EU Referendum

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 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.








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.”

Photo by UK in Italy

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.



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 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.


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.


[2] and



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


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Craig Byers: BBC comedy, the EU and BBC bias

Craig Byers: BBC comedy, the EU and BBC bias

This week’s Feedback featured a clip from the first episode of the 47th series of Radio 4’s eternally somewhat-less-than-side-splitting Now Show – a comedic ‘team rant’ in favour of the EU and against critics of the EU.

Unlike the recent ‘rants’ from Andrew Neil and Emily Maitlis, this particular rant was absolutely nothing new.

And I’m not just talking about the 46 previous series of the Now Show either. I’ve heard many a pro-EU rant on BBC Radio 4 comedy shows over the years – or, more accurately, many a rant against critics of the EU – especially UKIP supporters and right-wing Conservatives.

Left-wing bias on BBC comedy programmes is, of course, hardly news. Even Nick Cohen’s recent robust defence of the BBC, which saw very little evil in the corporation, contained this brief aside:

And, yes, thank you for raising it, I know, there is BBC bias. I accept that Radio 4 will give us left- and extreme left-wing comedians but never their right- or far-right equivalents.

But, still, on it goes.

What is the BBC going to do about it, especially as the EU referendum approaches? Cue Roger Bolton and the BBC’s chief political advisor Ric Bailey – whose conversation I will now transcribe. I can’t say that Ric Bailey’s tone overly impressed me, and he seemed quite evasive to me at times as well. (And all credit to Roger Bolton for pressing him somewhat here).You might also note yet another statement from a senior BBC boss of the BBC’s outright refusal to carry out statistical studies – even very simple, routine ones – in order to help monitor and regulate its bias.

Quite why it’s so obvious to Ric Bailey that doing such studies, or even doing a basic count, is absurd isn’t explained. He simply caricatures the whole idea, making it into a straw man (or several straw men) and repeatedly sneering at it (as you’ll see).

Frankly, if someone were to listen to all episodes of The Now Show over each series from now until the referendum – as people at the BBC will inevitably do, including the show’s producers – it’s hardly either time-consuming or rocket science to make a quick note of whether there are pro-EU-biased sections or anti-EU-biased sections in each episode, and then keep a tally. If there are, say, 17 pro-EU-biased sections (of the kind we heard last week) across six series between now and the referendum and 0 anti-EU-biased sections, then there’s bias! And simple, cost-free counting will have proved it, won’t it?

Anyhow, here’s the transcription:

Roger Bolton: Ric Bailey, will The Now Show be told to make anti-EU jokes in future?

Ric Bailey: Look, comedy and satire are absolutely part of what the BBC has to do when it’s covering politics and, of course, when it’s covering this referendum. The idea that you do that by numbers and that you count the jokes and then have a sort of grading system for how funny they are…you only have to say it to think how ridiculous that is.

Roger Bolton: But will it require some form of balance? You don’t say it’s got be 5 for, 5 against, but does there need to be some sort of balance?

Ric Bailey: So, the BBC…every genre has to be impartial. And the word that everybody always forgets when you talk about impartiality is the word “due”. And that means thinking about the context in which you are doing the programme. So, a referendum clearly is a very particular context. Now, that’s why we have guidelines to spell out what those particular circumstances are, what the context is. But also, different genres give you a different context for how you achieve impartiality.

Roger Bolton: So in comedy is there any requirement for balance over a period over a controversial subject?

Ric Bailey: Well, like most programmes, there’s a long way to go before the referendum. It’s a topical satire programme, so its job is to take the mickey out of politicians. take the mickey out of what they say and so on. But the idea that you have to do it in one single programme in a beautifully perfectly mathematically-balanced way would be ridiculous. And the word that gets used in the guidelines for the actual referendum period itself is “broad balance”.

Roger Bolton: But over a period there should be jokes about all sides, not just one side?

Ric Bailey: I always take the view, particularly in comedy, the more the merrier. So, the more you are looking at the whole range of politicians, a whole range of views, and subjecting them to your biting wit the better. Of course, if week in week out any comedy show only took lumps out of one side of an argument or only took lumps out of one particular political party that would not be impartial. But those are the judgements that all programmes make, including comedy, day in, day out, and this is no different.

