Kathy Gyngell: Sarah Sands’s first task is to banish Today’s anti-Brexit bias

You will be startled to hear from us that: "The BBC has and will continue to cover Brexit in a responsible and impartial way independent of political pressure”.

Just in case you hadn’t understood what this means: "The job of impartial journalism is to scrutinise the issues and interrogate the relevant voices, not advocate for a position” and “impartiality is not necessarily achieved simply by having equal numbers of guests or length of interview, because there are other factors to take into account such as strength of argument and range of topics”. It is for these reasons we are told we so trust the BBC.

Or so the BBC’s non sequitur argument claims.

You’ve guessed it, this was the BBC’s predictably clichéd response to News-watch’s latest highly critical report of the Today programme’s Article 50 coverage.

In the spirit of fairness I must add the specific rebuttal the BBC made to this, the 37th,, report that News-watch has to date delivered to its doorstep presenting objective evidence of consistent anti-Eurosceptic and, more latterly, Brexit, bias: "During that week the Government was given full opportunity to set out the thinking behind Article 50, and large segments of the Prime Minister's statement were played out on Radio 4’s PM and the World at One.”

Well, we should be thankful for small mercies.

I can just see the BBC apparatchik rostered to the press office last weekend searching for the relevant pro-forma, adding in this phrase after a quick call to the Head of News’s office, maybe, and just remembering, in time, to change the date before hitting send. In this case to the Daily Express who had sought its reaction to this most recent damning report.

Whoever was assigned the task of batting it away could not have had time to read the summary let alone its 123 pages. As for a direct response from the Today Editor's desk itself  – recently taken over by Sarah Sands – I imagine we are still waiting.

But should Ms Sands  wish to retain her reputation as brilliant journalist (attributed to her by her forbear in the hot seat, Rod Liddle) she needs to rectify this. She can find it via the News-watch link above if the Press Office proves recalcitrant.

This is why she should, if she understands her direct responsibilities.  The report's specific focus was her programme's coverage of the triggering of Article 50 at the end of March and it raises serious journalistic and editorial questions of her team:

  • Why, across the six editions, were 61 pro-Remain contributors selected but only 42 pro-Brexit, of whom only 24 were "firmly" in favour of leaving?
  • Why were only eight (6.5 per cent) of the total of the 124 speakers, who appeared over the six editions monitored, invited to make substantive arguments that the future for the UK outside the EU could yield significant benefits.
  • Why did the programme’s editorial approach ‘buttress the overall gloom’? Why did the presenters and correspondents exacerbate the bias by pushing at every opportunity to illustrate existing and potential problems?
  • Why were their interviews with Brexit supporters more challenging (interrupting and dismissive) than with Brexit opponents?
  • Finally, why had the team not taken on board  the widespread criticism of their post-referendum coverage or the blow by blow account of bias monitored by, yes, News-watch, which had revealed that in the six months immediately after last year's historic referendum, from 24 June to 22 December, 192 of the 366 guests (52.5 per cent) were negative about the impact of the vote and only 60 (16.3 per cent) expressed opinions that were positive. Why the arrogant disregard?

To summarise Sarah, you have a serious attitude problem on your hands and it goes back a long way - to before the first elections to the European Parliament in 1999.

She should know too that very monitoring report sent since then has received this same trite response from the Beeb – that there is more to impartiality than length of item and number of guests, despite the fact that these are considerations News-watch is attentive to. But which is not however an adequate basis for discounting the basic imbalance in guest and time allocation that is the BBC’s norm over the years.

It is noteworthy that over this 18-year period only two Today editors have ever agreed to meet the News-watch team – Rod Liddle who resigned soon after and later explained the programme's bias in terms of the ‘civilised, decent middle class liberals' who ran the corporation genuinely believing 'that the Euro realists (eurosceptics) were a bunch of deranged xenophobes, one step up from the BNP', and whose arguments therefore should be discounted, and Ceri Thomas.

There is nothing to suggest that the main programme presenters over these years – John Humphrys, Justin Webb, James Naughtie and Sarah Montague have ever been challenged internally about these News-watch critiques, let alone been asked to meet the reports’ authors.

