This month marks the 17th anniversary of tracking by News-watch of the BBC’s EU-related output. The first survey was commissioned by a cross-party group of peers who were concerned that the case against the EU was not being aired by the BBC. It covered the build-up to the European Parliamentary elections on June 10, 1999.
The findings can still be read here. Key points relating to BBC bias are eerily familiar. They included bias by omission: election-related items on BBC television added to only 2.5% of airtime. Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight described the voters’ reaction to the poll as an ‘outbreak of narcolepsy’. In the event, only 24% of the electorate voted, which still stands as the UK record lowest turnout in a national election.
Other points in the report were the virtual ignoring of the infant Ukip, despite the fact it came fourth, attracted 700,000 (7%) of the votes cast and won three seats; a totally-predictable crude comparison of Ukip to the BNP in the sole interview featuring the party; a heavy and disproportionate focus on the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party, which despite all the publicity, polled only 140,000 (1.4%) of the total turnout; a constant search for ‘Tory-splits’, even though – Michael Heseltine apart – the evidence seemed to be that William Hague’s party was remarkably united on EU policy; and virtually no exploration of either the overall Labour approach or potential splits within the party over the euro.
All of which brings Brexit the Movie – which, from today will have a permanent, prominent place on this site – neatly into focus. For those of you who have not yet heard of it, this 71-minute feature by Martin Durkin – which was partially crowd-funded – is a must-see. It’s a total revelation because it is a first: it straightforwardly and vigorously presents the ‘out’ case.
In Durkin’s estimation, negatives about the EU include that there are a staggering 10,000 European Union employees paid more than David Cameron; that Switzerland – despite being outside the EU – is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with earnings double the average in the UK, and unemployment far lower; that the EU ‘Parliament’ is the only body with that name in the world which has zero powers to propose legislation; that although the EU claims to be a promoter of trade via the ‘single market’ , the reality is that for most of its history it has been a repressive force against the free movement of goods; and that far from promoting harmony, the fundamentally undemocratic structures of the EU are promoting unprecedented frustration and triggering the rise of extremist parties of both left and right.
This is a perspective and a range of information that News-watch monitoring shows beyond doubt that the BBC has never presented in a coherent form. Of course the BBC, it will probably argue, is not in the business of producing such material. But why not? Last year, the Corporation commissioned and broadcast with great fanfare The Great European Disaster Movie, which showed at length the chaos and panic the makers claimed would ensue, if, God forbid, the UK exited the EU.
That film was made by former Economist editor Bill Emmott, a self-declared EU-fanatic, who has a set up his own ‘charity’ (with Richard Sambrook, a former Director of BBC News) to promote such propaganda. The BBC was so keen on his film project that it applied for (and obtained) EU funding so that it could be translated into as many languages as possible; the fruit of their efforts is that screenings are due in Geneva, Bologna, Cardiff University and Bucharest over the next month.
Continuing monitoring by News-watch during the referendum campaign shows that the BBC is at last – for the first time – airing some detailed elements of the Brexit case. But at best this effort can only be described as begrudging and half-hearted. Craig Byers, for example , of the Is the BBC Biased? site has shown this weekend that since April 14, the BBC1 News at Six’s coverage of EU-referendum related headlines have led with ‘remain’ headlines 14 times, compared to the ‘out’ side three times.
In the same vein, News-watch analysis of the May 11 and 12 News at 10 coverage of the Mark Carney, Sir John Major and Christine Lagarde interventions into the referendum debate was heavily skewed towards the ‘remain’ case. And other long-term investigations have shown that Newsnight, World Tonight and The World This Weekend coverage of referendum matters is strongly similarly imbalanced.
What is certain is that – although it is impossible to frame a definitive verdict at this stage about BBC coverage – the facts assembled by Durkin have never been presented in such a way by the Corporation. Don’t hold your breath that they will. Watch Brexit the Movie instead.