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CIVITAS: How pro-Brexit views have been marginalised in the BBC’s news coverage …

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Greg Lance – Watkins



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The Brussels Broadcasting


How pro-Brexit views have been marginalised

in the BBC’s news coverage

David Keighley and Andrew Jubb


The Brussels Broadcasting



The Brussels Broadcasting


How pro-Brexit views have been

marginalised in the BBC’s

news coverage

David Keighley and Andrew Jubb


First Published January 2018

© Civitas 2018

55 Tufton Street

London SW1P 3QL


All rights reserved

ISBN 978-1-906837-94-5

Independence: Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society is

a registered educational charity (No. 1085494) and a company

limited by guarantee (No. 04023541). Civitas is financed from a

variety of private sources to avoid over-reliance on any single

or small group of donors.

All the Institute’s publications seek to further its objective of

promoting the advancement of learning. The views expressed

are those of the authors, not of the Institute.

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Authors vi

Foreword by David G. Green viii

Executive summary 1

  1. The News-watch record of BBC bias 5

Phase One: 1999 to 2005 10

Phase Two: 2006 to 2015 22

Phase Three: The 2016 referendum 37

Phase Four: Post-referendum 41

Leave and the ‘Left’: 2002 to 2017 45

  1. The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose? 47

Conclusion 57

Notes 59



David Keighley has worked in the media for most of his

career. A graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge,

where he worked on the university newspaper,

Varsity, he was a reporter on the Wakefield Express and

The Evening Gazette, Middlesbrough. He worked for

the BBC for seven years, rising to become television

news and current affairs television publicity officer

with responsibility for all the corporation’s highestprofile programmes in that domain. He was controller

of public affairs at the breakfast channel TV-am from

1985-92, where he was in charge of all aspects of the

£100m company’s public profile, including editorial

compliance. From 1993 to the present, he has worked

as a media business development consultant, and his

clients have ranged from Reuters Television to Channel

Nine, Australia. He was the originator and director of

News World, the world’s first international conference

for news broadcasters, which ran from 1995-2002, and

founded News-watch in 1999.

Andrew Jubb read English and Media studies at

Sussex University, with a strong focus on media bias,

politics and representation. He has worked for News-


watch since its inception in 1999. He has overseen

more than 8,000 hours of broadcast media monitoring,

and conducted extended analyses of the tabloid and

broadsheet press. He has co-authored the Newswatch reports and has provided statistical evidence for

papers published by the Centre for Policy Studies and

Migration Watch.

News-watch is one of the UK’s leading media

monitoring organisations. It has conducted around

40 separate reports into elements of the BBC’s output,

including for the Centre for Policy Studies, and

has acted as consultant in a number of independent

media surveys. It has given evidence to the Commons

European Scrutiny Committee’s audit of broadcasters’

EU-related coverage 2013-2015.




This is the latest in a long series of systematic analyses

of BBC coverage of the EU, which exposes its sustained

bias. Many other people have drawn attention to the

BBC’s failure to fulfil its duty of impartiality, but none

has been based on the solid research of News-watch.

The typical reaction of the BBC to criticism is to be

dismissive. Systematic counting of pro- or anti-EU

guests on programmes has been derided as mere bean

counting, usually followed by insisting that qualitative

assessments give far more insight, when the BBC has no

intention of carrying out qualitative assessments either.

Some years ago America’s CIA became notorious for

its doctrine of ‘plausible deniability’. The BBC uses a

similar approach. It allows the occasional guest on

Today or Newsnight who is an undoubted supporter

of Brexit. Never mind that the balance of coverage is

biased. In a world of short attention spans it’s enough

to say that in the last month Tim Martin and John

Longworth were on the Today programme. And we’ll

ignore how interviews were conducted: kid gloves and

reverential listening to Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve,

but hectoring and interruptions for EU critics.


What is the point of publishing this research? It’s

certainly not because anyone at the BBC will take

any notice. It is run by people who are shameless.

But we hope that enough members of the public

will gain improved understanding and that in time

improvement may follow.

This is not the first time that biased coverage has

been exposed. In 2004 it was expected that there would

be a referendum on the proposed EU constitution. It

never happened but an inquiry into the impartiality

of the BBC was established in 2004, chaired by Lord

Wilson of Dinton, who as Richard Wilson had been

a distinguished civil servant until 2002, ending his

career as Cabinet Secretary and head of the home

civil service. There were four other members of the

panel, two enthusiasts for the EU and two critics. The

enthusiasts were Lucy Armstrong, chief executive of

The Alchemists, and Sir Stephen Wall, the former head

of the European Secretariat at the Cabinet Office and a

board member of Britain in Europe, a pressure group

founded originally to support British membership of

the euro. The critics were Rodney Leach, chairman

of Business For Sterling, and Nigel Smith, the former

chairman of the No (euro) campaign. Despite the

presence of committed supporters of the EU project,

the panel reported in January 2005 that there was

substance in the widespread public concern that the

BBC suffered from ‘certain forms of cultural and

unintentional bias’:



In essence it seems to be the result of a combination of

factors including an institutional mindset, a tendency

to polarise and over-simplify issues, a measure of

ignorance of the EU on the part of some journalists and

a failure to report issues which ought to be reported,

perhaps out of a belief that they are not sufficiently

entertaining. Whatever the cause in particular cases,

the effect is the same for the outside world and feels

like bias.1

The panel took pains to say that the bias was not

deliberate, but that it was there all the same:

We were asked whether the BBC is systematically

Europhile. If systematic means deliberate, conscious

bias with a directive from the top, an internal system

or a conspiracy, we have not found a systematic bias.

But we do think there is a serious problem. Although

the BBC wishes to be impartial in its news coverage

of the EU it is not succeeding. Whatever the intention,

nobody thinks the outcome is impartial. There is strong

disagreement about the net balance but all parties show

remarkable unity in identifying the elements of the

problem. Sometimes being attacked from all sides is a

sign that an organisation is getting it right. That is not

so here. It is a sign that the BBC is getting it wrong, and

our main conclusion is that urgent action is required to

put this right.2

The most damning evidence, however, has been

presented by Robin Aitken in his book, Can We Trust

The BBC?, published in 2007. As a BBC journalist for

25 years he had been able to see things from the inside




and his account of a documentary that was broadcast

on Radio 4 in February 2000 casts doubt on the claim

that the BBC’s bias was not deliberate.

The documentary was called ‘Letters to The Times’

and was presented by Christopher Cook. It began

with the revelation by Norman Reddaway, a retired

civil servant from the Foreign Office, that there had

been a propaganda unit at the Foreign Office called

the Information and Research Department (IRD). Its

original purposes had been to combat communism,

but Reddaway reported that over the two years up

to our joining the EEC in 1973 the IRD had been used

to manipulate public opinion in the UK. One device

was to get letters published in The Times to give a false

impression of independent public support for British

membership of the EEC, but far more seriously IRD

had set out actively to influence journalists.3


disturbing of all, it urged the BBC to replace journalists

who were seen as ‘anti-European’. IRD held a series

of breakfast meetings, paid for by the European

Movement, a pressure group that aimed to promote

European integration. The meetings were organised

by Geoffrey Tucker, a committed campaigner who

described the purpose of the campaign as follows:

Nobbling is the name of the game. Throughout the

period of the campaign there should be day-by-day

communication between the key communicators and

our personnel, e.g. the Foreign and Commonwealth

Office and Marshall Stewart of the Today programme.4



Tucker explained during his interview that the

presenter of the Today programme, Jack de Manio, was

seen as anti-EU and that he had set out to persuade

Ian Trethowan, then the managing director of BBC

network radio, to replace him:

Jack de Manio was a presenter who was terribly antiEuropean and we protested privately about this and

he was moved. Whether that was a coincidence or not

I really don’t know. … I just said listening to him it

seems this man is giving a totally unbalanced view. It

would appear that there is nothing good about Europe

at all. And Ian Trethowan listened and Jack de Manio

was replaced.5

Roy Hattersley, a passionate enthusiast for the EU, told

the BBC reporter during the same programme that he

had attended one of the IRD breakfasts. Looking back

in 2000 he confirmed Tucker’s account:

We were all on the same side. We were all European

propagandists. We were all fighting the European cause

to the extent that some of the protagonists actually

drew Ian Trethowan’s attention to broadcasters who

they thought had been anti-European, and asked

him to do something about it. Now I was so shocked

that I decided I couldn’t go again, it sounds terribly

prissy and I am rather ashamed of sounding so pious,

but it really did shock me at the time and, frankly,

remembering it now, shocks me still.6

When the referendum on the EU was held in 1975

the impression was given that the mainstream media



were all in favour of staying in. It is obvious from

the testimony of Tucker and Hattersley that this

impression had been deliberately manipulated by

the management of the BBC. Aitken concludes that

what happened at the BBC in the early 1970s was ‘a

mini-purge of editorial staff’ who were considered

ideologically unsound on Europe.7

Hattersley told the BBC in 2000 that IRD had always

preferred propaganda to reasoned argument:

What we did throughout all those years, all the

Europeans would say, ‘let’s not risk trying to make

fundamental changes by telling the whole truth,

let’s do it through public relations rather than real

proselytizing’ and the IRD was always one to ‘spin’ the

arguments rather than ‘expose’ the argument.8

Hattersley concluded that adopting this deceitful

approach had worked badly for EU supporters:

Not only was it wrong for us to deal superficially

with what Europe involved but we’ve paid the price

for it ever since because every time there’s a crisis in

Europe people say – with some justification – ‘well we

wouldn’t have been part of this if we’d really known

the implications’. Joining the European Community

did involve significant loss of sovereignty but by

telling the British people that was not involved I think

the rest of the argument was prejudiced for the next 20,

30 years.9

The latest News-watch study shows that the BBC has

not changed. It pays lip service to impartiality but acts



more like a political party with a policy manifesto. The

time has arrived for a full and independent inquiry

into the impartiality of BBC news coverage.

David G. Green

Executive summary

For at least the past two decades, opinion polls have

shown that a large minority if not a majority of voters

have wanted the UK to leave the European Union.

