The BBC should give us the facts on Brexit, not "even-handedness"by Christopher Grey / August 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Recent BBC coverage of the Patrick Minford and Economists for Free Trade report claiming huge benefits from hard Brexit has attracted accusations from remainers of pro-Brexit bias. Meanwhile, Brexiters have long insisted that the BBC is relentlessly anti-Brexit.
Of course debates about bias and impartiality are a hardy perennial of journalism, so it would be absurd to think that the BBC does not give serious and ongoing thought to them when it comes to Brexit coverage. And in many ways the broadcaster is in an impossible situation. For example, many Brexiters complain that the recurrent formulation that such and such thing has or has not happened “despite Brexit” implies that Brexit is a bad thing; but it could equally be taken as trashing the failed prognostications of “Project Fear.”
That isn’t, though, to accept the argument that since both Brexit sides accuse the BBC of bias its position is about right. A standard way to think about bias is the amount of air time given to each side and whether each side is allowed to reply to the other. This seems to be how the BBC has dealt with Brexit, effectively using the approach adopted to party politics, especially in general elections, with the two main parties getting equal airing. So, for every “remain” statement there is a “leave” response and vice versa and this supposedly ensures balance.
The trouble is, this doesn’t really work very well for Brexit.
This was shown by coverage of Obama’s intervention, treated in many BBC bulletins as if it was statement by the “remain” campaign with a response given from a “leaver.” Actually, it may or may not have been helpful to the remain cause but it was an important new fact—the fact being not that Obama was necessarily right in what he said, but that he had said what he said—to which both sides should have been asked to respond. Not doing so was subtly to endorse the leave campaign claim that the opposition was not simply the remain campaign but the massed ranks of the global “establishment.” This illustrates how normal electoral rules did not translate to the Brexit referendum because the boundaries around what was and wasn’t part of the “campaigns” were not clear.
“During the campaign I gave several public talks where audience members believed…