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Analysis

‘Impartial’ BBC’s Humphrys calls People’s Vote ludicrous

by Luke Lythgoe | 25.10.2018

Today presenter John Humphrys described the term “People’s Vote” as ludicrous during an interview with John McDonnell this morning (listen from 2:21:00).

“Let’s assume that we have what is called, ludicrously according to many people, a People’s Vote”, the BBC Radio 4 presenter said, then went on to ask what question Labour would like to see on the ballot paper.

It was a dismissive aside, with no context or balance. Humphrys did not suggest who these “many people” might be. He did not mention the 700,000 people who marched for a People’s Vote last Saturday, from across the country and all walks of life. Nor was there much chance of a rebuttal – McDonnell doesn’t support a People’s Vote, and would hardly be expected to use up precious airtime defending it.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s stock defence of such incidents, which InFacts has received several times, is: “The BBC 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.”

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On this occasion Humphrys’ casual editorialising was not impartial. In fact, he was showing favour to those opposing a People’s Vote – for example the prime minister, who has begun inaccurately describing it as a “politicians’ vote”.

Humphrys went on to use the term “second referendum” without any qualification at all. This feeds into the Brexiters’ narrative of a re-run, of elites demanding the public to vote again because they got it wrong the first time, rather than the public themselves demanding the final say now they’ve learned new facts and seen the Brexit mess unfold. A more neutral way for Humphrys to phrase it would have been simply “a referendum”, perhaps adding “on the Brexit outcome”.

The Today presenter went on to tell the shadow chancellor: “Half your party wants to stay and half wants to come out, and you’ve got a real problem.” That is factually incorrect. The majority of Labour supporters voted Remain, while recent polls show that 90% of Labour members support staying in the EU today.

As Saturday’s march showed, the demand for a People’s Vote is popular. The mood in the country is shifting. At one point during this morning’s interview, McDonnell told Humphrys: “You’re going to have to keep up, John.” Well, quite.

InFacts approached the BBC for comment on Humphrys’ interview this morning. We had received no response at time of publication.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Tags: , , Categories: Brexit

19 Responses to “‘Impartial’ BBC’s Humphrys calls People’s Vote ludicrous”

  • “Let’s assume that we have what is called, ludicrously according to many people, a People’s Vote”,

    the BBC Radio 4 presenter said,

    Disappointed you are spreading fake news.
    Read what John Humphrey’s said and as you printed.
    He referred to “ many people” not his own point of view. Please 😧

  • Humphrey’s opinion on Brexit is well known and has never been impartial. It’s time he was told to change or be fired.
    Moreover, the blithe, patronising tone in all of his interviews is tiresome, regardless of which side of the argument you are on. The BBC can do better than this.

  • I have always ben a fan, but I am saddened that you seem to have dumbed down with Nick Robinson, and others to the Tories castration of the BBC.I have deleted you from my worth listening list. If you do resume authenticity I might reconsider, but till then bye bye

  • I used to be an avid listener of the Today programme. These days I am making a different choice. More and more I find the

  • I used to be an avid listener of the Today program. These days I am making a different choice as I find your approach to interviewing and the topics biased and not aligned to my values. Disappointing but this will not change for me until the focus changes in your reporting.

  • I’ve listened to the interview three times now. John McDonnell we know was not a supporter of another referendum on EU membership but he is now dutifully following the party line and keeping all options on the table as per conference motion passed.

    John Humphreys, after a very friendly and sympathetic discussion about John McDonnell’s trip injury, was trying to steer John McDonnell to break rank. He’s a journalist so is looking for angles to extract news. You could try that by saying that a People’s Vote makes perfect sense and hope John McDonnel riles against it or ride the shields down sympathy momentum and hope he would agree it was “ludicrous”. He didn’t to his credit. John Humphreys did disown the contention.

    I can understand the claims of bias. I think the BBC have been guilty of trying to “present both sides of the argument” in an effort to be “neutral” – look at the climate change row. They did make the mistake of not presenting the general view of climate scientists and left the public with two equally presented views – mainstream and maverick. How was the ley public to decide? They did recognise that mistake and are now making amends.

    A similar charge can be made over Brexit but they do now have their “reality check correspondent” to provide balance following an interview between opposing sides.

    As for John Humphreys, he’s a Rottweiler interviewer. I’ve heard him over the years tear various politicians apart. As to his supposed bias over Brexit, he wouldn’t be doing his job properly unless he probed and challenged. I would hope his professional skill would override any personal bias he may have. I would be disappointed otherwise.

    I will certainly continue to listen to Today. Changing my news source to suit my opinion now would distort my perception. As an engineer and a scientist I like to keep my ground references to ones I know very well.

  • And this was after he introduced a piece about the fishing industry by saying that “45 years we lost control of our fishing waters”

  • It was not necessary for Humphreys to insert his “ludicrous” comment, even though he attributed to “some people”. It set the tone for the interview and of course McDonnell was not going to respond to this deviation from his subject. The Today program is not what it was. I still believe that if you want to hear political interviews where the interviewer does not put up with nonsense yet is still balanced, go to Sky and Adam Boulton. He has kept up, unlike Humphreys.

  • I suppose Humphreys has become so laughable and ignored that he calculates such comments will at least fetch a few brexitards to listen in. Another pathetic example of bbc bias around the brexit crisis.

  • When Labour was in power Ministers were filleted on the Today Programme and on Newsnight.

    It was a joy to listen to and it kept them reasonably sharp and they were well prepared to withstand the interviews, most of the time – and I am a Labour supporter who could NEVER vote Tory, ever.

    Nowadays, whatever this government and its ministers says is just not questioned. No one asks about the “just about managing” or anything else. Brexit has been swallowed, hook, line and sinker, without a peep. They just don’t want to know about anything that doesn’t fit with their orthodoxy.

    Where was the Programme explaining the sheer complexity of a potential Brexit before the referendum? That is the BBC’s job! But it wasn’t done.

    I still listen to the Today Programme, because there is nothing else, but I now longer love it. In fact I despise all it has become and would now vote to end the licence fee. If we are going to be controlled by big corporate money, we certainly don’t need the BBC to provide succour and cover for them.

    Who needs a nationalised public broadcaster that provided private health care to its upper-echelons, in a country with an NHS?

    The BBC has always been hypocritical, never challenged the Thatcher economic doctrine and has been against all other forms of nationalised service providers, even where natural monopolies exist- but they’re alright, Jack! Thy’ve got the licence fee and they’re not afraid to spend it.

    What is ludicrous now, and “many people in the country think so”, is the BBC.

  • This comes on top of what I consider was the BBC’s fairly restrained coverage of the London march at the weekend. They actually gave almost as much coverage to Farage addressing a (relative) handful of people in a hall.
    I was in Germany, and the lead story on ARD’s (Germany’s BBC 1) evening news, was the march.

  • Gave up on the Today programme in 1994, having listened to it for 24 years. Five Live Breakfast was the replacement with Peter Allen and Jane Garvey, two intelligent and very professional presenters. Solid news analysis with Sport intermixed. Today this programme has become the audio version of the Daily Mail. Shalllow and empty with a lot of ad libbing to fill the time. In my opinion it has presented Brexit as a done deal and encourages banal audience participation, ‘we voted to leave- get on with it’ type comments. I have abandoned this programme and now don’t bother with BBC radio. It has dumbed down and is no longer a stimulating listen.

  • Can I point out to Alan Storer that “fake news” is:
    “Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes”.
    Reporting the exact words that John Humphrys said and then criticising them is NOT fake news. It is justifiable political comment.
    Using the title “fake news” in the wrong context devalues the title for where it is used correctly, such as Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    This included a viral post popularised on Facebook that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump, and another that actor Denzel Washington “backs Trump in the most epic way possible”.
    Trump’s son and campaign surrogate Eric Trump, top national security adviser Michael Flynn, and then-campaign managers Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski shared fake news stories during the campaign.
    Concentrate on your art Allan, you are good at that.

  • Lately I’ve realised that Channel 4 News is superior in reporting when compared with other news outlets like the BBC. I’m sadened. I can’t believe how dumbed down and full of right wing propaganda the Today programme has been allowed to become. I’ve switched off from my daily dose of The Today programme.

  • Brexiteers call the BBC the Brexit Bashing Corporation.
    EU fan’s call it the Brexit Broadcasting Corporation.

    It seems if you try to present a balanced view you are doomed to fail with both sides.

    Be honest. Would you say comments on this thread are unbiased?

  • The referendum was not called by the people. There was no march. It was demanded by a handful of backbench Tories who wanted to bring ukip into the party and who were frightened of losing votes to ukip so they thought it would be a compromise.
    That is why it was not a people’s vote and why, if we have a final say, it will be a people’s vote.

  • Since when has it become policy at the BBC for the presenters personal views to be so blatantly expressed? Of course they’ll have personal opinions but HUmphyrs, and he’s not the only one, has crossed the line. I hope we haven’t forgotten his insulting comment to the Swedish ambassador whether he was fine with speaking German? He’s way past retirement age, time he went. Oh, since Humphrys is so anti-EU perhaps he’d care to tell us whether he takes the EU subsidies for his farm, or does he come from the same stable as the UKIP MEPs who are happy to take the EU silver?.

  • John,
    Whilst it is true that Brexiteers call the BBC the Brexit Bashing Corporation, you would have difficulty justifying the idea. Coming to the example in point, I am yet to hear John Humphries describe any proposal regarding Brexit with the adjective ‘ludicrous’ in front, even if he was speaking in the third person. His bias towards it is quite plain.
    Andrew Neil in his program last night was also mocking of the march last Saturday, by implying that his Polish plumber had attended. The inference being that it was not representative of the True Brits who voted for Brexit. Combine that with the endless nonsense from his regular guest Michael Portillo, as the Remain campaign being run by elitists, balanced it is not.
    What I am sure of is that had over 700,000 brexiteers managed to March on Parliament, the BBC would have reported is as an example of the overwhelming support for Brexit. As it is their several rallies have amounted to around no more than 10,000 in total, drawn I suppose from Conservative Home and UKIP supporters.
    The BBC has let down the public badly regarding Brexit. Where, for example is the Panaroma expose highlighting the Lies of the Brexit campaign?, it would certainly be in the public interest. The sad fact is many in public office know that it is founded on deception, but remain silent. While it supplies the Government with uncritical airing of Brexit dogma it is complicit with the whole sorry mess.

  • Hi Tony,

    I don’t see the extent of bias that some on this thread seem to see. I’ve always tried to be impartial myself when assessing the news being fed to us especially over the Brexit issue as otherwise, as a campaigner myself for EU membership. I’d be in danger of seeing the news through EU blue tinted spectacles and see and amplify perceptions of bias where it’s not significant or intended.

    I’ve listened to Today and John Humphreys for many years and wouldn’t change now as I’d lose my reference. I don’t see a corporate bias on this issue either but instead an attempt to be impartial, which can fail the listener sometimes by failing to provide “reality” but they have made attempts to fix this.

    As for Panorama I seem to remember something a while back but there is this from the BBC : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fe1uRdNTKWQ for which Jo Maugham is taking legal action to help expose further.

    Do you listen to the excellent “The Week in Westminster”. I’ve just been listening to Vince Cable talking up a People’s Vote: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0000y0x

    Happy listening. I’ll catch Any Questions later.

    Cheers,
    John