The survey covers EU content in the campaign period (3 May to 7 June) of the 2017 General Election on BBC1’s News at Ten and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. In the 74 hours of combined airtime, 10 hours and 59 minutes were devoted to EU affairs – 14.7% of the available space.
There was clear Europhile bias in guest speakers. Of the 375 contributors, 189 (50%) were pro-EU or negative about Brexit; 140 (37%) were anti-EU or positive about Brexit; and 46 (12%) were neutral. Thus, in an election where Brexit was a pivotal issue, across the two BBC flagship programmes there were a third more pro-EU/anti-Brexit speakers than those who supported leaving the EU. The differential on the Today programme was greater: two-thirds more contributors were opposed to Brexit than supported it. Across the two programmes, only 62 speakers (16.5%) had campaigned or voted ‘Leave’ in the 2016 referendum, with only four from the business community appearing on Today and just one on News at Ten.
This bias applied across all areas of coverage, and was made worse by BBC correspondents and presenters. They one-sidedly emphasised the difficulties of Brexit; examples are detailed at pages 61-63. This was compounded by the BBC’s so-called Reality Check Team, which put further undue weight on the disadvantages of leaving the EU. For example, Chris Morris, the unit’s EU ‘expert’, posited as certain that halting immigration would have negative economic consequences, when this was disputed by many.
Coverage of the political parties was clearly inspired by the negative editorial input, and Conservatives who appeared in relation to EU issues were toughly scrutinised. By contrast, the Labour party’s policy towards the EU was hardly examined at all. There were only two interviews with a serving shadow minister about Brexit, both with Angela Rayner, whose portfolio was actually education. Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit minister, was not interviewed at all. This severe bias by omission is detailed in our other report ‘Leave and the Left, 2002-2017.’ It left ambiguous and almost unexplored the party’s approach to the key issue of the election.
These headline criticisms of the coverage, supported by the detail of our 164 page report, show that the BBC’s coverage of the 2017 General Election was not impartial and was therefore in breach of its Charter.