Friday 10 February 2017

Back to reality

Katya Adler's programme last night was certainly something highly unusual for the BBC - a clear-eyed assessment of the EU's failings and the growth of 'populism', with a decent and less-predictable-than-usual range of voices. 

I know I'm far from being the only one to have been very pleasantly surprised by it. 

It was so out-of-the-ordinary that immediately following it by listening to to the latest episode of Radio 4's latest Brexit-focused series, Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed, was an unpleasant jolt - a depressing reminder that the BBC isn't turning over a new leaf quite yet. 

The series comes from Chris Morris, the BBC's former Brussels correspondent.

For an immediate flavour of it, here's how today's episode began:  
Hello. I'm sure you remember the big red Leave campaign bus with that dodgy slogan about the NHS and 350 million quid daubed on the side. But do you remember where it began its nationwide referendum tour last year? 
The answer turned out to be Cornwall, the county of England that "actually gets more money back from the EU than just about anywhere else in the country" and yet "come Referendum Day, in a typical 'Two fingers to you!' fashion. Cornwall voted convincingly to leave."

A litany of strongly pro-Remain voices then followed, all grateful beneficiaries of "European money", all explaining what Cornwall has gained from EU membership - all 'balanced' by just one pro-Brexit dairy farmer.

We got a list of "five things EU money has helped bring to Cornwall", and similar message after similar message was pushed throughout (e.g. "We've come to the Penrhyn campus, shared between Falmouth and Exeter Universities. This place would never have been built without EU money"),

Though the programme's tone was jaunty, the message about Brexit wasn't reassuring for the Cornish. The risks to Cornwall of losing all that "EU money" were heavily pushed - as well the likelihood of being neglected by London (which even pro-Brexit Ben thought would still happen). Few positives of Brexit were put forward.

It was heavily biased.

And there were four preceding episodes, all similarly crammed with pro-Remain voices. 

The closest the series has come to an exception so far was yesterday's edition, which focused on the idea that Brexit might take over over 'the cliff edge'.

Its central metaphor was the closing scene of The Italian Job where the British thieves (led by Michael Caine) found their coach hanging over a cliff. 

It featured the week's other declared Leave-voting speaker: economist Ruth Lea. (Yes, the balance of voices in favour of pro-Remain voices has been that extreme!). She got all of 44 seconds. It also included a Remain supporter who's now looking on the bright side (just about the only person who has been so far in this series). 

And yet, even this episode had a strong pro-EU balance of voices and spent.getting on for nine minutes stressing the possibility of us going over a cliff edge because of Brexit and less than three minutes considering more positive possibilities. Chris Morris ended by saying, "So fasten your seat belts and hold on tight. It is going to be quite a ride".

Wednesday's edition fretted and scaremongered about the consequences of "living on the 'wrong side' of the Channel" for British expats and EU citizens resident in the UK, with particular focus on the worries of our Polish community. 

Tuesday's edition looked at "the cost of the divorce" and presented point after point reinforcing the idea that our "divorce" will cost us a lot. The blurb on the programme's website will give you a good sense of how this episode went;
[Chris] draws up a list of assets to be divvied up and the ongoing maintenance payments which may need to be made. It could add up to around £50 or £60 billion and the EU seems determined to extract payment. Will it all end in tears?
The programme included, to the accompaniment of Simon Bates's old Our Tune music, this potted history of the UK's membership of the EU - a reading of history that casts us (the UK) as being mainly at fault for the breakdown of the 'marriage':
Is lost love the most painful thing of all? Today's Our Tune tells the story of Britain and the EU. They've been together for more than forty years, but it's never been easy. To begin with the EU kept Britain at arm's length, perhaps sensing danger, and then, when the relationship began, Britain kept asking for more - a rebate, a single market, even expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. The EU kept saying 'Yes', trying to keep Britain happy, But something wasn't right. Britain became more and more withdrawn, and last year, well, the relationship hit the rocks, It just wasn't working anymore. It was time to plan for divorce.  
Monday's edition looked at who we will be negotiating with. Oooh, it's going to be complicated, and it's gonna hurt! ("Despite what you might sometimes read in the newspapers the terms on which we leave the EU are not just up to us", "Don't underestimate the EU's determination to get the deal it wants"). As the website blurb says, "And find out why there could be scorpions...." - and, if Chris Morris & Co. are right, there will be scorpions ahead!

Woe, woe and thrice woe! - and there's at least another week's worth of programmes to come. 

The BBC's anti-Brexit bias, despite Katya Adler, is obviously not going away any time soon. Alas!


