Friday 27 October 2017

'Question Time' on BBC bias

For anyone who wants to savour last night's Question Time discussion on BBC bias (and Brexit), here's a transcript of the relevant section:

DAVID DIMBLEBY: But I want to go on to a question from Sheena Brown, please. Sheena Brown.
SHEENA BROWN: Should Mark Carney and the BBC admit Brexit will happen and get behind Britain instead of deprecating our nation and continually weakening our bargaining stance? 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Well, that admonition of course comes from something that Jacob Rees-Mogg himself said this week when he called Mark Carney "one of the enemies of Brexit. He's opposed it consistently" and called the BBC "the Brexit Bashing Corporation." Alex Salmond, is that how you see things? 
ALEX SALMOND: No. I disagree with the question from the lady. What weakened Britain's negotiating stance was to invoke Article 50 and to go into a time-limited negotiation where we couldn't afford to have no deal. As soon as we did that, we placed every single card in the hand of the other 27 European Union countries, represented by Michel Barnier. I don't think... I mean, I think we could have the Angel Gabriel negotiating for us and we wouldn't get a decent deal. I actually rate David Davis rather highly, I think he's able, but his disagreement with the Prime Minister this week exemplified the problem he's got. On the one hand, he has to say and pretend that no deal is possible or even semi-attractive and then he has to say it might go down to the 59th minute and second of the 59th hour, or whatever it is. And then he has to say, well, of course we said there was going to be a vote in the House of Commons before that happened, which technically of course then wouldn't be possible. What it exemplifies is this time-limited negotiation, which we blundered into, without securing a positional deal at the end of it because all of the time the clock is working for the other 27. That's what's weakened the UK's negotiating position, not anything that the Governor of the Bank of England has said. 
ALEX SALMOND: Well, I mean, of course I always defend the BBC! 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: I don't remember that during the Scottish referendum? 
ALEX SALMOND: Well, that's the whole point...
DAVID DIMBLEBY: [interrupting] Did you defend the BBC then? I don't think so.
ALEX SALMOND: Let me put this way, if I can give you half a compliment. I think the BBC were much less biased during the Brexit referendum than they were during the Scottish referendum. There you go! 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: Right. Shami Chakrabarti, you go next and I'll come to you in a moment. 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: With respect to the questioner, I do think that on this one the Bank of England and the BBC are a distraction from the real problem here. They are not responsible for negotiating Brexit, it's the Government and it's the Government that is failing in that responsibility. Mark Carney... We know that David Dimbleby is all powerful, but he is not negotiating Britain's exit from the EU. The Government is divided. The Government is chaotic. The Government has no plan, and we are in jeopardy as a result. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Jacob Rees-Mogg?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Thank you. Well, first of all, why I have criticised the Governor of the Bank of England and continue to do so, is that during the Brexit referendum he made the Bank's views of Brexit clear in a way that he never does in a general election. He didn't give his view earlier this year on what Mr Corbyn's economics plans would do to the United Kingdom, but he did express a view on Brexit. That seemed to me to politicise the Bank of England and besmirch its reputation. We trust the Bank of England to be apolitical, to be independent, not to be the creature of whoever happens to be Chancellor...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] What was it he said that particularly offended you? I mean, he said the risk to leave could possibly include a technical recession, didn't he? That's right?
JACOB REES-MOGG:  He warned that there would be a technical recession, but that is a recession...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] A technical recession isn't a recession, is it, actually? It's a 'temporary recession', I think it's called, isn't it? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: All recessions have so far been temporary  in the whole of history...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Well, it depends on the timescale.
JACOB REES-MOGG: A technical recession is two quarters of GDP declining. He said that, he was completely wrong. The Treasury was worse. It said there would be between 500,000 and 800,000 jobs lost purely on a vote to leave, not actually anything happening...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] And the BBC? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Dear Old Auntie. The BBC, how many times have we heard "in spite of Brexit?" In spite of Brexit, a record three million jobs have been created since 2010. In spite of Brexit, unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI[interrupting] What kind of jobs? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: In spite of Brexit, England defeated the West Indies at Lords. I mean it is... is again and again. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Sorry, do you actually...can you actually specify an occasion when you've heard that? You say that, but have you got a quotation? I've got some other quotations which I was going to get on to. Have you actually got a quotation?
JACOB REES-MOGG: I've got other quotations...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Have you got quotations saying, "in spite of Brexit?" 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, you just have to listen to the news...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Well, that's a generalisation, have you got a specific..?
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well. I think anyone who has listened to the news recently has heard the "in spite of Brexit" terminology and...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] Are you sure?...
JACOB REES-MOGG: ...I think the audience knows that. 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Yes, the audience seems to agree. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: No, they're shaking their heads there. But you've found one! 
JACOB REES-MOGGThe Sun carried out a survey... 
ALEX SALMOND:  [interrupting] Debate's over! 
JACOB REES-MOGG: This is quite important because The Andrew Marr Show has had 84% of its people on being anti-Brexit. 129 interviewees against, 33 in favour. The balance of the BBC has been against. And actually, I disagree with something Alex Salmond said. I think during the referendum campaign the BBC behaved very well and tried extremely hard to be independent. It got such a shock when we voted to leave that since then I think it has behaved very badly. And I think that the situation we're in terms of negotiations is exactly what you would expect. We have the two-year time limit, which if we hadn't exercised Article 50, the vote would simply not have been implemented. The government had to exercise Article 50 and is now getting on with it. And of course it's an argument. That's the nature of the negotiation. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: The person there on the left, and then I will come to you, Germaine. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: You say about the Bank of England, Mark Carney getting involved, and how he shouldn't be involved. But actually he wouldn't get involved in a general election because if we're not happy with a government, five years from now we can vote them out. With Brexit, this is an entire lifetime. It's going to take a lifetime to fix this situation, however it goes. 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Which makes it even more important that he should have been impartial. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: And the man up there. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: With respect, I think the BBC have been biased against Brexit. I think that during the referendum campaign what you often did was you got someone very intelligent to speak on behalf of Remain and you managed to get someone less intelligent to speak on behalf of Leave. I personally believe that...
ALEX SALMOND: Not you, Jacob! 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: Germaine Greer?
GERMAINE GREER: Well, it's a funny old world, as Mrs Thatcher said. We don't really like bankers very much. They seem to have got us into a terrible mess, and by way of getting us out of it, they got us to pay for it, and it's going on like this. We don't seem to have enough money to do any thing. But the crowning glory comes when we can't find a citizen to run the bloody Bank of England, we have to go to Canada. Now, why did we do that? [To Jacob Rees-Mogg] Why didn't you get the job? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Well, as the gentleman at the back said, I'm not intelligent enough. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: I said you are intelligent. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: Camilla Tominey?
CAMILLA TOMINEY: On Mark Carney, I think the main criticism is he got his economic forecasting on Brexit wrong. He talked about the recession, regardless of whether it was technical or actual, and in fact there's been five consecutive periods of growth. I think growth is up 1.9%, which was not what the Project Fear brigade were predicting. On Brexit in general, BBC bias, I think there's two Brexiters on this panel and three Remainers. I don't know whether you've had a panel that's been majority Brexiters, have you, David? 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: We have. We have. 
ALEX SALMOND: How about the average intelligence? 
CAMILLA TOMINEY: Average intelligence, I can't comment on at all, being a lowly journalist, rather than a lofty politician. But I would suggest that actually when we speak to our readers on both sides of the democratic divide, mostly people just say, "Will you get on with it. "Just get on with Brexit. "Stop posturing, stop fighting between yourselves". And the notion of it being a minority as well, overwhelmingly in Parliament people voted to have the referendum in the first place. Overwhelmingly in Parliament, people voted to trigger Article 50. Overwhelmingly, 80% or more of the electorate voted for parties that supported Brexit. So just do it! 
SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: But it's the government has to just do it, not Mark Carney and not the BBC. 
CAMILLA TOMINEY: Well, it's not just the government, is it, Shami? It's also the EU, who, despite this conciliatory offer from the Florence speech are digging in their heels. Even though a deal for them is mutually beneficial. This is what is lost in a lot of the rhetoric. Do the German car industry seriously want to shoot themselves in their own feet by not having a free-trade agreement with the UK? That would cost the German car industry alone 29,000 jobs. The trouble is, the Remain argument, I'm afraid, it fails, because everybody knows deep down that if we do get this 'cake and eat it' scenario, we can have free trade with Europe and we can have free trade with the rest of the world. That is infinitely better. 