Roger Bolton: Well, let’s suppose it’s 10 or 16 weeks, Before the period starts, when we know the date of the referendum but the so-called campaign period hasn’t started, nothing will change? No extra requirements on people to be fair, balanced, to be duly impartial?

Ric Bailey: Roger, my view is: the BBC has to be duly impartial about this referendum. It has to be duly impartial about it today. It has to be duly impartial about it the day before the referendum. There is no difference. Part of the idea of the guidelines is not only to be clear about what impartiality means during that referendum period but it’s also to set our the parameters so that programme makers, on behalf of the listeners and viewers, can scrutinise the arguments properly. Sometimes often people think, oh, the guidelines are there to stop broadcasters doing things during these periods. Actually it’s the opposite. They’re there to set out a broad territory in which broadcasters have the freedom and the editorial judgement. That’s the first principle. Editorial judgement must dictate how you approach it.

Roger Bolton: How well qualified do you think BBC journalists are to cover this issue? Because it seems that James Harding, the director of news, thinks they need some mandatory training. He’s going to introduce that. Do you think that’s a reflection on the fact that, in the past, the journalists have not been particularly well qualified?

Ric Bailey: Absolutely not. No, I mean…

Roger Bolton: So why might there be training?

Ric Bailey: Before every election I, as part of the guidelines, talk to journalists right across the board about the particular circumstances of any election or referendum. This is a very important referendum and, whereas most of the time there will be a specialist number of journalists who are likely to cover Europe, this is something that’s going to….you’ve already pointed out, it’s already in The Now Show. So lots of people who may not normally be covering this sort of story…It will be part and parcel of their journalism for up to two years. Now, it’s really important in those circumstances that we know that everybody understands the issues, the arguments and the very particular context of this referendum.

This guest post from Craig Byers originally appeared on Is the BBC Biased.

News-watch has transcribed the Now Show sequence on the EU. This is what they said:

HUGH DENNIS:       There are lots of people here who hanker after being the country we once were.  And it’s because of those people that we’re having to have a referendum on whether to leave the 21st Century . . . the, the European Union (laughter).

STEVE PUNT:          The European Union, er, is what you meant there, Hugh.  Er, David Cameron, the elected leader of a majority government has been forced by the unelected leader of a party with one seat, and a rabble of his own troublemakers into what could be the greatest leap in the dark since once of Russia’s long-jumpers took so many drugs his run-up lasted all night. (laughter)

HUGH DENNIS:       Although, to be fair, we still don’t really know what Jeremy Corbyn thinks about leaving the EU.

STEVE PUNT:          No, that is true.  I mean, are you in favour of leaving the EU, Jeremy?  Just nod your head for yes.  Is he nodding his head (laughter) I can’t tell if he’s nodding his head or not (laughter) and neither can anyone else.  Er . . . anyway, no one has any idea what’s going to happen, and Cameron is planning for two scenarios, he gains party support for reform, or he fails and he’s driven out of office.  This strategy often referred to as:

HUGH DENNIS:       Back or sack.

STEVE PUNT:          And then there’s a third option (laughter) the third option is that his backbenchers drive Cameron to a breakdown, the so-called:

HUGH DENNIS:       Back, sack and crack. (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          Now, this week . . .

HUGH DENNIS:       It took nearly a week to write that. (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          Now this week, he and his team announced that they had four European goals, something that Cameron is about as likely to achieve as Jose Mourinho.  The goals were suitably vague and non-specific and the suspicion is that any new measures will have to pass a series of rather easy tests.  First:

HUGH DENNIS:       An Italian probity test.

STEVE PUNT:          Second:

HUGH DENNIS:       A Greek financial test.

STEVE PUNT:          Third, and easiest of all.

HUGH DENNIS:       A German emissions test. (laughter)  How will these renegotiations actually happen? Well Cameron sent his goals to the head of the European Council in a letter.

