Yesterday, I wrote about the BBC’s persistent pro-EU bias and its equally persistent smearing of the ‘withdrawal’ case.
So it was no surprise on Monday to find that The Daily Telegraph splash on Change or Go – the most detailed, fact-based report produced to date on the UK’s membership of the EU and the alternatives on offer – warranted only a three-minute interview on the BBC’s Today programme and barely featured in the news headlines.
Given the ongoing and irresolvable Greek drama and incipient Eurozone crisis, you would think that a report that was being heralded as the biggest and most comprehensive analysis of Britain’s relationship with the EU, amounting to half a million words in length, authored by some of our top business leaders and analysts, might have invited rather more attention from the BBC.
But no. The Corporation was busy cheering on the new Greek deal, which they seemed remarkably and singularly up-beat about. Ever more excited and less dispassionate items followed on at regular intervals. The Today team seemed more than happy to accept Bruno Macaes’s view (Portugal’s Secretary of State for Europe) that the latest Greek proposals would a good basis for progress. Whoopee. No problem then.
The Telegraph’s friendly view by contrast is that Change and Go will be seen as a key moment in the intensifying debate on the UK’s future in the EU – not least because it questions some of the central arguments made for EU membership, especially the claim that being inside is good for British businesses (an argument that the BBC has pushed assiduously and successfully).
I fear that their grounds for such optimism are far from firm. It is not just that the Telegraph talks to its own – a declining readership standing now at less than a million – while the BBC still talks to everyone. The Today audience alone by contrast hovers around 7 million a week. Nor is it just that the Change or Go campaigners – Eurosceptics all, but not all ‘withdrawalists’ – have yet to grasp the nettle of the BBC bias issue, as I wrote yesterday, though that is a hurdle they have to overcome.
My pessimism stems from experience of how this debate on the BBC has panned out in the past. BBC bias intensifies when the Eurosceptics muddy the waters themselves.
Paul Goodman was prescient when he wrote his blog, I assume late on Sunday night or very early on Monday morning. His critique of Change or Go’s ‘deeply problematic’ (muddied waters) agenda deserves attention and I recommend you read it for yourself.
Suffice it for me to say that Paul Goodman unpicks the campaign’s fatal flaws. He concludes that “while the energy of those who believe in Out is dissipated on renegotiation, that of those who support In is fixed on their goal. The old saw has it that a lie gets halfway round the world while truth has still to get its boots on. At this rate, the Prime Minister will return from his negotiation with the In case thoroughly made – backed by the authority of government, no real purdah and money from the EU institutions – and the No campaign yet to make its case.”
Indeed, this deficit was pretty much reflected in Today’s three minute coverage on Monday morning – that the concessions the group require Cameron to get mean treaty change which is not on the cards or not until after the Referendum. As Simon Jack the interviewer intimated they have set their goal too high. What you really mean, he said to Matthew Elliott, the Business for Britain leader, is that you really want to be out? Fair point, which was of course denied.
But denial just serves to muddy the waters further, all of which plays into the BBC’s and Mr Cameron’s hands. Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, may have claimed that Cameron threatened during the election to close the BBC down. But that was when the PM thought he might be losing the election…now he wants to win the referendum he’s on a home run with the BBC. So no threat there. In fact the BBC is his new ally.
As Paul Goodman points out, unless the “squabbling medley of Out campaigners’ come together under the leadership of a single vehicle, which can only be the all-Party campaign now kicking off in Parliament, the prospects are grim.”
My concern on top of this is that however well researched and high minded a ‘Change or Go’ position is, its flaws will forever be pounced on by the BBC
The ‘no case’ will continue to be distorted or virtually ignored, and those supporting it cast as bigots, while those who are onside in the EU ‘project’ and engaged in safe ‘Cameronesque’ renegotiation are given kid glove treatment. The strategy will work and seem reasonable to many. The latest polls suggest that 55 per cent of people would vote to stay in the EU, but more detailed analysis suggests this figure could be as high as 75 per cent.
The sooner Just Say Out marks the sceptics campaign, in place of Change or Go, the better – and the sooner the BBC’s pro-EU agenda will be exposed.