When the question was finally put in the June 2016

referendum, they voted to do just that by a margin of

52 per cent to 48 per cent. Yet the clear preference of

a large section of the population for withdrawal, and

the reasons for so many people taking this stance,

have been continually under-represented in the news

coverage of the BBC. As this paper illustrates, proBrexit voices have been marginalised in the BBC’s

coverage of EU issues for most of the past 20 years.

That this is the case is borne out by detailed

analysis of BBC news output dating back to 1999. For

instance, of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on BBC

Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005

and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of

the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is linked to a

longstanding reluctance to even probe the question of

whether Britain should leave the EU. Between 2005

and 2011, a period during which UKIP secured 12 seats

and third place in the European Parliament elections,



only 20 questions about actually leaving the EU were

posed. In the 1,073 surveyed editions of Today there was

an average of one question on withdrawal for every 54

editions or every 153 programme hours. When opinion

in favour of leaving the EU has featured, the editorial

approach has – at the expense of exploring withdrawal

itself – tended heavily towards discrediting and

denigrating opposition to the EU as xenophobic, and

to cast those who supported it as mostly incompetent

and venal.

There has also been more than a tendency to present

pro-withdrawal views through the prism of ‘Tory

splits’ and thereby also to downplay the significance

of left-wing euroscepticism. In 274 hours of monitored

BBC coverage of EU issues between 2002 and 2017, only

14 speakers (0.2 per cent of the total) were left-wing

advocates of leaving the EU. These 14 contributors

delivered 1,680 words, adding up to approximately 12

minutes out of 274 hours of airtime.

By comparison, during the same period, strongly

pro-EU Conservatives Ken Clarke and Michael

Heseltine made between them 28 appearances with

contributions totalling 11,208 words – over nine

times the amount of airtime allocated to all left-wing

withdrawalists. BBC audiences were thus made fully

familiar with right-wing reasons for Remain. They

were, by contrast, kept in the dark about left-wing/

Labour support for leaving the EU. Core left-wing

arguments against the EU – over its prohibition of state

aid to protect jobs, the threat to the NHS from the TTIP



agreement and the belief that the EU has evolved into a

‘neoliberal marketplace’ – were largely ignored.

These findings are drawn from a sequential analysis

of the media monitoring reports of News-watch

dating back to 1999. Since the European Parliament

elections of that year it has compiled 38 mainly halfyearly reports based on 8,000 programme transcripts

covering almost 300 hundred hours of EU content. It

is believed to be the largest systematic media content

analysis project ever undertaken.

The overview provided here is a shocking

indictment of the BBC’s failure to achieve impartiality,

and in particular to incorporate the views of those

who desired to leave the EU into its news output.

Despite the referendum vote, this bias continues to the

present day. Latest News-watch research, covering a

month’s editions of Today in October/November 2017,

has found that of 97 interviews on EU topics, only

nine – less than 10 per cent – were with firm long-term

supporters of Brexit.

These findings are compounded by the fact that,

despite frequent requests to the director general and

the chairman of the BBC from a cross-party group of

MPs concerned about BBC bias, the Corporation has

been unable to provide a single programme that has

examined the opportunities of Brexit.

This paper also chronicles for the first time how the

BBC’s response to News-watch’s ongoing monitoring of

its EU coverage has been overwhelmingly unreceptive.

Mostly, the Corporation has refused to consider the



findings at all. The only response it has ever issued,

from the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC

Trust in 2007, was seriously flawed and distorted and

twisted the News-watch methodology.

The BBC response’s to this data demonstrates

that its formal complaints procedure and its attitude

towards legitimate criticism is designed to protect

the Corporation rather than to achieve impartiality in

this vital area of public debate. A massive overhaul is

urgently required.



The News-watch record of

BBC bias

Sequential analysis of the News-watch archive of the

BBC’s coverage of the EU, undertaken here for the first

time, reveals a shocking saga of failure to reflect the

United Kingdom’s desire to leave.

The 38 News-watch surveys, encompassing 5,600

hours of BBC programming and the line-by-line

analysis of 280 hours of EU-related content, span from

the European parliamentary elections in 1999 to the

present day. It is one of the largest media monitoring

exercises ever undertaken: no university departments

track BBC output on a sustained basis, and nor does

the BBC itself.

During all that period, opinion polls regularly

showed that the majority, or at least a large minority,

of UK voters wanted to leave the EU. But their views

have never been properly incorporated into BBC EUrelated output.

Despite the referendum vote, this bias continues

to the present day. Latest News-watch research,

covering a month’s editions of Today in October/



November 2017, has found that of 97 interviews on

EU topics, only nine – less than 10 per cent – were with

firm long-term supporters of Brexit. And only one, the

businessman John Mills, could be classed as a leftwing ‘come-outer’.

Among the most striking longer-term findings of the

News-watch research are:

  • A special week of programming on Today in 2001,

purporting to examine the withdrawal perspective,

had only one very brief interview about withdrawal

itself with a supporter of leaving the EU.

  • The Today programme in 2002 covered opposition

to Ireland’s acceptance of the Nice Treaty in the

build-up to a national referendum through only one

interview, with Gerry Adams.

  • Of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on the Today

programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2

per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal

from the EU.

  • The figures relating to withdrawal supporters

also show that in a more detailed sample period

between 2005 and 2011, only 20 questions about

actually leaving the EU were posed. In the 1,073

surveyed editions of Today there was an average of

one question on withdrawal for every 54 editions or

every 153 programme hours, in a period when UKIP

secured 12 seats and third place in the European

Parliament elections.


The News-watch record of BBC bias

  • Between 2002 and 2017, a total of 6,882 EU-related

speakers on the EU are recorded on the News-watch

database. Only 14 (0.2 per cent) of the total – one

in 500 – were left-wing advocates of withdrawal.

The majority of these appearances were too short to

explore their views in any detail.

  • During the referendum campaign, despite BBC

editorial guidelines requiring strict balance, BBC

Radio 1 Newsbeat (the Corporation’s leading news

programme for young listeners) audiences were 1.5

times more likely to hear a Remain supporter than

a Leave supporter. 238 guest speakers contributed

to the various discussions on the referendum. The

analysis shows that 45 per cent spoke in favour

of Remain, 30 per cent in favour of Leave – the

remainder were classed as neutral.

  • In 2005, a special BBC One programme, How Euro

are You?, cast those who wanted to leave the EU as

‘Little Islanders’ – similar in its negativity to a special

Newsnight programme during the referendum

campaign in 2016, when the Leave option was cast

as Britain ending up like Sealand, a rusting Second

World War defence platform in the North Sea.

  • In The Brexit Collection – a series of programmes

selected by the BBC as representative of Radio 4’s

post-referendum output – there were no attempts

in any programme to explore the benefits of leaving

the EU but, conversely, Brexit came under sustained

negative attack. This was reflected in the balance



The News-watch record of BBC bias

Whenever opinion in favour of leaving the EU has

featured between 1999-2016, the editorial approach

was – at the expense of exploring withdrawal itself

– heavily towards discrediting and denigrating

opposition to the EU as xenophobic, and to cast those

who supported it as mostly incompetent and venal.

Coming up to date, more recent analysis by Newswatch is showing that, as Brexit negotiations unfold,

the mission of BBC correspondents is to concentrate

heavily on the inadequacy and incompetence of Leave

supporters – allying them wherever possible with socalled ‘Fake News’ and, in parallel, to leave no stone

unturned in projecting how damaging to British

interests and impossibly complex the whole process

  1. Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, has declared

on the BBC Newswatch programme that she sees her

role as ‘to put across the European perspective’ in the

Brexit negotiations.2

A major question here is why the BBC is so steadfastly

pro-EU. Alas, here, the News-watch analysis can

provide no answers. Corporately the BBC holds with

bull-headed obstinacy to the assertion that its coverage

is ‘impartial’ despite the evidence amassed by Newswatch. Yet – as already noted – it has never properly

examined any News-watch report on the grounds that

it is the wrong kind of research, or (without ever giving

reasons) that it is incompetent.

The BBC never explored or imagined editorially how

life outside the EU could be positive. In parallel, there

has never been a programme or strand of investigation



which has looked with hard-headed journalistic rigour

at the negatives of EU membership and of the EU

project as a whole.

Here follows, in more detail, the News-watch

findings from 1999 to the present day. Each of the

separate headings below refers to a News-watch

survey, which can be found be found on the Newswatch website in the ‘Research and Reports’ section.3

Phase One: 1999 to 2005

1999 European Parliament elections

There was a very low level of coverage of the elections

on the flagship BBC news programmes, both on

radio and television. Jeremy Paxman, then anchor

of Newsnight, described the vote as an ‘outbreak of

narcolepsy’, perhaps reflecting the editorial lack of

commitment to coverage. There was little effort to go

out to constituencies. The pro-euro Conservatives,

who won only 1.4 per cent of the vote, received

disproportionate coverage. Allied to this, there was

a heavy assumption that the Conservative party

was deeply split, when during the campaign there

was no evidence of this. By contrast, although many

Labour MPs were opposed to the UK joining the euro,

this was not explored. UKIP, which won three seats

with 7.7 per cent of the vote, had only one set-piece

interview on any BBC programme. John Humphrys,

in his questions to Nigel Farage, bracketed UKIP

with the British Nationalist Party in its approach to

immigration, then suggested that leaving the EU was


The News-watch record of BBC bias

‘literally unthinkable’ because of ‘all the turmoil that

would be created’. UKIP was also mentioned briefly in

an On the Record programme package on the minority

parties as a whole, and was again linked with BNP.

May-July 2000 – the Feira EU summit

This analysis – the first focusing on the Today

programme – found an imbalance of 87-35 in favour

of pro-EU speakers; a failure to challenge Labour

spokesmen over the unproven and alarmist claims that

3 million jobs would be lost if the UK did not join the

euro; repeated emphasis on that claim that the ‘high

value of the pound’ was a handicap to the UK (now,

of course reversed in connection with Brexit!); and

that there were no withdrawal-supporting speakers,

despite the increased showing in the previous year’s


January-February 2001 – analysis of Today’s special

week of reports about withdrawal

This, it turned out, focused heavily on pro-EU and

pro-euro speakers and gave them the most space: their

theme was to outline arguments against withdrawal.

