Almost two years ago, John Humphrys retired from his role as presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and published a new autobiography to mark the occasion. This blog claimed he was being hypocritical in continuing to work for the Corporation over the last decade while secretly disagreeing with its Brexit coverage.
24th September 2019
Kathy Gyngell clearly highlighted on TCW yesterday the hypocrisy of John Humphrys revealed in his forthcoming memoirs, being serialised in the Daily Mail. Today she discusses further evidence of his double standards, this time over the Iraq Dossier affair.
How could he have continued to work on BBC Radio 4’s Today – drawing massive pay from the pockets of the public he professed to serve – with the concerns he says he had about the anti-Brexit bias of the BBC hierarchy and the Corporation’s general liberal left groupthink bias?
Some would call that fraud.
There is another glaring contradiction in his stance. Mr Humphrys declares that he still believes that the BBC is a wonderful institution, is a ‘tremendous and irreplaceable force for good’ and that the country is stronger because it exists.
How does he square such sycophantic hyperbole with his assertion that the flagship BBC programme Today and news output generally is infected with institutional bias? It’s a massive contradiction. Impartiality is a core BBC Charter obligation and his grave allegations are that the Corporation has been in breach of it at least since the EU referendum (as well as at other times, as outlined below).
Digging into the Humphrys archives unearths rafts of similar inconsistencies in his approach and conduct which suggest he has worked for at least the last 20 years in a bubble of what at best can be described as selective vision and hearing.
Much of what Mr Humphrys has put into his book is not new at all. In 2014 (perhaps when he started drafting his memoirs? – there was no other obvious peg) and again in 2017 (h/t Is the BBC Biased?), he gave interviews to Radio Times which contained strikingly similar key points: that there was at the Corporation an all-pervading liberal outlook, and that the BBC’s reporting of the desire for EU withdrawal and concerns about high immigration levels had not properly reflected widespread public concern.
Then, as now, he was noticeably vague on detail. He seems to lay most of the blame on ‘bosses’ who were upset by the referendum result. Is his view that they have directly influenced programme content – and if so, who was it who followed their instructions? The Today editor? Presenters? Producers and behind-the-scenes staff?
In 2014, when the first Radio Times piece appeared, News-watch noted this point, and stated in a blog:
‘He doesn’t say in which interview, with which guests or how or when he arrived at the judgment . . . No, this “bias” happened at some undefined, mysterious time in the murky miasmic mists of the Blair era. It evidently made Humphrys queasy and uneasy, but back then, he and his chums above and below him in the BBC hierarchy did nothing at all about it. Now, though, says the great man, the bias is fixed – it’s a matter of regret, but move along there, folks, nothing to see: everything in the BBC garden is tickety-boo.’
News-watch has analysed over the years more than 1,200 EU-related interviews conducted by Mr Humphrys. Analysis in the News-watch reports highlight that his approach to Brexit was shot through with the bias he now seems to blame others for creating.
Two prime examples stand out. In 1999, when a thirty-something Nigel Farage was standing for the first time in the European Parliamentary elections as a Ukip candidate, most of the interview was taken up with suggesting that Ukip was, in effect, a maverick aberration. A News-watch blog observed:
‘Farage said he simply wanted his country back on an amicable basis, and free trade; Humphrys’s stance was that this was ‘literally unthinkable’. . . . (he) did everything he could to attack the credibility of Ukip and asked nothing about the thinking behind the need for withdrawal. His opening gambit was to observe that it was “funny” (peculiar) and “puzzling” that Ukip was contesting seats in the European Parliament when it wanted to withdraw from the EU.’
Spool forward to the closing days of the EU referendum, and Mr Humphrys filed a highly unusual (in terms of its length) 27-minute Today item on attitudes towards immigration based on visits he made to Keighley in West Yorkshire, Shirebrook in Derbyshire and Hackney, east London. The News-watch analysis concluded:
‘Humphrys’s approach was heavily biased. In his world those who oppose immigration do so . . . from a position of prejudice. He . . . missed out numbers and rate of expansion – the key bedrock of opposition to current levels of immigration. Contributions of those who expressed concerns about immigration came across as shallow and prejudiced, a picture that was made worse by Humphrys’s repeated putting of “racist” claims to them. They had to deny they were racists, and were given only minimal space to advance their fears about numbers. ‘On the other side of the coin, Humphrys heavily stressed the contributions of those who were, in various ways – in their own estimation – victims of prejudice . . . Immigrants he spoke to wanted a better world, and had been thwarted in that quest only by white prejudice.’
All this, coupled with other more detailed analysis in News-watch reports, boils down to the fact that Mr Humphrys is as responsible as everyone else at the Corporation for BBC bias. What he is alleging now will probably generate book sales, but do nothing to sort out the problems he identifies. Those inside the BBC bubble, Mr Humphrys included, are incapable of seeing outside it. And complacency of the type displayed by Mr Humphrys for at least 20 years (the period of News-watch analysis) has blocked any chance of a solution.
Will Mr Humphrys now be thrown to the wolves by the bosses he so clearly despises? No. The Corporation will carry on regardless. As it always does.