Friday 22 September 2017

Sarah Sands on Brexit bias

Sarah Sands

A copy of The Spectator awaited me when I got home today.

(That's not news. It always arrives on a Friday. Unless it comes on a Saturday that is, or isn't delivered at all.)

Among the first of its items this week was a 'diary' by Sarah Sands, the new editor of Today, laying out her stall.

(The Speccie hasn't posted it online yet, so the transcription below is from my own fair hand). 

She's proud to be moving the programme away from its heavy, grim-hospitals-and-even-grimmer-prisons-led news stories towards more of a newspaper-like programme with daily puzzles and much more science, art and fashion. 

To be honest, I'd rather have far more science and arts stuff than Today trying to set the nation's agenda.

I've had more than enough of the BBC trying to set the nation's agenda, thank you very much. 

So Sarah, please don't listen to these criticism. Please don't stop dumbing Today down! (How about an astrology section, and a daily cartoon featuring a droll cat or a whimsical dog too?)


Mrs May (if you didn't recognise her)

As an outsider to the BBC, Sarah Sands might have been hoped to bring a breath of fresh air to Today. Her Spectator diary comments suggest to me that it's going to be business as usual regarding the BBC's Brexit coverage - something not helped by the well-known fact that she was pro-Remain in the EU referendum. 

Here's the bit about Brexit in full:
On Brexit bias, tone has become almost as important as argument. I notice that cheerfulness can grate on some, who regard it as political comment. When the Australian high commissioner asked on the Today programme why Brits were so gloom, it was categorised as an anti-Remain intervention. It is true that whoever came up with the word 'Remoaners' delivered a lasting blow. The Brexiteers own optimism just as Remainers claim reason. 
I want to try to tell the story of Brexit through concrete examples rather than positions. We looked at the fashion industry the other day and the designer Patrick Grant made a simple case. When he is making a suit, he imports parts from different countries. He can order a zip from Italy overnight. If he deals with America, he has to fill in a great pile of forms. He dreads the additional regulation. Boris Johnson wrote in his 4,000-world article that was meant to have been a speech (journalists so hate wasting material) that leaving the EU would lessen regulation. Can he explain to Patrick how?
There are three things I want to say about that: 

(1) She is well aware that Today faces huge pressure over anti-Brexit bias so, seemingly playing the 'complaints from both sides' game, cannily cites an example from the other side (a transparently silly example of course). 

(2) So Brexiteers are associated with feeling/emotion ("optimism") while Remainers are associated with logic ("reason")? In Sarah's mind too?

(3) The one "concrete example" of Brexit stories she cites raises a negative angle on Brexit. Why not a positive angle? 

Does Sarah Sands inspire you with confidence after reading those two paragraphs?


  1. In answer to your last para question, it's a no.

    I couldn't believe the gross nature of the anti-Leave, anti-populist bias this morning. It was a high tide mark even by Today's standards.

    Getting Today right is difficult. Most people probably don't listen for more than 20 minutes, or might listen off and on over an hour. It should deliver real news, but also discussion, interviews and analysis. But they can't be too in-depth at that time of the morning.

    I think we need more science and tech indeed since they are so important in modern life (incidentally - the Spectator has virtually no serious science and tech coverage - a peculiarly British approach).

    However, arts and fashion first thing in the morning is a bit much I think. We need to be in a more relaxed frame of mind for that I think.

    1. Yes, the Spectator is poor on science and technology. I get the Times Literary Supplement too and it's also poor on science and technology. It's an artsy thing I think - hence Radio 4's problems with it. Radio 4 still has far too little science and technology, especially in comparison to its arts coverage.

  2. I think Sarah is being "disingenuous" with her example of pro-Brexit statements on Today.

    She says "When the Australian high commissioner asked on the Today programme why Brits were so gloom". But, assuming it was the same interview I heard, it was BBC's Webb that introduced the interview with the High Commissioner by stating that everyone in Britain was gloomy about Brexit! The good ole High Comm. didn't feel this correct or sensible.

    The whole Brxit deabte is a text book example of how the BBC narrows the frame when it suits. We almost never are allowed to hear about examples of successful, independent, migration-resistant, mid-size nations like Australia, NZ and Japan, in the context of Brexit.


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