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HomeBBC WatchDavid Keighley’s BBC Watch: Whitewash EU extravagance and smear Farage

David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Whitewash EU extravagance and smear Farage


How biased is the BBC in favour of the EU? Off the Richter scale.

Their reaction this week to revelations about the financial incontinence of EU Commissioners showed that the Corporation will bend journalism into the furthest extremes of contortionism to defend EU bureaucrats.

And surprise, surprise they also used the story as a new opportunity to resort to their favourite EU-related blood sport: a wearyingly predictable but totally inappropriate and irrelevant attack on Nigel Farage.

Guido has detailed how the Belgian organisation Access Info Europe has forced the EU to reveal the travel expenses of its unelected Commissioners.

In fact, the profligacy in Commissioners’ expenses is the tip of an iceberg. The organisation has been fighting with the high command in Brussels for years to achieve even the most basic transparency in a number of domains. Despite this being public money from the coffers of member states, they have met with bloody-minded obstruction at every turn.

The group’s website writes of the battle:

The problems identified by Access Info include requiring requesters to provide identification before requests are processed, brusque treatment of requesters, failures to register requests, and serious delays in responding with multiple extensions applied. Refusals to provide access are often based on exceptions that are either poorly argued or misapplied, sometimes in breach of European Court of Justice jurisprudence.

Scrutiny of spending by government is one of the key litmus tests of accountability, but it is clear that Brussels does not give a damn; democracy – never an intrinsic part of the EU project – can especially go hang when the EU is pursuing its own self-interests and lax spending. Nor it seems does the BBC.

The information revealed to Access Info Europe shows that in a two month-period the Commissioners spent on their job expenses almost half a million euros –the equivalent of €297 every day by every commissioner – including a €27,000 bill for a two-day trip to Rome and €1,500 by the UK Commissioner Jonathan Hill for a two-day outing to Davos.

Justified? In the BBC report about the revelations, gone-native Brussels reporter Adam Fleming is keen to highlight the EU’s perspective.

He notes that the €27,000 Rome bill also included the fares of eight EU support officials and that there is a cap on the allowances. He adds that David Davis spent more on his expenses (£10,576) in a two-month period than Commission vice president Frans Timmermans (£6,200).

Everything in the tone of the rest of the BBC reporting also suggests that this is a storm in a teacup. Most prominent are the EU’s claims that this was all within rules, that everything of the revealed spending was scrutinised by the European Parliament, and that private jets were only hired when there was “no viable commercial plane available to fit the agenda”.

Well, of course.

And finally, in comes the sharply-aimed BBC kick at Nigel Farage. The report observes that he has described the Commission’s claims as ‘outrageous’, but also adds that ‘his own expense claims have come under scrutiny in the past’.

There is a link to a 2014 BBC website story in which these ‘claims’ – based on allegations in The Times that he wrongly used thousands of pounds of EU allowance money to run a Ukip office – are outlined in full.

Now it is true that Nigel Farage’s denial of the claims is prominently included in the BBC account. But the issues here are that Nigel Farage and Ukip have always hotly denied the claims, and no formal charges linked to Farage’s spending have ever been lodged. The timing of the story suggests it was cooked up to damage Ukip’s prospects in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections.

The question here is why the BBC thought these strongly-disputed, never-substantiated and very old allegations were relevant to a brand new story about EU Commissioners fighting tooth and nail to keep secret their expenses.

There can be only one answer to that question – it is evidence that on every occasion it can, with any flimsy pretext, BBC journalists will strain their utmost to discredit anyone and anything to do with Brexit. At the same time, it has virtually zero interest in explaining to the British people anything about the EU that is negative. It never has.

(Image: EPP)

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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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