Today Programme

BBC Brexit negativity hits new low with Peter Lilley ‘reality check’ ambush

BBC Brexit negativity hits new low with Peter Lilley ‘reality check’ ambush

The BBC’s visceral negativity towards Brexit was displayed on Monday in an extraordinary attempted ambush by Today presenter John Humphrys and the BBC’s ‘reality check’ correspondent Chris Morris.

The intended victim of this double onslaught was Peter Lilley, now Lord Lilley, and the subject was a report he had written suggesting that life outside the EU could be prosperous and free.

In the BBC’s world that, of course, is a thought crime. So Lilley was subjected first to a Humphrys grilling of the type reserved for those in the Corporation’s rogues’ gallery. But for the editorial team that was not enough. Next came a spot of BBC-style reality checking from Morris who claimed, in essence, that the Lilley report was pie in the sky fantasy.

A lesser man than Lord Lilley would have been banjaxed by such a bare-knuckle assault. As it was, he gave at least as good as he got. But the BBC tactics show that their efforts to discredit the possibility of a clean exit from the EU have reached new heights. They now believe that the elevated expression of their own biased judgments are a totally legitimate part of their so-called journalism.

The BBC’s so-called ‘reality check’ unit is, of course, nothing of the sort. Why? Exhibit A is that back in February, Morris presented a five-part series called Brexit: a Guide for the Perplexed. His lens was so distorted that 18 out his 24 main interviewees were anti-Brexit and only seven per cent of the words spoken were from the withdrawal perspective. That report by News-watch is currently under investigation by Ofcom following a formal complaint, and the outcome of the appeal is expected imminently.

Meanwhile, Morris has ploughed on regardless with his opinionated perspective, to the extent that, judging by the frequency of his appearances, the Today programme now regards his input as an essential part of the editorial process.

The transcript of the Lilley-Humphrys-Morris sequence on Monday (it can be read in full here) reveals just how biased this approach has become. Recent analysis by News-watch (not yet published) has shown that appearances by the so-called ‘Brexiteers’ on BBC programmes, or analysis of their perspective, remain much less frequent than those by Europhiles.

But the Corporation is not happy with skewing the debate by numbers alone. Its editorial imperative is to rubbish as hard and as much as it can every element of the Brexit case while paying lip service to its existence, thus retaining (in its view) a fig-leaf nod to its concept of ‘due impartiality’.

Thus it was on Monday’s Today, as already noted, that Lord Lilley was first grilled by Humphrys. Fair enough, perhaps, though Remain advocates very, very rarely face such rigorous scrutiny. What was also very clear was that John Humphrys was out of his depth in terms of his knowledge of the terrain.

Next came Morris with his titular stamp of ‘reality check’ authority. Lord Lilley himself has written about this encounter in the Sun. 

His article is excoriating. He observes: ‘. . . they then brought on a chap called Chris Morris, described as the BBC “reality checker”, who was invited to rebut my document. But all he did was oppose my facts with the opinions of people with whom he agreed.’

Lord Lilley added: ‘He systematically argued the Remain case and defended their Project Fear scare stories. The one thing he did not do was bring in any new facts. My central claim was that if we leave the EU Customs Union but have a free trade agreement with the European Union, our businesses have little to fear.

‘The main difference will be that traders will have to send in a customs declaration detailing the goods they are buying from or selling to Europe. That is a nuisance which we should try to simplify as much as possible.

‘But allegations that “this will be hugely costly, cause lengthy delays, disrupt supply chains and undermine economic growth” are imaginary or exaggerated.’ These allegations were presented by Morris as ‘facts’ but showed he was setting himself up as a fortune-teller on the lines of the Delphic Oracle. In pointing out that the current EU border regime is not frictionless (something apparently unknown to Morris) Lord Lilley further undermined both Morris’s ‘reality check’ credibility and his Brexit doom-mongering. It also seems that Morris is totally impervious to evidence like this. 

Why does this matter? Because this was without question a new low in the BBC’s coverage of Brexit and in their journalism as a whole. For years they have seriously under-reported and distorted the case for leaving the EU. Their coverage has also been marked by massive bias by omission, a feature first noted by the Wilson report of 2005 in that they have never properly reported the case against the EU or the benefits of leaving.

To what extent has this biased reporting bedevilled the steps towards withdrawal? Not content with that deluge of negativity, Monday’s Today showed the Corporation have now formally adopted within the editorial process a mechanism that they say is ‘objective’ but in reality – in the hands of Morris – is the official adoption of a process designed to discredit Brexit.

Can Podcasts Save Radio 4 Today?

Can Podcasts Save Radio 4 Today?

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme is in dire trouble. It is haemorrhaging listeners and, according to latest reports, more than one million have deserted over the past year, bringing the weekly audience down to 6.7m.