They must be aware of them though – Nick Robinson anyway. We know that because Nigel Farage handed him the full file last autumn, in front of an assemblage of the world press and attacked him publicly about bias.

Sarah Sands accepts – or so she has written - that change is hitting us all and we have to embrace it as far as Brexit is concerned.

She has an uphill task now to get her team - still in denial and determinedly facing backwards - to embrace it too. I wish her luck.


Kathy Gyngell

  • RogerTil

    There was a classic example earlier this week where the big pharma investment in UK decision was “taken before BREXIT” but the other big pharma mentioned that had pulled out was noted to have been in 2010 with no mention of BREXIT.

  • Bark Kantatas

    The best thing I ever heard on the Toady programme was James Naughtie practically blubbering in 2001, “A *boamb* has gone off outside the *BBC*!” – as in, how could anyone have a bone to pick with everybody’s friend? Laughed? I nearly chundered through my nose.

    As for Sarah Sands, she is harmless enough as metropolitans go, but she absorbs her values osmotically through the bubble and we should not hold our breath.

    • Craig Martin

      Tis a shame it was outside.

  • Colkitto03

    Its the bias by omission and underwhelming presentation that is just as disappointing. Just this week three come to mind.
    Who heard the YouGov poll from last week (that 68% want Brexit to be driven forward) mentioned on the BBC?
    Who heard any remainer questioned by the BBC as to why the FTSE is at a record high?
    Where are the BBC explanations as to why, a year after the referendum, employment is at a record high?

    • Mike Hunt

      An inconvenient Truth !

    • AA_Bill

      Quite! Two examples that readily spring to mind are, firstly, when in early 2015 the anointed Obama heaped praise on Cameron for his handling of the economy there was no mention of it whatsoever on the BBC. Everyone, even the Guardian covered it, but not the BBC.
      Secondly, when May laid into Kerry and Obama about their injudicious comments concerning Israel it gained top coverage everywhere with one exception, the BBC.
      They waited a full 36 hours before covering it and only then after they found a dissenting Conservative voice to May in form of the ultra wet simpering Crispin Blunt.
      Their bias by omission is ever present.
      The solution is readily at hand. The technology is available for the BBC to become a subscription and pay-per-view service. They’ve already proved it by the soon to be introduced password system on their I Player.
      Scrap the TV tax and lets see if the BBC survives or withers on the vine. My money’s on the latter.

      • Colkitto03

        great examples!
        And lets not forget the 6 days it took them to start to cover (through gritted teeth) the new year sex attacks in Cologne 17 months ago..

        • AA_Bill

          And who first exposed the Islamic predatory sex attacks in Cologne?
          Why, it was the much reviled Breitbart. One of the few news outlets that actually do journalism these days.

          • Colkitto03

            Yes, one of the few who are interested in the truth.

  • Mike Hunt

    Just as a Leopard can’t change it’s spots, the BBC cannot change, as you point out the elite think of people who voted Brexit as xenophobes . Most if BBC are hypocrtitical and most haven’t done real jobs. We are a very densely populated part of Europe and most people want just a bit more space , they don’t want to be fighting like cats in a sack every day, and want a fair wage , not constantly undercut. May be we should make the BBC reapply for their jobs an open these up to cheaper competition from abroad , in the name of diversity of course. See if they think it’s such a good idea. Travelling to other parts of Europe you realises how densely populated we are here in Uk and how this adversely affects our lives

  • Alan Llandrindod Wells

    A boring repeat.
    It cannot be reformed it has to be shut down.

    • Owen_Morgan

      If there is any genuine talent there, that part of it may survive in the real world. The “Ministry of Truth” (and let’s remember: the Beebyanka was Orwell’s prototype) has to go and, with it, its bias and bloated bureaucracy.

    • choccycobnobs

      When the Third Reich was defeated, they destroyed the emblems of the Reich.
      When Stalin departed they removed his statues. When Saddam was
      overthrown there were newsreels of his statues being pulled down.
      That is the sort of reducing to rubble ending we need for that poisonous BBC.

