Sunday, 12 March 2017

Laura Kuenssberg's Biggest Documentary

The big Brexit-related BBC event recently has been Laura Kuenssberg's BBC Two documentary, Brexit: Britain's Biggest Deal.

I didn't watch it at the time but saw the deluge of Twitter comment about it and noticed that, by and large, pro-Brexit people appeared absolutely appalled by it while anti-Brexit people seemed pleased by it. 

(I smiled at one of the latter, Twitter-feed header emblazoned with EU flags, saying it was 'balanced' and much better than Katy (sic) Adler's programme). 

So was it biased or balanced? 

Well, having finally caught up with it, I have to say that I can well see why pro-Brexit people were so unhappy with it.

Doom and gloom predominated. The early stages of the programme were devoted to the alleged massive bill we'd have to pay to the EU to leave, with Laura carrying around a large cheque and saying, "So we have a cheque here for £50 billion to the European Union that UK taxpayers might have to pay to the rest of the EU to get out". She showed it to various aghast vox pops, whose responses ranged from "We've been lied to" to "I voted Out, so it's all my fault, I apologise" via "I can’t believe it. We would have heard about that before, surely?", "Cheap at the price to get out of Brexit, yes", "Well sod ‘em", "You just need to be tough, the same as any business deal" and "We should never, ever have given us a referendum (sic) None of us are educated enough to vote on something so serious". The House of Lords report concluding that we won't have to pay ten of billions of pounds to get out didn't even get a mention.

Among the arguments for the defence is that, contrary to some of the comments I've read, the programme did feature a range of voices. However, the balance (excluding vox pops) was hardly fair:

William Hague
Sir Simon Fraser
Radoslaw Sikorski
Karel de Gucht
Anna Soubry
Sadiq Khan
Mario Monti
David McAllister
Tony Blair
Sir Keir Starmer
Tim Farron
Chris Ormord
Nicola Sturgeon
Tom Fletcher
Lubo Rotak

Michael Gove
Boris Johnson
Iain Duncan Smith
David Davis
Lawrence Tomlinson

Surprisingly, no one from UKIP was interviewed. 

Missing from the above list was the programme's legal expert - the disinterested expert - namely lawyer Jessica Gladstone of Clifford Chance. What Laura didn't let on about Clifford Chance is that they were one of the few law firms that took a public stance during the EU referendum: to oppose Brexit. Her points on this programme, unsurprisingly then, sounded strongly negative on Brexit and she should be added to the 'Remainers/pro-EU' column.

Also, it's indisputable that the Leavers were cross-examined by Laura K much more often than Remainers - and in a much more challenging way. Compare, for example, the following lead-ins/questions to prominent Leavers:
To Michael Gove: You were the chair of the Vote Leave campaign, you gave people a sense of expectation we were going to get money back. Now, won't it be rather embarrassing for you if instead we end up being asked to shell out to get out of the thing? 
To Michael Gove: But if we have to pay a one-off fee of some billions, won't some voters who were persuaded by your arguments have every right to feel pretty cross with you?
To Lawrence Tomlinson: In terms of the length of time it’s going to take, you know, some people say this might take as long as a decade, it's going to be very complicated and that delay is going to mean uncertainty and that can be really damaging.
To David Davis: For swathes of voters, though, shouldn't you be preparing them for something that feels rather different to what they think they were promised? I mean, might we not end up with a bad compromise here where significant level of immigration remain over time so that business doesn't lose out, but then also a new bureaucratic system of dealing with work permits and visas for business? That's not going to be a great compromise for anyone, is it?
To David Davis:You are acknowledging, very publicly, there is a real risk of what's known as the cliff-edge? We walk away without a deal and some people say that's a catastrophe even to contemplate that. 
To Boris Johnson: For many big British businesses the Single Market has been hugely beneficial. We are walking away from the biggest trade partnership that exists. Will you admit there will be losers as well as winners? We cannot get a deal that is going to be as good as our current relationships inside the Single Market.
with these to leading Remainers:
To William Hague: It sounds like a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare?
To William Hague: Some people compare it to the biggest job for any leader since the Second World War. For you, is it right to compare this to a challenge as great as the Second World War?
To Tony Blair: Do you think that we are potentially at the start of a really fundamental reshaping of British politics?
To Tony Blair: Since the referendum, the government’s tried to reassure individual industries they won’t lose their workers. But does that mean immigration won’t fall? 
To Tony Blair: But Theresa May's decision to leave the single market and what's called the customs union could force a return to a hard border [with the Republic of Ireland], with echoes of the past.  
To Jessica Gladstone & Tony Blair: If there is no deal, that only leaves one option: the cliff edge.  
And those are representative examples.