  1. I heard that and was equally annoyed. He could have started with:

    "Hello. I'm sure you remember Prime Minister David Cameron telling us he was going to stay on as Prime Minister, immediately trigger Article 50 and lead us out of the EU. In case you haven't noticed, that hasn't happened...and we've got a new Prime Minister."

    But no - only one slight fib (the correct actual figure is £10 billion per annum) ever gets mentioned.

    I suspect the programme was set in Cornwall precisely because that's where the bus ad was launched.

    I object to the programme title. There's nothing much to be perplexed about. We're leaving the EU. A deal will be negotiated about how much access to the EU market above WTO conditions we can get (assuming that's in our interests). We won't know exactly what will be in the deal until negotiations are completed.

    Really it's "Brexit: A Guide to Make You Perplexed, Worried, Concerned and Anxious We Hope".

    1. The BBC has tended to focus on 'fake news' recently, giving air time to the seemingly niche market of 100% fabricated stories. I can't say I've come across many instances of this as yet, certainly none that I felt had an influence on me. A piece on Newsnight (last Friday I believe) was particularly worrisome about this, and I did laugh at it's conclusion of "thank God we have the BBC"!

      But what I'm more interested in, and what I believe is far more influential, is the development of post-event narratives, based in facts, but only a selection of facts, leading to an incomplete picture that is detached from the reality.

      The £350m claim is a perfect example of this - played up after the referendum by some who wish portray the result as a deception, to overly focus loses the message of the referendum result.

      What is the ultimate complaint about this slogan - that the figure should've been £Xm instead? How much of a difference would that have made, really? Personally, I always thought they should've focused on the annualised figure of £Ybn, so perhaps Leave missed an opportunity.

      But to focus on the figures is to fixate on the pedantic and trivial, whilst missing the underlying point of why people voted leave.

      People, by and large understood the UK was one of the largest net contributors to the EU, and would prefer that money being 'controlled' (a key word of the campaign), by the UK government.

      Indeed, there is an even larger underlying point - that people on the whole do not feel a sense of democratic representation with the EU. A majority of the people - the ordinary, non-dogmatic, swing voters of a population, those who democracy entrusts to ultimately govern the future of the nation, had lost confidence in the EU. Perhaps due to years of the EU not hearing their concerns, be that immigration controls in the UK, or austerity in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Perhaps down to the widespread perception of incompetence of EU institutions, in dealing with economic crisis (the Euro), or a migration crisis. Somehow, along the way it seems the EU has lost it's democratic mandate in the UK - that should be the major point of contention in the post referendum analysis, and in the debate about the future of the EU.

  2. I heard only the last program (the Cornwall one) and soon switched-off. I found the "jaunty" style a bit childish.

    There's no doubt for me that the BBC anti-Brexit bias will continue until we are out of the EU. BBC is trying to influence the deal to be as soft as possible or even have Brexit cancelled.

    But BBC have had a few setbacks recently. They tried to get the old "ToryspiltzoverEurope" going, but couldn't carry that only on the broad back of Ken Clarke. But with "LaboursplitzoverEurope" to keep OUT of the news, BBC have decided to revive the old standby "NHSincrisis".

    1. I think there might be a "BBCsplitzoverCorbyn" with the Militant Soggy Left out to get Corbyn. LK is obviously in the Anti-Corbyn faction but also judging from tonight with John Pienaar, virtually inviting Labour voters to vote UKIP or maybe Conservative in the coming by elections, so as to create a crisis for Corbyn, in the hope they can finally get rid of him. It certainly wasn't an old fashioned by election report, where you would be told how the lead candidates were campaigning followed by a list of the minor candidates. It was very slanted against Labour.

  3. If nobody says at any time during the film something along the lines of the money not being 'EU money' but rather British taxpayer money taken and doled out in small portions at the whim of EU mandarins, it's a biased broadcast. Does anybody discuss the numbers on how much money is paid into the EU versus how much wonderful largesse is handed out to support farmers (according to Nick Robinson) and museums, etc.?

  4. Today's Our Tune tells the story of Britain and the EU. They've been together for more than forty years, but it's never been easy. To begin with the EU kept Britain at arm's length, perhaps sensing danger, and then, when the relationship began, Britain kept asking for more - a rebate, a single market, even expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.

    EU expansion was done to please Britain? Seriously? The rest of this is just the next level of what Nick Robinson said in his biased "Them or Us" documentary. He basically said that the EU seemed rigged a bit against Britain only because xenophobic Little Englanders refused to help set it up and get in on the ground floor so of course missed out on making it right in the first place.


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