By email, 13th June 2016
To the Management Board: bias, intended or otherwise, in BBC News coverage of the EU Referendum
I feel I must draw your attention once more to the concerns I have about your news coverage.
(Postscriptum Monday 20 June. Three days to go. Who’s the main interviewee following the 8 am news? Farage. Why? No idea – he’s not an official Leave spokesman. We already know what he thinks. It’s just that he’s issued a disgusting racist poster. Or rather, his UKIP party has… he will now disassociate himself from it while at the same time making party political advantage and lying about immigration.
This man is a past-master at hijacking the news agenda. I’ve just binned a very long reply from the BBC to my complaint about their unending bias and it is clear they simply don’t get it: Farage is never off the radio, gobbling up the ‘oxygen of publicity’ at a vertiginous rate, he’s made over two hundred appearances since the run-up to last year’s General Election, at which UKIP held on to only one seat, but that’s not bias, apparently, it’s balanced ‘news’. Cretins.)
10 o’clock news, Sunday night, 12 June. Clip of Cameron, dire warning about possible cuts to pensions. Cue alluring Brexit MP arguing (without benefit of research) that it’s just ‘scaremongering’. No factual counter-argument offered. Cut immediately to Nigel Farage, in a clip from the Marr show. (Why? What does it add? Are we not totally familiar already with his point of view?) Go straight into soft piece on Michael Gove and his ‘Scottish fishing’ family roots being at the heart of his passionate conviction that special-interest pleading by a few gnarled seafarers must take priority over the future of Europe.…
This is far from the one time that, in my view, your services have shown such flagrant disregard for balance in the news, imagining that one side shouting yah-boo or making stuff up actually balances the reasoned argument and research of their opponents. Your bulletin coverage of the debate has fallen into a lazy acceptance of populist ‘memes’, and is clearly driving increasing public support for the Leave campaign, which then in turn becomes the story itself.
To quote Greg Philo, of Glasgow University Media Group: ‘A key function of media is the mass production of ignorance’.
I cannot possibly cite every instance. You did it again at 08.00 today, Monday 13th: Gordon Brown makes a reasoned case to Remain, you insert about fifteen seconds of his longer speech then, in reported speech, quote a Leave spokesperson responding sarcastically that his intervention has been ‘cobbled together at the last minute’, making no attempt to respond to the actual points, and carry on to the next story.
Day after day, BBC News continues to report the Referendum in exactly those terms: someone says something, someone else rubbishes it. No attempt is made to determine which is right. It’s utter confusion, not balance. Which has more effect on the ill-informed public, do you imagine?, a technical argument from a possibly unpopular but authoritative source, or a blanket, jocular dismissal in the vernacular?
Your editors will argue that they can only work with the material they’re given. I could refer then to a bulletin of 01 June, in which an anti-immigration speech by Mr Boris Johnson was reported on uncritically in a lengthy package involving your Chief Political Correspondent, Ms Kuenssberg. With full control of the material, you gave us shots inside and outside of his impressive campaign bus, focussing on its discreditable slogan about ‘£50 million a day we could be spending on hospitals’ (Not replacing Trident would cover about 60 hospitals….); additional interview material with Johnson’s co-campaigner, Ms Priti Patel, all ‘balanced’ only by an anodyne short clip of dowdy TUC chair Ms Stella McCarthy protesting unconvincingly about immigration being a good thing .
Ms Kuenssberg, and hence the BBC which she represents at a senior journalistic level, was then humiliated as she attempted to throw some feeble question at Johnson from out of the admiring crowd. He simply brushed her aside, as one might a wasp at Wimbledon. We were again shown at some length, Johnson’s more interesting, huge shiny bus, its huge, untruthful message lingered-on in close-up, departing for the next hustings.
(I heard no-one say that, actually, we have enough hospitals but not enough trained people to staff them, which is why we need more immigration. Nor would a new hospital ever now be built without private finance. And besides, the NHS is a separate budget. It took a comedy panel show, The News Quiz, to make such points.)
Sunday morning, 12 June, I switch on the Broadcasting House show to hear Paddy O’Connell introducing John Mann MP and a fellow Brexit supporter, with no apparent news peg other than that he has announced his support for the Leave campaign. (I switched off at that point, I’m finding it sickening.) Who is Mr Mann, apart from being the belligerent Labour loudmouth who recently assaulted Ken Livingstone in a toilet? What is his importance to the debate? Why is this worth five minutes’ airtime moderated only by a lightweight and irritatingly eccentric presenter?
And on the BBC News website on Friday, the lead story: Inventor ‘Sir James Dyson’ has come out in favour of Brexit! Yes, BBC ‘News’, he actually did that in 2014! Check his Wikipedia entry. Ten years earlier he was begging Blair to join the Euro…. More special pleading from a narrow business interest, treated as if it were news.
