything to be our decision, so I want us to make the decision, even if it’s the same one as we would have made in the EU, but I wanted to be completely our decision.

VOX POP MALE 2:                It cost a lot to stay outside the Union, but we think it’s worth it, because still we have the natural resources for ourself (sic) the oil and the fish.

JB:           [sombre sounding bell rings throughout next section] Norway is not a member of the European Union and it is a rich and successful country. The UK could be like that too. But Norway does have access to the single market and is very intricately tied to the EU. It is an arrangement that many in Norway seem perfectly happy with, but if the UK were to follow the Norwegian model that wouldn’t mean a totally clean break from the European Union.

 

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Ofcom appointment ‘threatens fair coverage of EU referendum debate’

Ofcom appointment ‘threatens fair coverage of EU referendum debate’

Opinion polls at the weekend gave the EU ‘out’ camp the edge. But it has now emerged that supporters of Brexit will be fighting the battle to win hearts and minds as the EU referendum approaches with their arms tied behind their backs.

That’s because new developments at the BBC and the independent sector regulatory body Ofcom mean that complaints about unfair coverage of the EU debate on television – still the most crucial medium in influencing public opinion – don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of succeeding.

It paves the way for a constant barrage of pro-EU propaganda with the opposition neutered and unable to get a fair hearing for their concerns.

The most astonishing development came last Thursday when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that an EU fanatic with little professional experience of broadcasting is to chair the content board of Ofcom, the body ultimately responsible for ensuring impartiality in news coverage across ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News.

Unbelievably, the press release announcing his appointment claimed that he had not been involved in any political activities for the past five years, and therefore (by implication) could be trusted with this crucial role.

But a moment’s investigation on the web reveals that this is utter nonsense. As his self-trumpeting website shows, Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, is fighting an all-out political war on several fronts towards his revered dreams of slaying nationalism, allowing the free movement of peoples and of greater EU integration.

At the core of his campaign is a slickly-produced TV programme called The Great EU Disaster Movie, which his production company Springshot made last year in association with the BBC and Franco-German television channel Arte. It posits the collapse of the world as we know it if, God forbid, nasty nationalist factions such as UKIP have their way and the EU weakens its iron grip on the body politic. Predictably, the programme had its first network airing on the BBC. It has since been established that, disgracefully, the Corporation stealthily took substantial funding from the EU to ensure that it was translated into other languages.

Emmott’s so-called charity, Wake Up Europe – a trustee of which is Richard Sambrook, a former Director of BBC News – is in the midst of a major pro-EU propaganda drive at British Universities with the film at its heart. If that isn’t ‘political activity’, the definition needs changing.

The show’s joint producer has claimed in The Guardian that the programme is a neutral examination of the potential problems that would be caused by the UK’s exit. Her stance cuts to the heart of the entire problem of the Brexit debate in that those who want to remain simply cannot see or even begin to accept that they are biased.

What makes Emmott’s appointment so utterly damaging is that the rest of the Ofcom content board – in step with Quango Land generally – are like minds drawn apparently from the liberal left. The full list of 10 is here. What leaps out from their CVs is that all but two have worked for significant parts of their careers at the BBC. They write papers about how wonderful and important the BBC is. Many are closely linked to a BBC-favoured propaganda organisation called the (Reuters)Oxford Institute of the Media – which last November held a seminar about ensuring ‘fair’ coverage of the EU. Guess who chaired it? Bill Emmott!

One of the two content board members who has not worked at the BBC is Dr Zahera Harb, who began her career in journalism in the Lebanon, and is now a board member of the worthy-sounding Ethical Journalism Network. Don’t be deceived by such Orwellian double-speak. Its main concerns include attacking the ‘hate speech’ of Donald Trump and ensuring that Palestinian Authority – along with immigration generally – gets better coverage in the media.

