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Pro-Brexit voices drowned out in BBC news programmes, new analysis shows

Pro-Brexit views have been under-represented on flagship BBC news programmes for decades, a new report published today by Civitas shows. While a large section of the population have long supported the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and a majority voted for it in 2016, their views have been heavily marginalised in the Corporation’s news output.

For instance, of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

In 274 hours of monitored BBC EU coverage between 2002 and 2017, only 14 speakers (0.2 per cent of the total) were left-wing advocates for leaving the EU. These 14 contributors delivered 1,680 words, adding up to approximately 12 minutes. During the same period, two strongly pro-EU Conservatives, Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine, made between them 28 appearances, with contributions totalling 11,208 words – over nine times the amount of airtime allocated to all left-wing withdrawalists.

There has been a determined reluctance to even probe the question as to whether Britain should leave the EU. Between 2005 and 2011, when UKIP had 12 seats in the European Parliament,only 20 questions about actually leaving the EU were posed in 1,073 surveyed editions of Today. So there was an average of one question on withdrawal for every 54 editions, or for every 153 programme hours.

These findings are drawn from a sequential analysis of the News-watch reports dating back to 1999. Since the European Parliament elections of that year News-watch has compiled 38 mainly half-yearly reports, based on 8,000 programme transcripts covering almost 300 hundred hours of EU content.

The bias has continued after the vote for Brexit. A month of the Today Programme in October and November 2017 carried 97 interviews on EU topics, but only nine were with long term supporters of Brexit.

The authors, David Keighley and Andrew Jubb, write:

“When opinion in favour of leaving the EU has featured, the editorial approach has – at the expense of exploring withdrawal itself – tended heavily towards discrediting and denigrating opposition to the EU as xenophobic, and to cast those who supported it as incompetent and venal.

“The overview provided here is a shocking indictment of the BBC’s failure to achieve impartiality, and in particular to incorporate the views of those who desired to leave the EU into its news output. Despite frequent requests to the Chairman and Director General of the BBC from a cross-party group of MPs concerned about BBC bias, the Corporation has been unable to provide a single programme that has examined the opportunities of Brexit. And we cannot find one either.

“The corporation is impervious to all complaints in this domain. It may well be that in the face of this lofty intransigence, something more radical – such as a Judicial Review of the complaints process – might be the only way forward.”

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