By contrast, you report today, Monday 13th, that, more significantly, BT’s board and communications union leaders have come out with a recommendation to Remain. This not-unimportant story is being run only as a footnote, a link beneath another story about a possible digital skills shortage. (Okay, the BT CEO turned up on the evening radio news, balanced by cries of ‘rubbish’.) Is it because Dyson, a notoriously mercurial personality, is a billionaire national business maverick, hence more newsworthy than the boring old suits and workforce of Britain’s largest telecoms provider? So the bias is just inadvertent, yes?
I accept that the Leave people are sexier (and easier to find) than the Remain camp, whose strategy is frankly a shambles. But you cannot say that BBC News is not, whether deliberately or accidentally, stoking the most outrageous and intolerable prejudice in favour of the Leave campaign, simply through massive overexposure and a failure to hold them to account. This stinks, frankly.
Farageism in Production
I’m sorry, I was a journalist, briefly with the BBC in 1974/5, and a news editor for a number of years, hence my interest in all this. Now, as a retired person I have no other platform on which to make these points. I finally cracked on Friday night and emailed BBC News to complain about your producers’ lazy, kneejerk use of Nigel Farage as an automatic studio invite, when he is not even an official spokesman for the Leave campaign. He had already appeared on several programme strands that day. And, yes, look, there he is again, yarping on about foreigners on Saturday 11th’s R4 repeat of Question Time.
How many times has Mr Farage been invited to appear on the Question Time panel alone in the past two years? Can you answer that? And say why? (Because he is ‘good value’? No, he is a consummate bore!) The trouble is, whatever the interlocutor may say to challenge them, these numerous appearances give his frankly unwanted views traction, reinforcing popular prejudices and stereotypes. Mr Farage is not what he claims, a genial popular mouthpiece: he is a ruthless, calculating demagogue who mirrors the worst instincts of the British public.
I referred also in my email to the unacceptable volume of news coverage you gave to Farage before the General Election, at which his UKIP party managed to retain only one seat, that of the formerly popular local Conservative, Douglas Carswell. Despite the hours of free publicity you afforded him, Mr Farage himself failed to get elected. The poor man is thus forced to rely on his MEP’s salary, and generous Euro expenses.
My point is that Farage is a master at hijacking the news agenda, from which he makes free political capital even when election rules supposedly control the exposure of candidates in proportion to the size of their Parliamentary representation. And your people let him!
Farage makes cheap copy; but I believe that with his repeated lies about ‘foreigners’ swamping ‘our’ culture he is a threat to the stability of British society, a loose cannon, potentially encouraging violence against minorities at a time when stability is already under threat from more dangerous actors; and the BBC is his accomplice, wittingly or otherwise. Fostering social division and racial hatred is not part of your remit to educate, inform and entertain, is it? For God’s sake, we’ve all heard what Farage has to say, a hundred times. Give that mouth of his a rest!
You perhaps need too to consider the cumulative effect of your coverage when set against the relentless bombardment of the British public over the past four decades with flagrant anti-European propaganda in the redtop press.
This has created certain stereotypical impressions on which the Brexit campaign is skilfully playing, such as the idiotic notion that we have somehow ‘surrendered our sovereignty’ to Brussels and are ‘ruled’ by ‘unelected officials’ and cannot make our own law (Tony Blair made over three thousand!); while our courts are denied proper justice, making it impossible to deport terrorists and criminal migrants, and our businesses are not allowed to trade outside the EU, being ‘strangled’ by ‘red-tape’ – all totally untrue, but who cares if it plays in Southend?
The immigration issue, too, is subject to conflation of a number of different strands that seem to have become confused in the public mind. Based only on a cursory reading of the employment statistics, it’s obvious that inworkers are driving what little economic growth we have, and actually creating more jobs. I hear Remain supporters trying to say this, but no-one is apparently listening. I’ve read your DG’s rationale for branding anyone who arrives in Britain a ‘migrant’; but there are, as you must realise, substantive legal differences between EU citizens, illegal immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, overseas students, temporary staff and tourists, children trapped in the Calais ‘swamp’, etc. that you cannot and must not ignore. The catch-all term ‘migrant’ is demeaning; divisive; unhelpful. Maybe not to you, Lord Hall, but to the public.
(You may as well call me an ‘economic migrant’: born in London, in 2001 I moved my family to Wales because it’s cheaper and the air is fresh. Is everyone expected to stay exactly where they are?)
People are not interested in abstruse economic arguments. However, your constant unfiltered references to ‘the crisis in the Eurozone’ fails to mention that the Euro is currently at an all-time high against the pound, and indeed has remained remarkably stable over the past nine years, something that might benefit from a little exploration.
The blanket denials of expert testimony are also disturbing: dozens of Nobel laureates, actors and musicians, economists, historians, the CBI, all in turn have tried to voice their concerted support for Remain on the basis of their professional working knowledge, and simply been howled down by the Brexit camp and derided without recourse to a single fact on your programmes. It merely plays into the popular suspicion of elitism, which is again prejudicial to the Remain cause.