STEVE PUNT:          In a letter.  Only politicians ever send letters anymore.  It’s so quaintly old-fashioned.  But of course Cameron knows that since Theresa May now reads all our emails, he didn’t really have any choice (laughter)  Now, it’s not just UKIP who want out of the EU, of course lots of Tory backbenchers do as well, you know, those are the people who keep saying . . .

MARGARET THATCHER IMPRESSIONIST:     These people have power, but are completely unelected.

STEVE PUNT:          . . . and then tell you how much they support the royal family (laughter) the royal family, of course, absolute proof that European immigrants can fully integrate into British society (laughter)  Now these types are already saying that Cameron has softened his initial demands such as that EU migrants wait four years before being able to claim benefits.  Er, Jacob Rees-Mogg said . . .

JACOB REES-MOGG IMPRESSIONIST:            This is pretty thin gruel. (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          Coincidentally also what he proposes migrants should live on during those four years (laughter) but can we actually leave?

HUGH DENNIS:       Well, yes we can, er, because Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon provides for just such an eventuality.  It says:

ANNOUNCER:         If you’re not entirely happy with your membership of the European Community, just return it to Brussels with two years’ notice and we’ll cancel it with no questions asked.

HUGH DENNIS:       Now, we’ve paraphrased that slightly (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          But that is basically what it says.  Two years’ notice and you’re out.  However, is it really that simple? I mean, it’s hard enough to cancel a Sky subscription, (laughter) or an ISP contract.  Surely getting out of half a century’s worth of legal treaties and trade deals is going to be at least as hard.

HUGH DENNIS:       Okay. And click ‘cancel.’ Ah, you can’t cancel online, you have to phone this number. (sound of phone being dialled)

ANNOUNCER:         Thank you for calling the EU unsubscription line.  You are held in a queue and will be shortly transferred to a pre-recorded announcement to try and talk you out of unsubscribing.  Do you really want to unsubscribe?

HUGH DENNIS:       Yes.

ANNOUNCER:         Did you say ‘No’? (laughter)

HUGH DENNIS:       No.

ANNOUNCER:         You said, ‘No.’ (laughter)

HUGH DENNIS:       Aargh!

ANNOUNCER:         Thank you for choosing back, sack and crack. (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          Now, what’s fairly obvious is that David Cameron really doesn’t want to have to leave Europe, because the economic risk of doing so is so massive.

HUGH DENNIS:       But the case for reform is different.  The EU has many faults, however voting to leave could have all sorts of consequences, for a start, it could immediately trigger a second referendum in Scotland, and maybe even Wales, which receives a lot of EU money.

STEVE PUNT:          So, by 2020 it’s not unrealistic that England could be a truncated half-an-island, kept afloat by its remaining industries, banking, armaments, and Burberry raincoats (laughter).  Now, a lot of it really will boil down to the exact wording of the question.  Now, in the Scottish referendum the wording was . . .

ANNOUNCER:         Should Scotland be an independent country?

STEVE PUNT:          And that replaced the SNP’s original wording which was

ANNOUNCER:         Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

STEVE PUNT:          And that, in turn, replaced Alex Salmond’s original first draft.

ANNOUNCER:         Scotland should be an independent country. (laughter) Are you going to argue, pal? (laughter)

STEVE PUNT:          So, er . . . what should the . . . what should the wording of the European referendum be?

ANNOUNCER:         Do you agree that unpicking every piece of legislation and trade agreement for the last half a century and then renegotiating separate deals with every other nation on earth, whilst simultaneously restructuring the entire financial and legal framework of the country can all be done in two years?

STEVE:          Hmm, well, what do you think Mr Putin?

VLADIMIR PUTIN IMPRESSIONIST:       Well, I think you must be taking some banned substances (laughter and applause)

Photo by Matt From London

Kathy Gyngell: How would the BBC cope if it didn’t have Hezza to fuel Tory Europe splits?

Kathy Gyngell: How would the BBC cope if it didn’t have Hezza to fuel Tory Europe splits?

The BBC’s approach to EU coverage is pretty much on the lines of a word association game.

EU – Conservative Party – split – europhiles – Michael Heseltine – Ken Clarke – reasonable – superior –  prime time. 

Eurosceptics – extreme – xenophobic – inferior – marginalise – diss – interrupt.

