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David Keighley: BBC’s ‘satirical’ potshot at Farage shows contempt for democracy

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Back in August, in the backwash of the referendum result, News-watch issued a challenge (during an off-the-record lunch) to a very senior executive of the Corporation: for the BBC to make a programme that properly celebrated Nigel Farage’s achievements as a politician.

The answer? None, directly, so far, but a few days later the Corporation announced the commissioning of Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back, described as a ‘sharp satire’ about the then ex-Ukip leader readjusting to his former life.

It was produced at great speed, broadcast on BBC2 at the weekend, and is now available on the BBC iPlayer.

How was it? A full review of the whole sorry car crash can be read here.

In summary, an alleged ‘satire’ that was not remotely funny. It showed that, without doubt, the comrades at the BBC think than man who many believe was a decisive influence in securing the Brexit vote is a racist, vacuous, inept, unfunny pub bore.

This was called ‘satire’ but in reality was the equivalent of taking gurning pot-shots at the disabled.  And it was exactly in line with how the BBC have been treating Farage ever since he rose to national prominence in the late 1990s as the then 30-something chairman of Ukip.

Proof of the stereotyping of Farage – together with the Corporation’s unwavering adherence to the importance of Brussels – can be found in the News-watch archives. A short interview from back in 1999 illustrates this perfectly, so much so that deserves a re-airing.

The underlying approach undoubtedly also throws light on why the BBC continues to treat the referendum result with bewildered, indignant disbelief.

In 18 years, the Corporation has not changed its reverence for the Brussels machine one iota. Farage said he simply wanted his country back on an amicable basis, and free trade; Humphrys’s stance was that this was ‘literally unthinkable’.

The exchange took place on May 20, 1999 in the build-up to the June 10 European Union Parliamentary elections. It was the only interview in the entire campaign by the BBC at national level of anyone from Ukip – even though the party went on to achieve its first electoral breakthrough with 7.7 per cent of the national poll (700,000 votes) and three seats.

The full transcript is included below. In summary, Humphrys 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.

Humphrys then strongly challenged Farage’s assertion that opinion polls supported Ukip because they showed that up to 50 per cent of the UK population wanted to leave the EU; contended that the party, if it did win seats, would simply jump on the Brussels ’gravy train’; and then asked if Farage was worried that a big supporter of the party was the British National Party, because of a positive article in their magazine Spearhead.

In the opening sequence, Humphrys thus put firmly on the agenda Ukip’s credibility, and bracketed the party with racism and venality. Next came the BBC’s unwavering belief that leaving the EU, and Farage’s hope of ‘getting his country back’ was cloud cuckoo land. Indeed, it was ‘literally unthinkable’.

The sequence dealing with this has to be seen in full to be believed. Humphrys said:

…but of course it can’t happen can it? I mean the fact is that we are tied by innumerable treaties and it is literally unthinkable isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: No its not unthinkable – you may think its unthinkable but a growing number…

John Humphrys: (interrupting) … well I think in legal terms you know the turmoil that would be created is just, well it’s just extraordinary… (voice tails off) turmoil

Nigel Farage: (interrupting) I don’t think any turmoil would be created. Look, we’ve got countries like Norway, countries like Switzerland…(they) trade quite happily with France and Italy without being members of the European Union. All I am saying is that we want to divorce ourselves amicably from the whole process of the European Union and go back to the free trading agreement that the British people thought it was going to be in the first place.

Humphrys, clearly now lost in the fog of his own disbelief, finished by observing caustically that even if Farage did win a seat ‘he’d be there for a very short time’.

Back to the present, others are planning to honour Farage with a glitzy tribute event in central London next week. The BBC may not be prepared to do justice to Farage by examining his political achievements – but others are.

TRANSCRIPT:

John Humphrys: The UK Independence Party is launching its manifesto for the European elections today. The only one saying that Britain should withdraw from Europe entirely. The party Chairman is Nigel Farage. Good morning to you.

Nigel Farage: Good morning

John Humphrys: The thing that puzzles me about this is that you want to get us out of Europe altogether but you are standing for the European parliament and you will take seats if you win any in the European parliament – well that’s a bit funny isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: Yes, we will take seats in that Parliament and we will link arms with the other moderate groups from the other European countries who feel exactly the same as we do, and we will go there and we will find out what information we can about what is going on. We will expose further the frauds and corruption that are taking place within the EU. We will bring that back to this country and when we have elected representatives we will have a voice in the media. At the moment we’ve got 50 per cent of the country that agrees with the UK Independence Party’s point of view …

John Humphrys: Oh, well come on – if that was the case you’d have had an awful lot of votes last time around wouldn’t you?

Nigel Farage: Well no, I’m afraid that’s not the case. I mean, 46 per cent of people in recent MORI polls said they wanted to leave the EU immediately. Now, it takes time for political parties to get credibility and it’s taken the UKIP several years to get to this position.

John Humphrys: And once you’ve got a chance to get it – you will, as your former leader said, jump on the gravy train…

Nigel Farage: No, that is not the case at all – every one of our candidates has signed a declaration that they will take only genuine expenses allowances. All of that will have to be receipted and we will put our expenses up for annual inspection by producing an audit – excess expenses that we have,and there will be excess expenses because they will force us to take money that we don’t really need – will all be given to a fund which we are going to establish to help the legal expenses of victims of the European Union.

John Humphrys: Does it worry you that you have been singled out for praise – you particularly, incidentally – by the British National Party in their newsletter, Spearhead?

Nigel Farage: Well, I haven’t read the BNP newsletter Spearhead and all I would say about that is that we have no links or associations with the BNP whatsoever. We are an alliance of people from the right, from the centre and from the left – all we want is our country back.

John Humphrys: But of course it can’t happen can it – I mean the fact is that we are tied by innumerable treaties and it is literally unthinkable isn’t it?

Nigel Farage: No its not unthinkable – you may think its unthinkable but a growing number…

John Humphrys: (Interrupts) well I think in legal terms you know the turmoil that would be created is just, well it’s just extraordinary… (voice tails off) turmoil –

Nigel Farage: I don’t think any turmoil would be created look we’ve got countries like Norway, countries like Switzerland…they trade quite happily with France and Italy without being members of the European Union. All I am saying is that we want to divorce ourselves amicably from the whole process of the European Union and go back to the free trading agreement that the British people thought it was going to be in the first place.

John Humphrys: (seemingly sarcastic) So if you won a seat you’d only be in it for a very short time would you?

Nigel Farage: Hopefully, it will be the shortest job that I have ever had in my life – hopefully we will be so successful we’ll hasten the day at which Britain does leave the European Union

John Humphrys: Nigel Farage thanks very much.

(Image: Hakon07)

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David Keighleyhttp://news-watch.co.uk
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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