DAVID DIMBLEBY: [to Jacob Rees-Mogg] But it's your Chancellor of the Exchequer, isn't it, who says a cloud of uncertainty over the current negotiations acts as a dampener on the economy? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: This is such an opportunity. When we leave, we can set our own tariffs. Tariffs set at the European level make food, clothing and footwear more expensive. They are the highest proportion of the poorest in society's expenditure. If we can get rid of those tariffs, we help the worst off in society. That is a real benefit...
DAVID DIMBLEBY[interrupting] So why does your Chancellor of the Exchequer not accept this and sound so gloomy? 
JACOB REES-MOGG: Because all the Treasury forecasts assume that instead of cutting tariffs on the rest of the world, we raise tariffs against the EU. That is completely insane. The Treasury's forecasts are even worse than the Bank of England. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: You. Yes, sir. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Can I just say to Mr Salmond, you are being deliberately disingenuous. You say we should have gone to the EU and sorted something out before we activated Article 50. You know as well as I do that we weren't in a position to negotiate until Article 50 was activated. 
ALEX SALMOND: Yes. I think at that stage, this is earlier this year, the EU were desperate to have Article 50 invoked. There's no reason for the government to do it. The government should not have invoked Article 50 until the transitional period was agreed...
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3[interrupting] But we couldn't do anything with Europe until we activated Article 50. I
ALEX SALMOND: It's like who blinks first. And unfortunately it was the UK Government. 
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Why did they do it? They didn't have to invoke Article 50. 
DAVID DIMBLEBY: [over hubbub of voices] All right...Let's not go back over that ground. Let's go to another subject... 


