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.