This should, of course, be a matter of urgent and very significant concern. The reality is that in the UK, only the BBC – by dint of its guaranteed vast licence-fee income – can afford to put out such a heavily-resourced news and current affairs radio programme. If the Corporation can’t get it right with flagship programmes such as Today, it is failing in its core remit.

Those multi-million figures, by the way, are somewhat misleading. They are simply the total number listening at some point for a few minutes to the 17.5 hours each week of Today output. The peak audience (on which basis television audiences are measured) is normally no more than two million at 8am.

What is the reason for the sharp decline? Could it be the programme’s relentless alienating bias? And might it be that the format – devised more than 40 years ago – has ossified over the decades into a diet of engineered difficult-to-listen-to confrontation on lines dictated by the BBC’s Leftist, politically correct worldview?

Tim Montgomerie recently adroitly summed up this growing antipathy. Explaining why he had become an ‘ex-Today listener’, he said:

‘On reflection, it’s the lack of illumination on almost any topic (as much as the bias) that makes me glad to have finally broken free. The biases are to “the State must do something about X” rather than “how can X best be solved?”; to short-term gloom rather than to long-term context; to politics; to supra-nationalism; to liberalism over conservatism . . . and any bad news from Trump’s America over bad news from within Brussels’ empire (especially from Italy).’

The BBC, of course, is deeply disdainful and dismissive of such views. World affairs editor John Simpson summed up the Corporation’s stance when he declared in Radio Times: ‘I’m getting really fed up with the complaints and criticisms being directed at BBC News at the moment. Not so much from our usual critics, the hardliners on the Left and the Right, who habitually claim we’re biased because we’re not actually biased in their favour. No – it’s middle-of-the-roaders who are doing the complaining now.’

However the slump in Today listening is now so acute that the Corporation has been forced into remedial action. Enter stage left with much huffing and puffing James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio, who, of course, was formerly a Blairite Labour minister. He emerged this week from the corporate shadows in Portland Place as the man with a plan for tackling the decline – even though before his appointment to his current role he had no direct broadcasting experience.

His wheeze? A daily 20-minute Today podcast, dubbed imaginatively Beyond Today. Which 1A 1AA committee thought of that?

To be fair, there is no doubt that media audiences of all kinds increasingly prefer to be in charge of their own agenda, and in line with that podcasts have grown in popularity, along with visual services such as Netflix. According to Ofcom, the number of weekly podcast listeners has increased from 3.2m five years ago to 5.9m in 2018. 

What appears to have got Purnell particularly excited, though, is that 49 per cent of these podcast enthusiasts are adults aged under 35, and because Today’s existing audience is significantly older, his plan envisages that the lost million oldies will be replaced by youthful eager-beaver trendies.

In line with that, Purnell has appointed 37-year-old Tina Daheley – previously a stand-in presenter of a range of BBC news programmes including BBC1 Breakfast – and Today reporter Matthew Price as the presenters of the new podcasts. They will be assisted by a production team of ‘mainly women’.

Their agenda? Well, Ms Daheley – whose Twitter account shows clearly her preferences – has not been backward in coming forward. She told the Observer: ‘Anyone who has been paying attention knows podcasts are hugely popular with under-35s, and if you’re serious about reaching that audience, it’s the logical thing to do. For me, a big thing is class and social background. We’re supposed to be holding a mirror to society and be representing them, but when was the last time someone who didn’t go to public school or Oxbridge presented the Ten O’Clock News?

‘The BBC gets a lot out of me. I should be thinking: “This is brilliant, I’ve got this whole area locked off, I tick all of those boxes in terms of strategy – young women, brown people, so-called C2DE demographics” – but I wish there were more of me. I had to work twice as hard and be damn good at my job to develop my career. I was doing 19 jobs and working for months without a day off [to get noticed] but there should be more people who look like me.’

So there we have it. Mr Purnell’s strategy to win back the Today deserters is not to address issues of bias, or to make an atrophied programme format less BBC agitprop and more accessible. Rather, it’s to ram yet more opinionated ‘diversity’ – in all its multi-faceted Corporation splendour and zeal – down our gullets. Whether we like it or not.

The first edition of Beyond Today was published on Tuesday.  What had it to offer? Exactly the same BBC diet, with Evan Davis and someone from the BBC’s favourite think tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, warning that more money needs to be spent on public services.

BBC put Rees-Mogg under fire

BBC put Rees-Mogg under fire

The morning after being ‘caught up in a scuffle’ at the University of the West of England (a scene that BBC Somerset’s James Craig described as ‘very aggressive and unexpected’), found Jacob Rees-Mogg being interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

The purpose of the interview was not, though, the previous night’s headline-making attack on him, which was sufficiently intimidating to draw condemnation from both Labour’s Shadow Education spokesman Angela Rayner and the Lib Dems’ Jo Swinson.

It was not this at the front of presenter Nick Robinson’s mind. He neither bothered to inquire what had happened (which would have given him an account from the horse’s mouth), nor asked after his interviewee’s wellbeing, or even what Mr Rees-Mogg made of this assault on free speech.

