Sunday 16 July 2017

Andrew Marr, BBC bias and Brexit - A Short Study

One way to look at the question 'Is the BBC biased?' is to list all the questions put by a particular BBC interviewer on a particular subject over a short (or long) period of time and see if they show evidence of bias. 

Things to look out for would be the perspective the interviewer asked their questions from. Is it a consistent perspective used against all interviewees, regardless of their own positions (partial interviewing) ? Or is it a varied perspective responsive to the interviewee's own position (i.e. impartial, devil's advocate interviewing)?

Well, here's a list of all the Brexit-related questions/comments put by Andrew Marr during his one-on-one political interviews throughout the last three editions of The Andrew Marr Show. Do they show a pro-Brexit or an anti-Brexit bias, or no bias either way? 

I'll add my own verdicts in italics after each list. Do you agree with them?

P.S. Only one of the seven interviews was with a declared Leave voter (Michael Gove). All the others were declared Remain voters (however John McDonnell actually voted).

[Update: This P.S. reads badly. I wish I hadn't added it.

If there's one thing you can say in defence of The Andrew Marr Show - and I've said it often enough myself - it's that their (party political) guest selection is usually well-considered and carefully balanced. The main political parties, and most of the smaller political parties in Westminster, are lacking in pro-Brexit voices, but, to give credit where credit's due, the AM show does try to keep up a decent tally of pro-Brexit voices.



Questions to John McDonnell:
  1. Well, let me ask you about the business side, the corporation tax, because we are on the edge of these Brexit negotiations. 
  2. Do you think that leaving the customs union would be disastrous for British business?
  3. What does that mean? Does it mean staying inside or leaving?
  4. What about the transitional arrangements? Because a lot of businesses want us to effectively stay inside the EU for maybe four-five years ahead so that they can plan for the exit.
  5. And when it comes to what happens in the House of Commons, you want the Conservatives to collapse and to have a general election soon, but there’s no necessary sign of that. They could carry on for five years. So inside the House of Commons you can exercise some pressure as the opposition party, so do you use that to get a different kind of Brexit?
The perspective the questions were put from here came from the pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint.


Questions to Philip Hammond:
  1. So these are hard-core Brexiteers who want a hard Brexit and a fast Brexit attacking you for that reason?
  2. Can I continue asking you about Brexit in particular because there’s reports again in today’s papers about Paris, perhaps not surprisingly, trying to steal the trade of the City of London. There’s been reports of quite a sharp fall in levels of investment, particularly in the British car industry, heading towards a 75% fall in investment in the British car industry. You’re getting all these businessmen coming to you, getting all these reports on your table, are you worried about the state of the economy as we go into these Brexit negotiations? Is the slow down happening?
  3. And this could go on for three or four years, the transitional arrangement. That’s what a lot of business wants.
  4. But this would be a number of years during which in effect we’d still be members of the single market, in effect we’d still be paying in, in effect we’d still be coming under the ECJ. 
  5. Have you any idea about how long we’re talking about?
  6. All right. What we do know for sure at the moment is that Mr Barnier and the European team desperately want to sort out the money before anything else happens. You’re the man in charge of the money. Have you budgeted for an exit fee for the EU?
  7. But do you accept, because there was a statement in the House of Lords that appeared to suggest this, that we have ongoing obligations to the EU which are financial which we must settle early in the negotiating period?
  8. So they should just go whistle for it then?
  9. Well a lot of people are talking about 40 billion.
  10. Okay, is 40 billion a ridiculous figure?
  11. Is it possible for this government to negotiate a proper Brexit when the Cabinet is divided over the issue?
  12. I was just picking up what you were saying, that people are going for you because they don’t like the kind of Brexit that you want. 
  13. Is it almost as simple as if you and David Davis can agree the proposed terms of Brexit you can sell that to the Conservative Party?
From the 'Remainer' language of the first question here to the questions based on alleged negative effects of Brexit, this also largely came  from an anti-Brexit or pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint, with only Q4 suggesting the contrary position.


