Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
In this testing political climate, it can be difficult for news outlets to report cold, hard facts without accusations of bias. It is undoubtedly an unenviable burden having millions of people rely on you to counter ‘fake news’ with objective, evidence-based information. The BBC is one such organisation which is faced with the conundrum of balancing all political opinions whilst appearing to remain politically disinterested. But if we acknowledge the facts that the BBC has a budget, funded by the taxpayer, of almost £4 billion (the second-highest budget in the business), and lengthy impartiality guidelines to ensure that audiences receive fair reporting, there surely can be no excuse for any appearance or reality of bias.
Andrew Marr interviewing Labour front-bencher Emily Thornberry, Remainer, in November 2018.
Despite its director-general earlier this year claiming that the corporation is ‘committed to giving coverage to all sides of controversial debates’, the BBC’s reputation for impartiality nonetheless seems to be taking hits from all sides in light of the Brexit debate. James O’Brien, LBC presenter and notorious Remainer-in-chief, last year wrote a piece for the New Statesman claiming that media impartiality on the subject of the EU is overrated because it encourages the ‘veneration of dangerous stupidity’. More recently, leftist commentator Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian that the BBC has fallen victim to the curse of ‘rightwing domination’. In 2013, academics claiming to be ‘independent’ even had the gall to suggest that voices arguing for the benefits of EU membership were ‘very sparse’.
There is an irony in these claims when we remind ourselves that nine out of ten academics describe themselves as pro-EU, that frontman of the BBC’s flagship political programme The Andrew Marr Show was once described as a ‘raving Marxist’, and that its North America editor Jon Sopel, tasked with reporting the Trump saga for the past four years, was once the President of Labour Students. Of course, it would be wrong to award the long-forgotten personal histories of BBC presenters greater weight than reasoned judgement, but it is certainly necessary to point out that the broadcaster is not experiencing any sinister right-wing occupation.
Remain-backing LBC radio presenter James O’Brien with Second Referendum-supporting Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Over the past few years, some have rightly identified an anti-Brexit bias on the BBC. Of course, James O’Brien, who was educated at top private school Ampleforth College and who openly sneers at Leave voters, will find this lack of positive Brexit coverage perfectly acceptable. But for 45% of Leave voters, there is a worrying sense that the BBC is not interested in giving their views due airtime. And they have real facts to support this claim: earlier this year, the Institute of Economic Affairs conducted research on 600 panellists who featured on two flagship BBC political programmes (BBC1’s Question Time and BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions) between June 2016 and December 2017, and found that around 68% supported Remain whilst only 32% favoured Leave.
Of course, the BBC might respond by saying that we live in a parliamentary democracy which functions on the Burkean trustee model of representation, whereby elected politicians balance demands of their constituents with their own personal sound judgement, and that panellists must reflect the opinions of these politicians, the vast majority of whom voted Remain in 2016. Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, agrees with this model, and sees it as the duty of an MP ‘to exercise his or her judgement, to see each issue against the wider context, to form alliances that can deliver change and to be a forceful advocate’. If politicians like Bryant (who currently has a majority of 41.7% and thus more scope to boldly proclaim the disdain with which he really regards his electorate) want to openly and honestly roll out the ‘I know best’ line, then fine. But others are less honest about their role – arch-Remainer Anna Soubry often likes to claim that she reflects the will of her constituents by supporting a People’s Vote, but the reality is that the Brexit Party romped to victory in Broxtowe, making it all the more evident that Remain-backing MPs are engaging in a self-indulgent project to forward their own career rather than the will of their constituents, which incidentally is their primary role as an MP.
Chris Bryant, Remain-voting Labour MP on Sky News during the referendum debate.
If any further evidence that the BBC is biased against Brexit is required, let’s take a look at a BBC TV schedule from last month. On Sunday 16th June, Andrew Marr was joined by Andy Burnham (Labour, Remain), Rory Stewart (Conservative, Remain), Jeremy Hunt (Conservative, Remain), Jessica Elgot (The Guardian, Remain), and Jane Moore (The Sun, Leave). Still, I suppose one in five is better than Question Time on 6th June which featured guests Nicky Morgan (Conservative, Remain), Anneliese Dodds (Labour, Remain), Drew Hendry (SNP, Remain), Alison Phillips (Daily Mirror, Remain), and Piers Morgan (journalist, Remain) – a big fat zero for the Brexiteers. Whilst Piers Morgan supports the delivery of Brexit, this is only to honour the referendum result. Therefore, there are no wholehearted Brexiteers represented on that panel.
On a positive note, despite the bias of the BBC, the general public has not been fooled, and have told the political establishment in no uncertain terms in five elections over five years that they want Brexit delivered. But it is nonetheless unsettling that our nation’s public broadcaster seems set on manufacturing public opinion against leaving the EU. Repeatedly, BBC Question Time, in particular, features a 4:1 or 5:0 split between Remainers and Leavers, and producers are very rarely called out for their deliberate failure to ‘reflect the country’.
Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the BBC’s comedy TV series Blackadder, speaking at a People’s Vote rally.
The BBC was founded by John Reith in 1922 with a noble aim to ‘educate, inform and entertain’ the British public. These days, it seems like the heads of the corporation are more keen on the mantra, ‘manipulate, brainwash, coerce’, and they are clearly undeserving of our rip-off licence fee. For instance, three years after the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP, the BBC failed to distance itself from Jo Brand’s joke about acid attacks on politicians. There is great value in a public broadcaster, but it must fairly reflect and portray the views of all people in this great nation. It must stop its aggressive campaign to sideline and marginalise Brexit backers and must begin to stand up for the growing 52%.