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David Keighley: Big business and big broadcasting. How the establishment stitches up the Europe vote


Carolyn Fairbairn, the newly-appointed director general of the Confederation of British Industry, will play a crucial role in the EU referendum campaign.

The CBI has access to massive resources, works very closely with the high command of the European Commission, and is fervently determined that there should be a ‘yes’ vote to continued membership.  Already they are involved in both overt and covert propaganda campaigns.

The CBI’s latest full-blooded endorsement of EU membership can be read here. Outgoing director general John Cridland claims that members also want reform, but is wilfully blind to the fact that the changes he outlines are virtually impossible unless the UK leaves.

The BBC – not normally distinguished by its love of banks or ‘big business’ – treats the CBI with conspicuously soft kid gloves. Every word uttered in favour of the EU is seen as the Holy Writ and given headline status. Latest research by News-watch during the election period confirms this.

It should perhaps come as no surprise, therefore, that one of the key points in Ms Fairbairn’s glittering CV is that she spent seven years as strategy director of the BBC between 1997 and 2004.  Did the CBI éminence grise who recently interviewed her for the post perhaps see this as the perfect training for the key propaganda role she has now assumed?

During her time at the BBC, as Peter Oborne noted in this CPS paper – in a sequence analysing the coverage of the introduction of the euro back in 2001 – the BBC was so pro-EU and  pro joining the euro (as, of course, was the CBI) that  Today’s James Naughtie rhapsodically compared the change to a Biblical event.

In her task of maximising BBC propaganda, Ms Fairbairn will be assisted by the current CBI deputy director general, Katja Hall.

Her training and background?  Well she has spent most of her career at the CBI, apart from a spell with one of the biggest taxpayer-funded corporations – yes, you’ve guessed it – the BBC.   Ms Hall declares on her CBI profile that she worked in ‘change management’ for the Corporation, whatever that may mean.

What a very cosy prospect: A dynamic duo of pro-EU propagandists who honed their skills with Auntie persuading us with all their organisational clout to vote ‘yes’ to that lovely EU.

Should anybody who hears the BBC’s pro-EU propaganda want to do something about t, they can always, of course, complain.

In which case, they have the safeguard that at the top of the BBC as guardians of journalistic standards and impartiality is a body of Trustees. Except that, of course, the two main journalistic members are Richard Ayre and Mark Damazer – both of  whom spent the bulk of their careers at the BBC in senior editorial posts and are thus fully signed up to the pro-EU agenda.

Still, no matter. The newly-appointed vice-chairman of the Trustees Sir Roger Carr also has a glittering background in industry and commerce. Perhaps he could help? Well maybe not. Apart from the BBC, his most recent role between 2011 and 2013 was as – president of the CBI.

Sir Roger is also chairman of BAE Systems and so fervent in his pro-EU beliefs that on the day after the general election (May 8 )he was already on his soapbox urging the pro-EU deluge should begin without delay.  This is what Sky News reported:

‘Speaking to Sky News, the chairmen and chief executives of several FTSE-100 companies said it was crucial that efforts to promote the benefits of EU membership began straight away even if a referendum would not take place until 2017.

‘Sir Roger Carr, chairman of BAE Systems, the defence contractor, said that companies had a responsibility to speak out on the issue.

“There will now be certainty on the process [of a referendum], and it is important that the business community that believes in the UK being part of Europe steps up to make the case at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

Behind the scenes, the EU referendum ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns are busily shaping their strategies.  The BBC will have a crucial role in disseminating the respective arguments.  Elements of the ‘no’ side are already firmly convinced that changing the BBC before the vote takes place is a near-hopeless task.  With background facts like this, the signs are not good.

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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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