It was fascinating to watch David Dimbleby's persistence in pursuit of those objecting to BBC bias, and it was interesting to see Dimbleby Snr replaying Dimbleby Jnr's tactics against Charles Moore on Any Questions

Yet again a Dimbleby demanded specific examples of the BBC using the phrase 'despite Brexit' and the BBC-accusing panellist failed to provide any. 

The Dimblebys appear to be well aware that despite huge amounts of the BBC's reporting implying the phrase 'despite Brexit' the actual words 'despite Brexit' have almost never been used by a BBC reporter/presenter (despite numerous assertions to the contrary). All manner of Dimblebys will always have BBC critics on the run if those critics persist in asserting that the BBC keeps using that very terminology when it doesn't.

Jacob Rees-Mogg also quoted, of all things, that rubbishy Sun survey about the Andrew Marr Show and its guest selection - the one with the incorrect percentages, the fatally-flawed methodology, the total absence of transparency and Benedict Cumberbatch. Of all the statistics to cite, why on earth did he quote that load of old nonsense? It's enough to make you put your head in your hands and despair. (Still, as most people won't know it was a rubbish survey - including Jacob R-M himself it seems! [* see update below] - he probably got away with it).

And then Camilla Tominey tried the "I think there's two Brexiters on this panel and three Remainers. I don't know whether you've had a panel that's been majority Brexiters, have you, David?" question - which was another bad move because it allowed David Dimbleby to say, with no small amount of smugness, "We have. We have". And he can afford to be smug about it because they indeed have had panels with majority Brexiters!

Not the finest quarter of an hour that critics of BBC bias have had but, nonetheless, given how the points they were making might well have resonated with sections of the viewing public, maybe it worked for them after all. After all, what do I know?

* Update: It doesn't seem so after all. Here's Andrew Marr Show editor Rob Burley registering his exasperation with JR-M on Twitter:
  • 1) When the Sun published its cooked up Marr "bias" story @Jacob_Rees_Mogg was quoted. So I contacted him to explain the faulty methodology.
  • 2) Told him they counted the PM - as well as Benedict Cumberbatch - as Remain. Can only assume he thinks that is how they should be counted.
  • 3) For clarity, the Sun counted as Remain or Leave based on pre-referendum position not current position (which is obviously nonsense)...
  • 4) The Sun also didn't check whether the interviewee was even talking about Brexit. Hence them counting Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • 5) Now this categoric nonsense is repeated as fact to millions to by an MP. Brilliant.
P.S. 20:00 27/10: Guess which phrase has popped up this evening in a headline on the BBC News website?


  1. You can’t argue with someone who’s in charge of how long you get to speak and the topics discussed - from the the transcript they did probably as well as they could in the circumstances.

    I wonder how many majority Brexit panels there’s actually been, countable on one hand I reckon.

  2. It will be interesting to see how the political situation in Spain plays out, and how the pro-EU anti-Brexit BBC will report it. If Catalonia does strike out for independence, will they ever have a choice to remain in the EU - possibly to the model the SN dream of? For a time, when the BBC saw an unlikely alliance between an anti-Conservative London elite and the anti-Conservative SN, this idea of an independent country remaining in the EU curried favour with the BBC.

