BBC Director-General Lord Hall is appearing before the Commons European
Scrutiny Committee tomorrow.
Does that matter? Yes, hugely. Sir William ‘Bill’ Cash, the committee
chair, and his colleagues have a vast and vital job, one of the most
important in Parliament. Some might see it as a fool’s errand, but they
sift through the deluge of tens of thousands of pages of legislation and
regulations emanating from Brussels, and recommend what needs further
scrutiny by Parliament.
They are, of course, on a hiding to nothing because the EU now regulates
by uncompromising diktat almost every aspect of British life, from
immigration to horsemeat and from fisheries to climate change, flood
control and waste disposal.
The BBC is supposed to ensure as part of having almost £4 bn of our
cash – that it covers EU affairs sufficiently and fairly to keep the
British public properly informed.
On that basis, you would have though Lord Hall would be keen to come
before the Committee to explain how his army of 8,000 journalists is
fulfilling this key role.
Wrong! He has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to appear, and
only then because the Committee enlisted the highest authorities of
Parliament to threaten that if he did not agree to attend voluntarily,
he would be forced to do so.
That process has wasted a full year of the Committee’s time.
Whether Lord Hall’s appearance will make the slightest difference to the
BBC’s relentless pro-EU propaganda is, of course, massively doubtful.
Rona Fairhead, who went native within days of taking on her role as BBC
chairman in autumn last year, has now been asked to resign by Commons
Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge because of her alleged
failures as a £530,000-a-year non-executive director of HSBC. True to
form, she appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee in January and
claimed that as far as the Trustees were concerned, coverage of EU
affairs was perfect.
This is despite frequent admissions over the years by senior BBC
executives, including former DG Mark Thompson, that this
is not the case.
The reality, of course, is vastly different. The BBC loves the driving
socialist ethos behind the EU and is heavily and demonstrably in favour
of every almost every manifestation of Brussels control.
But, despite Fairhead’s stonewalling , she and her Trustee sidekick,
Richard Ayre a former BBC journalist with connections to climate
change alarmism made an astonishing gaffe in their evidence. Its scale
suggests that Hodge may have been on the right track in her remarks
about Fairhead’s fitness to hold public office.
Much of what Fairhead and Ayre told the Committee was actually guff.
They claimed that nine hours coverage per month on the BBC Parliament
Channel (which commands only 0.03 per cent of television viewing in the
UK), a peppering of vox pops in mainstream bulletins, a few web pages written
by Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt on the BBC website and the appointment of
a Europe Editor was sufficient to keep audiences informed about the
relentless march of Brussels.
Perhaps they knew this was risible. So they produced what they clearly
thought was a trump card. This was a series of audience surveys
conducted by the Trustees since they first replaced the former BBC
Governors back in 2007. They argued that EU coverage was adequate
because audiences said so.
Ayre told the Committee that a regular survey question was whether
viewers and listeners were kept informed by the BBC about the workings
of the EU.
Triumphantly, he said that 59 per cent felt this was the case cast-iron
therefore, that the Corporation was fulfilling its EU-related role.
After their appearance, my company News-watch went through their
evidence with a fine tooth-comb. The relevant survey question was not
about the workings of the EU at all. It was simply: ‘The BBC keeps me
informed about politics in Europe. The relevant sections of the most recent survey are on pages 26 and 66 here.
Far be it for lesser journalistic mortals to challenge Ayre, but even
though most at the BBC may think and want otherwise, Europe still
remains distinct from the EU. Of the 50 sovereign states in Europe, 22
are not members of the EU. The phrase ‘politics in Europe’ might
therefore refer sometimes to EU affairs, but at others to elections or
domestic developments in Serbia, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Norway, Iceland,
Switzerland or Albania (among others).
Ayre is effectively the most senior journalist in the BBC, in charge of
the complaints appeals procedure. It defies belief that he submitted
formal evidence to this Committee which is based on such a crass
Misunderstanding. He should, perhaps, have paid attention to the
Corporation’s own News Style Guide, for rank-and-file journalists,
In a section about the European Union informing journalists about the
pitfalls of describing the various EU (and non-EU) pan-European
institutions, it concludes with this sentence: Remember Europe is not a
synonym for the European Union. It is a continent which includes several
countries which as not members of the EU.
The Guide underlines how wrong Ayre was. But it, too, is a clear
indicator of the endemic BBC bias in EU coverage. To the
Corporation, the EU is so central and all-consuming in terms of its
importance that 22 sovereign nations almost half the total in Europe
are dismissed only as ‘several’.
What does this episode say about the competence of BBC Trustees? I’ll
leave you to decide that one.