EXCL: BBC hits back at fresh EU referendum bias claims

Posted On: 
3rd October 2016

The BBC has hit back at claims of editorial bias during the EU referendum following a fresh wave of allegations over the corporation’s impartiality.

The BBC has been accused of bias by both Leave and Remain campaigners
Credit: 
PA Images

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday claimed the BBC was “shamelessly anti-Brexit” while also citing the broadcaster as the “single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values”.

It emerged this morning that David Cameron raised concerns about the BBC’s coverage of the EU referendum in a call to the director general.

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The former prime minister complained to Tony Hall about the BBC’s business and economic unit’s output during a conversation earmarked to discuss the charter renewal process.

Sir Craig Oliver, Mr Cameron’s former director of communication, made the claim in his new book Unleashing Demons, the Inside Story of Brexit.

But a BBC source told PoliticsHome the public would take note that both Leave and Remain campaigners have accused the corporation of bias.

“There’s nothing new in people having strong views about our coverage, but the public will notice a distinct irony in the BBC being accused of failing to do enough to stop Brexit on the one hand while being criticised for being anti-Brexit on the other,” the source said.

“As we’ve said before, our job is to challenge politicians from all sides and interrogate the arguments. That’s what we’ve been doing and what we’ll continue to do.”

James Harding, director of BBC News, defended the corporation’s coverage of the referendum in a recent article for the Observer.

"The fundamental charge – that BBC reporting resulted in a false balance in which fanciful claims got the same billing as serious insights – is not true." 

He argued claims made by politicians “were challenged again and again by our presenters and correspondents."

“No one who watched the BBC during the campaign could have been left in any doubt that President Obama, the governor of the Bank of England, the IMF, OECD, IFS, CBI, prime minister, chancellor and, yes, both David Beckham and Jeremy Clarkson believed Britain should remain in the EU. People who voted out made up their own minds and did so knowing that all those people thought it was a bad idea,” he wrote.

“The BBC’s job is not to preside over the democratic process – it is to report, to host the argument and to interrogate the participants. We aim to inform our audiences, not seek the approval of politicians or pundits."

INFURIATING AND SHAMELESS

Speaking at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Mr Johnson, a leading light in the Leave campaign, said of the BBC:

“No matter how infuriating and shamelessly anti-Brexit they can sometimes be, I think the Beeb is the single greatest and most effective ambassador for our culture and our values.”

Meanwhile in his book, Sir Craig accused the BBC’s business and economic team of “mistaking balance for being impartial”, adding:

“The BBC is such a key player in terms of scale and influence and they fell short.

“Too often BBC output led on stories that were simply wrong — particularly on its morning and online output. Too often the Remain campaign’s rebuttal, which was inevitably seen as partial and therefore suspect, was tagged on as an afterthought when BBC editors should have been stamping their own independent authority and analysis on the output.”