The latest News-watch detailed analysis of BBC output, covering the UK’s Article 50 letter and its aftermath, shows heavy bias against the case for Brexit. The report, which included more than 73,000 words of programme transcripts, can be found in full here. Coverage of the survey’s findings is in the Daily Express here.
In the week of the filing of the UK’s Article 50 letter (March 29 – April 4, 2017), BBC Radio 4’s Today programme broadcast six editions which contained almost five hours of material about the letter and its aftermath. This was almost half of the available feature airtime.
The programme coverage was strongly biased against Brexit and made special efforts to illustrate the extent to which leaving the EU could have catastrophic consequences for the UK. There was, by contrast, only minimal effort to examine the potential benefits.
A measure of this overwhelming negativity was that only eight (6.5%) of the 124 speakers who appeared over the six editions were given the space to make substantive arguments that the future for the UK outside the EU would yield significant benefits.
The overall gloom was buttressed by the programme’s editorial approach. Presenters and correspondents, for example, pushed at every opportunity to illustrate potential (and existing) problems. At the same time, they were strongly adversarial towards Brexit supporters, but much less so to guests who advocated that the UK was, in effect, now staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.
Problems that were deliberately pushed to the forefront included the wealth of City of London being under threat, the creation of a ‘legislative soup’, the EU not agreeing with the UK’s preferred path of negotiations, and the possibility the of exit talks extending up to 10 years.
BBC ‘fact-checking’, though presented as objective, was anything but. Chris Morris, the ‘fact checker’ was most focused on choosing topics that showed Brexit in a negative light, and failed at even the elementary level of pointing out that ‘EU money’ was actually provided UK taxpayers.
A series of reports from Sunderland, purportedly to explore both Leave and Remain perspectives, focused most on this negative fact checking. It also gave most prominence in its framework to the possibility of Nissan leaving the area and negative business developments since Brexit and the possibility of arts funding drying up. Local voices supporting Brexit were included, but in vox pops with only soundbite points.
Special effort was made throughout to show that the City of London was under pressure as a result of Brexit. A story that Lloyd’s of London were establishing a Brussels ‘headquarters’ was elevated to major significance in the bulletins, and across several mentions in Business News slots, even though the chief executive admitted that ‘only ‘tens’ of jobs were involved.
By contrast to this blanket negativity, a News-watch report from 2002 covering the introduction of euro notes and coins across the EU was strongly positive about the prospects for the new currency and strained editorial sinews and resources to show that its advent had been joyfully received in the relevant EU countries.
The BBC strongly defended its post-Brexit coverage during the survey period (through a high profile article in Radio Times by Today presenter Nick Robinson) as being in accord with its own rules of ‘due impartiality’. The evidence of this survey is that its assessment methods are seriously skewed against Brexit and in favour of the EU.
The full report is here: