BBC1 MAIN BULLETIN BIAS?: Gavin Hewitt, another former BBC ’Europe’ editor (he succeeded Mark Mardell in the role), popped up on the BBC1 News at Ten this week to look at the trade deal recently struck by Canada with the EU. This, of course, has been used by the ‘remain’ side as a warning of the problems of ‘exit’ because of the length of time it took to negotiate. Hewitt pointed out as a main point in his commentary that the new arrangements would eventually lead to an estimated £6 billion a year in saved tariff charges and increased trade. But he also said that ‘it was not the same as full access to the single market’; that ‘no one pretends that this trade deal will give Canada the same kind of access to the European single market as an EU member state has.’; and that, ‘…The deal has been seven years in the making and it has still not been ratified.’ He thus outlined that such deals could be reached, but stressed they were both very slow to achieve and then were not (not his words but implied) as good as membership of the EU. The issue here is this was an isolated item and it stressed therefore disproportionately the problems that Brexit would entail.
In fact, there’s been surprisingly little about the referendum on BBC1’s flagship bulletin. In the four weeks from March 14, there were only three feature-length sequences specifically about the referendum – one (24/3) hinged on a claim by Vote Leave group that more than 250 business leaders supported exit, linked with a warning from health secretary Jeremy Hunt that Brexit would seriously damage the NHS; the second (30/3), featured former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, who said that leaving the EU would take much longer than the two years that treaty provisions indicated, and would be fraught with further difficulties; and the third (6/4), focused on the decision by the government to spend £9m on a mail-out to 27 million households putting the government’s (negative) perspective about the impact of Brexit and in favour of continued membership of the EU. Other shorter coverage of EU referendum-related issues has included splits within the Conservative party over the poll (14/3, 15/3, 16/3, 18/3 and 19/3); and a warning by the Bank of England that the referendum posed a major threat to financial stability. The EU was also mentioned in relation to the troubles facing Tata’s steel-making operations in the UK, and in the aftermath of the Brussels airport terrorist attack. A major theme of this was calls by the EU for greater powers to deal with terrorism. News-watch has found in its continuing research that bias by omission is recurring problem in BBC EU coverage because audiences are not kept properly informed. This low level of coverage has thus emerged as an important issue. In addition the item by Gavin Hewitt, combined with the main items noted above suggests that difficulties of exit are tending to attract more coverage, and there is a continued significant focus on Conservative party splits.
This is the transcript of the Gavin Hewitt feature:
Transcript of BBC1 ‘News at Ten’ 14th April 2016, Canada and the EU, 10.20pm
HUW EDWARDS: One of the main claims made by members of the Leave campaign, including Boris Johnson, is that Britain could negotiate its own trade agreement with the EU if there was a vote to Leave. The example frequently mentioned is the deal struck by the Canadians, so our chief correspondent Gavin Hewitt has been to Canada to see how it’s worked out.
GAVIN HEWITT: The fast flowing Saint Lawrence Seaway, one of Canada’s trading arteries with Northern Europe. Some have cited Canada as a model for how the UK could continue to do business with the EU if it left the European Union. At the port of Montreal, a container ship turns, destination Europe. Canada has just negotiated a trade deal with Europe. For the EU, this is the largest trade agreement with a single country. Both Canada and the EU make big claims for it.
SERGE AUCLAIR: In our case, we are looking at around roughly a 4% increase in tonnage in the next five years.
GH: The deal is expected to remove 98% of tariffs from everything, from cars to minerals to shrimp. But move to the capital, Ottawa, for a sense of how difficult this has been. The deal has been seven years in the making and it has still not been ratified. For the Canadian government, it will eventually be worth £6 billion per year. But it’s not the same as full access to the European single market.
CHRYSTIA FREELAND Canadian Minister for International Trade: This is a really big deal. It is a really deep deal. It is a really high quality, gold-plated trade deal. When I look at what Canada will have in terms of its ability to trade with Europe, compared to being a member of the EU, the really big difference is regulatory harmonisation. What it means for Canadian businesses is they have to, quite rightly, meet European regulatory standards without having a say in how those standards are written.
GH: No one pretends that this trade deal will give Canada the same kind of access to the European single market as an EU member state has. Even so, this deal is hugely important to Canada. But after over seven years of negotiations, and a document running to 1400 pages, there are still issues about regulation that will have to be tackled in the future. Take the car market. Yes, more vehicles will be traded, and gradually trade will become duty-free. But significant issues remain over regulations and technical standards.
MARK NANTIS Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association When you consider all market access, we are talking about not just automobiles but all sectors of our respective economies, and that is a long, complicated process.
GH: Take farming, like this small farm in Paris, Ontario. Yes, around 60,000 tonnes of beef will now be able to be exported to Europe, duty-free. But much has yet to be agreed, including meat inspection rules. When all is eventually signed, Canada won’t have to contribute to the EU budget or sign up to freedom of movement and will be able to do trade deals wherever it wants. Yes, Canada now has a big deal with Europe, with many barriers lifted but in some key areas, including financial services, restrictions remain. Gavin Hewitt, BBC News, Toronto.