02:05 GMT14 May 2021
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    The British Broadcasting Corporation has been branded a “supporter of a foreign organization” working against British interests after new allegations of heavy pro-EU bias in selecting guests for BBC’s TV and radio shows discussing Brexit.

    The accusation has been levelled by the former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit in the House of Lords in response to reports by  the Institute of Economic Affairs and  the think tank Civitas which claim that the ratio of guests on BBC flagship discussion shows over the past years has been heavily skewed towards pro-EU advocates.

    ​The IEA report shows that in 2016 and 2017 of the 281 panellists on Question Time and 297 on Radio 4's Any Questions, 69 per cent were Remainers and 31 per cent backed Brexit.

    The analysis by the think tank Civitas released last week goes farther into history stating that between 2005 and 2015 only 132 of the 4,275 guests invited to speak on the Today program about Brexit supported it.

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    Lord Pearson (UKIP) who tabled the question for the government at the Lords said that the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, told him recently that his job in Brussels was made even more difficult if, every time he made a small advance there, he was promptly undermined by the BBC. 

    "The BBC cannot give a cross-party group of MPs an example of a single program since the referendum which has examined Brexit opportunities-not promoted them, just examined them?" — complained Lord Pearson.

    ​Why Am I Not Surprised?

    I was BBC News foreign correspondent from 2001 to 2003 and a Regional Manager at BBC Monitoring from 2004 to 2013. In those days all BBC staff had to undergo mandatory training about the relationship between the European Union and Britain. There were modules about almost every aspect of life from business to agriculture to law to social policies. We had to tick the "right" boxes that showed that we understood the importance of the EU to the UK. Ticking a "wrong" box made you go back to square one and repeat the module until you completed it to the satisfaction of — presumably — Brussels.

    There were deadlines for BBC staff to complete the modules and produce evidence thereof to their managers. The managers then were obliged to report on the progress to their superiors — up to the very top. To me and some of my colleagues the exercise looked like a massive EU indoctrination campaign.

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    About the same time the BBC, faced with budget cuts, decided to scale down coverage of individual European countries and concentrate on news from Brussels, especially on the workings of the EU bureaucracy. The cramped BBC Brussels Bureau was designated the European Hub, second in importance only to the BBC Bureau in Washington DC. The bureaux in other European capitals, even as far away as Moscow were trimmed down and made subordinate to editorial steer from BBC Brussels.

    Plausible Deniability

    Some years ago, say the authors of the Civitas report, America's CIA became notorious for its doctrine of ‘plausible deniability'.

    The BBC, they claim, 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 program. And we'll ignore how interviews were conducted: kid gloves and reverential listening to Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve [pro-EU — Sputnik], but hectoring and interruptions for EU critics."

    And then there is the art of the soundbite, or the clip in BBC parlance. Interview an unsuspecting guest for 15 minutes for a pre-recorded piece, then "isolate" — again in BBC parlance — a 15 second clip that supports whatever you want to convey to the listening or viewing public. Bingo!

    I have to confess I myself fell victim to this trick last summer when I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Newsnight about Russian attitudes to Syria. My extensive answers were cut down to 15 seconds, taken out of context and presented almost as the official Russian opinion — despite my caveat that I was not privy to the Kremlin's views.

    A Quota Of Impartiality

    Responding to Lords Tebbit's suggestion that Culture Minister Lord Ashton could "quietly whisper in somebody's ear at the BBC, "get your act in order, because you owe a duty of impartiality",  the minister said he agreed the BBC owed a duty of impartiality, however ministers should keep out of editorial decisions.

    It has been a long-standing requirement for the BBC to report every month how it upholds the quota of MPs from different political parties in its programs. The BBC has an obligation to guarantee equal access to airways from both sides of the House of Commons and the Lords.

    So there is no need to "whisper in the ear" of the BBC as long as it is asked to produce a monthly report on upholding the quota of the Leavers and Remainers in its programming.

    Foreign Influence

    In defense of the BBC one may argue that the broadcaster has been merely counterbalancing the pro-Brexit bias of the British print press. According to reports by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released in May and September 2016 the Brexit referendum campaign coverage by the UK newspapers was dominated by pro-Leave articles.

    A breakdown by the publication reveals that among those exhibiting pro-Brexit bias during the referendum campaign were The Times and the Sun, owned by the Australian Rupert Murdoch, and The Daily Telegraph, owned by the Barclay brothers resident outside the UK and EU; while a leading pro-Remain newspaper, The Financial Times is owned by the Japanese NIKKEI corporation.

    Lord Tebbit's addition of the BBC to the list of these "foreign influencers" puts paid to the myth peddled by some British politicians and media about Sputnik's and RT's meddling into the Brexit debate. We are up against formidable competition.

    The views and opinions expressed by Nikolai Gorshkov are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.   

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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