Questions to Vince Cable:
  1. On Brexit, do you want Britain to fail economically?
  2. The reason I asked that, if I may interject, is that you have said you have to hang on while the economy deteriorates before the public mood changes and that’s your moment, which makes it sound as if you’re going to be a kind of economic Eeyore as it were, observing disaster happening and just waiting for your moment. 
  3. Let me ask you about this parliament because in the end around a hundred MPs or a sixth of the MPs voted for that motion which suggests the single market issue is now dead for this parliament, but you’ve talked about making alliances and talking across parties, do you begin to see an alliance sufficiently deep into the Labour family and deep into the Tory family as well of pro-EU politicians which is big enough to frustrate Theresa May’s ideas on Brexit?
  4. Really?
The questioning here, though brief, came from a pro-Brexit perspective, if only negatively so - (i.e. nothing positive about the possibilities of Brexit just questioning of Sir Vince's behaviour). The third question, however, was a plug for a pro-EU centre movement, so could be put in the anti-Brexit column.

Questions to David Lidington:
  1. Let me turn to Brexit. As I said at the beginning you were a very fierce supporter of the European Union during that referendum campaign and we’re now told that we can have all the benefits of the single market access without being inside the EU. Can I just play to you what Michel Barnier, the UK’s (sic) chief negotiator, said about this this week. [clip of Barnier: I’ve heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible. I’ve heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the Single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.] And that is the truth, is it not, that we face a really tough choice between having the free access to the single market, having all of those advantages and effectively staying inside the EU despite the referendum or getting out completely and not having those advantages?
  2. David Davis talks about it being the exact same benefits after we leave. Barnier’s making it absolutely clear that can’t be the case.
  3. You pay in.
  4. It’s been called government by fax.
  5. Can I ask you a very straight forward question then. Is it possible for British business to have as good access to the single market as it does now, once we’ve left the EU?
  6. Surely the answer is no?
  7. You thought during the referendum campaign that leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for British business and British prosperity. Looking now from where you are and looking at what Donald Trump and Mr Modi and .. have said at the G20, do you now regret what you said then?
  8. Do you think a big new trade deal with Trump’s America, for instance, could make up most of the damage done by leaving the EU?
This interview, despite Q7 being put from a pro-Brexit perspective, tilted heavily towards being anti-Brexit, with the final question - " Do you think a big new trade deal with Trump’s America, for instance, could make up most of the damage done by leaving the EU?" - being particularly striking in that respect. 


Questions to Stella Creasy:
  1. You voted with the Chuka Umunna amendment on the EU which said that Britain should stay inside the single market. That’s completely impossible given the result of the referendum. People voted to leave the EU. Leaving the EU means leaving the single market.
  2. It means staying in, it means paying money into the EU, it means accepting EU laws and it means no chance of control over migration. Those are the things on which people voted. 
  3. You had a hundred MPs more or less went through the lobby on this out of 600. Britain’s membership of the single market is now over. You’ve fought that battle and you’ve comprehensively lost it, it’s over isn’t it?
  4. But there’s a big change of tone in the Labour Party since the election. Jeremy Corbyn has been a long term opponent of the EU in many ways. He made his view of the single market very, very clear. Was he right do you think to sack people who voted against him this time?
The questioning here, though brief, came from a pro-Brexit perspective. The final question began an angle that Andrew Marr was to pursue at length with Jonathan Ashworth later in the same edition.


Questions to Jonathan Ashworth:
  1. (after quoting Nigel Farage half-praising Jeremy Corbyn) Were you pleased when you saw that tweet?
  2. ‘Almost a proper chap.’
  3. Well, it would have been had you not had a hundred Labour MPs or thereabouts – 50, sorry – backing, with others, a motion which was against the views of the leadership. Where Nigel Farage may well have a point is that Jeremy Corbyn has been an opponent of the EU all the way through his career. He has been completely consistent on this subject. In 1975, voted against it. 1993, Maastricht Treaty, voted against that as well. Voted against the Lisbon Treaty. All the way through he has spoken and voted very consistently against the EU. Isn’t the truth that Labour is now an anti-EU party?
  4. Just, just a budge.
  5. From your point of view, what was wrong with the motion against the Labour leadership?
  6. The manifesto didn’t make it clear whether you would stay inside the single market or not.
  7. But – I’m sorry, but you’ve got a leader and a Shadow Chancellor who are staunchly against the whole idea of the EU. They see is as bankers-ran, they see it as a capitalist conspiracy, and the reason I’m asking about this is so many young voters who came to Labour in this election partly because they were upset by the Brexit referendum result have been fooled in a sense. They thought they were voting for an essentially pro-European party, but actually they were voting for a party which is now led from an essentially anti-EU standpoint.
  8. Alright. I thought the manifesto was a fudge on that matter, but that’s my view. Can I ask, are you in favour of a second referendum still?
  9. So you’ve dropped that?
  10. Yes.
The questioning here began with the angle that the Labour leadership is anti-EU and that that's embarrassing for people like Mr Ashworth (especially having Nigel Farage praise Jeremy Corbyn) and not good news for young pro-Remain voters, from whose standpoint the questioning appeared to come. Andrew also openly expressed an opinion here, saying that the Labour manifesto did not commit Labour to leaving the Single Market. ("I thought the manifesto was a fudge on that matter, but that’s my view.").  That, of course, isn't the view of those who say that 80% of voters in the general election voted for parties that committed us to leave the Single Market. 


Questions to Michael Gove:
  1. You are chastising me for not sticking to your own brief, so I’m now going to return to your brief. Is this headline true? The headline says, ‘no foreign fishing in our waters.’ Is it going to be completely banned once we leave the London Convention?
  2. No French, no Spanish boats at all in those waters?
  3. So it might not be true. There may well be French and Spanish boats still fishing?
  4. Isn’t there a problem with the Irish? Isn’t there a border problem in terms of extending our fishing area too close to the Irish Republic?
  5. Many people will be hoping it’s the last time. Can I move on to farming?
  6. I need to take back control of this interview, just one thing at a time.
  7. I must ask you one thing without you asking, I’m sorry.
  8. Ah, that’s what I wanted to ask you about. That is fantastic, because you have said that we need a free trade deal with America and the Americans are very keen on that, but what the American Farming Association is also very clear about is, for that to work, we will have to accept some American standards that we don’t in our food at the moment. Chlorine-washed chicken, beef created with hormones, which some people think affect cancer and puberty and so on. All sorts of GMO products, without necessarily being labelled. And as part of a free trade deal we will have to accept them. Are you absolutely clear that our environmental and food standards will not be loosened in any way as a result of leaving the EU and doing free trade deals with other countries, including America?
  9. That’s very brief. Okay, in that case let’s move on.
  10. That was a very, very long question. Can I ask you another relatively long question, which is up until the end of this parliament farmers have been guaranteed that subsidies aren’t going to come down. After that it’s a moot point. You have suggested that very, very wealthy farmers who get huge amounts of money from the EU at the moment, like Sir James Dyson and others, will get less money under the new regime. Is that true?
  11. Another fantastic – let me move on. Is no deal better than a bad deal?
  12. Would no deal be a very, very bad outcome for Britain?
  13. Very, very bad?
The questioning here, focusing on Brexit-related 'problems', came from anti-Brexit standpoint. 


Conclusions: Andrew Marr didn't ask all of his questions from just one perspective and there is evidence here of some impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning. But they were fairly rare moments, and... 

(a) Most of the questioning did come from the anti-Brexit part of the political spectrum, despite all but one of the guests being a declared Remain voter, and there was a strong measure of consistency in the viewpoint from which the questions were put.

(b) The impartial, 'devil's advocate' questioning from the pro-Brexit standpoint came across as halfhearted, perfunctory even, especially in comparison to the often detailed and pointed questions put from the anti-Brexit/pro-'soft Brexit' standpoint.

So, yes, I think overall that Andrew Marr did display a significant degree of bias against Brexit/a 'hard Brexit'.

Please read the questions for yourselves though and see if you agree. 