Although there were a handful of appearances by

supporters of leaving the EU, most were not asked

about withdrawal itself. The only exception was Nigel

Farage, who was able to make a few brief UKIP policy

points. The exercise as a whole underlined how locked

in the Westminster ‘bubble’ was the BBC editorial

approach. There was no attempt, for example, to talk



to withdrawal-supporting business people, or rank

and file voters. Presenter Sue McGregor typified this

narrow, negative approach as she outlined the aim of

the week’s programming. She said:

This week on this programme, we’re taking a look

at what it could mean for Britain if she withdrew

completely from the European Union. Some people

suggest that she should, what would that sort of

isolation mean? Well, in the second of three special

reports for us, Sarah Nelson this morning looks at

the political reality of life for Britain on the fringes of


Denis MacShane, shortly to be made the UK’s EU

minister, posited that leaving the EU was ‘flat earth

politics’ – this went unchallenged by the presenter.

The News-watch report concluded:

This (negativity towards withdrawal) was compounded

by the attitudes and stance of the BBC correspondents

covering this issue. Sarah Nelson, the compiler of

the series of three special reports, assembled some

of the main Euro-sceptic arguments, but chose not to

include in her editing the views of those who actually

did support withdrawal. Her writing…appeared to

indicate that withdrawal was so far off the political

spectrum that it was almost impossible to find those

who would argue for it. For Today – and the BBC –

the conundrum therefore remains of how to properly

cover the debate about Europe. There is a substantial

strand of opinion particularly outside Parliament, but

also within it, that favours withdrawal…that number


The News-watch record of BBC bias

remains remarkably consistent. At the moment, little

articulation is given to those views. On this showing, it

appears that those who espouse withdrawal will have

real difficulty ever achieving an effective platform on

one of the nation’s main arenas of political debate.

BBC Europe and Us week, February 2001

This was a series of linked programmes on radio and

television designed to illustrate the UK’s relationship

with the EU. At its heart was ‘Referendum Street’ on

BBC1 about how a vote about joining the euro was

likely to go. Analysis showed it was a heavily-rigged

exercise, the purpose of which was to show that if

people were exposed to the real facts about the euro,

they would vote to join. The young people’s news

programme Newsround carried a series of reports

which were heavily pro-EU. On Radio 4, the historian

David Sells re-wrote history by suggesting that

Churchill wanted the UK to be part of an all-powerful

European Union. A Radio 5 phone-in presented by

Nicky Campbell from Ireland featured guests and

contributors who were overwhelmingly pro-EU.

The report’s conclusion was:

. . . only one main programme, Question Time on BBC1,

was completely balanced. The remainder were skewed

in one way or another (towards the EU and joining the

euro) in that they did not weave into their own analysis

and presentation sufficient views and information

that came from the Eurosceptic perspective… the



strand lacked coherence and on a cultural level, put

forward the largely uncontested view that the EU, and

everything linked with it, was about delivering more

choice for the UK.

General election 2001

The main EU-related issue of the election was whether

the UK would join the euro. The Conservative approach

was not to; Labour claimed to be committed to ‘wait and

see’. Coverage examined especially the Conservative

Save the Pound campaign and looked for cracks

and splits, especially by focusing disproportionately

on disagreements between pro-EU figures such as

Kenneth Clarke and those with a more anti-EU stance,

such as party leader William Hague. The editorial

treatment of the eurosceptic case was heavily linked

with Tories and Tory splits – the result being that the

real substance of the issues involved was not properly

explored. There were very few attempts to pin Labour

down on its approach to Europe, to examine the range

of opinions within its ranks, or to explore potential

contradictions in its stance, for example over the speed

of joining the euro. Political editor Andrew Marr

considered withdrawal to be ‘damaging’ to the Tories,

either because Mr Hague was being pushed towards

it by Lady Thatcher, or because growing support of

it amongst candidates was pushing apart the careful

compromise over Europe. Mr Marr also stressed ‘how

desperately worried’ the Tories were that the UKIP

withdrawal vote would damage their support.


The News-watch record of BBC bias

The launch of euro notes and coins January 1-8, 2002

This was potentially an opportunity to explore the

pros and cons of joining the euro and of the operation

of the new currency. But BBC coverage presented a

totally one-sided view of euro-enthusiasm, and an

associated drive towards greater EU federalism. There

was no balancing attempt to explore opinion in favour

of withdrawal, and the opposition to the euro was

projected as being from a deeply split Conservative

party. Other findings included that the reports:

  • Grossly over-exaggerated levels of enthusiasm for

the new currency;

  • Seriously underplayed doubts and euro-scepticism;
  • Did not include enough facts and figures for the

audience to make a balanced judgment about the

new currency;

  • Deliberately confused New Year’s Eve celebrations

with enthusiasm for the new currency;

  • Contained vox pops which had voices favourable to

the euro in a ratio of 4:1;

  • Exaggerated enthusiasm for the new currency –

people were rushing to cash machines because they

simply needed new notes in order to buy things.

The use of vox pops breached the BBC’s guidelines

on balanced reporting. Of 57 such contributions, 28

expressed positive opinions about the euro, 15 had

mixed or neutral views and only 14 (five from one



sequence in Greece) were negative. Reporters spoke

enthusiastically and uncritically about the Ode to Joy

being played and of tens of thousands of people on the

streets – as if it was to mark the launch of the euro,

not New Year’s Eve – and of a sense of ‘excitement’

over a currency that, it was said, ‘would usher in a

new era of closer union’. The business reporting of

the event was equally as unbalanced, with eulogising

comment about moves towards EU unity from figures

such as Jean-Claude Trichet, governor of the Bank of

France, and unqualified pleas for the UK now to join.

Across all platforms, there was very little exploration

of opposition in the UK to the euro.

Seville Council meeting, June 2002

This survey noted a now recurrent issue, of underreporting of EU affairs, despite there being meaty

issues linked to EU expansion on the agenda. EU

matters took only 7 per cent of available programme

time on Today, compared with 14 per cent at the

equivalent Feira meeting two years previously,

amounting to ‘bias by omission’. A feature of the

report was a detailed comparison between the BBC’s

EU reporting with the volume of EU coverage in the

national press. Commission chairman Romano Prodi’s

EU reforms, said by the FT to be the ‘most important in

EU history’, attracted days of comment and reportage

in both tabloids and broadsheets. By contrast, Today

covered the issues involved with only one interview,

when a spokesman for Mr Prodi played down their


The News-watch record of BBC bias

significance as ‘house-keeping’. The only voice of

opposition on Today to what many saw as Prodi’s

continued march towards federalism was from an

Icelandic businessman, who in a contribution of a few

seconds, said the enlargement of the EU was ‘a step

too far’.

Year-long analysis of Today output on the EU –

September 2002 to September 2003

In the first section, there was a continuing reduction

in EU coverage and bias towards pro-EU speakers

(36 against 19 who were clearly eurosceptic) and

over- simplification to the point of inaccuracy – the

Nice Treaty was routinely called by the BBC ‘the

enlargement treaty’ when critics believed the main aim

was closer and deeper union. These problems were

typified in coverage of the second Irish referendum on

the Nice Treaty (after an initial ‘no’ vote) when the only

‘Euro-sceptic’ voice in favour of a ‘no’ vote was Gerry

Adams. Only 21 minutes in total – 14 in the week of the

referendum itself – was devoted to the coverage of the

referendum and no British politician was interviewed

about it. This was bias by omission, which downplayed

the importance for the EU project of the vote.

Another milestone was the EU Copenhagen summit

in December, which considered the ambitious further

expansion of the EU into eastern Europe, as well as the

possible accession of Turkey. Though opinion in the UK

was divided about this, Today’s coverage was heavily

biased towards those who favoured EU expansion.



A measure was that, of 4,192 words in Copenhagen

coverage from all contributors including vox pops

and other commentators, 3,473 (83 per cent) were from

those in favour of the EU and its enlargement, against

599 (14 per cent) from a euro-sceptic perspective. The

balance from political contributors was that 96 per

cent of the words spoken by them were from proEU speakers and only 4 per cent from eurosceptic


The next major EU-related development during

the year was a summit in June to consider the draft

for the new EU Constitution, a big step towards

federalism. A key issue domestically was whether a

referendum would be required to ratify this change.

Today’s coverage of the build-up illustrated another

recurring problem in the EU domain. Although public

opinion supported the need for a referendum on

the Constitution at levels of up to 84 percent, Today

characterised this as ‘axe-grinding’ by the eurosceptic

press. Further, only one brief interview (of the total of

67 relevant contributions) was with someone outside

the political arena – and even that was immediately

followed by heavily disparaging comments from a

spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society.

Wider opinion polling at this crucial point in the

development of the EU showed that support for

leaving the EU was at levels similar to the referendum

vote itself in 2016. Yet ‘withdrawal’ was mentioned

only briefly twice in the Today coverage of the new

Constitution and then only obliquely.


The News-watch record of BBC bias

The European Parliament elections, April-June 2004

UKIP more than doubled its vote to 2.7m, a 16.6 per

cent share, and won 12 seats. On Today, there were

three interviews with UKIP figures, but the main

emphasis was to bracket the party with inefficiency,

to suggest that it was ‘celebrity-driven’ (reflecting the

involvement of former BBC presenter Robert KilroySilk), and to explore alleged links with the BNP and

racism. UKIP’s approach to withdrawal itself was not

explored. In contrast, the governing Labour party

– which attracted its lowest share of a national poll

since 1832 – was asked about, and allowed to put

across, its strongly pro-EU stance with little challenge.

Another element of coverage was that editorially, it

was projected that the main impact of the rise of UKIP

would be on the Conservatives; and there was no

exploration of left-wing support for withdrawal.

Today programme survey, 2004

This was the period when discussion about the

adoption of the new EU constitution was most intense.

There continued to be a heavy skew towards pro-EU

speakers in interviews, with roughly 50 per cent pro,

33 per cent anti, and the remainder neutral.

General election 2005

There was a very low level of coverage of EU-related

matters (only 2.1 per cent of available airtime)

across a range of the main news programmes, and a

consequent failure to explore relevant issues. This



was bias by omission at a time when decisions about

the future direction of the EU were centrally on the

political agenda. UKIP made only four appearances.

