BBC 'excessively deferential' to Brexit campaign, Lord Patten says

Posted On: 
27th April 2016

The BBC is being “excessively deferential” to Leave campaigners in its coverage of the EU referendum debate, according to a former head of the BBC Trust. 

Lord Patten was the chairman of the BBC Trust from 2011 to 2014.
PA Images

Lord Patten, who has also served as Conservative party chairman and EU commissioner, suggested the Charter Review process led by pro-Brexit Culture Secretary John Whittingdale was affecting its coverage.

BBC guidelines dictate that programmes must achieve a “proper balance between the two sides” of the argument in the referendum.

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Lord Patten, who chaired the BBC Trust between 2011 and 2014 and supports a Remain vote in the referendum, suggested that the BBC’s drive for balance was leading it to give too much airtime to low-profile Leave campaigners.  

“I think the BBC has an extremely difficult job,” the Conservative peer told the Today programme.

“It’s having to cover this referendum with the shadow of a charter review and Mr Whittingdale hanging over it.

“I think that may make people excessively deferential when trying to produce balance. You have the Governor of the Bank of England on or the IMF chief so you feel obliged to put up some Conservative backbencher that nobody’s ever heard of on the other side of the argument.”

He added, however, that he would rather the BBC was criticised for being “so balanced, excessively balanced” than for other reasons.

Elsewhere, Lord Patten warned members of his own party that they must accept the result of the vote on 23 June.

He said they must not mirror the continued agitating by the SNP for a future re-run of the vote on independence, despite Scots backing No in the 2014 referendum.

“I hope that if we vote to stay in, those who’ve been campaigning to withdraw will actually not take the Alex Salmond path and think this is a neverendum rather than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.