Saturday 30 January 2016

Remain/Leave and 'Newsnight'

My own very small-scale contribution (at the moment) to monitoring the BBC's coverage of the EU referendum is to look at Newsnightspecifically the fairly-easy-to-answer question, 'Is there a balance of guests between pro-Leave and pro-Remain?'

It's only 'fairly-easy-to-answer' because you need a consistent starting-point for including the guest in the final list. In other words, if, say, Steven Woolfe of UKIP is interviewed by Newsnight (as he was on 20th Jan), but only on the topic of immigration, and he isn't asked about the EU and doesn't mention the EU himself, well, that obviously excludes him from the list.

But what of those who are on to discuss the migrant crisis and who do make strong pro-EU points (though not points about the UK's membership of the EU)? Veteran German MEP Elmer Brok (on 26th Jan) is such a candidate. That's a trickier one. He's famously pro-EU and was bound, when invited, to make pro-EU points - as Newsnight might have been expected to realise. But, no, overall I don't think he should be included because his comments were pretty much 'in passing'.

That leaves us then with the following list for January 2016:
5/1 - Ken Clarke MP, Conservative - REMAIN
& Liam Fox MP, Conservative - LEAVE
13/1 - Alan Johnson MP, Labour - REMAIN
14/1 - George Osborne MP, Conservative - REMAIN
27/1 - Carl Bildt, former Swedish PM - REMAIN
29/1 - Lucy Thomas, Britain Stronger in Europe- REMAIN
& Dan Hannan MEP, Vote Leave - LEAVE
These were all substantial interviews, exclusively or largely focused on the issue of the UK's membership of the EU.

Now. some might question the labelling of George Osborne as 'REMAIN' as he sometimes calls himself a 'Eurosceptic', even though pretty much every reporter (pro-EU or anti-EU) reckons he's among the most pro-EU members of the present government. Paddy Ashdown's hat would have to be eaten by huge numbers of people if Mr Osborne came out on the LEAVE side - and no-one, as far as I can see, thinks that's even remotely likely. So he remains a 'REMAIN' in my list.

What the list shows so far is that REMAIN has received five spots and LEAVE just two.

Both of those LEAVE interviews were conducted alongside interviews with REMAIN supporters (one consecutively, the other simultaneously). The other three REMAIN interviews had no such counter-balancing interviews with LEAVE supporters.

Even if you put George Osborne in some kind of Schrödinger's cat-style limbo - as neither REMAIN nor LEAVE (or both) - that's still a striking imbalance, isn't it? The interviews with Alan Johnson and Carl Bildt were both substantial, rather hands-off and heavily focused on why the UK should stay in the EU. There was no equivalent interview with a LEAVE supporter.

We'll have to see how Newsnight fares as the months go on (unless the BBC cancels it of course!). It's not got off to a good start though, has it, on this evidence?

1 comment:

  1. In other words, if, say, Steven Woolfe of UKIP is interviewed by Newsnight (as he was on 20th Jan), but only on the topic of immigration, and he isn't asked about the EU and doesn't mention the EU himself, well, that obviously excludes him from the list.

    Actually, I would say that puts him at the top of the list. When it comes to UKIP, the EU is simply a proxy issue for the EU. The BBC and the Pro-EU campaign want everyone to think that the only reason UKIP wants out of the EU is because of immigration, i.e. racism. As long as they can keep the public discourse focused on racism being the top reason for opposing immigration, then being anti-EU is guilty of racism by association. It may be more subtle than I'm making it out to be, but it's there.

    Think about how many times Farage talks about immigration on air, compared to what he talked about in all those great rants in the EU Parliament. He's asked about little else than immigration, and that's generally the main - or even only - topic when discussing the EU with a UKIP mouthpiece. The In campaign is slowly building a scaremongering case about economic isolation if the UK leaves the EU, and they know that all they need to do is keep that simmering quietly and try to suppress anti-EU feelings by associating it with racism. There's a reason why many of the people who want Out don't want the campaign dominated by UKIP or Farage.

    Having said that, Osborne must count as REMAIN. If he calls himself a euroskeptic, it's with the new definition espoused by Zac Goldsmith and others: they want to remain in no matter what but hope there's going to be some reform at some point, and will claim that Cameron got a great deal and vote to stay in.

    Clear bias against LEAVE guests, obviously. I notice the Stronger In Britain mouthpiece is a former BBC journalist. Imagine.


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