Then, you gave more prominent coverage to two former security chiefs’ pretty neutral view of the implications of Leaving (how good will they look in Chilcot?), than to the advice of current security chiefs that we should Remain for the safety of the public. Why? Because it was more controversial, hence more newsworthy! And that’s the problem: the Leave campaign has all the news angles. You must take account of it when balancing your reporting. (Is Lord Guthrie being truthful when he says the EU will have its own army? No-one else seems to think it will.)
I cannot for one moment believe BBC staff support the Leave campaign. British exit from the EU will be a blunder of historic proportions, and I’m sure you all know it. You are letting our membership – and hence, our ability to influence global affairs, to withstand global economic shocks, to maintain security and to work and travel about freely – go by default. The Americans, the Chinese, India, Australia will not welcome us with open arms. Who will ever trust our word again?
I personally do not wish to be a second-class citizen in Europe, hence my intense frustration with your output. Please, look again at what you are doing.
Nor do I ask you to reply to this appeal because, frankly, I don’t expect the BBC ever to accept criticism of this nature, it’s not in your DNA. I’m sure you can and will point to plenty of other non-News programming that has made concessions to Remain, or attempted to explain the issues (but in such a ‘balanced’ way it renders enlightenment almost impossible).
It’s just not something I’ve particularly noticed.
A well-modulated Brexit cunt
Still Monday 13th, and Radio 4’s flagship lunchtime news show The World at One has today as its studio guest answering calls on the special Strictly Come Brexiting! daily running slot, why, none other than Ian Duncan Smith, the formerly unpopular and unsuccessful election-losing leader of the Conservative party, now the Secretary of State for All Work and No Pensions, and one of the most prominent of the sinister power-hungry Thatcherite cabal of Leave campaigners.
Now, how did they manage to get hold of him, I wonder? It’s quite a coup!
Ian has coincidentally already been extensively clipped on the show during its ‘news’ segment, arguing that the only way to ‘control immigration’ is to leave the EU. (Passports are another.)
I don’t think I’ve yet heard him say why we want to ‘control immigration’ when it is obviously all that stands between us and the economic shoals, perhaps he just thinks we’ll like him more if he agrees with us that migrants are all thieves, rapists and murderers scrounging on the benefits hardworking families are paying for, and should be sent packing for the sake of our racial purity. He’s good on benefits, is Ian.
In that regard, he agrees with another so-called ‘research group’, Sir Andrew Green’s eccentric ‘MigrationWatch UK’, virtually a one-man crusade for racial purity, that has just been quoted in a ‘news’ report on, you guessed it, today’s The World at One, scaremongeringly prognosticating that (unless of course it doesn’t) ‘net migration’ will continue to increase at the rate of 250,000 a year for the next twenty years if we stay in the EU.*
Not if I can bloody well help it, I’m out of here as soon as the housing shortage gets so acute, somebody buys my house. You think I want to be trapped on a tiny floating island with these crazies in charge?
Mr Duncan Smith must spend hours sitting in his little room in front of a dictaphone machine, practising sounding superhumanly reasonable: calm, measured and well-modulated.
His is the most reasonable, soothing and well-modulated voice you could possibly listen to, like your favourite doctor! or psychotic mass killer, as he explains reasonably and carefully, in his over-controlled manner, why despite you being a blind, illiterate, chronically obese, octogenarian Ghanaian quadruple amputee with severe learning difficulties and MS, living on the 14th floor of a condemned tower block with a broken elevator in Galashiels, it would be really, really helpful to the national economy and good for the soul if you would kindly haul your sorry ass down to the Jobcentre twice a week and take the first cleaning job they throw at you, or he will unfortunately be obliged to cut your disability living allowance, tax you on your carer’s bedroom and disembowel your cat with his little, pointy fangs.
He is, in short, a well-modulated Brexit cunt (Conservative and Unionist, Not in this Together).
But hush, darlings, let’s listen to what he has to say….
*The ghost of Thomas Malthus….
- The company’s objectives as described in its articles of association are “to conduct research into migration issues and to educate the public in the relevant facts”. (Wikipedia entry on Migration Watch)
Since when did loose predictions supporting extreme political positions become facts?
Journalists have been criticised, especially by the Cardiff School, of being too readily scared into using Sir Andrew’s little research company to ‘balance’ out any favourable comments on migration. It seems clear that population control (eugenics) is the basis of MigrationWatch UK’s platform. Other researchers on population have pointed out that the underlying UK birthrate is well below replacement, while the contrary political view on migration is that, with the fastest-rising demographic that of the Over-80s, more immigration will be a necessity. Others believe that the predicted population peak of 70 million by 2030 is not an unmanageable number.
My ‘relevant fact’ is that when there are no more jobs to be filled, when their own national economies improve sufficiently, and with restrictions on supplementary in-work benefits making it impossible to rent accommodation, send money home or buy food, the flow of inworkers – even of illegals – will dry up of its own accord.
Dire Malthusian predictions of populations rising forever to infinity have long been discredited, but it’s still a powerful myth.