His intent was quite otherwise.

It was to force an apology from Mr Rees-Mogg – the politician who undoubtedly is the biggest threat to the BBC’s pro-EU ‘remainer’ stance.

Jacob Rees-Mogg had, Mr Robinson said in his introduction, ‘claimed in the House of Commons . . . that Treasury officials had fixed their economic forecasts in order to show that all options other than staying in the EU customs union were bad’.

What a terrible slander on the oh-so-neutral Treasury. It had to be rectified, to be sure. Enlisted in this project was the Head of the Centre for European Reform, Charles Grant, ‘the man who he claimed had said all this’.

The interview that followed was a BBC classic of its kind – based on a false premise, staggeringly imbalanced questioning and finally laying a flaky claim to the moral high ground.

The full transcript can be found here.

Suffice it to say the item was not premised on the possibility that Treasury officials were again flouting the nation’s will (true to their ‘Project Fear’ form) by fiddling the figures, this time to keep us in the customs union, aka the EU. No, it rested on the false premise that leaving the customs union, though implicit in the Referendum vote to leave and underlined by Mrs May’s decision to create a department to negotiate independent trade deals under Liam Fox, was newly up for discussion and the latest reason for reviewing the ‘leave’ decision.

As for the way the interview was conducted, it was what we have come to expect – interruptions and harassment of the few pro-Brexit interviewees that the BBC deigns to invite to undergo a predictable drubbing.

Indeed, it was a masterclass. Nick Robinson’s non-stop interrupting and talking over Jacob Rees-Mogg was possibly a record – by my count 18 times to just once for his other interviewee, Mr Grant.

Robinson not only gave JRM the much tougher time but allowed Charles Grant to get away with outrageous claims about the impact of a changed tariff regime.

On one level, you could say, it was par for the course, just more evidence that Brexit is challenged massively on the BBC; that no stone is to be left unturned when it comes to demolishing the case for Brexit, whereas Remain perspectives will always be projected as much more attractive and credible.

So it is absolutely to Mr Rees-Mogg’s credit that he gave an admirably clear account of his own position and stood his ground even in face of Robinson’s final (in full stern-headmaster moral-high-ground mode) questioning of his character:

‘A last word to you, Jacob Rees-Mogg, let me ask you this if I may, because this is why, in a sense, this row matters. There are some people who’ve presented you in the past as a sort of amusing backbench eccentric. You’re now, you’re a leading figure in terms of backbench Brexiteers, and many ministers say you are a likely candidate to be our next Prime Minister. Do you not accept that to accuse civil servants of rigging official forecasts is not the behaviour of a man who wishes to lead this country?’

Despite the insulting nature of the question, reprobate Rees-Mogg floored him with his reply. Following the Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro school of thought, he walked towards the fire and repeated, yes sir, the Treasury had fiddled the figures. He refused to be bullied.

Which is why this interview will not be the end of it. Jacob Rees-Mogg must know he can expect little sympathy from the BBC on any count – whether he be beaten up or prevented from speaking – and that they will trash his character if they can. It will be personal now.

For it is deep in the BBC’s DNA to ridicule or smear any advocate of conservatism or politician really prepared to challenge the Left, which is what JRM does. It has proved an effective way of demoralising the Tory Right. If the BBC’s previous form is anything to go by they will be out for his blood.

And the BBC has the resources. Look at what they were able to throw at the Cliff Richard story, discarding any decent journalistic principle in the process.

Clever, clear-thinking and calm, the hated by the Left Jacob Rees-Mogg poses the most significant political challenge  to the BBC’s Leftist pro-EU orthodoxies in years. So will he be the subject of BBC special investigations? Will BBC favourite Anna Soubry, featured again this morning trashing the Brexiteers, be enlisted to help? Will we see his country house from BBC helicopters circling above, or BBC journalists set to the task (metaphorically speaking) of investigating his dustbins? It is not beyond the realms of imagination.

 

Photo by James Cridland

News-watch report finds BBC ‘has not covered left-wing support for Brexit’

News-watch report finds BBC ‘has not covered left-wing support for Brexit’

This paper examines the BBC’s coverage, since 2002, of those on the left who wanted to leave the EU, including during the 2016 Referendum and the 2017 General Election. Data is from 30 individual News-watch surveys, analysing over 5,500 hours of BBC output, and 274 hours of EU-related content.

The BBC’s editorial values commit it to reflect ‘a breadth of diversity of opinion… so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.’  However, News-watch has found that left-wing arguments for Britain to leave the EU have been avoided on the BBC’s flagship news programmes, in spite of prominent MPs, trade unionists, journalists and commentators from the left supporting the policy, and polls suggesting that up to 3.5 million Labour voters in the 2015 General Election subsequently voted Leave in the 2016 referendum.

The paper shows that a total of 6,882 speakers contributed to this coverage, but that only 14 (0.2%) of the total – one in 500 – were left-wing advocates of Withdrawal; the majority of these appearances were too short to explore their views in any detail.

In total, those 14 guests contributed 1,680 words to the debate, but approximately one third of them came from a single 531-word Gisela Stuart appearance on Today, in which her actual contribution in favour of leaving the EU amounted to just 49 words. So only 1,198 words across the entire 30 surveys came from left-wing speakers making any sort of case for Withdrawal, an average of 86 words per contributor. In comparison, during the same period, strongly pro-EU Conservatives Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine made between them 28 appearances with contributions totalling 11,208 words – over nine times the amount of space allocated to all left-wing withdrawalists – with an average contribution length of 400 words. BBC audiences were thus made fully familiar with right-wing reasons for Remain. They were, by contrast, kept in the dark about left-wing/Labour support for leaving the EU.

Core left-wing arguments against the EU have been ignored, for example: the EU’s prohibition of state aid to protect jobs, the threat to the NHS from the TTIP agreement, the EU’s treatment of the Greek socialist government and people, unemployment in the eurozone, import tariffs for developing countries, and the belief that the EU has evolved into a ‘neoliberal marketplace’.

Between 2002 and 2014, there were only four left-wing contributors who supported Withdrawal in the Today Programme’s EU output, adding up to just 417 words. There were more than twice as many appearances on EU matters in this period by the British National Party (BNP).

 In the 2015 General Election campaign, despite the proposed EU referendum being a central issue, there was only one interview with a left-leaning advocate of Withdrawal. During the referendum itself, there were only five contributions from Labour supporters of Brexit totalling 161 words (1 minute 31 seconds) on BBC1’s News at Ten, and none at all on BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat. In the Radio 4 collection of post–referendum programmes, The Brexit Collection, there were only two left-wing supporters of Brexit, and their contributions were minimal.

Even though Withdrawal had evident cross-party support in both Parliament and the country at large, the BBC saw it as a right-wing policy causing ‘splits’ within the Conservative Party, while ignoring ideological disagreements and debate elsewhere on the political spectrum.

The absence of voices offering alternative perspectives in the BBC’s coverage led to the creation of a false dichotomy: forward-thinking, progressive, open-minded, anti-racist pro-Europeans set against the bigoted, inward-looking, nationalist, anti-EU faction.

Despite having been alerted to this failure by News-watch over the last fifteen years, the BBC has continued to deny a voice to millions of the electorate. Had left-wing arguments for Brexit been properly aired, it is entirely feasible that a greater majority of the British people would have voted to Leave.

Full report:

News-watch Methodology:

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Nick Robinson ‘disingenuous’ in defence of BBC bias

Nick Robinson ‘disingenuous’ in defence of BBC bias

The BBC seems to have appointed Radio 4 Today presenter Nick Robinson as its defender-in-chief.

Back in April, he told those who thought the Corporation was biased against Brexit that they were wrong. The referendum was over, so there was no longer a need to strike a balance between the two sides.

He has been in action again, this time delivering a speech in honour of his friend, the former BBC Panorama editor and media pundit Steve Hewlett, who died of cancer at the age of 58 earlier this year. It can be read in full here.

The message? In Robinson’s opinion the BBC is doing very well indeed, thank you. News output is not biased. This is proved, apparently, by that complaints emanate from all parts of the political spectrum and there are appearances by such controversial figures as former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson.  Of which, more later.

The first thing to note is that his analysis is not based on any verifiable evidence.  No surveys seem to have been conducted.  On top of Lord Lawson, Robinson picks out mentions of Nick Griffin here, of Nigel Farage there, to show the inclusion of the ‘right-wing’ figures.  But none of his observations are backed up by anything other than his own subjective judgments.

And he conveniently misses out here that almost every time Mr Farage has been interviewed by the BBC, he has been treated as a racist, told he is incompetent – and very rarely asked about withdrawal itself. More recently, too, of course, he was shamefully and ludicrously accused on BBC2 Newsnight of having ‘blood on his hands’ over the death of a Polish man in Harlow when nothing could be further from the truth.

Robinson claims that the BBC is: ‘…staffed by people who – regardless of their personal background or private views – are committed to getting as close to the truth as they can, and to offering their audience a free, open and broad debate about the issues confronting the country.’  Well that’s OK then. Of course they are.

His analysis boils down to that the BBC – in Robinson’s estimation – is a beacon of light and trust in an increasingly dark world.  The biggest threat to journalistic integrity comes from elsewhere: the ‘fake news’ and commentary on websites such as Westmonster. They, unlike the BBC, spend their time peddling untruths and rumour and are making social and political divisions far worse.

Yet his invective is deeply flawed and It takes only moments to unpick it. Take Lord Lawson’s appearance. He is mentioned as an example of someone who was invited (in August) to appear on Today, even though many thought he should not be allowed to outline his views on climate change. Robinson claims that this was an example of the BBC’s even-handedness and fairness.