  • Jeff Evans

    Maybe the Government could set up an “anti-BBC” and split the TV licence fee between them?

  • CRSM

    I do wish that Sarah Montague had some elocution lessons. The drivel she comes out with is bad enough, but to do it while speaking like an oik is just too much.
    The Muslim woman is far better.

    Mind you: bad as Today is, PM with the Scottish deviant is worse!

    • c50

      Listen to Kiss or Magic then if you don’t like reality. The muslim woman: fascist.

  • Lamia

    Sarah Sands accepts – or so she has written – that change is hitting us all and we have to embrace it as far as Brexit is concerned.

    The article linked to is a text book example of Remainer assumptionism. The ‘we’ that Sands refers to is clearly an upper-middle class metropolitan elite who didn’t want Brexit, who still can’t quite accept that it is going to happen (‘Brexit may not be final’), and who are comically socially-vain:

    It is too early to say, probably by a decade, whether Brexit will work but I would say we are moving from shock to recognition. And we respond differently. Some people are seeking sanctuary in family and community against the economic gales. Nature is a winner. A staggeringly beautiful weekend frost featured on almost every non-march Instagram picture I saw.

    Granted, she doesn’t here appear to be a Remoaner of the frothing kind, but she seems to take it as a given that people like her wish we had stayed in the European Union, and that people like her are the ‘we’ that the article is addressed to, and are presumed to be the only people who really matter. Much of the country – arguably over half – is not in ‘shock’ about Brexit, but on the contrary is very pleased about it. It is only in the London bubble (including the BBC) that the result was a genuine (and unpleasant) shock.

    If the linked article is any kind of indicator, don’t expect much, if anything, in the way of improvement by Team Toady.

  • seac

    I am ashamed to say that Robinson hails from my home town, he should be ashamed to show his face there ever again.

    Brian Redhead must be turning in his grave.

  • gildedtumbril

    The bullingdon bumboys’ club needs to be sold off, room by room, faerie by faerie, at a car boot sale, on ice, with gardening antiques thrown in.
    It is supposed to be impartial. Ha bloody ha.It has been in blatant breach of its charter for decades. Therefore there is no need to pay the TV TAX.
    And, there was never a contract with the victims of this monstrous snake oil scam as such contract would need to be signed by the victim and the CEO of the aforesaid club.

    • c50

      Your picture says it all; it’s the real Bullingdon elitism that needs shafting and let the BBC do its excellent job of highbrow journalism; not the pop neo con nonsense you favour; no mention ofChump Trump by Kathy et al lately-another false idol like Hayek?

      • Phil R

        Just checking to see who was the one person who upvoted C50

        To find……It was C50……!

        • Tom Burroughes

          This individual seems more interested in insults than argument.

  • nanumaga

    A substantial overall majority for the Tories in this General Election will allow the Government to take a long hard look at the BBC and examine the actual contemporary value of the Poll Tax which funds it. Like the NHS, it is almost an article of faith that we have to have the BBC. I grew up with the BBC here and abroad and I have argued, in the past, that its value exceeds the small amount of the licence fee. I’m sad to say that during the last 15 years of my permanent residence in Britain my view has altered significantly. It’s not just the absurd salaries of the senior management, justified by a bogus claim for parity with the private sector. It’s not even the awful institutional cover-ups perpetrated over decades to protect Savile and Rolf Harris et al. It’s more to do with my establishing a home in a middling north of England city and increasingly perceiving the colossal disconnection between the BBC’s world view and that of my fellow citizens. I would bet that the BBC will be told to look at its future based on subscription rather than compulsory taxes by about 2022. If so, they will deserve this. The senior staff of the BBC for the last 20 years are the authors of their own demise.

    • Phil R

      Poll Taxes

      NHS, BBC, State Education, Welfare,

      Lets just take these 4

      NHS should be funded by insurance

      BBC should be subscription only

      Education should be a privilege not a right.

      Welfare should be funded by workplace insurance.

      • c50

        Go and live in America-Trump is your sort of moron.

      • c50

        C50 please go and take your Ayn Rand ideology with you-they might like you in Texas.

