Fake News

BBC keeps pulling its punches on Brexit

by Luke Lythgoe | 23.02.2018

Brexiters’ angry complaints that the BBC is biased against them may have made the broadcaster so timid that it’s pulling its punches. Here are five new lapses since the start of the year, following five that we highlighted before Christmas – which, in turn, followed failures during last year’s election as well as the previous year’s referendum. There seems to be a pattern.

No Brexit blame for hit to economic growth

When the UK’s economic growth for 2017 was revised downwards yesterday, the BBC failed to mention the vote to leave the EU as one of the reasons. And yet its own report offered at least three opportunities to namecheck Brexit.

First, the “slowdown” in household spending was attributed simply to “shoppers facing higher prices in stores”. Why not say that the pound’s plunge after the referendum is the main reason inflation has gone up to 3% from 0.5%? Second, the BBC mentioned “stagnant” business investment without noting the main cause – Brexit uncertainty. Finally, it said the UK was the “slowest growing of the world’s wealthy nations”, but didn’t note that before the Brexit vote we were the fastest growing.

UK ignored in EU growth report

Similarly, when the EU reported its fastest economic growth in 10 years last week, the BBC didn’t mention the fact that UK growth had slowed. This was despite we are still in the EU, something the broadcaster implicitly acknowledged by describing the bloc as “28-strong”. Without us, there are only 27 countries. The BBC also cited the growth of Germany, France, Italy and even tiny Latvia – making the lapse pretty odd.

The fact that the UK’s growth had slowed since the Brexit referendum was mentioned in a separate blog by its economics editor, but he still described it as “reasonable” without even saying how much we grew. Sky News did a better job, saying the UK grew 1.8%, the “slowest rate of increase since 2012”, while the EU grew 2.5%. Following yesterday’s downward revision, we only grew 1.7%. Was even 1.8% reasonable?

Jaguar Land Rover’s Brexit problem

When Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s biggest car manufacturer, said it was scaling back production last month, the BBC ran the headline: “JLR cuts Land Rover production amid diesel uncertainty”. The original JLR press release, seen by InFacts, led with Brexit as the main factor. Reuters did a better job than the BBC. Its headline was: “Jaguar Land Rover to cut output due to Brexit, diesel uncertainty to hit sales”

The BBC said Brexit had been mentioned in the opening paragraph and several times in the article, after InFacts queried it. That’s true. But surely the BBC knows that many readers never get beyond headlines?

Ed Balls fends off two Johns

In a head-to-head interview between Ed Balls and John Mills on the BBC’s Today Programme last week, John Humphrys came down harder on the former shadow chancellor than on the pro-Brexit businessman (from 1:31). The interview focused on research by Balls and the Harvard Kennedy School showing most small and medium-sized companies want EU regulation to stay.

Humphrys gave Balls a vigorous grilling, as is his job. He suggested Balls had “confused” two points, and that Mills had “undercut” his position while interrupting him countless times. In contrast, he eased Mills into his questions with phrases like “are you saying, or am I misunderstanding you?”

Balls didn’t just have to defend himself against Humphrys, he had to do all the heavy work of defending himself against Mills’ allegation that his research was “exaggerated” and attacking the businessman’s suggestion that trading under WTO terms is “pretty smooth”, which it isn’t. The BBC presenter did nothing to ensure a fair fight.

Burying May’s security bargaining chip

When the prime minister gave her security speech in Munich last weekend, the BBC wrote that “May has consistently said that she won’t use security as a bargaining chip”. But May has actually flip-flopped.

In her letter to the EU triggering Article 50 last year, the prime minister wrote: “If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”

This was at best clumsily worded; at worst a threat to stop cooperating in the fight against terrorism unless we got a good trade deal. It certainly wasn’t a clear statement that May wouldn’t use security as a bargaining chip.

When approached for comment on these points, a BBC spokesperson told InFacts: “The BBC continues to report Brexit impartially, ensuring a balance across our news coverage and hearing a wide range of different perspectives. Our journalists are best in class when it comes to reporting 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