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Analysis

BBC’s Today misses obvious Brexit angles on big stories

by Luke Lythgoe | 22.03.2018

Listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, you could at times be forgiven for thinking you’d slipped into an alternate reality in which Brexit wasn’t happening. When discussing Theresa May’s attempt to build a united front with other EU nations against Russia at today’s summit, there was no mention of the fact that we are barely a year away from quitting the club. And again, when discussing EU plans to tax tech giants such as Facebook, not a word about Brexit.

Presenter John Humphrys spent three minutes talking to assistant political editor Norman Smith about how the prime minister is trying to get other EU leaders to join her in standing up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin for the Salisbury nerve agent attack. There were plenty of obvious opportunities to mention Brexit. Smith mentioned “EU-wide measures” and stressed this would be a “long-term challenge” and a “threat that will endure for years”. (Listen from 0:31).

Didn’t it occur to Humphrys to ask how we would secure EU-wide measures, given that this was a long-term challenge that would endure for years if we quit the bloc next March? Didn’t he think it worth asking whether we’d have as much clout in the councils of Europe if we no longer have a seat at its table?

Humphrys made the same lapse later in the programme, during a 13-minute interview with culture secretary Matt Hancock. May’s statement about Russia was again mentioned. But not a squeak about Brexit. (Listen from 2:10).

Brexit silence also reigned in a segment about the EU’s plans to reform taxation of tech giants. The proposals would see firms hit by a 3% tax on turnover, which could raise €5 billion a year.

Not once did Dom O’Connell ask tax consultant George Bull whether the tax would be ready before Brexit. Nor did he ask whether, post Brexit, we would have the guts to do something that is bound to antagonise Donald Trump if we are all on our own rather than in a bloc with 27 other countries. Again, there were obvious opportunities to pop the question. (Listen from 0:14)

Brexit wasn’t entirely missing from the programme. In fact, each interview was followed by a section on May’s transition deal. However, the chance for a Brexit segue was always missed.

Today’s failings this morning are just the latest instance of the BBC letting down its licence-payers over Brexit. InFacts has already provided examples where it has pulled its punches this year and last. Asked for comment over the latest lapses, the BBC said it “continues to report Brexit impartially and features a wide range of different perspectives across our news coverage. Our journalists report independently and without fear or favour. It is one of the reasons why the public trusts the BBC more than any other source of news.”

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

9 Responses to “BBC’s Today misses obvious Brexit angles on big stories”

  • Silence on Brexit but I am needing to be convinced on the last 2 general elections too. We were so surprised by the results surely now is the time for democracy to be implemented transparently and a line drawn under what has gone before?

  • Recent ommisions by the BBC of any reference to Brexit – a very large elephant in the room – beg the question: why is the supposedly impartial BBC ignoring Brexit when it is so obviously relevant to Russia, Cambridge Analytica and other current pressing issues. Are they being gagged?

  • I no longer understand the agenda of the BBC regarding Brexit. I suspect they are being so overly cautious about causing any waves that the result is a bland yawn of opinion. The only pro EU stand we see is HIGNFY and that’s bathed in comedy to the point it is just entertainment and laughing becomes rather sad.

  • One does have to ask the question of the impartiality of the BBC . But on the other hand is the BBC allowed to have a point of view ? Its neutrality during the referendum campaign was absurd, giving equal weight to fantasies and hard facts so as to maintain ” a balance “. It is hard to understand however how John Humphrys, who is supposed to be an intrepid journalist who fears no-one, failed to ask such obvious questions as those pointed out by Luke. And the official answers by the BBC to the request for comments by INFACTS are just not good enough. It is the usual ‘ bla-bla -bla with no attempt to address the actual question put to them; it is like PMQ where neither party actually replies to the question posed.
    I believe this Brexit period is revealing all sorts of areas where the state of democracy in the UK requires further examination.

  • The BBC’s job is to maintain the British tradition of civilised debate and balance, and avoid alarming the public, especially over something they see as inevitable. If an asteroid were hurtling towards us, they would spend their time interviewing asteroid deniers.

  • I used to love to listen to John Humphries when Labour was in power. Although I was a Labour supporter I thought he was worth his weight in gold for the cross-examination Labour ministers got on the Today show of a morning. That kind of going over keeps politicians as honest as possible.

    Several times while driving to work I have felt physically sick at the anemic interviews he has with Brexit supporters these days. He misses obvious questions on important points, and compared to his former self, he comes across as positively sycophantic. He isn’t serving the country and he is either an obvious Brexit supporter or the BBC as an institution is afraid of the Tory Brexit machine.

    Whichever it is, I am no longer a fan of the BBC. The performance of the BBC prior to and post-Brexit leads me to believe it has outlived its usefulness to the country. Channel 4 News does a much better job of covering the issues.

  • I have listened to Radio 4 regularly all my adult life and have never felt so alienated from it as in the past two years. I feel as if the presenters inhabit a parallel universe in which Brexit is going to be absolutely fine and everyone is going to be completely in agreement with it. Where can I go (outside of comedy programmes) to find viewpoints which tally with my own? And where the perpetrators of Brexit are properly challenged and held to account for the damage they are doing to our country?

  • I hold the BBC (aka Brexit Broadcasting Corporation) partly responsible for brexit, & not simply because of its pro-leave leanings during the referendum, visible, eg, by the hostile questioning of Remainers compared to the easy ride given to leavers. For years the BBC (special culprits QT & Daily Politics) has provided Farage & UKIP with an uncritical platform to spout their toxic lies, & treated them with reverence. Since the referendum the BBC has simply become a mouthpiece for brexit propaganda, little different to RT. Take Dateline London; whenever a guest is critical of v. Papen May the presenter quickly jumps to her defence – is it the BBC’s role to defend this inept so-called PM? And as for Beyond 100 Days…