If I'm onto something then this exercise would be worth widening and deepening. 


  1. I would disagree only with your grading of a few questions as coming from the pro-Brexit perspective.

    Q4 to Hammond is an attempt at a gotcha, and could easily be taken as more evidence of a hope for the softest-possible Brexit. It's in the context of "We don't want a cliff-edge transition". Not really pro-Brexit.

    Qs 1&2 to Creasy are statements of reality, which Remainiacs can say just as easily as Brexiters. Neither question endorses the result of the vote. There are plenty of Remainiacs who accept the result because they have to, and want to work out how to stay In on as many levels as possible. Theresa May and Philip Hammond come to mind. There is also Marr's known form of 'challenging' a guest with whom he agrees by presenting the most hyperbolic form of the opposition's position on a given issue. I know we're not allowed to infer anything from tone and demeanor when he asks these questions, so I'll leave others to make up their own minds there.

    Qs 3&7 to Ainsworth: These must be viewed in context of Marr's known history of challenging Corbyn and other Labour figures on these exact points. It's not a stretch to say Marr thinks Corbyn isn't the one to lead Labour back into power, and I would bet he got a bunch of complaints about anti-Corbyn bias about this interview.

    1. Thanks David. I take your points, especially the ones about the Creasy/Ainsworth questions. I'm still not sure what I make of the Hammond one though.

      The interesting thing about this is what the BBC would make of a systematic study of this kind, if properly prepared. Both myself and News-watch have done many such things before and the BBC has always dismissed them.

      If the BBC asks to be judged over time, over numerous programmes, across the broad swathe of its gargantuan output (as it does) and then dismisses every rational attempt to monitor them through precise, detailed, long-term measurement (and yet accepts the short-term, non-transparent findings of, say, a bunch of far-leftists and ex-BBC high-ups at Cardiff) then the BBC is obviously playing a game with us all.

      Though people will inevitably have different takes on some questions, I can't see how any reasonable, honest person could see a list of questions across a number of episodes and evidence of a general thrust in one direction and then just say, 'We don't think such methods are valid. Good bye'. And yet that's just how the BBC behaves whenever such evidence is presented - or evidence of interruptions, time comparisons, etc.

      Still, one can but keep trying.

    2. I agree completely. My comment was not meant as criticism at all, if you see what I mean.

  2. PS: That, of course, isn't the view of those who say that 80% of voters in the general election voted for parties that committed us to leave the Single Market.

    That 80% figure isn't really honest, is it? I've seen this pushed elsewhere, and don't buy it. I know how the number is arrived at, and it's forced.

    Accepting the referendum result was a superficial position for Labour during the election, and one held only out of expediency (e.g., appealing to Northern Labour voters who voted for Brexit) and so as not to appear to campaign as the party who wants to overrule a democratic decision (Corbyn says Labour is all about democracy, right?). Corbyn may be anti-EU, but most of the party was and is for Remain. I seriously doubt Corbyn won those new seats by winning the hearts of young Leave voters.

    Same with the Tories, really. Ruth Davidson's group didn't win those seats in Scotland because she inspired Brexiters, but because Wee Jimmy Krankie messed up in a big way regarding Scottish independence. They weren't so much voting for the party who would do a proper Brexit as they were voting against more chaos about Scottish independence. Theresa May couldn't even deny in the end that she hadn't changed her mind about Brexit being a disaster. What a joke. Voting Tory was as least as much an anti-Corbyn vote as it was a pro-Brexit vote.

    I get where the 80% figure comes from, but don't believe it means what it's presented as meaning.

  3. Brexit or Bust16 July 2017 at 23:23

    Well Tony Blair takes that 80% figure seriously as he is trying to persuade us that being opposed to free movement (Labour manifesto) is compatible with "remaining" in the Single Market (even though it is actually an impossibility in law to be out of the EU and in the Single Market).

  4. Having been born in UK to europens parents ,l believe l have rights to both passports,but for now l want to choose only l am getting married to a non European and intent to continue living in UK . Under which passport l would be better off?


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