The BBC’s visceral negativity towards Brexit was displayed on Monday in an extraordinary attempted ambush by Today presenter John Humphrys and the BBC’s ‘reality check’ correspondent Chris Morris.
The intended victim of this double onslaught was Peter Lilley, now Lord Lilley, and the subject was a report he had written suggesting that life outside the EU could be prosperous and free.
In the BBC’s world that, of course, is a thought crime. So Lilley was subjected first to a Humphrys grilling of the type reserved for those in the Corporation’s rogues’ gallery. But for the editorial team that was not enough. Next came a spot of BBC-style reality checking from Morris who claimed, in essence, that the Lilley report was pie in the sky fantasy.
A lesser man than Lord Lilley would have been banjaxed by such a bare-knuckle assault. As it was, he gave at least as good as he got. But the BBC tactics show that their efforts to discredit the possibility of a clean exit from the EU have reached new heights. They now believe that the elevated expression of their own biased judgments are a totally legitimate part of their so-called journalism.
The BBC’s so-called ‘reality check’ unit is, of course, nothing of the sort. Why? Exhibit A is that back in February, Morris presented a five-part series called Brexit: a Guide for the Perplexed. His lens was so distorted that 18 out his 24 main interviewees were anti-Brexit and only seven per cent of the words spoken were from the withdrawal perspective. That report by News-watch is currently under investigation by Ofcom following a formal complaint, and the outcome of the appeal is expected imminently.
Meanwhile, Morris has ploughed on regardless with his opinionated perspective, to the extent that, judging by the frequency of his appearances, the Today programme now regards his input as an essential part of the editorial process.
The transcript of the Lilley-Humphrys-Morris sequence on Monday (it can be read in full here) reveals just how biased this approach has become. Recent analysis by News-watch (not yet published) has shown that appearances by the so-called ‘Brexiteers’ on BBC programmes, or analysis of their perspective, remain much less frequent than those by Europhiles.
But the Corporation is not happy with skewing the debate by numbers alone. Its editorial imperative is to rubbish as hard and as much as it can every element of the Brexit case while paying lip service to its existence, thus retaining (in its view) a fig-leaf nod to its concept of ‘due impartiality’.
Thus it was on Monday’s Today, as already noted, that Lord Lilley was first grilled by Humphrys. Fair enough, perhaps, though Remain advocates very, very rarely face such rigorous scrutiny. What was also very clear was that John Humphrys was out of his depth in terms of his knowledge of the terrain.
Next came Morris with his titular stamp of ‘reality check’ authority. Lord Lilley himself has written about this encounter in the Sun.
His article is excoriating. He observes: ‘. . . they then brought on a chap called Chris Morris, described as the BBC “reality checker”, who was invited to rebut my document. But all he did was oppose my facts with the opinions of people with whom he agreed.’
Lord Lilley added: ‘He systematically argued the Remain case and defended their Project Fear scare stories. The one thing he did not do was bring in any new facts. My central claim was that if we leave the EU Customs Union but have a free trade agreement with the European Union, our businesses have little to fear.
‘The main difference will be that traders will have to send in a customs declaration detailing the goods they are buying from or selling to Europe. That is a nuisance which we should try to simplify as much as possible.
‘But allegations that “this will be hugely costly, cause lengthy delays, disrupt supply chains and undermine economic growth” are imaginary or exaggerated.’ These allegations were presented by Morris as ‘facts’ but showed he was setting himself up as a fortune-teller on the lines of the Delphic Oracle. In pointing out that the current EU border regime is not frictionless (something apparently unknown to Morris) Lord Lilley further undermined both Morris’s ‘reality check’ credibility and his Brexit doom-mongering. It also seems that Morris is totally impervious to evidence like this.
Why does this matter? Because this was without question a new low in the BBC’s coverage of Brexit and in their journalism as a whole. For years they have seriously under-reported and distorted the case for leaving the EU. Their coverage has also been marked by massive bias by omission, a feature first noted by the Wilson report of 2005 in that they have never properly reported the case against the EU or the benefits of leaving.
To what extent has this biased reporting bedevilled the steps towards withdrawal? Not content with that deluge of negativity, Monday’s Today showed the Corporation have now formally adopted within the editorial process a mechanism that they say is ‘objective’ but in reality – in the hands of Morris – is the official adoption of a process designed to discredit Brexit.