But what he then adds proves sharply otherwise. First he stresses that Lord Lawson got his facts wrong – and then claims ‘we’ (the magnificently unbiased staff of the Corporation?) ‘must say so’.

This, however, was a risible misrepresentation of what actually happened. First, Lord Lawson only appeared at all because the arch-global warming alarmist Al Gore was first invited on Today. He was treated with kid gloves, with virtually no challenge, as he outlined that man’s impact on the climate was intensifying to catastrophic proportions.

To ‘balance’ these highly contentious claims, the interview with Lord Lawson was then arranged. But the odds were stacked against him in that he appeared with with two other alarmist figures who countered his every claim.

Lord Lawson made one minor error over statistics. But he immediately owned up to it and a correction was issued. His slip did not affect his basic points that Gore and the climate alarmist faction have been making outlandish and scientifically unsupported claims for years, and continued to do so.

Robinson also did not mention that immediately after Lawson appeared there was an outcry – reported at great length on the BBC –  from climate activists, including the BBC’s own favourite populist ‘scientist’ Brian Cox, who said Lord Lawson’s appearance should never have been allowed. To ram home  Lord Lawson’s error, two more alarmists appeared on Today. They both rubbished everything Lord Lawson had said – with barely a squeak of opposition from the programme’s presenters.

This adds up to a ratio of at least 5:1 against Lord Lawson. This is the sort of ‘fairness’ that actually operates at the BBC on controversial issues. For more than a decade, the Corporation has accepted that climate alarmism is warranted and, arguably, its reporting in this sphere adds up to its own campaign to prove it.

The conclusion? Nick Robinson’s speech as a whole, and especially in the mention of of Lord Lawson was, to put it mildly, disingenuous. His appearance on Today did not show, as Robinson claimed, that the BBC allows dissenting voices to appear and is fair to them. The reality is that the BBC has a skewed agenda in this domain, and any opinions expressed by Lord Lawson were both swamped and twisted. So, too, with Nigel Farage.

Robinson accused in his speech those who write for blogs of living in a bubble. Even if they do, it’s nothing compared to the one surrounding the BBC’s approach to editorial impartiality.

Photo by Chatham House, London

BBC SPINS FRUIT FARMS MIGRANT LABOUR ’SHORTAGE’

BBC SPINS FRUIT FARMS MIGRANT LABOUR ’SHORTAGE’

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

 

A couple of mornings ago Today sent a reporter to a fruit farm in Godalming and brought back a large punnet of Brexit-related gloom. Nick Robinson introduced the report with these words:
There’s a warning today from Britain’s berry growers that Brexit could crush the industry.
Zoe Conway’s report included various hard-working, efficient migrant workers (as she portrayed them) worried about their future, plus farm managers fearing the collapse of their business. One farm owner was asked if he regretted his Leave vote, especially if it leads to what Zoe called a “hard Brexit”. No contrasting views featured in Zoe’s report.
That’s par for the course, of course. But tied in with that piece was the reporting that very same morning of the results of a survey among soft berry producers – a survey the BBC itself had commissioned (for reasons known only to itself but guessable by others).
The main BBC News website report on the survey (by Emma Simpson) is striking for the way it tries to spin its own findings. The BBC’s spin is deeply negative about Brexit and conducive to advancing arguments in favour of retaining free-movement:

UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.

Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.

The results themselves, cited later in the article, are strikingly at odds with the mood music of the report as a whole:
These results say to me that only 3% of the surveyed farmers are seriously alarmed about “migrant labour shortages’. Another 18% are a bit worried. And what the other 79% (though the figures don’t actually add up to 100%)? Well, they either say they have have enough seasonal workers or aren’t sure if they’ve got enough. In other words, that 79% don’t sound alarmed about the situation, despite the BBC’s alarmist headline.

I think this is a clear case of BBC bias (conscious or unconscious).

And it’s far from being the first time that the BBC has spun its own surveys in a favoured direction.

Who can forget the particularly blatant way the BBC spun its own survey on the attitudes of British Muslims back in 2015? While many other media outlets led with the astonishing finding that 27% of British Muslims expressed  some sympathy with those who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre the BBC heavily pushed the “Most British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals'” angle.
Plus there was some very dodgy reporting by the BBC’s News at Six and the BBC website into young people’s concerns, also in 2015, where both the TV bulletin and the website article omitted all mention of the third biggest concern of the polled young people – immigration. And it was another BBC poll to boot.
And there was Newsnight and the BBC website’s blatant attempts to rig the debate before freedom of movement was granted to Romanians and Bulgarians back in 2013, where the BBC twisted its own survey by pushing the ‘Few planning to migrate to UK’ angle. Others quickly pointed out that the BBC’s own figures actually suggested a massive influx of Romanians and Bulgarians was coming.
As you’ll note, all of the above have immigration as a running theme, whether directly or indirectly. And all of them were spun by the BBC in the same way – the pro-immigration way.

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News-watch survey of BBC Article 50 survey shows deep anti-Brexit bias

News-watch survey of BBC Article 50 survey shows deep anti-Brexit bias

The latest News-watch detailed analysis of BBC output, covering the UK’s Article 50 letter and its aftermath, shows heavy bias against the case for Brexit.  The report, which included more than 73,000 words of programme transcripts, can be found in full here. Coverage of the survey’s findings is in the Daily Express here.

In the week of the filing of the UK’s Article 50 letter (March 29 – April 4, 2017), BBC Radio 4’s Today programme broadcast six editions which contained almost five hours of material about the letter and its aftermath. This was almost half of the available feature airtime.

The programme coverage was strongly biased against Brexit and made special efforts to illustrate the extent to which leaving the EU could have catastrophic consequences for the UK. There was, by contrast, only minimal effort to examine the potential benefits.

A measure of this overwhelming negativity was that only eight (6.5%) of the 124 speakers who appeared over the six editions were given the space to make substantive arguments that the future for the UK outside the EU would yield significant benefits.

The overall gloom was buttressed by the programme’s editorial approach. Presenters and correspondents, for example, pushed at every opportunity to illustrate potential (and existing) problems. At the same time, they were strongly adversarial towards Brexit supporters, but much less so to guests who advocated that the UK was, in effect, now staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

Problems that were deliberately pushed to the forefront included the wealth of City of London being under threat, the creation of a ‘legislative soup’, the EU not agreeing with the UK’s preferred path of negotiations, and the possibility the of exit talks extending up to 10 years.

BBC ‘fact-checking’, though presented as objective, was anything but. Chris Morris, the ‘fact checker’ was most focused on choosing topics that showed Brexit in a negative light, and failed at even the elementary level of pointing out that ‘EU money’ was actually provided UK taxpayers.

A series of reports from Sunderland, purportedly to explore both Leave and Remain perspectives, focused most on this negative fact checking. It also gave most prominence in its framework to the possibility of Nissan leaving the area and negative business developments since Brexit and the possibility of arts funding drying up. Local voices supporting Brexit were included, but in vox pops with only soundbite points.

Special effort was made throughout to show that the City of London was under pressure as a result of Brexit. A story that Lloyd’s of London were establishing a Brussels ‘headquarters’ was elevated to major significance in the bulletins, and across several mentions in Business News slots, even though the chief executive admitted that ‘only ‘tens’ of jobs were involved.

By contrast to this blanket negativity, a News-watch report from 2002 covering the introduction of euro notes and coins across the EU was strongly positive about the prospects for the new currency and strained editorial sinews and resources to show that its advent had been joyfully received in the relevant EU countries.

The BBC strongly defended its post-Brexit coverage during the survey period (through a high profile article in Radio Times by Today presenter Nick Robinson) as being in accord with its own rules of ‘due impartiality’. The evidence of this survey is that its assessment methods are seriously skewed against Brexit and in favour of the EU.

The full report is here:

Photo by James Cridland

This election is a battle between the Tories and the broadcasters

This election is a battle between the Tories and the broadcasters

This is an election like no other for the BBC. They have a mission.

Two weeks ago, as is laid out here, Today presenter Nick Robinson effectively declared war on Brexit with his statement that the Corporation would henceforward work flat out to find the problems with Brexit, and not bring balanced coverage of the Leave perspective.  Of which, more later.

Since then, it has become painfully evident what he meant. The Corporation’s Article 50 coverage relentlessly highlighted the difficulties, with pride of place given to predictions by correspondents of decades-long wrangles, inflation of perceived problems over Gibraltar, the continuing need for the European Court of Justice and dire warnings that the British tourist and hospitality industry would collapse if the UK did not have continued access to EU labour.

In the same vein, after the general election was announced, Today’s business news – like a heat-seeking missile – sought out the views of the (ex BBC) DG of the CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, on the need for continued free movement, reinforced an hour later by the ultra-Remain businessman Sir Martin Sorrell, who predicted that the real reason for the election was so that Mrs May could achieve a soft-Brexit in line with his own objectives.

To be fair, Andrew Lillico, a pro-Leave business figure also appeared, but there was no doubt which views were considered to be the most important.

So what will happen during the general election? This – despite what the Conservative Party machine might say – is effectively a second Brexit referendum, brought about because, as Theresa May has acknowledged, the Remain side are determined to thwart Brexit.

There are, of course, special rules for broadcasters during general elections. Broadly, they provide that much more attention must be paid to balance between the parties contesting the election.

But here, in this election, is an immediate problem. Those rules (as defined, for example by Ofcom in Section 6 of its programming code) are designed mainly to prevent imbalances between political parties.