    Which 'side' will the BBC come down on after sitting on the fence? The BBC would view Barcelona as the epitome of all good things about the EU - modern, forward thinking, cosmopolitan etc. Will support for the liberal elite of Barcelona be ditched by the BBC in favour of standing shoulder to shoulder with their EU partners, who do not tolerate dissent - or will the BBC support Catalonians as a persecuted minority of the nasty political intervention of the Spanish Government in the way we might have expected had Scotland voted for independence? The choice for the BBC and MSM is: Do they upset EU expansionist plans and see a diminution of EU power (added to their potential Brexit loss of income), or do they upset the cosmopolitan liberal elite of Barcelona - people just like them?

    1. If Catalonia was to become independent, I don't suppose they would spend long negotiating the terms of their exit, divorce settlements et al. They would walk away from Spain and the EU. If Catalonia walks away from the EU, that sounds remarkably like a No Deal Brexit, and a whole lot cheaper.

    2. Populist vote? Better send John Simpson over to 'explain'.

    3. If push comes to shove, they will side with the EU and Spain over Catalonia. But with a heavy heart, since they have been in love with Barcelona. All goes back to the Spanish Civil War, Orwell, and the hope of a democratic (truly) socialist republic being realisable. Remember Kinnock and co. used to sing Spanish Republican songs when in their cups. But the die is cast...they will back the EU Superstate Machine over plucky Catalonia and spit on Orwell's grave in the process.

  3. As seasoned Bias-watchers know, you don't have to utter the words "despite Brexit" can convey that meaning in several ways. For example:

    Judicious use of a "however"...Start your item with a long reminder of negative predictions. Then say "however" and give the news. But water down the news. Nevertheless "some say that" or "some commentators are concerned that...and go back into negative mode. Essentially what is a good news story has been made a negative one by bookending it with gloomy stuff. Of course there are other tricks e.g. presenter's intonation, conveying complete amazement bordering on incredulity (are those figures for real?)or slipping in the modest good news story after another humungously negative one (e.g. "the OECD are concerned that the Plague will break out in the UK following Brexit and the NHS will not be able to cope"), so your uptick in manufacturing exports "despite Brexit" now looks rather unimpressive.

    Perhaps this tactic should be turned back on David Dimbleby and whenever he paraphrases someone, you can say "That's not what he/she said."

    All that said, it's a bit pathetic of JRM not to have a few back quotes with him. Also he could have mentioned the Newsnight "representative" panel that voted 9-1 to REMAIN. Or their use of the FTSE 250 index when it suited them - never to be heard of again.

  4. Dimbleby seems oblivious to his and the BBC's back catalogue of pro Remain anti Brexit broadcast content. To protest and seek to deny or justify his bias at this stage is pathetic. Your chickens are coming home to roost David.

  5. Has Mr. Burley yet used Twitter to broadcast his own analysis and count of the Marr guests stance on Brexit?
    Hmmm ... that might be interesting Mr Burley! No one impartial will be taken in by him simply shouting down The Sun and Mogg.

    Or did Mr Burley rush to Twitter to refer Dimbleby to the recent Newswatch analyses? Or the their analysis about the overwhelming proportion of Remain guest on Today's business section? I guess not. All allegations of bias have to attacked strongly - the BBC cannot survive if and when it's bias is generally appreciated.

  6. Despite Brexit - I don't believe anything slips through the editorial net at the BBC. Someone somewhere in the corridors of power within the BBC will have elected to put this out there, knowing it is likely to exacerbate the bias debate. Could we be witnessing the decline and fall of the Dimbleby Dynasty?

    1. They probably are embarrassed by the Dimblebys hanging around into their 80s (or so it seems).
      They would like to replace them with some more suitable "faces" - Anita Anand, John Pienaar perhaps.

      However, they can't sack them, for fear of being accused of ageism and because presumably the brothers know where a lot of bodies are buried, so to speak.

    2. This may have been done somewhat tongue in cheek, as a first step - a stress test of Dimbleby's nerve. Next time round, there will be something of much more substance that he will be publicly forced to deny which has been 'let slip' by the editorial clones.

      He's male, white and old. It's only a matter of time before he comes under attack from within. Up to now, his image as a wise old hack has been supported by the Beeb. Even though his bias is plain to see, it chimes with the BBC narrative.


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