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The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation?: How pro-Brexit views have been marginalised in the BBC’s news coverage

David Keighley and Andrew Jubb, January 2018

For at least the past two decades, opinion polls have shown a large number of voters have wanted the UK to leave the European Union. When the question was finally put in the June 2016 referendum, the electorate voted to do just that by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent. Yet the clear preference of a large section of the population for withdrawal, and the reasons for so many people taking this stance, have been marginalised in the BBC’s coverage of EU issues for most of the past 20 years.

This is borne out in this latest detailed analysis of BBC news and current affairs output dating back to 1999. During that time only a tiny fraction of guests on the BBC’s flagship news programmes have been supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. At the same time, there has been a longstanding reluctance to even probe the question of whether Britain should leave the EU and what opportunities it might offer. Instead, coverage of the EU has usually been presented through the prism of party politics, particularly those of the Conservative party.

Left-wing advocates of leaving the EU have been given even less air-time, with Labour eurosceptics barely featuring on BBC news programmes throughout the period, including during the referendum. Core left-wing arguments against the EU – over its prohibition of state aid to protect jobs, the threat to the NHS from the TTIP agreement and the belief that the EU has evolved into a ‘neoliberal marketplace’ – have been largely ignored.

These findings are based on a review of 18 years’ worth of analysis by the media monitoring organisation News-watch. Since the European Parliament elections in 1999 it has compiled 38 mainly reports based on 8,000 programme transcripts covering almost 300 hours of EU content. It is believed to be the largest systematic media content analysis project ever undertaken. The overview provided here is an indictment of the BBC’s failure to incorporate the views of those who desired to leave the EU into its news output.

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