That creates an immediate problem with an election so inevitably focused on a single issue: that the overwhelming majority of current MPs (most of whom will become candidates after May 3) were Remainers, and after the referendum vote want a strongly-limited and compromised form of EU exit.

Labour, for example, as exemplified by shadow chancellor John McDonnell on Today on Wednesday morning, says it now supports Brexit. But the form of Brexit it wants is continued membership of the single market, and qualified support for free movement. The Liberal Democrats and the SNP, of course, aggressively oppose Brexit – and make no bones about it.

The BBC, in this framework, has oodles of ‘wriggle-room’ to sidestep the election rules, and to continue to pursue vigorously its self-declared campaign to expose to the maximum the pitfalls of Brexit throughout the election period.

Of course, election coverage of the issues involved is also subject to the normal over-arching rules of public service impartiality. But it is precisely here that the BBC – as is clear in the Nick Robinson Radio Times piece – has interpreted the clauses relating to ‘due impartiality’ according to its own anti-Brexit ends. In the Corporation’s estimation, it is on a mission to spread ‘understanding’ about the exit process. In reality, that means something very different: the goal is to portray exit in the most negative light possible.

News-watch coverage of previous general elections has shown that, despite the supposedly strict general election impartiality rules, the BBC’s approach to EU coverage was seriously flawed. After the 2015 poll, it was noted:

…the analysis shows that the issue of possible withdrawal was not explored fairly or deeply enough…Coverage was heavily distorted, for instance by the substantial business news comment on the Today programme that withdrawal would damage British trade and jobs. The message of potential damage to the economy was supplemented by the provision of frequent platforms for Labour and Liberal Democrat figures to warn of the same dangers. The spokesmen from these parties were not properly challenged on their views.

Will this change in 2017? Fat chance. Subsequent News-watch reports have shown that this bias has continued, regardless of the June 23 vote.

The problem now is that – despite the new BBC Charter – the Corporation’s approach to impartiality in news coverage is mainly self-regulated through its own Complaints Unit. Ofcom only enters the frame if there is an appeal against the BBC’s own rulings, and that’s a procedure that takes months. News-watch’s complaint about the BBC’s fantasy race hate murder in Harlow took six months to grind through the BBC machine.

The Conservative Party under David Cameron fluffed the opportunity to achieve genuine reform of the BBC. Will that glaring failure now come back to haunt Theresa May?

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BBC Business News coverage of Brexit ‘continues Project Fear’

BBC Business News coverage of Brexit ‘continues Project Fear’

A report by News-watch into the BBC’s coverage on Brexit covering the six month period after the referendum vote  has found  overwhelmingly negativity about Britain leaving the EU – breaching the Corporations rules on impartiality.

The report into the BBC flagship Today programme on Radio 4 found that of the 366 guest speakers who appeared in the Business News segment, 192 of them (52.5%) were negative about the impact of the vote and only 60 (16.3%) expressed opinions which were pro-Brexit or saw the post-referendum economic outlook as positive. There were 114 (31%) neutral contributions.

That there were three times more anti-Brexit speakers than pro-Brexit ones invited by the BBC to participate in the prestigious slot breaks its charter requirements to be impartial.

The most serious imbalance was that only 10 (2.9%) of the Business News interviews (from six speakers) took place with supporters of withdrawal from the EU. They were a tiny minority in the overall welter of negativity, and their positive points were generally not followed up by programme presenters and the pro-Brexit sector of business was virtually ignored.

News-watch, who carried out the investigation, has been scrutinising the BBC’s EU output since 1999.

In the six months between June 24 (the day after the EU referendum) and December 22, 2016 it monitored all 208 EU-related items broadcast on Radio 4’s Today programme in its Business News slots.

The investigation – which involved analysing more than 130,000 words of transcription – took place to check whether the BBC’s coverage met Charter requirements to be impartial in what the Corporation declares is the ‘agenda-setting’ platform for the Business News sector.

The intensive analysis shows that the overwhelming editorial purpose of the Business News slot was to air sustained and multi-faceted pessimism about the immediate and long-term consequences of the vote to leave the EU.

In classifying 60 speakers as ‘positive’, News-watch has erred on the side of caution. Only 31 were strongly optimistic about the post-Brexit economic landscape. The others were favourable, but only lukewarm or qualified in their assessments.

The BBC’s negativity towards Brexit was also blatant in the introductions to the Business News sequences. Only 22 (10.6%) of the opening sequences were clearly positive – though often even they were immediately followed by negative interviews.

Between them, the negative guests painted a relentlessly pessimistic picture of gloom, doom and uncertainty; of plunging economic prospects; of a collapse of consumer confidence; of rising inflation; of a drying up of investment; of job freezes; of a drain of jobs from London to mainland Europe; of skills shortages because of the ending of free movement; of the introduction of tariffs; and of endless complex renegotiation.

Given the BBC’s over-arching requirement for impartiality, the simple question that must be asked is: how the BBC can justify this gross imbalance given the pro-Brexit vote?