        • Phil R

          “”What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy —
          that is, a mixture of freedom and controls, which, by the presently
          dominant trend, is moving toward dictatorship”

          Atlas Shrugged —Ayn Rand 1957

          I think a lot of readers here might agree that that statement

          You know what C50.

          She could see where we were heading. Just as Orwell could.

    • Tom Burroughes

      It would be nice if the Tories could scrap the licence fee, and break up the BBC and inject genuine competition into the UK media. I am not confident of a change soon, which is a shame. We have to hope that new media channels and outlets continue to provide alternatives.

      • c50

        Competition never works; monopoly always trumps it every time. Your ideology is a false god.

        • Tom Burroughes

          What utter rubbish. Monopolists abuse their power and have done so down the ages. The ” false god” is your cult of the big state. The BBC is a good example of why lack of competition is dangerous. Anyway, I’m glad to provoke you state worshippers with a sharp stick.

    • c50

      Absurd salaries? So Philip Green is a model for pay decorum? Or the FTSE? Are you all just bashing the BBC because Europe is over; America has its own fascist nutcase and ‘black’ Obama and his health care is gone; Theresa May is a realist about globalism; so your collective projective paranoia only has one scapegoat left.

      • nanumaga

        In the paranoia stakes I suspect you’re better qualified. In terms of the relative pay between the BBC and ITV I have friends who worked for both at senior and comparable top levels who were happy to earn 40% less in ITV. They’d got fed up with the remorseless BBC BirtSpeak. It’s true that the BBC has to pay half a million to get a good person in charge and £180,000 to employ a talentless, inexperienced, broken-down Labour Party apparatchik like James Purnell to be in charge of crucial BBC networks. Bye bye BBC. I’ll miss you….

  • Tethys

    According to the referendum, to be pro-brexit is a minority position, with 63% of the electorate not having supported it.
    Not to be pro-Brexit would therefore be representative, and since NOTHING about brexit is yet known, being ‘positive’ about it is a difficult ask.

    • Phil R

      “63% of the electorate not having supported it”

      Lies damn lies and it seems, your statistics.

      Not having supported something does not mean that they had no opinion.

      E.g. My family and I was out of the country for an extended period last summer and our postal votes arrived the day before the referendum!

    • Little Black Censored

      There’s tortuous!

  • Adaadat

    The country owes a debt of gratitude to those who give up their time to produce the raw data, regarding the BBC‘s contempt for this country, but it won’t make much difference. May and the rest don’t care about the bias. Look at the stonking majority the Tories are headed for, in spite of the BBC‘s visceral hatred for conservatives.

    May has abandoned conservatism and must know that a truly public-service BBC would only stoke the fires of it. It doesn’t require much of a leap to believe that she and the rest of the establishment right wish to avoid this. So long as they get the majorities, when they need them – election time – they put up with the BBC because of what the alternative would be: equal time given to conservatives and a consequential revival of the Right.

    The Right has to go directly to the British people and stop expecting anything of politicians, especially those who profess to be something they aren’t.

  • John Standley

    “Sarah Sands accepts – or so she has written – that change is hitting us all and we have to embrace it as far as Brexit is concerned”

    Her “acceptance” appears to be somewhat reluctant. It is not the BBC’s job to “accept” the reality, merely to report it objectively and impartially.

    Some hope.

  • timbazo

    A quick perusal of Ms Sands resume on wikipedia suggests that she has a track record of failure.

    • c50

      Bit like neo con nuts like you then.

  • John P Hughes

    It is not clear whether Sarah Sands has taken up her post as Editor of ‘Today’. If she worked three months notice as Editor of the London Evening Standard, from the announcement of her departure (made at the end of January 2017) then she would have started at ‘Today’ on 1 May. But has she? There does not seem to be anything on any website to say that she is now working as the ‘Today’ editor.
    Assuming that she is in post now, a major task for Sarah Sands until at least 9 June will be to ensure balance on the programme during the General Election campaign. Only after the new Cabinet is in post after the Election will the reporting of Brexit come back into prominence as a subject on which ‘Today’s’ bias will again be scrutinised.