The second important media development was on Friday: the closing date for submissions to a so-called ‘public consultation’ by the BBC Trustees’ in connection with their draft editorial guidelines covering the EU referendum campaign.

Those who favour Brexit should be afraid, very afraid. For all the 16 years that News-watch has monitored the BBC’s EU output, the Corporation has been massively biased against the withdrawal case. It has crudely but pervasively cast EU opponents as racist far-right xenophobes, Conservative eurosceptics as hopelessly ‘split’, and at the same has totally underplayed or ignored the solid, consistent support for withdrawal from Labour figures such as veteran MPs Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins.

The Trustees’ proposals for ensuring impartiality, and no doubt will adopt – because such exercises are only fig leaves to accountability – are a farce. The main problem is that as usual, the guidelines put the BBC in the driving seat in terms of what is fair, under their definition of ‘due’ impartiality. That gives them massive leeway, and the proof is that the BBC Trustees have not upheld a single complaint about EU coverage in all their existence.

Even more disturbing, the final judgment on what constitutes bias in the run-up to the referendum will, in effect, be left to the only two Trustees who have any substantial journalistic experience. Both – surprise, surprise – are ex-BBC career journalists.

Step forward Mark Damazer, former Controller of Radio 4, under whose tutelage it was confirmed as the national channel of right-on causes; and Richard Ayre, a former controller of editorial standards who is an ex-chairman of an organisation called Article 19 which is similar to the Ethical Journalism Network mentioned above, with the addition that another of their obsessions is climate alarmism.

The News-watch submission to the BBC – for what it’s worth, because there is no chance that it will be heeded – is in full here.

A remaining question is who sanctioned the Bill Emmott appointment? Eurosceptic John Whittingdale is ostensibly in charge at DCMS. It seems scarcely credible that Emmott would have been his choice. Did David Cameron or George Osborne force the appointment through as part of their frantic drive to stack the cards as highly as possible against an exit vote? They both know that the BBC is firmly already on their side. Now Ofcom is sewn up, too.

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.”

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News-watch submission to the BBC’s EU Consultation on EU Referendum Editorial Guidelines 15.1.2016

News-watch submission to the BBC’s EU Consultation on EU Referendum Editorial Guidelines 15.1.2016

The BBC Trust recently embarked on an eight-week consultation on draft Editorial Guidelines for its coverage of the EU in/out referendum.  This is News-watch’s submission.  The proposed guidelines are here.

 

Preamble

News-watch has been monitoring the BBC’s EU-related output for 16 years. Detailed research based on systematic analysis of relevant BBC programming using established academic principles has shown that the Charter requirements on impartiality have been serially breached. Most importantly, the case for withdrawal has been seriously under-reported, and those advocating Brexit have been pervasively cast as xenophobic, disorganised extremists from the ‘right’ or ‘far-right’.[1] The archive of News-watch reports and elements of engagement with the BBC can be found at www.news-watch.co.uk. Over the entire period, the BBC Trustees have undertaken to examine the News-watch findings only twice. On each occasion, the Trustees adopted a highly biased approach to the research and clear evidence of breaches of impartiality were rejected on spurious grounds that suited the BBC but flouted rules of fair inquiry.[2]

This submission is an attempt to persuade the Trustees to adopt in the proposed Editorial Guidelines a much more rigorous and demonstrably independent approach to ensuring impartiality during the referendum campaign.

The BBC Trustees and those tasked with investigating impartiality on their behalf have sought to cast monitoring as ‘unhelpful’ and based on ‘metrics’, and implied that such investigations concentrate solely on counting speaker appearances and calculating airtime allocation.[3] This is a wilful misrepresentation of News-watch’s approach, which investigates impartiality using a range of analytical tools, both quantitative and qualitative, and has never focused on statistical data in isolation. The News-watch corpus of work provides abundant evidence that illustrates that the Trustees, by contrast, do not have in place adequate processes for properly ensuring that Charter requirements are met.[4]

And indeed, the draft Referendum Guidelines reduce impartiality to achieving ‘broad balance’ – a simple metric focusing on headcounts – and ignore the vital consideration of how guest speakers are actually treated, including interview tone, question content, the number of interruptions, the positioning of speakers within individual reports, within programmes or within the overall schedule. Also, who is chosen for each side, and how well informed and articulate are they. Impartiality rests on a multitude of complex, interlocking factors, and News-watch is concerned that the measures outlined in the draft Referendum Guidelines for monitoring content will be ineffective in ensuring a fair hearing for both sides.

Observations

This EU referendum will result in a decision of immense constitutional importance. The proposed Guidelines document is too vague to deliver demonstrable impartiality. It leaves too much to the BBC’s own ‘editorial judgment’ applied in the loose and imprecise framework of ‘due’ impartiality. It has been written from the inside to accord with and defend the BBC’s own operational practices rather than as a rigorous framework to ensure genuinely independent regulation of content.

A major over-arching concern is whether the Trustees – who are the final arbiters of impartiality – are themselves sufficiently independent. Of course members of the Trust are appointed by DCMS and a condition is impartiality. But special considerations apply here. Only two of the five members of the Trust Editorial Standards Committee, Richard Ayre, and Mark Damazer, have extensive experience of working in a national newsroom. Yet both spent the majority of their careers at the BBC and have been and are major champions of the Corporation. They may claim to be ‘independent’ but this is not credible, and yet they will inevitably play a crucial role in determining issues of impartiality that arise during the campaign. We spend several years trying to persuade Mark Damazer to take a less Europhile approach, without success. Also, as far as we can see several of the Trustees are firmly in the ‘man-made climate change’ camp, an issue clearly linked to the EU, and we see no counterbalancing members. The Guidelines, in the exceptional circumstances of this referendum, should provide detail of how genuine independence of outlook will pertain to key judgments.

There is nothing in the Guidelines about transparency of process. Whilst obviously elements of the BBC’s decision-making are confidential for good operational reasons, public confidence in the editorial processes would be boosted if there was a greater degree of openness in how key judgments are going to be made through the referendum campaign. The output can only formally be challenged through the complaints procedure. It is a fact that since the Trustees first became the BBC’s regulatory body, they have not upheld through the ESC a single complaint about EU coverage.[5] The BBC is judge and jury in terms of its own editorial balance. Against that background, measures should be included in which decision-making is open to retrospective scrutiny and which demonstrate that legitimate outside concerns about balance will be taken into account.

The key provisions contained in section 3.1 of the draft document are too vague to provide a reliable framework to ensure impartiality. The BBC should be aiming in this historic constitutional debate to achieve genuine impartiality (not just ‘due’) between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. News-watch has provided extensive evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that the ‘due’ word has been the justification for major imbalances within EU coverage.[6] As things stand, nothing in the Guidelines will redress this. A further problem is that the requirement for impartiality is framed in relation only to a ‘broad balance’ and the need for the inclusion of a ‘range of voices’. This gives editors enormous leeway in exercising their judgment and makes outside challenge almost impossible. The ‘broad balance’ principle is further extended because it is stipulated in the Guidelines that it can potentially be achieved across strands or channels. This could lead, for example, to the 8.10 Today interview being ‘balanced’ by something much lower down in the running order. This is clearly wrong.

A major issue relating to EU-related coverage that is not spelled out in the Guidelines at all is the need for exact terminology. In one particular area this is absolutely crucial. The News-watch archive demonstrates that in BBC programming, the term ‘European Union’ has very frequently wrongly been used interchangeably with ‘Europe’. The inaccuracy has even extended to the Trustees’ own annual poll about whether the BBC informs audiences about ‘Europe’. Of course this looseness reflects to an extent colloquial usage. But in the referendum campaign terminological precision will be vital. Those against the EU, for example, are frequently cast as xenophobes who are against ‘Europe’. Such lines of attack will need to be rigorously challenged, but there is no requirement in the Guidelines that there must be heightened, constant vigilance to prevent breaches of impartiality in this way.

The BBC has ruled out in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee the inclusion of monitoring as a means of assessment during the referendum campaign. This is confirmed in the Guidelines in that they make no mention of any monitoring processes other than through internal editorial judgment. That is a gaping hole in the assessment process. Without rigorous, structured monitoring based on academic principles, impartiality cannot demonstrably be achieved. For example, how can the editor of a daily programme, who is charged under the Guidelines with achieving such balance over the course of the week, keep track? With the Today programme (for example), that means running analysis of dozens of items. Who is going to do this work? Will it be a separate responsibility for the duration of the campaign with personnel allocated accordingly? 3.1 rules out ‘stopwatch’ and ‘mathematical’ measurements but what other ways of assessing impartiality between two sides are there? It is not spelled out.

A major unanswered question is how the trap of covering the campaign through the Westminster bubble will be avoided. Polls show that public opinion is heavily anti-EU in its apparent support for mass immigration. How are such views (for example) going to be taken into account? On the other hand, the leadership of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are all likely to be in the ‘stay in’ camp, and possibly the majority of MPs (most Labour plus all SNP, all Liberal Democrats, and half of the Conservative PLP). How will this lack of accord between public opinion and their Parliamentary representatives be reflected and dealt with? And how will UKIP be handled in that it is the majority party in the UK contingent at the European Parliament, but has only one MP, and three peers who support the party, and yet commanded 4m votes at the general election. These are just a sample of the issues involved.

The Guidelines stipulates that ‘broad balance’ requirements will not apply to some coverage, for example if there is ‘an internal disagreement over tactics’. It makes the Chief Political Adviser the arbiter of suspension of ‘normal rules’. Analysis by News-watch has shown that such coverage of rows within UKIP, and especially with regard to its immigration-related policies, has led to substantial disproportionate coverage. If this happens during the referendum campaign, it could have a significant damaging effect on the ‘no’ campaign. The Guidelines actively give license for this coverage to continue, and decisions in this arena will be entirely at the BBC’s discretion, and not subject to monitoring.

The BBC accepts that its journalists are not currently informed enough about the EU to ensure impartiality during the referendum campaign. News Director James Harding has announced that compulsory training courses to remedy this are being planned. Mention of this training is not included in the Guidelines, however. Will members of staff who have not undertaken the training be allowed to work in frontline programming covering complex and sensitive areas of the referendum campaign?   Can we see this training programme, to comment on its objectivity – the BBC’s last training programme addressed none of the fundamental EU issues.

Related to this, the Lord Wilson of Dinton report on the BBC’s EU coverage specifically spelled out that special measures should be taken during a referendum campaign to inform audiences better about issues relating to the EU. There is no mention in the Guidelines of such special programming in the news arena or of any measures to ensure that it is properly impartial. This month (January 2016), a Radio 4 programme about Brexit, projected the process as something of unprecedented difficulty. This – in the context of a vote that could be less than six months away – showed strong bias against the case for withdrawal. The Guidelines should contain provisions that prevent this.

[1] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/News-Watch-European-Election-2014-Full-Survey.pdf

[2] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Independent-Editorial-Advisers-Report-on-Lord-Pearsons-Appeal-to-the-ESC.pdf and http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2.-Editorial-Standards-Committee-decision-on-Newsnight-Complaint-17-November-2013.pdf

[3] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrutiny-committee/eu-scrutiny-follow-up/oral/23350.html

[4] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/News-watch-submission-to-the-European-Scrutiny-Committee.pdf

[5] European Scrutiny Committee, Oral evidence: Scrutiny inquiry: follow up, HC 918, Wednesday 14 January 2015, p5

[6] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/News-watch-submission-to-the-European-Scrutiny-Committee.pdf

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