Based on the analysis, it clearly shows that the Today programme has effectively continued the Remain campaign’s ‘Project Fear’, beginning at dawn on June 24 and persisting until Christmas despite mounting post-Brexit positive news.

Another startling finding which has come to light through News-watch analysis is the massive level of bias by omission: a failure to include on Today at sufficient levels those who favoured withdrawal. By largely ignoring and not following up the themes and perceived opportunities which the few pro-Brexit guests did raise, and excluding from coverage important business figures who supported Brexit, the BBC appears to have further compromised itself.

The BBC is now duty bound to explain to the people who fund it how this editorial imbalance could have been allowed to occur. Failure to do so will seriously damage people’s confidence in its future coverage of Brexit.

This analysis is being circulated with the endorsement of a cross-party group of politicians who urgently request that the BBC’s director-general, Lord Hall, tells the truth to all licence fee payers about the astonishing catalogue of failure which News-watch has uncovered.

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More BBC pro-EU bias in Farage ‘painting by numbers’ interview

More BBC pro-EU bias in Farage ‘painting by numbers’ interview

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For 16 years, News-watch has been monitoring in interviews by the BBC of Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

It’s the broadcasting equivalent of painting by numbers.

With wearying predictability, each one has been essentially the same. Question one usually suggests they are racist by wanting immigration controls. Question two posits the party is a flash in the pan, and then that their electoral bubble has definitely burst. Voters are now realising that supporting the party was a bad mistake. And then comes number three: why are there so many nutters and closet Nazis in party ranks?

All the main presenters – from John Humphrys to James Naughtie  and from Justin Webb and Evan Davis to Sarah Montague – have clearly been tutored in  this mechanical interviewing approach, and none of them deviates beyond a few commas and names from the script.

The goal has been relentlessly and viciously the same: to discredit the party and its leader and to sabotage the chances that withdrawal from the EU is properly on the political agenda.

In any other organisation, such lack of originality would be considered a risible dereliction of duty, but this is the Biased Broadcasting Corporation, whose agenda is to attack UKIP’s core policies – restriction of immigration and departure from the EU – with every sinew of its £2bn-a-year news budget. Handling of the party by BBC presenters makes it blatantly obvious they are dealing with the political equivalent of the stench of rotting fish.

It was the turn of Today presenter Mishal Husain to have her crack at Mr Farage on Thursday morning. She did not disappoint – exactly true to form in terms of content. The right-on Ms Husain spiced it up by adopting a sharply judgmental, condescending and authoritarian tone. It was if she was dealing with someone who should be subjected to the worst excesses of Sharia law.

Section 1:  Ms Husain attempted to show that Mr Farage’s concerns about communities becoming segregated as a result of the volume of immigration are actually racist. This is what the Corporation has done for years on the topic of immigration. It has been so blatantly obvious that BBC correspondents such as Nick Robinson have been forced to make apologies for it. But no matter:  This is Ukip and any chance to discredit Mr Farage would clearly do for Ms Husain. Instead of having a sensible, grown-up exchange about the how immigration can be managed, Ms Husain preferred instead to descend into the broadcast equivalent of crude name-calling.

Section 2: Here, Ms Husain tried to rubbish the concept of an Australian-style cap on immigrant numbers. Her ammunition – which she fired with both barrels and with such vehemence that Mr Farage could scarcely get a word in edgeways – was that it is totally impracticable because it is hard to define what a skilled worker actually is and where such immigrants should come from. Mr Farage very patiently persisted that it was possible, but Ms Husain was having none of it. Her focus then shifted to suggesting that if there was a cap on immigrant numbers at all, it would be economically disastrous for Britain. Normally, the BBC hates big business, but here, Ms Husain invoked the authority of the CBI to posit that Ukip policies were dangerously misguided. Mr Farage then raised a very important point: that cohesion of communities is more important than economic wealth. Ms Husain ignored that and moved on….to

Section 3:   Ms Husain kept to the script again, precisely. Now it was time to show that Ukip are a bunch of dangerous, venal nutters, and she had a string of names to prove her case. Her examples were larded with the usual alarming  labels: Nazi, Adolf Eichmann…more painting by numbers. Mr Farage politely pointed out that other political parties have also had similar problems with candidates, but this did not make headlines. Ms Husain was totally unresponsive to his protests. She ploughed on with the theme and ensured that in several different ways she was able to tell the audience that Ukip members are dangerous extremists.

What remains clear is that as the election coverage gathers pace, the Biased Broadcasting Corporation has no intention of portraying Ukip and all it stands for as anything other than a dangerous aberration.  The Commons European Scrutiny Committee recently highlighted that bias. One mercy is that the more these attacks continue, the more voters see through it- Ukip has risen despite the relentless opposition of the BBC. But the Husain interview illustrates graphically that many of the real issues of the campaign are not properly being discussed.

Read the full transcript below: