Saturday 9 April 2016

Inglorious or glorious?

Just an update on a couple of hares I set running last week...

These concern a pair of EU-related BBC Radio 4 programmes and the possibility they might have been biased (in favour of Remain). 

The first was Inglorious Isolation: A European's History of Britain

The programme's title and website blurb led me to expect outrageous pro-EU bias. It didn't happen.

If there was bias it was 'subtle' bias. Only one of the speakers was open in stating her wish for us to remain in the EU - and her programme (the Scandinavian episode) also featured the sharpest anti-EU statements (from Norway). 

In fact (with the exception of the relatively weak 'Spain' edition) the whole series was fascinating and illuminating and made me feel that Britain's 'isolation' was rather splendid after all (as several of the continental contributors appeared to think too). 

So the problem with this Radio 4 series in the end merely amounted to its misleading title and its build-up blurb.

Britain's "Inglorious isolation" wasn't what its speakers talked about and was, I suspect, just some biased BBC Radio 4 editor's 'bright idea' for a title.

The second hare I set running concerned Radio 4's statistics programme More or Less.

Last week's episode debunked a very-low-hanging pro-Brexit fruit, suggesting pro-Remain bias, so, therefore, I began a tally...

This week? 

Well, this week's EU referendum feature debunked the claims of an anti-Brexit/pro-Remain blogger - which is what you'd have hoped after last week's debunking of pro-Brexit/anti-Remain tweeters and columnists. 

That blogger had claimed that what we pay into the EU is massively outweighed by what we get back from it. More or Less rubbished his claims, and stated that what we pay to the EU isn't insignificant. It's quite a substantial amount - even after we count in Mrs T's rebate and the rest. 

So far so anti-Remain.

But the programme also said the amount is substantial but not huge compared to the amount we spend on , say. the NHS. 

More of Less said it amounts to about "£2.50 a week" for all of us (which, by my reckoning, is around £130 a year). 

Then it began, rather oddly, to compare such an amount to the possible consequences of a Brexit, economically and further build its case that the British contribution isn't that huge.

Using a thought experiment, considering a 0.1% fall in GDP and a 0.1% rise in GDP as a result of different outcomes from a Brexit, the programme stated that either way the amount we presently pay into the EU is relatively insignificant. We could lose or gain a huge amount more either way as a result of the economic impact of a Brexit...

...which sounds all very 'BBC impartial'...

...except for the fact that...

...(a) as was noted on an earlier thread, they seemed to assume the EU contribution would remain the same if GDP went up rather than rise steeply if our growth rate exceeded that of other EU member states,...

...(b) such reporting is likely to produce feelings of doubt in listeners' minds about what the economic consequences of a Brexit could be. 'Could we lose huge amounts of money from the British economy as a result of a Brexit?', they might well wonder,...

...and, above all, (c) the overall point of the piece was that the amount we pay into the EU isn't that significant in the grand scheme of things (e.g. when you compare it to NHS spending or the possible economic impact of a Brexit), which is a point that 'undermines' a popular argument from the Leave side of the EU debate.

In the end, then, the piece made a helpful point for the Remain side.

So what might have been a 'balancing' piece that last week's Remain-friendly debunking on EU cabbage regulation turned out to be no such thing in the end. 


  1. I agree that the Inglorious Isolation series - well the ones I heard - have been excellent. Lots of intelligent observations and insights. However, I do still think there is an issue of what I would call contextual bias, which is why THIS and why NOW. Because you could equally have a similarly insightful series called say "The British Planet" about how our influence and engagement has extended all over the world, to every continent and about how that has enriched our culture and along the way some commentators might observe how there has been a shrinking in our horizons since we joined the EU. But there was NO WAY the BBC would commission such a Brexit-friendly series. Now, an EU-friendly series that nicely continues the EU/Europe conceptual confusion gambit beloved of the Remain camp - well that is quite a different matter. The BBC appear to be doing the same with Nick Robinson "Us and Them" programme. Ostensibly balanced no doubt but using the EU framing to define a "problem" that is best solved by remaining in the EU.

  2. The More or Less presentation was more a laying out of Remain talking points than an objective examination of the consequences.


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