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BBC Watch: Hardline news – who else is on the hitlist?


Last week in TCW, Craig Byers astutely picked up that the BBC’s use of ‘hardline’ in the EU debate was deeply slanted.

The adjective, he spotted, was reserved for those whom the Corporation perceived to be most opposed to staying in the European Union. He also spotted that its derogatory application was much broader, boiling down to a catch-all dog-whistle label for the figures on the Right whom the Corporation classes as extremists.

Further intensive analysis of the BBC’s application of the word across its entire output using tracking software through all of June and into July, as the Chequers Brexit showdown meeting unfolded, confirms a fascinating picture of selective, targeted usage in what appears to be systematic bias. There were around 700 examples.

The first point to note is that across the six weeks hardline was NEVER applied to someone whom the BBC perceives to be progressive or liberal, but only to those who are projected as extremist, fundamentalist, oppressive and on the so-called Right.

There was a glaring demonstration of the deliberate polarity involved when a reporter describing the latest battles in the Brexit talks said the Brexiteers were ‘hardline’. What were the Remainers? The same? No, they were merely ‘stubborn’.

A possible fine-tooth comb exception here was the use of the word in the description of the former regime in Serbia, which was said to be ‘hardline communist Stalinist’ (and thus possibly of the ‘Left’). However, perhaps even John McDonnell would find it hard to regard the Serbian government in the land of Tito as anything but totalitarian and so the exception is not so.

So who else other than Jacob Rees-Mogg and those who want a ‘hard’ (another BBC journalistic distortion) Brexit are classed as hardline?

It’s a fascinating list. The key markers include opposition to uncontrolled immigration wherever it exists (from Mexico to Japan), any opposition to the EU’s prevailing policies and moves towards federalism, religious extremism practised by ‘Islamic’ imams and cultivated in madrassas, the anti-Western government regime in Iran, and the North Korean government.

And who are the people involved? Step forward first, of course, Donald Trump. His are multiple hardline sins: separating illegal immigrants from their children (though Presidents Obama and Clinton’s pursuit of the same policy was not mentioned); wanting to stop illegal immigrants; proposing a new tougher immigration Bill; and having policies similar to the Ku Klux Klan. Around 200 of the uses of the dog-whistle applied to him for his brazen attempts to prevent illegal immigrants entering the US.

Next were those in the new Italian government of Matteo Salvini, primarily for daring to stop NGO ‘immigrant’ ships landing in Italy, but also for not honouring the Schengen agreement and worrying generally about volumes of immigration in opposition to the EU; Sebastian Kurz, the Chancellor of Austria, and all the governments in the EU (including especially Hungary and Slovenia) who are opposing the immigration policies of Angela Merkel; the Polish government, for wanting to reform its legal system in opposition to the EU; and last but not least, Shintaro Ishihara, who was Governor of Tokyo for 13 years, for opposing levels of immigration and championing Japanese culture and values.

Is this nit-picking? The BBC – which maintains it gets its journalism right 99.999 per cent of the time – would no doubt say it is. Its defence would probably be (based on long experience!) that ‘hardline’ is a commonly used word and any linkage with the ‘Right’ is coincidental.

But that most definitely does not stack up here. For starters, why are Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell, who openly advocate Marxist economics, and demonstrably have supported terrorist regimes, not in the ‘hardline’ category? Why are Brexiteers, who want only to leave the EU in accordance with the vote of the EU Referendum, described with the same word as imams who conduct or encourage acts of terrorism? And why is any opposition to illegal immigration and open borders bracketed by the BBC in its language with those ‘Islamist’ terrorists or the repressive regime of President Tito of the former Yugoslavia?

Another important point in this slanted use of language by the BBC is that in the News-watch survey of the Brexit coverage on the Today programme in autumn/winter last year, it was noted that the BBC had started using the word ‘divorce’ routinely to describe the Brexit process.

The report concluded:

‘The main finding is that there was an unjustified heavy bias towards exploring the difficulties and potential negativities of Brexit. In this context, there is a special investigation of the pervasive and indiscriminate use by this BBC coverage of the word “divorce” – with all its negative overtones – to describe the EU exit process. In academic media analysis, it is held that such value-loaded “framing” of issues by the editorial process . . . negatively influence audiences.’

It boils down to the fact that the BBC has form in this sphere. The state broadcaster systematically uses negative labels to disparage and undermine the perspectives it opposes.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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