They were not asked about their key policies related

to withdrawal, but were asked about their approach to

speed traps. Generally, it was assumed that the main

damage of the switch towards UKIP that had been

evident in the 2004 European Parliament elections

would be against the Conservatives. There was a

continued disproportionate focus on ‘Tory splits’ in

its approach to the EU, but no equivalent exploration

of differences of opinion in other parties about their

EU policies.

How Euro Are You?

This report was focused on a special programme –

accompanied with much PR hype – about British

attitudes towards the EU, broadcast on BBC2 in

October, 2005. At its core was an ICM poll with 100,000

responses. The aim was to answer the question of

the programme title, to distinguish between, at one

extreme, EU enthusiasts (‘Mr and Mrs Chiantishire’)

and at the other, ‘Mrs and Mrs Little Islanders’. The

findings were that 57 per cent wanted to ‘integrate

fully’ with other EU countries and that only 10 per

cent were ‘little islanders’ who wanted to leave

the EU. In reality, perhaps it only showed that on

one side, respondents who liked visiting Italy and

drinking Chianti were overt supporters of the EU; on

the other that people opposed to EU membership did


The News-watch record of BBC bias

not want to be cast as ‘little islanders’. News-watch


The chief problem was the ‘How Euro Are You?’

test’s inability to differentiate sufficiently between

‘Europe’ as a continent with its rich cultural traditions,

and ‘Europe’ as shorthand for ‘European Union’ – a

political and economic project.

In short, this lavish programme exercise wasted

considerable amounts of licence fee cash on a poll

that proved nothing. It underlined that the BBC had a

fundamental aim of trying to undermine opposition to

the EU by linking it to the ‘little Englander’ approach.

Winter 2005 survey

After the election of David Cameron as Conservative

Party leader, the Today programme continued in

its coverage of the EU during the autumn, to focus

disproportionately on the possibility of Tory splits, this

time because of the decision by David Cameron to leave

the EPP grouping in the European Parliament. There

continued to be an imbalance of Europhile speakers at

a level of 2:1; and, as the toughest EU budget round in a

generation unfolded, not enough airtime was devoted

to EU coverage. Yet again, withdrawal was pushed

firmly on to the back burner, commanding only 1 per

cent of airtime. There were only three interviews, and

the main one, of Nigel Farage, was distinguished by

James Naughtie, the interviewer, interrupting so many

times that he spoke the most words in the exchange.



Phase Two: 2006 to 2015

Over the next nine years, News-watch filed six-monthly

reports, each covering the three months leading to the

bi-annual EU leaders’ summits.

Summer 2006 survey

The period was marked by continuing controversy over

moves towards the adoption of the EU Constitution

and budget, the Doha trade talks, and continuing

allegations of fraud in EU accounting procedures.

Of the 166 speakers on EU-related issues, the ratio

of pro-EU to eurosceptic or anti-EU speakers was

2:1. Among political interviewees, the ratio was 3:1.

Representatives of eurosceptic opinion outside the

UK scarcely figured at all. Of the EU-related material,

less than half was devoted to structural EU issues. In

consequence, major topics such as EU expansion, with

only five substantive reports in the 16 weeks, and the

Constitution (11 substantive reports and 22 mentions

in total) received narrow, often biased (in the sense

that the full range of opinions on the topic was hardly

explored) and inadequate coverage.

Winter 2006 survey

This period was marked by controversy related to the

continuing saga of the Constitution, moves towards

a common EU foreign policy, and the reduction of

national vetoes. Despite this, only 2.9 per cent of Today’s

available airtime was devoted to EU affairs, among

the lowest ever recorded. Only four items related to


The News-watch record of BBC bias

these structural changes featured in peak airtime, and

key issues such as Bulgarian and Romanian accession,

with associated fears about levels of immigration

to the UK, were considered only very briefly. There

was a continuing 2:1 favouritism towards europhile

contributors, and despite the importance of the new

EU Constitution, there was no discussion of it on the

Today programme.

Summer 2007 survey

When the new EU working arrangements were adopted

on June 23 – a radical change flowing from the new EU

Constitution – Today devoted four times more coverage

to the Glastonbury rock festival than to the eurosceptic

case against the new procedures. Coverage of the

eurosceptic perspective during the 14 weeks before

the summit amounted to only seven interviews and 22

minutes of airtime even though the story was continually

developing and there was mounting pressure for a

referendum among both Conservative and Opposition

ranks. UKIP, by now a main national conduit of views

about withdrawal and further growth of EU powers,

was not asked any questions at all about the revised

working arrangements. Remarks by UKIP spokesmen

in four appearances occupied only around five minutes

out of 238 hours of programming covered by the survey.

Winter 2007 survey

This was the period in which the new EU Constitution

was agreed. On the Today programme, only 6.8 per



cent of airtime in the week of the signing was focused

on the EU summit where this occurred – a much lower

percentage than, for example in the equivalent week in

2004 when Tony Blair had announced there would be

a referendum in the UK to ratify the new constitution

(27 per cent). In the period, we found that there was

a rare occurrence – a balance between europhile

and eurosceptic speakers. However, analysis of the

transcripts revealed that europhile advocates still

spoke the majority of contributions – 45 per cent of

the words against 39 per cent (the balance being coded

as neutral). The withdrawal perspective was featured

in only five interviews, all with UKIP. Most of them

focused on issues related to UKIP itself rather than

withdrawal. Sarah Montague’s main thrust in raising

the issue was to suggest to Nigel Farage that if the

British public wanted withdrawal, they would have

voted for it in general elections, and did not need a

referendum because it was not important enough to

them to warrant it.

Summer 2008 survey

Coverage of EU affairs shrank to only 3.3 per cent

of available editorial airtime, despite there being an

abundance of issues, including the Irish referendum

on the new EU Constitution, and concerted efforts by

the EU to change industrial policies to tackle rising

CO2 levels. Of the 123 contributors to EU coverage,

only two (1.6 per cent) were in support of British

withdrawal from the EU. The BBC claimed publicly


The News-watch record of BBC bias

during this period (in statements by the director

general Mark Thompson) that they were covering the

withdrawal perspective adequately, but, in reality,

this was the lowest level of coverage since 2002. A

year previously, in adjudicating a complaint from

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the BBC Trust’s Editorial

Standards Committee ruled that Today had made an

error in June 2007 in not including a UKIP contribution

in its coverage of the European Council meeting. The

committee said it was ‘satisfied that the programme

was fully aware of this misjudgement and that it was

unlikely to be repeated in the future’. News-watch

research found that they were wrong. The ‘mistake’

recurred in June 2008: no UKIP representative was

invited onto Today to speak about the European

Council meeting, the impact of the Irish ‘no’ vote,

the implications of British ratification of the Lisbon

Treaty, or to have their standpoint on withdrawal


Winter 2008 survey

The period was marked by moves towards the formal

ratification of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s reaction to the

worldwide financial collapse and further restrictions

on carbon dioxide emissions. There were 57 guests

who were favourable to the EU, and only 25 who were

negative towards it. Of the overall total of 139 EUrelated speakers, only four (2.9 per cent) were clearly

supporters of withdrawal, including the leader of the

BNP, Nick Griffin. Nothing of their contributions was



about withdrawal itself. Only four interview items

dealt with the Lisbon Treaty.

Summer 2009 survey

This period covered the European Parliament elections.

News-watch monitored 10 separate news programmes,

including Today and Newsnight, between April 27 and

June 6, the day of the poll. There was a very low level

of reporting of EU affairs and of the election itself,

amounting to only 3.7 per cent of relevant airtime. The

Labour government’s refusal to hold a referendum

over the EU’s new Constitution was tackled in only

one interview with a government minister. Overall, the

government’s approach to EU policy, and that of those

in favour of closer EU integration, were scrutinised

only lightly. Those who advocated eurosceptic

perspectives (primarily Conservatives and UKIP) were

given a much tougher time in interviews. There were

only two brief exchanges (each of about two minutes)

about the case for withdrawal. Coverage of UKIP

focused disproportionately on corruption, racism and

inefficiency, including a colour piece by Europe editor

Mark Mardell which suggested the party was the BNP

in blazers4

 and noted that opinion in Brussels was that

they were ‘seriously unfunny pranksters’.

Winter 2009 survey

This period covered the selection of the first permanent

president of the European Council, the ratification of

the Lisbon Treaty by member states, the Irish Lisbon


The News-watch record of BBC bias

Treaty referendum and the decision by David Cameron

to leave the EPP group in the European Parliament.

Findings included bias by omission – a very low level

coverage of these weighty EU matters. Of 198 guest

contributors on EU themes, only 13 were supporters

of withdrawal, and only three made contributions on

that subject.

Summer 2010 survey

In the seminal general election of 2010, the BBC’s

coverage of EU–related issues amounted to only 3.2 per

cent of election coverage as a whole, across a range of

the BBC’s main news programmes. Neither main party

leader was interviewed about EU policy; it seems that

the BBC acquiesced to the main parties in accepting that

the EU was not an election issue, despite rising pressure

about the UK’s membership and worries about related

issues such as EU-facilitated immigration. Those

advocating withdrawal – principally UKIP – had only

1.98 per cent of airtime, but went on to attract almost

1 million votes (3.1 per cent of the votes cast). There was

disproportionate effort to portray UKIP – and with it,

the withdrawal perspective – as mired in controversy

and incompetence. The leaders’ debates, the first to

take place in a British general election, featured some

discussion of EU-related policies, but generated less

than 1,000 words of fragmentary comment on followup news programmes.



Winter 2010 survey

As the EU’s economic bailout of Ireland got underway –

and with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition

now in power – only three genuinely eurosceptic

Conservative politicians were interviewed in the

13 weeks of analysis of the Today programme. BBC

journalists yet again disproportionately underlined

alleged Conservative divisions over EU policy and,

in contrast, did not explore properly the structural

problems in the euro that had caused the Irish economic

crisis. In parallel, only 1.9 per cent of speakers during

the survey period were clearly in favour of withdrawal

from the EU, and no withdrawal perspective was

included in the coverage of EU budget negotiations

or the Irish financial crisis. Another issue identified

was that the BBC’s descriptions of EU operations were

inaccurate – for example, the European Commission

was described as the EU’s ‘civil service’ when its

powers are much more sweeping.

Winter 2011 survey

This was during the period of the Greek economic

bailout, and there was an exceptional volume of EU

coverage, almost 22.5 per cent of available airtime,

against the long-term average of 5.6 per cent. It was a

period of intense debate about the UK’s involvement

in the EU, including about withdrawal, but despite

this, there were only 37 contributors on Today (out

of a total of 517) on EU topics who were genuinely

eurosceptic, and they delivered only 11 per cent of the


The News-watch record of BBC bias

words spoken in this category, compared to 30 per

cent by those who were europhile and 20 per cent of

those from the Conservative party who, like David

Cameron and William Hague, were critical of minor

elements of the EU but did not advocate withdrawal.

In the build-up to the debate about whether there

should be a referendum on Britain’s EU membership,

there were only four interviews with firm eurosceptics

who supported the ‘yes’ vote, and they were allotted so

little time that they were unable to make their case on

anything more than a very limited basis. Only one nonConservative supporter of the need for a referendum

was interviewed – for less than three minutes.

Summer 2012 survey

A newspaper poll on May 20 showed that, with major

problems continuing in the Eurozone, 46 per cent of

the UK population wanted to leave the EU. But only

three speakers – 0.8 per cent of the total contributors

on Today in the survey period – were supporters of

withdrawal. The BBC was told by News-watch that,

including these figures, of 1,073 monitored editions

of News-watch since 2005, supporters of withdrawal

had been asked only 20 questions about the subject –

one question about withdrawal for every 54 editions

(nine weeks) or every 153 programme hours. In

the survey period, bias against withdrawal was

compounded by failure to properly include the

eurosceptic perspective, adding up to 50 instances in

18 hours of EU coverage – most of them incidental



comments totalling only 1,661 words (c.12 minutes

of airtime). There were only a handful of interviews

with those advocating major changes in EU policy,

compared to at least 20 alone on the subject of

banking and fiscal union (most of them sympathetic).

Only four interviews featured ‘robust’ Conservative

eurosceptics such as Mark Reckless or Lord Lamont.

As usual, there were no appearances by eurosceptic

members of the Labour party. Pro-EU Labour figures

who did appear, such as Chuka Umunna and Alistair

Darling, made sweeping claims about the failure of

EU ‘austerity’ policies, that they said were fuelling

a growth in right-wing parties, and they claimed

without challenge that at least 3 million UK jobs

depended on our membership of the EU.

Winter 2012 survey

With tensions in the Eurozone over the Greek bailout

subsiding, EU coverage by Today fell to below

its long-term average. The bulk of EU reporting

continued to be focused on economic issues, despite

pressing structural matters such as expansion, which

was strongly on the Brussels agenda, as were calls

in the UK for a referendum on EU membership.

The survey – during a period in which UKIP came

second in the Rotherham by-election and when an

Opinium poll for the Guardian found that 56 per

cent of UK voters wanted to leave the EU5

 – noted the

first interview of a withdrawalist (Nigel Farage) in

Today’s prime 8.10am slot. There was also an increase


The News-watch record of BBC bias

in the number of withdrawal-supporting speakers,

but most were not asked about withdrawal itself,

and the total number of words spoken on this topic

across the 14 weeks was only 781, adding up to only

one per cent of the EU-related airtime. In parallel,

a further problem was that the views of ‘robust

eurosceptics’ made up only 10 per cent of the EU

coverage. Only one figure in this category from the

Labour party appeared – Gisela Stuart (at this stage

she had not confirmed she wanted the UK to leave

the EU) – but she spoke only 51 words. There was a

strong tendency throughout to view anti-EU views

through the prism of Conservative party splits.

Summer 2013 survey

Withdrawal from the EU was a mainstream political

issue because of the firm Conservative commitment

made by David Cameron on January 23 to an ‘in/out’

referendum after renegotiation of the EU treaties, and

because of the unprecedented strong support for UKIP

in the Sunderland by-election and in local council

elections. Today devoted almost nine hours to EU affairs

over 12 weeks. But only 513 words (3 minutes and 42

seconds), contained in six contributions, came from

supporters of withdrawal talking about withdrawal

(but not making its case.) None of the contributions

was long enough to advance the case in favour of

withdrawal. The only Labour figure to appear who

was critical of the EU was John Mills, the Labour party

donor. He argued that there should be a referendum



over EU membership, and claimed he had substantial

support inside and outside Parliament.

Today also failed to ask Conservative contributors

about their attitude towards EU withdrawal. It was

estimated during the period that at least one third of

Conservative MPs had come to support withdrawal,

but those who appeared were asked only about

renegotiation. Coverage also focused heavily on a

return – possibly to a worse level than at any point

in party history – to Conservative infighting over the

  1. So, Today continued to present euroscepticism in

all its forms through the prism of ‘Conservative splits’.

In sharp contrast, Today gave those opposed to change

in Britain’s relationship with the EU ample time to

advance their arguments, including (again) the hotly

disputed europhile claim that 3.5m jobs would be

lost if the UK was to leave the EU. As on numerous

occasions in previous surveys, this key assertion went

unchallenged by the Today presenter.

Winter 2013 survey

As the debate about the EU referendum continued,

Today featured 186 speakers who spoke about EUrelated themes, but there was a heavy pro-EU

bias. Discounting those who were neutral, 63 were

clearly pro-EU, and only 28 ‘anti-EU or Eurosceptic’

(though the latter category was not completely ‘anti’

because it included those like David Cameron who

advocated reform of the EU but wanted the UK to

stay as a member). These ‘pro-EU’ guests had ample


The News-watch record of BBC bias

space to make their arguments and were encouraged

by presenters to do so. Four contributions were

highlighted which showed that, in over 1,800 words,

these figures were able to make highly controversial

points – such as that the UK was ‘a nasty country’ for

wanting change in the movement of people directive

– without effective challenge. Today continued to

seriously under-represent and misrepresent the voices

across the political spectrum who wanted to leave the

  1. There were only eight occasions when figures

known to be withdrawalists actually appeared to

speak about EU-related themes. They spoke around

2,341 words, 4.3 per cent of the EU-related airtime.

But sequences in which advocates of leaving the EU

actually spoke directly on that theme were only around

800 words (less than five minutes of airtime, divided

between four interviews). Of this, there was only one

sequence in which the speaker had the opportunity to

express more than one sentence on the topic. Detailed

transcript analysis showed that the main points put

to ‘come outers’ were that they were incompetent,

potentially venal, and racist. No questions were put

which attempted to explore the pros and cons of

leaving the EU. This under-reporting of EU opinion

was despite a December 1 poll by Opinium which

found that only 26 percent of UK voters thought the

EU ‘a good thing’, against 42 per cent who described it

as a ‘bad thing’.6



Summer 2014 survey

In the European Parliament elections, UKIP, the only

party unequivocally in favour of withdrawal, won

26.6 percent of the votes, against 24.2 per cent for

Labour and 23.1 per cent for the Conservatives. Yet in

the entire campaign, no question was put to a ‘comeout’ politician on that theme, and the words spoken

in total by clear supporters of withdrawal amounted

only to a few brief phrases and sentences. No-one

from the BBC asked: ‘Why do you want to leave?’

On Today, the editorial focus was disproportionately

on allegations of racism linked to those who opposed

EU immigration policies, together with questions

about the integrity of Nigel Farage and UKIP. Mr

Farage was treated more negatively than other party

leaders in the key leadership interviews. Accusations

put to him included that he was racist, Stalinist and

simply incompetent. Nick Robinson, who interviewed

the party leaders on Today, focused most on whether

Mr Farage was racist over his attitudes towards

immigration, and asked nothing about withdrawal

itself. Two special features designed to bring viewers

basic information about how the EU operated were

misleading and heavily pro-EU. Newsnight broadcast

an election special containing an interview with Nigel

Farage and three segments of what was claimed to be

essential information about how the EU operated. The

exchange with Mr Farage was, as on Today, heavily

negative towards UKIP and did not tackle adequately

the withdrawal perspective. The three segments about


The News-watch record of BBC bias

the EU, by reporter Chris Cook, were clearly biased

towards the EU, pointedly ignored or distorted the

eurosceptic perspective, and over-simplified to the

point of banality some of the issues involved. This was

particularly striking in the description of the workings

of the European Parliament.

Winter 2014 survey

In a switch of emphasis, News-watch monitored

four programmes for eight weeks in the autumn and

winter of 2014: The World At One and PM on Radio 4,

Newsnight on BBC2 and News at Ten on BBC1. Similar

problems were found as on Today. Coverage of the

issues surrounding possible withdrawal from the

EU was minimal and inadequate. Most news about

Conservative handling of EU affairs was through the

lens of alleged party splits, which BBC correspondents

claimed had been raging since Maastricht. Effort

to cover these divisions was disproportionate, and

there was insufficient analysis of current policies;

exploration of rows took precedence over informing

audiences about the bread and butter issues of EU

membership. Labour policies towards the EU were

poorly covered. Party members were afforded regular

platforms to attack Conservative and UKIP policies,

but their own controversial approach towards limiting

immigration or the potential threat posed to party

support by UKIP was seldom featured or analysed.

Appearances by eurosceptic Labour figures were too

brief to give a true indication of the debate within the



party about EU membership. There was a continued

heavy focus on UKIP’s alleged shortcomings, but

very little coverage or analysis of key issues such as

withdrawal and the limitations of the EU. And the

main editorial reaction to UKIP’s by-election victory at

Rochester was to ask Conservative MP Philip Davies

why he would not himself defect to UKIP. Another

problem was that, while it was frequently said that

the EU opposed reform of matters such as the free

movement of peoples directive – and platforms were

often given to EU figures to say that – there was no

editorial effort to scrutinise why such policies could

not be changed or reformed.

General election 2015 survey

Central to the poll, of course, was the promise from

David Cameron of a referendum on EU membership.

Despite this, the News-watch survey, covering Today

and World at One on Radio 4, Newsnight on BBC2

and News at Ten on BBC1, found that only 3.1 per

cent of relevant programme time was EU-related.

Business coverage was particularly skewed. The focus

throughout the campaign was on interviewing those

who believed that leaving the EU would be damaging to

business in the UK. Today, for example, in its dedicated

business slots, interviewed only four guests who spoke

in favour of the Conservative referendum policy, or

who more broadly supported EU reform, against 18

speakers who said the referendum was a threat or a

worry to business. None of the contributors believed


The News-watch record of BBC bias

that leaving the EU could benefit British business.

Coverage of withdrawal was again both inadequate

and viewed predominantly through the lens of racism

(in relation to immigration) and problems within

UKIP. There were very few appearances by Labour

supporters of leaving the EU, and the party’s central

stance of blocking a referendum was inadequately


Phase Three: The 2016 referendum

In the next stage of monitoring, News-watch

scrutinised the BBC’s output during the build-up to

the EU referendum the following year mainly through

blogs. These identified a range of significant failings,

and during the campaign itself, non-adherence to the

especially strict editorial guidelines. All of these can

be read on the News-watch website but, for brevity, a

selection of examples are summarised in the following.


In the build-up to the referendum in early 2016, 40

consecutive editions of Newsnight were monitored.

A major concern was that in one-to-one interviews

about the EU, there were 12 occasions (covering 14

guests), when pro-Remain guests appeared, against

only six Brexit supporters. The overall imbalance in

all material about the EU towards Remainers was

25-14. Other issues identified were that Kate Hoey – in

a very rare appearance by a Labour supporter of Brexit

– was asked not about withdrawal but perceived splits



in the Leave camp; and EU figures who appeared, such

as Guy Verhofstadt, were given a clear opportunity to

explain why Brexit was a mistake, with no balancing

material from equivalent figures who disagreed. In the

formal campaign period, a series of seven referendum

specials, though relatively balanced in terms of Leave

and Remain guests, culminated in a panel vote of 7-1

in favour of Remain. News-watch analysis7


that the likely reason was that the special programmes

were deeply biased. For example, a decrepit war-time

North Sea defence platform called Sealand was chosen

to represent what the UK outside the EU might look

like; and a programme from Boston in Lincolnshire

portrayed the immigration pressures it was facing as

‘extreme’ and unusual, with a heavy preponderance of

local and national opinion that immigration from the EU

was vital for the British economy. After the vote on June

23, a strongly biased programme wrongly suggested

that an Ipsos Mori opinion poll had shown that a re-run

referendum would result in a Remain vote.

The World Tonight

Twenty consecutive editions of the programme were

monitored in early 2016. The findings were that 19

programme guests offered pro-EU views, seven

wanted Brexit or were anti-EU, and 11 were neutral.

This imbalance was made worse as seven of the pro-EU

figures were given the opportunity to outline detailed

arguments, whereas only three of the leave figures

were allowed more than one or two sentences. Three


The News-watch record of BBC bias

of the 20 editions went out of their way to assemble

multiple comments from strongly pro-EU figures –

with nothing equivalent from the Leave side. Special

editions of the programme from comment about the

referendum from the Costa del Sol, from the twinned

cities of Freiburg in Germany and Guildford, and from

Berlin were heavily biased towards Remain comment

and perspectives.

The World This Weekend

News-watch analysed 15 editions in the build-up

to the referendum and found that presenter Mark

Mardell over-represented the Remain arguments,

gave more time to Remain supporters, and featured

most heavily stories which favoured the Remain

side. At least seven editions were biased in this way

towards Remain; none was biased in favour of Leave.

A recurrent editorial approach, yet again, was the

close investigation of divisions over the EU within

the Conservative party. There was no equivalent

exploration within Labour of issues such as the impact

on the working class vote of the parliamentary party’s

strong support of EU immigration policies. Typical

of the bias was an edition from Portugal8

 in which

Mark Mardell presented a package with a heavily proEU emphasis. This was followed by interviews with

Remain stalwart Sir Mike Rake (a past president of

the CBI) and businessman Richard Tice, a prominent

Leave supporter. The interview sequence inexplicably

gave more than double the space to the pro-EU case.



A report from Berlin9

 was similarly biased, producing

two senior industrialists, one senior politician and two

students to say that Brexit would be a more or less

unmitigated disaster and nightmare for the UK and

would lead to the rise of nationalism and collapse of

civilisation. Against this, it produced one Alternative

for Germany (AfD) politician and stressed that she was

from the ‘hard right’.


This survey was of all the editions of BBC Radio 1’s

Newsbeat (the BBC’s leading news programme for

young people) during the referendum period, when

the programme had to adhere to the strict BBC

referendum editorial guidelines. The analysis found a

surprisingly low level of coverage (bias by omission),

and an imbalance of guests which meant that the

audience was 1.5 times more likely to hear a Remain

supporter than someone from Leave. Of 38 Newsbeat

reports with guest speakers, 19 (50 per cent) were

in favour of Remain, and only five favoured Leave.

There was a much greater breadth of opinion in

Remain contributions – they came from Conservatives,

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green party.

Conversely, the Leave side featured only Conservatives

and UKIP. There were no Leave contributions from

the Labour party or wider Left. There was no input

at all from the nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales

and Northern Ireland. Editorially, Newsbeat enhanced

and amplified the view of those supporting Remain


The News-watch record of BBC bias

and did not subject such views and alleged related

facts to due rigour. Conversely, opinions and alleged

facts in favour of Leave were robustly scrutinised,

made to look ignorant or contradictory, xenophobic or

unfounded. In an immigration special from Wisbech,

significantly more prominence was given to views

favouring EU immigration, and the ‘fact checking’

sequence was similarly skewed about the economic

contribution of EU incomers. Overall, Newsbeat gave

biased ‘fact check’ assessments. It said that immigrants

contribute more cash to the UK than they receive in

benefits, and the impact on the UK of current levels

of immigration was minimised. Opponents of current

levels of immigration were cast as xenophobic and

inward-looking, whereas those who approved of

immigration were made to appear outward-looking,

open and broad-minded.

Phase Four: Post-referendum

After the referendum, News-watch mounted a range

of monitoring projects, including scrutiny of The Brexit

Collection, Radio 4’s selection of special programmes

in the aftermath of the vote; a six-month analysis of

Today’s business news from June 24 until December

22, the coverage by Today of the week in which Article

50 was invoked; a long-term study of the coverage by

Today of Labour and ‘left-wing’ support for Brexit; and

finally, analysis of the BBC’s handling of EU content

during the 2017 general election.



The Brexit Collection

This was a selection by the BBC of 24 separate

programmes (and seven programme strands) on

Radio 4 which discussed Brexit, mainly broadcast after

June 23, but some from before the vote. Overall, there

were no attempts in any programme to explore the

benefits of leaving the EU, but conversely Brexit came

under sustained negative attack. This was reflected in

the balance of contributions and comment contained

within the items. Only 23 per cent of contributors in

the programmes as a whole spoke in favour of Brexit,

against 58 per cent in favour of Remain and 19 per

cent who gave a neutral or factual commentary. Nine

programmes and six features, amounting to 5 hours 20

minutes of programming, were strongly anti-Brexit,

contained unchallenged predictions that civil unrest

and rioting were now on the horizon and cast the

‘out’ vote in negative terms, inferring that the result

had been a consequence of racism and xenophobia.

The balance of programme guests in all of these items

was strongly – and sometimes overwhelmingly – proRemain. The items that were strongly anti-Brexit were

editions of culture series Front Row, The Briefing

Room, six editions of the feature Brexit Street on the

news programme PM, one edition of A Point of View,

How to Make a Brexit (a one-off documentary about

Greenland’s exit from the EU), Farming Today, More

or Less, The Food Programme, The Bottom Line and Call

You and Yours. In some of these, the range of antiBrexit opinion was light years from any definition of


The News-watch record of BBC bias

‘impartiality’ and there was no balancing comparable

pro-Brexit material.

Today’s business news

This extensive survey, covering from June 24 to

December 22, found that the overwhelming editorial

drive of business news on Today was to air sustained

and multi-faceted pessimism about the immediate and

long-term negative consequences of the vote to leave

the EU. One measure was that of the 366 guest speakers,

192 (52.5 per cent) were negative about the impact of

the vote and only 60 (16.3 per cent) expressed opinions

which were pro-Brexit or saw the post-referendum

economic outlook as positive. Only 10 (2.9 per cent)

of the business news interviews (from six speakers)

were with supporters of withdrawal from the EU.

Between them, the negative guests painted a picture of

gloom, doom and uncertainty, of plunging economic

prospects, of a collapse of consumer confidence, rising

inflation, a drying up of investment, job freezes, of a

drain of jobs from London to mainland Europe, skills

shortages because of the ending of free movement,

the introduction of tariffs, and endless, complex


Article 50 coverage by Today

In the week of the filing of the UK’s Article 50 letter

(March 29–April 4, 2017), Today broadcast six editions

which contained almost five hours of material about

the letter and its aftermath. This was almost half of the



available feature airtime – almost 10 times the longterm average devoted to EU affairs. The programme

coverage was strongly biased against Brexit and made

special efforts to illustrate the extent to which leaving

the EU could have catastrophic consequences for

the UK. There was, by contrast, only minimal effort

to examine the potential benefits. A measure of this

overwhelming negativity was that only eight (6.5 per

cent) of the 124 speakers who appeared over the six

editions were given the space to make substantive

arguments that the future for the UK outside the EU

would yield significant benefits. The overall gloom

was buttressed by the programme’s editorial approach.

Presenters and correspondents, for example, pushed at

every opportunity to illustrate potential (and existing)

problems. At the same time, they were strongly

adversarial towards Brexit supporters, but much less

so to guests who advocated that the UK was, in effect,

now staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. Problems

that were deliberately pushed to the forefront included

the wealth of the City of London being under threat,

the creation of a ‘legislative soup’, the EU not agreeing

with the UK’s preferred path of negotiations, and the

possibility of exit talks extending up to 10 years. BBC

‘fact-checking’, though presented as objective, was

anything but. Chris Morris, the ‘fact checker’ was most

focused on choosing topics that showed Brexit in a

negative light, and failed at even the elementary level

of pointing out that ‘EU money’ was actually provided

by UK taxpayers.


The News-watch record of BBC bias

Leave and the ‘Left’: 2002 to 2017

The BBC declares that it is committed to reflect ‘a

breadth of diversity of opinion… so that no significant

strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or underrepresented.’ This News-watch survey found that, of

6,882 speakers on EU matters identified in 30 Newswatch reports over the 15 years, only 14 (0.2 per cent)

were left-wing advocates of leaving the EU. These

14 contributors delivered 1,680 words, adding up to

approximately 12 minutes of airtime in 274 hours of

EU coverage. One third of them came from a single

531-word Gisela Stuart appearance on Today, in which

her actual contribution in favour of leaving the EU

amounted to just 49 words. So only 1,198 words across

the entire 30 surveys came from left-wing speakers

making any sort of case for withdrawal, an average

of 86 words per contributor. In comparison, during

the same period, strongly pro-EU Conservatives Ken

Clarke and Michael Heseltine made between them

28 appearances with contributions totalling 11,208

words – over nine times the amount of space allocated

to all left-wing withdrawalists – with an average

contribution length of 400 words. BBC audiences were

thus made fully familiar with right-wing reasons for

Remain. They were, by contrast, kept in the dark about

left-wing/Labour support for leaving the EU. Core

left-wing arguments against the EU were ignored, for

example: the EU’s prohibition of state aid to protect

jobs, the threat to the NHS from the TTIP agreement,

the EU’s treatment of the Greek socialist government



and people, unemployment in the eurozone, import

tariffs for developing countries, and the belief that

the EU has evolved into a ‘neoliberal marketplace’.

Between 2002 and 2014, there were only four left-wing

contributors who supported withdrawal in the Today

programme’s EU output, adding up to just 417 words.

There were more than twice as many appearances

on EU matters in this period by the British National

Party (BNP). In the 2015 general election campaign,

despite the proposed EU referendum being a central

issue, there was only one interview with a left-leaning

advocate of withdrawal. During the referendum

itself, there were only five contributions from Labour

supporters of Brexit totalling 161 words (1 minute 31

seconds) on BBC1’s News at Ten, and none at all on

Radio 1’s Newsbeat. In the Radio 4 collection of post–

referendum programmes, The Brexit Collection, there

were only two left-wing supporters of Brexit, and their

contributions were minimal.



The BBC complaints procedure

– unfit for purpose?

In its coverage of many subjects, it is obvious that the

BBC is no longer neutral. A prime example of this

is its coverage of climate change. In 2011 the then

Corporation trustees declared that, because there was

scientific ‘consensus’ on the subject, climate alarmism

was justified,1

 and those opposing this should only

very rarely appear on BBC programmes. Another is

immigration. The Corporation’s own internal ‘fact

check’ unit has decided that the huge influx of people

from the EU and around the world is of economic

benefit to the UK, despite rafts of respected analysis

which dispute this. And also, of course, the EU. BBC

presenters and correspondents are disproportionately

focused on demonstrating how massively complex

the Brexit process is, and in presenting the Brussels

perspective on the related negotiations. A measure

of the BBC’s negative approach here is that in the

Today programme’s business news coverage for six

months after the EU referendum, only six of 366 guest

speakers were known supporters of Brexit who made



contributions on that theme.2

 At the same time, the

Corporation has never presented a programme which

has explored the potential benefits of leaving the EU.

In its stance on such issues, the Corporation’s

collective approach to the world – for whatever reasons

– appears heavily skewed towards the opinions of the

liberal left, with defence of the EU at the core.

The BBC, of course, denies its bias. But it is on

extremely shaky ground. On the one hand are its

tendentious claims about climate change. This is

symptomatic of how, on a range of controversial

subjects, the Corporation has adopted opinions. On the

other, it simply does not permit rigorous independent

assessment of its output.

Those making complaints against this overt

partisanship of the BBC need a hard hat and a thick

skin. It is a heavily rule-bound process, rigged in the

Corporation’s favour.

One immediate issue is the BBC’s fundamentally

skewed approach to impartiality itself. Back in 2007,

the BBC trustees formally codified that, although

breadth of opinion is a vital ingredient in its output,

the complexity of modern debate meant that minority

views – at the BBC’s own discretion – should be afforded

only ‘due impartiality’.3

 In practice, this translates into

those voices being virtually ignored. The impact was

immediate in news coverage and in the reflection of

this approach in other programming. Anyone who

complained was told that they were wrong to be

concerned; rejection of their views was justified.


The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose?

The formal rules also stipulate that only complaints

about individual programmes and short items

broadcast in the previous 30 days can be entertained.

These absurd, unduly tight restrictions preclude

detailed academic analysis of programme output – of

which, more later. It boils down to the fact that the

whole process is designed to brush complaints under

the carpet rather than to deal rigorously, openly and

honestly with bias issues.

As the BBC Charter has a requirement for

impartiality at its heart, this is a highly unsatisfactory

approach. It is astonishing that Parliament renewed

the Charter during 2015-16 without putting a more

robust, independent and transparent process in place.

One change is that Ofcom, the independent media

sector regulator, has replaced the BBC Trust as the final

court of appeal for complaints. But what stayed exactly

the same is that almost all complaints must first go

to the BBC, and the fact remains that the vast bulk of

submissions are dealt with by the internal BBC process,

with the Corporation as its own judge and jury.

Going to appeal takes an extraordinary amount

of preparation and understanding of due process.

Most complainants do not have the time, resources or

patience to persevere to the extent required. In turn,

the entire BBC machine is attuned to finding every

reason possible for turning complaints down.

A measure of the inadequacy and unfairness of

the current system is that only minuscule numbers of

complaints are upheld. Between April 2005 and August



2015, the BBC received 2.1 million complaints from

viewers and listeners. Only 3,335 were considered

to have enough substance to reach the Editorial

Complaints Unit (the highest level of the internal

complaints process), and of these only 12 per cent

(407) were partially or fully upheld, and only 6.4 per

cent fully upheld. That adds up to only one upheld

every nine days – from thousands of hours of output

each week by the Corporation’s eight main radio

and television channels and local radio network. Of

course, not all of the complaints are of a high quality or

soundly-based, but it is still an astonishingly high rate

of rejection. The BBC adds another layer of obfuscation

by publishing only limited details of its adjudications.

Move along there, nothing to see.

Another aspect of complaints handling is that the

BBC has two programmes which consider submissions

from audiences. But both Newswatch (on television)

and Feedback (BBC Radio 4) are presented by hosts who

are deeply sympathetic to the BBC. They interview a

succession of BBC executives and programme-makers

who almost invariably trot out a variety of reasons

why complainants are misguided, and contend that

their submissions either ignore balancing material

elsewhere, can be rejected under ‘due impartiality’, or

are wrong.

A defence used by the BBC in its overall strategy of

telling the world it is not biased is annual market research

polling designed by the Corporation to find out how

‘trusted’ they are as a source of news. Rather predictably


The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose?

in a highly attenuated and fragmenting news supply

and entertainment market, the BBC, as an organisation

with £3.5 billion in resources and a powerful brand

name used for decades, gains a high score.

But this proves nothing definite about impartiality.

It is naïve and misleading of the BBC to project that

the loaded questions of market research should do so.

How do audiences judge? Most people dip in and dip

out of coverage and see or hear only a fraction of what

is actually broadcast. They do not keep track of what

they hear and see, and so their responses to broadcast

programming are impressionistic and reactive. It is

arguable also that BBC news audiences are showing

distrust by voting with their feet. Newsnight on

BBC2, which once commanded a nightly audience

of approaching 2 million, now attracts around only

500,000 and is in continuing decline.4

Which leads to a vital point. The only reliable and

verifiable way of monitoring impartiality in the news

arena is to record a range of programming over a

specified period, to transcribe all the relevant material

gathered, and then to use a range of rigorous analytical

techniques to work out patterns and conclusions.

This is partially a ‘counting’ exercise (in tracking, for

example, the number of speakers and the volume of

material) but a key component is also looking, in the

context of the numbers, at the nature of individual

contributions and overall editorial approach.

This is how university media studies departments

throughout the world approach the assessment of



broadcast media content.5

 The BBC trustees who

regulated the Corporation between 2005-16 also

relied on such content analysis from Cardiff and

Loughborough universities, to establish that output in

key areas such as the coverage of science and the use of

statistics was properly impartial.6

Yet the senior management of the BBC news

department now actively rejects such an approach. The

BBC relies instead purely on its own internal judgment,

carried out using methodology it has never clearly

disclosed, to decide whether content is balanced. This is

augmented by various senior BBC presenters who declare

in press articles that they know that the Corporation’s

output is free from bias and properly pitched. One of the

latest to do so was Today presenter Nick Robinson. In the

Radio Times in April 2017, he invoked ‘due impartiality’

to rail against those who claimed that post-Brexit

coverage of the EU was skewed.7

 But how he arrived at

his judgment was not disclosed.

Back in 2005, a report into the BBC’s EU content by a

panel chaired by former cabinet secretary Lord Wilson

of Dinton found that there was bias, and ignorance

internally about this. His report recommended that

in order to remedy the defects, rigorous internal

monitoring using academic principles should be

undertaken. The news department, in its formal

response, agreed that this would subsequently happen.

But nothing of this internal monitoring was ever

published – if, indeed, it ever took place. A decade later,

in 2015, the most senior BBC editorial staff confirmed


The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose?

to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that

all such efforts had been abandoned because they were

believed to be impractical and too expensive. They

said that other unspecified and undefined internal

reviews, supervised primarily by individual editors,

were instead relied upon.8

Over the years, News-watch has attempted to

engage with the BBC about the findings of its EU

content surveys. It has been a highly frustrating and

negative process. The Corporation has only ever

formally considered one of the 38 News-watch reports.

In 2006-7, while Michael Grade was BBC chairman,

the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC

Trust ordered a response to the News-watch Winter

2006 report, which monitored 84 editions of Today

and had found there had been too few eurosceptic

speakers, a poor understanding of the eurosceptic

case, little exploration of the withdrawal perspective

and a generally low level of coverage of EU issues,

amounting to ‘bias by omission’. The ESC response

was an almost comical whitewash. The inquiry was

conducted by a biased ‘independent’ adjudicator (who

had been a BBC news executive for 19 years), and he

used highly questionable methodology, distorted the

News-watch analysis and findings, and then relied

for much of his own counter-evidence on the (clearly

skewed) opinions of BBC senior news personnel.9

It was the demonstration of precisely the skewed

institutional mindset which Lord Wilson’s report of

the previous year had warned against.



All the other reports have been formally submitted

to the BBC but there has been no detailed response

to any of them beyond pledges that they would be

circulated internally.

Another measure of the overwhelming negativity

involved in the BBC complaints process can be found

in the Corporation’s response to a News-watch

complaint in 2013. On January 23 of that year, David

Cameron announced his pledge to hold, after the next

general election, a referendum on the UK’s continued

EU membership. That evening, Newsnight on BBC2

broadcast a reactive programme which featured 18

supporters of remaining in the EU and only one who

wanted to leave. News-watch, backed by a cross-party

group of MPs concerned about BBC bias, submitted

a complaint under the BBC’s formal procedure. The

matter was eventually considered by the Editorial

Standards Committee, but it ruled that the programme

was not in breach of impartiality rules. It came to this

view on the grounds that it had not been a major news

event (which would be governed by special conditions

of impartiality), that an edition of Newsnight six weeks

previously had contained supporters of withdrawal,

and that the aim of the January 23 programme had

been simply to explore elements of the reaction to

David Cameron’s speech – and most at Westminster

supported remain.

As in 2007, the defence amounted to preposterous

stone-walling. For example, the earlier Newsnight

edition cited by the BBC did include limited opinion


The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose?

in support of leaving the EU, but the programme as a

whole was strongly biased in favour of Remain. There

was no way it properly ‘balanced’ the January 23

edition. Further, the ESC’s denial that Mr Cameron’s

speech was a major news event flew in the face of basic

common sense: newspapers the following day carried

dozens of pages of news reports and analysis. No

appeal was allowed.10

The third major instance of the BBC’s inept handling

of matters in this arena is chronicled in Impartiality at

the BBC?, a News-watch paper published by Civitas

in 2014.11 The background here was that in 2012 the

BBC Trust commissioned television executive Stuart

Prebble to investigate whether the BBC’s coverage

of EU affairs was properly balanced. As part of

the process, the Cardiff School of Journalism was

commissioned to conduct a content survey. Prebble

duly gave the EU coverage a clean bill of health, but

News-watch established that his conclusions were

simply wrong. First, the Cardiff survey on which he

relied was riddled with rudimentary methodological

and sampling errors. Its claim that EU reporting was

impartial was not in accord with the data. Second,

Prebble also brought into his report unsubstantiated

(and demonstrably wrong) ‘evidence’ from BBC staff,

that other elements of EU content outside the Cardiff

sample were properly impartial. And third, Prebble

was not, as was claimed by the BBC, ‘independent’ in

his outlook. He had close, long-standing professional

ties with David Liddiment, the then BBC trustee who



had appointed him to conduct the review. Prebble’s

subsequent approach to his task underlined that he

was anything but ‘independent’ in the way he reached

his conclusions.

Taken together, the above boils down to the fact

that while the BBC, according to its Charter, must be

impartial in its news coverage and programming, its

approach to this is overly defensive and shot through

with incompetence and conflict of interest. The

primary drive seems to be to reject as many complaints

as possible – to the extent of farce – and to protect the

BBC at all costs. The BBC complaints procedure itself

is far too narrow in what it allows to be submitted and

not fit for purpose. At the same time, the Corporation’s

high command will not allow any other form of

investigation into its output.

The one glimmer of hope as things currently

stand is that Ofcom will adopt a more robust and

genuinely independent approach to dealing with

complaints about the BBC. But this avenue is as yet

untested. A concern here is that many members of the

Ofcom Content Board have worked for, or have close

connections with, the BBC.12



The deluge of EU-related bias chronicled by Newswatch is incontrovertible evidence of very fundamental

problems in the BBC’s approach to impartiality.

Throughout the 18 years of monitoring, despite opinion

polls showing strong and often majority support

for leaving the EU, the BBC has effectively ignored

the findings and carried on regardless in seriously

under-reporting – and at times ignoring – the case for

withdrawal. As moves towards Brexit grind forward,

the fingers-in-ears approach continues, with Europe

editor Katya Adler leading the charge of Corporation

journalists seemingly focused on the perspective and

interests of Brussels more than those in the UK who

voted decisively in favour of leaving the EU.1

The experience of News-watch is that the BBC

is obstinately determined not to consider properly

its findings, and – despite promises made to Lord

Wilson of Dinton – will not conduct its own equivalent

research, but has nonetheless formally dismissed the

News-watch evidence (without any of their own) as

‘defective and loaded… (and) would not pass academic




News-watch would welcome an honest, robust

debate by the BBC about its approach and methodology,

but the BBC’s only consideration of its findings was

conducted – as outlined above – on a farcically rigged

basis by one of its own former staff.

The BBC has been telling News-watch that it should

abandon detailed academic research and stick to

the rules, submitting instead complaints under the

rules of the Complaints procedure – that is, on single

programme items. The snag here is that when Newswatch has done so, as happened with the Newsnight

edition of January 23, 2013 outlined above, the BBC

approach was also severely biased.

What all of this shows is that the Corporation is

impervious to all complaints in this domain. The

complaints procedure is hopelessly unfit for purpose.

The one glimmer of hope is that Ofcom might adopt a

different approach. Evidence of their approach from

December 2017 (as this paper was being finalised)

suggests not, however. It may well be that in the

face of this bloody-minded intransigence, something

more radical – such as a judicial review of the entire

complaints process – might be the only way forward to

remove this endemic, sustained, pro-EU bias.




1 BBC News Coverage of the European Union: Independent Panel

Report, January 2005, (Wilson report) p. 3.

2 Wilson report, p. 4.

3 Aitken, R., Can We Trust the BBC?, London: Continuum, 2007,

  1. 80.

4 In Aitken, p. 81.

5 In Aitken, p. 81.

6 In Aitken, p. 82.

7 In Aitken, p. 83.

8 In Aitken, p. 95.

9 In Aitken, p. 95.

  1. The News-watch record of BBC bias

1 According to Ipsos Mori, in 1999, most voters favoured


2 A transcript of the programme can be found here:

3 This can be found here:



4 The shockingly biased contribution is outlined in detail and

put into context on the News-watch website in a blog:

5 Daniel Boffey and Toby Helm, ‘56% of Britons would vote to

quit EU in referendum, poll finds’, The Observer, 17 November


6 Toby Helm, ‘Shock four-country poll reveals widening gulf

between Britain and EU’, The Observer, 1 December 2013:

7 David Keighley, EU Referendum Blog, 14 May 2016:

8 News-watch, ‘Mardell: Anti-Brexit bias continues’, 4 May


9 David Keighley, ‘Mark Mardell wins Vince Cable award for

balanced reporting as Germans warn of Brexit “nightmare”’,

30 May 2016:

  1. The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for


1 BBC trustee Alison Harding issued a press release in July 2011

stating that it was 90 per cent likely that climate change was

caused by humans and that this had moved from ‘opinion to


2 This picture is outlined in News-watch report ‘ The BBC

and Brexit: Analysis of the Business News on BBC Radio 4’s

Today Programme’:


3 This was codified and formally adopted after the BBC trustees

commissioned a report called ‘From See-Saw to Wagon Wheel’

(a metaphor for how debate now occurs) from former BBC



producer John Bridcut:


4 Alexia James, ‘Newsnight’s Inexorable Decline’, Country

Squire Magazine, 14 December 2016: https://countrysquire.

5 An overview of the approaches and complexities involved is


6 The various reports can be accessed here:

7 Sam Blewett, ‘BBC “bias” in Brexit coverage defended by

former political editor Nick Robinson’, The Independent, 3 April


8 See report of the of the committee’s proceedings by Craig


9 A full analysis of his approach can be found at p.7 in the

News-watch submission on complaints procedure reform

to the Department of Culture Media and Sport:

10 The full saga can be read on the News-watch website. Details

can also be found in the News-watch DCMS submission:

11 David Keighley and Andrew Jubb, ‘Impartiality at the

BBC?’, Civitas, April 2014:


12 The composition in October 2016, with 10 of the 13 linked

to the BBC, was chronicled here: http://news-watch.




1 David Keighley, ‘EU’s Brexit “wall of silence” goes

unchallenged’, The Conservative Woman, 21 November 2017:

2 Quoted in Oliver Rudgard, ‘BBC invited a third more proEU than Eurosceptic speakers to appear during election

campaign, report claims’, The Daily Telegraph, 22 October 2017: See also

News-watch’s reaction: David Keighley, ‘Soros attack dogs

join the fray over BBC’s Brexit bias’, The Conservative Woman,

28 October 2017:



The BBC complaints procedure – unfit for purpose?


Institute for the Study of Civil Society Tel: 020 7799 6677

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or at least the past two decades, opinion polls have shown a large number

of voters have wanted the UK to leave the European Union. When the

question was finally put in the June 2016 referendum, the electorate voted

to do just that by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Yet the clear preference

of a large section of the population for withdrawal, and the reasons for so many

people taking this stance, have been marginalised in the BBC’s coverage of EU

issues for most of the past 20 years.

This is borne out in this latest detailed analysis of BBC news and current affairs

output dating back to 1999. During that time only a tiny fraction of guests on the

BBC’s flagship news programmes have been supporters of the UK’s withdrawal

from the EU. At the same time, there has been a longstanding reluctance to even

probe the question of whether Britain should leave the EU and what opportunities

it might offer. Instead, coverage of the EU has usually been presented through the

prism of party politics, particularly those of the Conservative party.

Left-wing advocates of leaving the EU have been given even less air-time, with

Labour eurosceptics barely featuring on BBC news programmes throughout the

period, including during the referendum. Core left-wing arguments against the

EU – over its prohibition of state aid to protect jobs, the threat to the NHS from

the TTIP agreement and the belief that the EU has evolved into a ‘neoliberal

marketplace’ – have been largely ignored.

These findings are based on a review of 18 years’ worth of analysis by the media

monitoring organisation News-watch. Since the European Parliament elections in

1999 it has compiled 38 reports based on 8,000 programme transcripts covering

almost 300 hours of EU content. It is believed to be the largest systematic media

content analysis project ever undertaken. The overview provided here is an

indictment of the BBC’s failure to incorporate the views of those who desired to

leave the EU into its news output.

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