The BBC seems to have appointed Radio 4 Today presenter Nick Robinson as its defender-in-chief. Back in April, he told those who thought the Corporation was biased against Brexit that they were wrong. The referendum was over, so there was no longer a need to strike a balance between the two sides.
He has been in action again, this time delivering a speech in honour of his friend, the former BBC Panorama editor and media pundit Steve Hewlett, who died of cancer at the age of 58 earlier this year. It can be read in full here. The message? In Robinson’s opinion the BBC is doing very well indeed, thank you. News output is not biased. This is proved, apparently, by the fact that complaints emanate from all parts of the political spectrum and that there are appearances by such controversial figures as former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson. Of which more later.
The first thing to note is that his analysis is not based on any verifiable evidence. No surveys seem to have been conducted. On top of Lord Lawson, Robinson picks out mentions of Nick Griffin here, of Nigel Farage there, to show the inclusion of ‘Right-wing’ figures. But none of his observations is backed up by anything other than his own subjective judgments.
And he conveniently misses out that almost every time Mr Farage has been interviewed by the BBC, he has been treated as a racist, told he is incompetent – and very rarely asked about EU withdrawal itself. More recently, too, of course, he was shamefully and ludicrously accused on BBC2 Newsnight of having ‘blood on his hands’ over the death of a Polish man in Essex when nothing could be further from the truth.
Robinson claims that the BBC is ‘staffed by people who – regardless of their personal background or private views – are committed to getting as close to the truth as they can, and to offering their audience a free, open and broad debate about the issues confronting the country’. Well that’s OK then. Of course they are.
His analysis boils down to an assertion that the BBC is a beacon of light and trust in an increasingly dark world. The biggest threat to journalistic integrity comes from elsewhere: ‘fake news’ and commentary on websites such as Westmonster. They, unlike the BBC, spend their time peddling untruths and rumour and are making social and political divisions far worse.
Yet his invective is deeply flawed and it takes only moments to unpick it. Take Lord Lawson’s appearance. He is mentioned as an example of someone who was invited (in August) to appear on Today, even though many thought he should not be allowed to outline his views on climate change. Robinson claims that this was an example of the BBC’s even-handedness and fairness.
But what he then adds proves sharply otherwise. First he stresses that Lord Lawson got his facts wrong – and then claims ‘we’ (the magnificently unbiased staff of the Corporation?) ‘must say so’. This, however, was a risible misrepresentation of what actually happened. First, Lord Lawson only appeared at all because the global-warming arch-alarmist Al Gore was first invited on Today. He was treated with kid gloves, with virtually no challenge, as he outlined his view that man’s impact on the climate was intensifying to catastrophic proportions.
To ‘balance’ these highly contentious claims, the interview with Lord Lawson was then arranged. But the odds were stacked against him in that he appeared with two other alarmist figures who countered his every claim. Lord Lawson made one minor error over statistics. But he immediately owned up to it and a correction was issued. His slip did not affect his basic points that Gore and the climate alarmist faction have been making outlandish and scientifically unsupported claims for years, and continue to do so.
Robinson also did not mention that immediately after Lawson appeared there was an outcry – reported at great length on the BBC – from climate activists, including the BBC’s own favourite populist ‘scientist’ Brian Cox, who said Lord Lawson’s appearance should never have been allowed. To ram home Lord Lawson’s error, two more alarmists appeared on Today. They rubbished everything Lord Lawson had said, with barely a squeak of opposition from the programme’s presenters.
This adds up to a ratio of at least 5:1 against Lord Lawson.
This is the sort of ‘fairness’ that operates at the BBC on controversial issues. For more than a decade, the corporation has accepted that climate alarmism is warranted and, arguably, its reporting in this sphere adds up to its own campaign to prove it.
The conclusion? Nick Robinson’s speech as a whole, and especially in the mention of Lord Lawson was, to put it mildly, disingenuous. His appearance on Today did not show, as Robinson claimed, that the BBC allows dissenting voices to appear and is fair to them. The reality is that the BBC has a skewed agenda in this domain, and any opinions expressed by Lord Lawson were both swamped and twisted. So, too, with Nigel Farage.
In his speech, Robinson accused those who write for blogs of living in a bubble. Even if they do, it’s nothing compared with the one surrounding the BBC’s approach to editorial impartiality.