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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The BBC and Brexit: BBC bias by omission

  Leave and the 'left' 2002-2017, 41 pages, News-watch

This News-watch study found that left-wing arguments for Britain to leave the EU have scarcely been considered on the BBC's flagship news programmes. 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 Leavers – 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 have been 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. The British National Party (BNP) made more than twice as many appearances on EU matters in this period. This fed the story that only the hard-right backed Brexit.

The BBC almost always painted Brexit as a right-wing policy causing problems and 'splits' within the Conservative Party, while ignoring disagreements and debate elsewhere on the political spectrum.

"The absence of voices offering alternative perspectives in the BBC's coverage led to the creation of a false dichotomy: forward-thinking, progressive, open-minded, anti-racist pro-Europeans set against the bigoted, inward-looking, nationalist, anti-EU faction."

"There was virtually no balancing coverage in terms of the withdrawal case. Support for Brexit was thus routinely painted as being synonymous with racism, xenophobia, small-mindedness, isolationism and intolerance." The BBC painted the leave side as exclusively right-wing, extreme, 'hard-right'. It portrayed the pro-EU camp as entirely moderate, centrist, liberal, socialist and left.

Between September 2002 and June 2015, News-watch monitored Radio 4's Today programme for 324 weeks, amounting to 1,944 editions. There were 232 hours of EU-related feature coverage, and 5,113 guest speakers contributed to the EU debate.

"174 speakers (3.4%) were identifiable advocates of withdrawal (although they were not always given the space to make an overt case for it). Of this group, only five speakers (0.1% of the total EU contributors) were left-wing advocates of Brexit."

Newsbeat is BBC Radio 1's flagship news programme aimed at a young audience. The News-watch survey, covering the ten weeks of the campaign, showed there was a major failure to meet the strict 'broad balance' requirement. There were 1.5 times more Remain than Leave supporters.

"On the morning after the vote, on 24 June 2016, a BBC reporter in Poland insinuated that mass deportation of migrants was an immediate possibility, despite no one from Leave suggesting this during the campaign …"

News-watch analysed Radio 4's The Brexit Collection, 31 items posted between 11 July and 23 August 2016. It found that "Overall, there were no attempts in any programme to explore the benefits of leaving the EU, but conversely, Brexit came under sustained negative attack. … only 23% of contributors in the programmes as a whole spoke in favour of Brexit, against 58% in favour of Remain …"

"Other parts of The Brexit Collection heavily emphasised the BBC narrative that the Leave vote stemmed from intolerance. A series on PM called Brexit Street was based upon subsequent comment and reactions to the vote in a typical UK street. But the selected location was not typical. It was a depressed heavily urbanised area in Thornaby-on-Tees with an exceptionally high number of asylum seekers as residents. There was discussion of the impact of the referendum vote, but the main focus of the strand was on the experiences of asylum seekers – nothing overtly to do with the EU or Brexit at all …"

Former BBC journalist Robin Aitken in his 2007 book, Can We Trust the BBC? described a meeting with the Labour peer Lord Shore, who said that he had 'never before been interviewed by the BBC about his views on Europe.' Mr Aitken concluded, "He hadn't been singled out by chance – all Labour Eurosceptics were routinely ignored. The BBC simply wrote left-wing Eurosceptics out of the script.".

He also noted, "If the BBC's coverage had been even-handed it would have told its audience that there were divisions on the left, just as there were on the right; instead the public was fed, over a period of years, the fiction that it was only the Tories who were divided on Europe."

Author John King wrote in the New Statesman in June 2015, "The media tell us that the Tories are anti-EU while Labour and the Lib Dems are fighting their narrow-mindedness, and UKIP is dismissed as a far-right group bordering on the fascist. This is bubblegum politics. Little Europeans sneer 'Little Englander' at those with a different opinion, peddling stereotypes, unwilling to consider the bigger arguments . . . A lazy acceptance of establishment propaganda and a fear of being branded 'xenophobic' have silenced many liberals and left-wingers. And yet the EU is driven by big business. This is a very corporate coup."

In repeat appearances before the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, senior news executives and BBC Chairmen have defended flagrant, longitudinal imbalances in the numbers of contributors speaking for and against the EU. But they offered not a scrap of verifiable evidence to counter the evidence put before them and rejected formal monitoring exercises as 'very unhelpful' in deciding whether the BBC is impartial.

For example, News-watch complained to the BBC Trust concerning the edition of BBC2's Newsnight broadcast on 23 January 2013, the day David Cameron announced an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU. The BBC Trust argued that the announcement was not a 'decisive moment' in the EU debate, and therefore the imbalance of 18 pro-EU speakers to one withdrawalist was acceptable and 'provided due weight to the significant views currently prevailing in the debate about EU membership.'

The report concludes, "Had left-wing arguments for Brexit been properly aired, then it is entirely feasible that an even greater majority of voters would have cast their ballots for Leave." n 

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