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HomeBrexit WatchDavid Keighley's BBC Watch: EU’s Brexit ‘wall of silence’ goes unchallenged

David Keighley’s BBC Watch: EU’s Brexit ‘wall of silence’ goes unchallenged


Untold thousands are complaining to the BBC about its pro-EU bias in the reporting of Brexit.

Licence fee-payers don’t know how many complaints there actually are because the Corporation, in its infinite wisdom, won’t tell us.

That’s because it views the deluge of complaints it receives every day as confidential information, and discloses only a selected few. Most, of course, are rejected using a formula which is as subtle as a brick and best described as ‘we are right, you are wrong’.

Under the new BBC Charter, Ofcom last week ordered the Corporation to be more open in its handling of complaints. But the changes that have been instituted are little more than window-dressing. The BBC remains firmly in control.

A weekly charade in the complaints procedure is the BBC segment Newswatch, in which presenter Samira Ahmed persuades a variety of BBC executives and journalists to come down from their eyries to chant the Corporate Slogan in various permutations to viewers.

Latest to do so was the BBC’s ‘Europe editor’ Katya Adler. Ms Adler’s appearance turned out to be an object lesson in the BBC art of complaint-bashing and obfuscation. There is a link to a transcript of the full interview at the end.

Ms Ahmed first suggested that the biggest complaint about the Brexit coverage was that it was ‘constantly knocking British negotiators’ and ‘looking for failure’.

Ms Adler’s reply: ‘It’s a fair comment to make. It’s a comment you would expect to make. As Europe editor it’s my job to put across the European perspective. Now that might come across as anti-UK but actually it’s just putting across the other point of view. And as we see these Brexit negotiations become pretty bad-tempered, obviously there’s very, very, very differing points of view.’

Where to start? Does it not occur to her that, in the interests of balance, ‘putting across the other point of view’ might also involve being critical of the EU, its modus operandi and its institutions? BBC reporters and presenters in London have left no stone unturned in exposing ‘perceived’ weaknesses and false steps in the moves towards Brexit – or in reporting the word of those who are still battling to Remain.

Nick Clegg publishes a book calling for Brexit to be overturned? No problem, give him free publicity in a 7.15am prime slot on Radio 4’s Today (October 9). Hillary Clinton wants a mass audience to plug her latest book and to tell the world that Brexit – like Donald Trump’s victory – was achieved only by lying? Again, no problem: it was a headline BBC bulletin story (October 14).

Ms Ahmed’s next point took this up and suggested that some scrutiny might be applied to EU negotiators.

But again, Ms Adler’s response was a lame excuse and a brick wall. She explained that the ‘Europe’ side have been put under ‘omerta’ (a vow of silence), told to ‘zip it’, and that as a result, only Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator, is allowed to speak. She said: ‘We just don’t have that same possibility, the same access, to talk to the main players on the European side, as we do on the British side, to really put those difficult questions to them on camera, or on the record in a radio interview, and I understand that for our viewers and listeners, for the readers on the website, that is extremely frustrating, and it feels like we’re not doing our job.’

Too right. Again, it seems astonishing that the BBC’s journalistic efforts are so simply poleaxed. Journalism is often defined as, in the public interest, getting to the facts and perspectives that people, for whatever reasons, don’t want to be revealed. But when it comes to the European Union, the Corporation’s ‘Europe editor’ and its EU operation as a whole in Brussels are thwarted by the European Commission’s Operation Zip-It.

How very sinister.

Full transcript here.

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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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