Above all, it was Laura K's own narration that steered the programme down the biased path. It accentuated the negative from the very start and continued throughout.

This wasn't the BBC's finest hour.


  1. The BBC had fine hours once, but got away from them.

  2. One thing I've noticed with the BBC and other MSM is they keep saying we have to get the approval of all 27 member states to the exit agreement. But Article 50 states:

    "[The] agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament."

    The reference to qualified majority voting seems to suggest it isn't all 27.

    I've yet to see any proper analysis of Article 50 even on supposedly serious news analysis programmes like Newnsight.

  3. The Remain side is quite diverse, including two Tory MPs plus a top "independent" civil service, while the Leave side was represented only by Tories and none of the Labour Brexiters. From the business side we get a very wealthy Laurence Tomlinson, straight out of stock villain central casting, instead of a successful businessman with the common touch, i.e. the guy who owns Weatherspoons. No bias in selection there, never mind the numbers?

    When it comes to Complaints From Both Sides, Katya Adler's non-partisan piece will be held up against Laura K's blatantly pro-Remain piece as proof of overall balance.

    I won't watch this as I will of course be prejudiced by my memory of Laura K's emotional breakdown on the night of the vote.

  4. Just another shell in the BBC's heavy pounding on the Brexit positions ... this will go on until the UK is out of the EU or there is a 2nd referendum.

    I don't find it worth watching or listening to any BBC output on Brexit. I know what's coming, I know what will be ignored or obscured. There is nothing new or deeper provided.

    I've also concluded that anything, ANYTHING, that uses the vox pop technique is therefore, by definition, biased. The technique is so obviously open to manipulation. And is manipulated. After all, I can walk down the street and ask a few people their opinions myself. Why do I need to pay Laura K to do it and then edit the responses to fit her narrative?

    1. The BBC and Laura K are not just "biased" collusion between the EU and the BBC, more like! The BBC has never stopped talking to the "EU Communication Service" (or whatever they are actually called!), and they actually co-produced the programme, co-wrote the script and cleared the final product before broadcast. (And because the EU does this for free, the BBC doesn't then have to declare a financial conflict of interest!)

      The EU people even suggested the BBC that they use Jessica Gladstone (and the EU then no doubt prepared the script for young Jessica to read like some 20-something actress in Hollywood, bless her!) A commercial solicitor (and solicitor-advocate), a supposed EU expert who conveniently forgets to mention the mountains (quite literally potentially millions of pages) of paperwork of EU (and EEA) Regulations, but instead banged on about "thousands of pages of" itemised tariffs under an FTA...unbelievable!

  5. The bias is in the one-eyed view of the issue. For every anti-Brexit point there is an anti-Remain one.

    Take for instance the absurd prop of the £50 billion cheque. Why wasn't she showing to Remainers a £100billion or more like £150 billion cheque showing the cost of remaining in the EU over the next 10 years?

    Why is a £50billion bill, assuming it were to materialise worse than a certain £100 billion bill arising from staying in?

    Ozfan - you're right about the heavy will go on until the Brexit flag is actually flying over the BBC TV Centre. And yes - Vox Pop is a terrible device in the hands of the dishonest. If it is to be used it should be matched by other data, in this case polls, showing 65% plus now want us to get out of the EU.

    1. £50,000,000,000, to be demanded by the EU, and that it be payable immediately at Brexit commencement have to be still watching Telly at 9AM everyday to possibly believe that guff, that the EU would even dare! "Kite-flying" nonsense, pushing-the-envelope stuff, leaked by the EU to the Economist (magazine)! Utter rubbish!

    2. Correction: And the Economist's editors must had then told the unnamed EU bureaucrats that (even) they (given the amount of the advertising business that the Economist receives from the Commission) were unhappy to allow their publication to be used essentially by the EU to publish EU press releases "of a more lurid nature", especially ones written the EU's own professional spin-doctors, and suggested that they try with the FT, and ideally "ghost-attributing" this to Michel Barnier himself (whose editors also promptly confirmed this).

  6. I really can't see how pointing all this out to the BBC will either be an eye-opener to them, or lead them to change their approach in any way. After all, the Corporation has become a magnet to all those political communicators who believe not only that advocacy journalism is the essence of all current affairs, but also that there is absolutely no requirement to ferel constrained by the sort of standards set out by Sue Careless in an address to the Canadian Association of Journalists:-

    (1) Acknowledge your perspective up front.

    (2) Be truthful, accurate, and credible. Don't spread propaganda, don't take quotes or facts out of context, "don't fabricate or falsify", and "don't judge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths"

    (3) Don't give your opponents equal time, but don't ignore them, either.

    (4) Explore arguments that challenge your perspective, and report embarrassing facts that support the opposition. Ask critical questions of people who agree with you.

    (5) Avoid slogans, ranting, and polemics. Instead, "articulate complex issues clearly and carefully."

    (6) Be fair and thorough.

    (7) Make use of neutral sources to establish facts.

  7. Surely, the purpose of Laura K's programme is that it will be held up in the future as 'Told You So' clips when the BBC wish to attack the Government over Bexit. It will be high on Laura's CV portfolio for future use. I imagine she is as proud as punch about this - it will become the landmark of Laura's world. In which case we can all assume that she has meant every word of it, and is quite happy to have included this blatant bias. The programme was well trailed and advertised widely. It will have been quite a while in production - a big budget affair. She will have approved every single word and every nuance - Make no mistake, this is the BBC at their best, showing off their latest gladiator strutting her stuff, in defiant contempt of the majority of EU Referendum voters.

    Most of the Leavers' representatives in the programme are people that the BBC enjoy poking fun at - Boris, Gove, Davies and IDS. None of this is surprising, other than of the twenty people listed above only two are women. Maybe that's to do with these bright pink coats. You can have too much of a good thing.

    1. No women at all on Laura's Leavers / anti - EU side of the argument then.

  8. Jessica Gladstone is essentially a UK/EW-based specialist commercial solicitor (and solicitor-advocate) of the multinational, cross-border kind...asking her for her "expertise" on Brexit would be like asking an optician to operate on cataracts!

  9. And did I hear that another of these supposed experts Sir Simon Fraser actually said that "Greenland left the EU"?! ... Seriously?! There was no EU back in the year 1985, and even then Greenland was not actually "member state" of the EEC anyway! EU folk caught rewriting history...again! How predictable! (And the UCL even tried to pin this on Vote Leave last year...the EU created this historical revisionist deception (thereby indirectly implying how Greenland and the Greenlanders were somehow fools to have left), for years and years!)

    The Kingdom of Denmark consists of three constituency Countries of Denmark, the Fa[e]roe Islands and Greenland. The Kingdom of Denmark joined the EEC but only on behalf of Denmark. Greenland only became part of the EEC because Denmark's Accession Clauses included that "Greenland were to be treated as if Greenland were [a full and integral] part of Denmark, within the overall Kingdom of Denmark (the Danish Realm), for the purpose of Denmark's membership of the EEC" (or words to that effect)...and Greenland merely told Copenhagen in Referendum in 1984 to apply to the EEC to in effect delete and repeal ONE Clause, in 1985.

  10. And Tony Blair, still perfectly capable of talking some right cow manure, even now...older, and more bitter and more twisted, it seems! And the fact that the BBC actually allowing Laura K to practically give Blair free air time, unchallenged, to issue such threats, "by proxy"...

    A Hard Irish Border anyway already exists, and the REAL Hard Irish Border is the space between the Island of Ireland with Scotland, and with England and Wales, and with the Isle of Man, and the said space is called bits of the Sea, and they are called the Irish Sea and the Irish Channel!

    Anyone with half a brain will suspect that Theresa May can easily get around this by creating a separate Customs territory within the United Kingdom specifically for Northern Ireland. The UK (on behalf of and only applies in NI) will become a "special participant" of the Customs Union of the EU and the EEA in that way, short of full EU/EEA Customs Union membership.