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HomeBBC WatchDavid Keighley's BBC Watch: Accentuate the negative: Dimbleby's Brexit obsession

David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Accentuate the negative: Dimbleby’s Brexit obsession


This weekend’s edition of Radio 4’s Any Questions? contained a telling – and in the BBC bias stakes, wearyingly predictable – spat between the host, Jonathan Dimbleby, and panellist Charles Moore, ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Moore, in discussion about the impact of leaving the EU, made the perfectly reasonable observation that the BBC was qualifying every positive business story with a ‘despite Brexit’ tag. Of course, anyone who listens to the BBC knows this to be true. The exact phrase ’despite Brexit’ might not be used in every report, but it is nevertheless the hallmark of the journalism. Only Remainers and the BBC itself deny it.

This sustained BBC bias against Brexit now that, according to Nigel Farage, Theresa May appears to be back-sliding, urgently needs halting.

Fat chance, it seems. In step with an audience that was so impolite and Remain-partisan that it booed Mr Moore for daring to criticise the BBC, Jonathan Dimbleby immediately became both heated and distinctly uppity. He claimed that ‘all views were held’ by those who appeared on BBC programmes – Moore being on his show proved that – and then challenged him to provide ‘chapter and verse’ to support his allegations.

This, perhaps, it could be argued, came straight from the corporation’s Complaints Procedure Manual, the primary purpose of which is to disallow as many submissions as possible and to ridicule, name-call, patronise and undermine complainants. In action here were these classics:

a) Tell a complainant they don’t really know what they are talking about because the BBC output is far too large to be properly understood or encompassed (even by Charles Moore!)

b) Because one person has appeared from the ‘Right’ (or whatever minority view they don’t like) it proves they are ‘balanced’, because the corporation’s definition of ‘due impartiality’ is entirely on the BBC’s own terms.

The reality, of course, is that it is beyond the resources of almost anyone to track and analyse every single BBC report. So in this respect, the Corporation complaints department always has an upper hand.

However, on this subject and in this context, Dimbleby junior was on much shakier ground. News-watch analysed all EU-related business news slots of the Today programme between June 24 and December 22, the six months immediately after the EU referendum. Analysis of the 130,000 words in 208 relevant transcripts found:

‘. . . of the 366 guest speakers, 192 (52.5 per cent) were negative about the impact of the vote and only 60 (16.3 per cent) expressed opinions which were pro-Brexit or saw the post-referendum economic outlook as positive. That is three times more anti-Brexit speakers than pro-Brexit ones . . . The most serious imbalance was that only ten (2.9 per cent) of the business news interviews (from six guests) were with supporters of withdrawal from the EU. They were thus a tiny minority in the overall welter of negativity . . . the pro-Brexit sector of business was virtually ignored.

‘Between them, the negative guests painted a relentlessly pessimistic picture of gloom, doom and uncertainty, of plunging economic prospects, of a collapse of consumer confidence, rising inflation, a drying up of investment, job freezes, of a drain of jobs from London to mainland Europe, skills shortages because of the ending of free movement, the introduction of tariffs, and endless, complex renegotiation . . . This was a continuation of the Remain campaign’s ‘Project Fear’, beginning at dawn on June 24 and persisting until Christmas despite mounting post-Brexit positive news.’

Charles Moore has himself read this evidence. Back in April, he took part in a so-called debate held by the Spectator with Today programme presenter Nick Robinson. He quoted to him points from the News-watch report, crediting it by name. Robinson, however, was having none of it. He rejected out of hand – without any counter-evidence except that he ‘knew’ the BBC was in the right – the News-watch findings. In his eyes the Corporation had done no wrong, and could never do wrong, in this domain because, well, they were too smart and too diligent.

Such intransigent arrogance echoed closely Dimbleby’s approach to Moore on Friday.

The central issue is not solely that the BBC’s coverage of the impact on business of Brexit is relentlessly negative, but also that they have not since Brexit produced a single programme that has looked at the possible positive outcomes for the economy. Instead, they fabricate surveys that suggest fruit farmers will go out of business, and underline at every opportunity only the complexities involved.

The new, beefed-up BBC management board under the chairmanship of banker Sir David Clementi was supposed to sort this out. But his recent speech to the Royal Television Society Cambridge convention – remarkably, one of his first public utterances since his appointment back in January – suggested that, on the contrary, he is completely satisfied with current BBC performance. He declared that the BBC’s own Reality Check unit is ensuring and safeguarding impartiality.

So that’s OK, then. Or perhaps not.

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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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