Labour  – unified – no story – splits –  never – Tony Benn – past – irrelevant.

That is how it was in 1999 when I started on a BBC/ EU coverage monitoring and transcribing project with David Keighley for Global Britain.  And that is how it still is today.

Yesterday, in fact, on Sunday morning, it was back to the future with Andrew Marr (about 20 minutes in to the programme for anyone who can be bothered to watch):

When it comes to the great Conservative Party debate over Europe,” Marr assured us, “there is nobody who knows the territory better than Lord Heseltine.”

For those of you too young to have been wearied by the tedious and pompous pontifications of this particular peer on the BBC over the years, Lord Heseltine was Deputy Prime Minister under John Major in the 1990s. He retired from his seat and has not been active in politics since 2001. Not that that has diluted his incestuous relationship with the BBC.

They love him because he is an unreconstructed Europhile.

Despite the old boy looking a shadow of his former self, Mr Andrew Deference Marr did his best to big him up:

“He confronted Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s; he stood at John Major’s side in the 1990s and he’s continued vigorously to make the case for Britain to be at the heart of the EU.”

This latter point was, of course, being entirely thanks to the BBC for the permanent platform they’ve offered him for the last 14 years – not mentioned I might add.

Marr then encouraged the old dinosaur to witter on for 6 minutes until he produced the line he was looking for – for the end of programme news headline:

‘Lord Heseltine told this programme that David Cameron was right to tackle the issue of immigration (Is he tackling it? Ed) but he had a warning for the Conservatives: “It is very complex … he (Mr Cameron) is more likely to be successful if the people he’s negotiating with feel he has he backing of the party that he leads.”

The only conceivable reason for having him on – since he is not active in politics any more – is when he can be used to highlight ‘Tory splits’.

One thing those canny BBC news producers can rely on is that he will diss whatever the Eurosceptics are currently doing.

No surprise then that nothing that former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson – who appeared later in the programme – could say was going to make the headlines – however strong his critique of Britain’s current relationship with the EU. Not even his revelation that Britain, still a great global trading nation, is now represented in world trade councils via the EU by a female former psychiatric nurse from Sweden – no doubt a great expert on trade – demonstrating just how much power over our own affairs we have ceded.

It gets worse. Not content with digging Lord H out of the woodwork the BBC ignored Kate Hoey’s incendiary article in the Mail on Sunday – incendiary for the Labour Party that is – on her Brexit advocacy and on her searing critique of the Labour leadership candidates’ failure to understand why the party lost votes to Ukip.

Was she on Andrew Marr’s sofa? Of course not. Just an obscure SNP MP John Nicholson and Marr’s favourite liberal leftie, self-regarding Shami Chakrabarti.

But then, according to the BBC, the Labour Party is never split on Europe. How convenient since that means it cannot be newsworthy that Kate has criticised Labour for being so pro-EU that its sceptical members aren’t taken seriously.

Yet Kate is one of about 20-30 Labour MPs who want to exit the EU, along with prominent Labour donor John Mills. Yet another prominent Labour eurosceptic the BBC chose to ignore is Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton and former Nalgo official, who was on the EU Scrutiny Committee.

The BBC rarely, if ever, talks to Labour Eurosceptics – in the past or currently. News-watch, who have conducted consistent monitoring of the BBC’s Today output for the last 15 years, told the EU Scrutiny Committee recently that across all the programmes they had surveyed only one in 1,400 speakers on EU affairs was a Labour withdrawalist.

Over the May general election, the only speaker on Today representing  a leftist/socialist  withdrawal position was one Ken Capstick from the Socialist Labour Party (the rump of Arthur Scargill’s operation). The exchange with him lasted an entire 15 seconds

Of course the 20-30 Labour ‘dissenters’ does not compare with the 100+ in the Conservative party, but this does not justify the BBC treating the Labour Party as if it is in complete unison when it is not.

Kate Hoey’s article was significant by any standards because it’s the first time she has gone so prominently on the front foot. Nor will you get any enlightenment on this from BBC website.  On Sunday, there was (of course) a story on Labour going strongly pro-EU on the referendum, but nothing about Kate Hoey.

Plus ca change….


This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman