Monday 19 September 2016

Jonathan Dimbleby talks Brexit


Listeners to the BBC World Service - and overnight Radio 4 - might have heard a World Questions discussion on Brexit a couple of days ago, hosted by the younger Dimbleby. 

Its title was Brexit and Europe and it came from the BBC Radio Theatre in London. 

I enjoyed listening to it but, being a post-referendum BBC programme about Brexit, you probably won't be surprised to hear that the panel had an anti-Brexit bias. 

3 panellists were anti-Brexit (Chris Patten, Michael Dougan and Daniela Schwarzer) and 2 panellists were pro-Brexit (Frank Field and Ruth Lea). Why that imbalance BBC?

You  also probably won't be surprised either about the way the "very engaged audience" (as Jonathan Dimbleby described them) tilted even more heavily against Brexit. 

Though tepid applause for some pro-Brexit points showed that a part of the audience was Leave-orientated, this audience was so biased against Brexit that Frank Field worried at one point that their loud partisan applause, especially for the more bitter comments of the Remain-supporting panellists...(eg. the strong applause for Michael Dougan's sneering about "what British democracy had achieved" here), meant that his own optimism about how we might all to come together again might be misplaced.

[One of the loudest eruptions of applause, incidentally, came when Lord Patten (former head of the BBC Trust) praised the virtues of the BBC.]

Similarly, of the pre-selected questions from the audience, four came from a pro-Remain standpoint, one from a pro-Leave standpoint and one was hard to allocate in either direction. 

Also, the bit about "listeners from all around the world joining in via the BBC World Service Facebook" was only marked on the programme itself by Jonathan Dimbleby reading out a comment from a New Zealander asserting that a the referendum result showed that Britain is "52% racist" - an insult that resulted in a lot of applause from the audience. And, for good measure, Jonathan put that to Chris Patten of all people! (Lord Patten said that, no, 52% of British people aren't racist...BUT...the campaign had racist undercurrents, etc, etc, etc).

Still, despite all of that, it could, I suppose, have been worse bias-wise. 

JD himself largely treated his panellists in a comparable way, despite his repeated chafing to interrupt Ruth Lea and his particularly strong probing of Frank Field.

And when JD went to the audience, he stumbled upon three of the pro-Brexit people there (which I think might be an example of 'a happy accident') and only one of the anti-Brexit people.

That said, I think this selection from the closing section of the programme should give you a pretty good idea of what you missed (if you missed it). Watch out in particular for Jonathan Dimbleby's points, made between those of two (other) ardent Remainers:
Michael Dougan: We don't actually know what Britain will look like in ten or twenty years time. One of the things I've found most striking since the referendum is that we haven't really begun to investigate properly and rigorously why we ended up in this position. And I think until we do that a lot of these negotiations are actually going to be very difficult because a lot of these questions about what we want as a country - for ourselves, the future, the vision we have for ourselves - and we don't really know that because we don't really know all of the motivations and all of the fractures within our society. And until we address those dealing with the EU is going to be very difficult indeed.  
Audience applauds strongly. 
Jonathan Dimbleby: Although the vote was decisive in terms of the outcome the gap between those who wanted Brexit and those who wanted to Remain was not a great deal over a million people - 17 million plus in favour of Brexit, million or so in favour of Remain. Chris Patten, last quick word? 
Chris Patten: Well, Michael is absolutely correct in saying that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted a heavily in favour of staying in the European Union as England voted against........It is more of a national problem. But I just want to answer specifically the question of..the point about 'Britishness'.... 
Jonathan Dimbleby (interrupting): Remember that actually London, in this case, voted Remain. 
Chris Patten: London voted Remain with probably the largest immigrant population in the country. Erm, the point I want to make is this: We joined the European Union in the first place because we were thought of as 'the sick man of Europe'. We joined when we were behind Germany, behind France, behind Italy. And the years in the European Union haven't been bad for us.......
Lord Patten went on to praise our membership of the EU, say how we'll be "slightly diminished in the eyes of the world" by Brexiting, praise the BBC and call for more money for the BBC (audience applause) and call for an increase in the number of foreign students in our universities (more audience applause). JD then wrapped things up.

I suppose Jonathan Dimbleby's remarks there (and the basic tenor of this programme) should be taken in the light of his previously stated views (on first launching this series in 2015):
Q. And in terms of – you would know this better than I – but in terms of British knowledge about the EU, do you think most of the British public really know who Jean-Claude Juncker is, or Donald Tusk, or Martin Schulz… 
A. Personal view, and you’re very at liberty to print this, I think the British public is woefully under-informed about the structure, organisation and leadership of the European Union.
And I think that is in part the failure of the communicators, not excluding even the BBC, that tries its level-best, but doesn’t always succeed. But there is a relentless media debate, which either deliberately, sometimes, or by default, offers a distorted image of Europe.
That’s to say, it has a strong view, there are parts of the media – this does not apply to the BBC – which are strongly anti-European Union, and so they cover the European Union in ways that reflect that attitude.

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