Saturday 18 November 2017

It's a fair comment to make

This week's Newswatch saw Samira interviewing Katya Adler. It began with Katya saying that the sense viewers have that "BBC reporting is constantly knocking British negotiators, looking for failure" is "a fair comment to make." Aha, I thought! But, guess what? It's turns out that it's not the BBC's fault. (It never is on Newswatch). Here's a transcript:

Samira Ahmed: Well, the BBC's Europe Editor Katya Adler spends much of her life living and breathing the Brexit process and she joins me now from Brussels. Welcome to Newswatch Katya. The biggest complaint we get is about perceived bias, a sense that BBC reporting is constantly knocking British negotiators, looking for failure. 
Katya Adler: It's a fair comment to make. It's a comment you would expect to make. As Europe Editor it's my job to put across the European perspective. Now that might come across as anti-UK but actually it's just putting across the other point of view. And as we see these Brexit negotiations become pretty bad-tempered, obviously there's very, very, very differing points of view. 
Samira Ahmed: Taking all that on board, viewers still feel that we don't seem to get the same scrutiny of EU negotiators and their strategy. 
Katya Adler: Since the Brexit negotiations started...I don't know if you're familiar with the Sicilian word - the Sicilian or Italian word - omerta. It means 'silence'. And we're sort of seeing a kind of omerta inside the European Commission building, amongst the many commissioners and amongst EU leaders themselves. They've been told to zip it and only let Michel Barnier, the lead Brexit negotiator, speak about Brexit. At this point in the proceedings, we just don't have that same possibility, the same access, to talk to the main players on the European side, as we do on the British side, to really put those difficult questions to them on camera, or on the record in a radio interview, and I understand that for our viewers and listeners, for the readers on the website, that is extremely frustrating, and it feels like we're not doing our job. But believe me, because that's largely mine as Europe Editor, I am doing that job and I am asking those questions, but the players are not allowing me to do that on the record and that's why I have to quote sources and contacts and EU diplomats. 
Samira Ahmed: A lot of complaints say, actually, there's acres of coverage but very little fact. Why do you spend so much airtime speculating? 
Katya Adler: Many in the UK feel we voted for Brexit, basically it's a done deal, it's happened,  like let's move on with it, let's see some action, and there isn't very much action. And I feel your pain on that one, because we have to deal with that too. So Brexit remains one of the top stories of importance for us in the United Kingdom. So it's going to remain, you know, right up there, and we will have to keep coming back to it as the negotiating rounds proceed - even though, actually, for example, the last Brexit negotiating round, pretty much nothing happened in terms of news, but we had to cover it and we had to say that very little had happened. And that leads you to speculate - and this is where the speculation comes in - will there will be a deal in the end or will we be in a no deal scenario?
Samira Ahmed: How do you feel about the fact that a number of viewers say that the coverage is just too complicated? 
Katya Adler: Then I would say that Brexit is a very complicated issue. Just to name the obvious: What about our financial services industry? What about agriculture, and other goods? And what happens to the label on those goods that say, 'Made in the UK', but actually, between the jar and the labels and the content, it crosses over between the UK and the rest of Europe several times before a product is finished? These are all fiendishly complicated, and that is why, as well as Brexit negotiations, Brexit negotiators, you have lawyers on both sides working on it. So this is dry and detailed stuff, but that is what goes into untangling the UK from the EU, and in the end will go into making a trade agreement between the two sides. 
Samira Ahmed: Repetitive coverage is a big charge. We see a lot of men in grey suit walking in and out of buildings. Is making this coverage different an interesting challenge?
Katya Adler: Well, on a day to day, hour to hour, even week to week level, it can seem really quite dreary, boring, without very much progress. And certainly I can tell you that, yes, here in Brussels I'm surrounded by the EU institutions around the BBC office. They are grey and they are full of people in grey and navy blue suits...I've got my navy blue suit on today just to fit in with all of that...and that can be a little bit difficult sometimes. The way we can lift it is in a different kind of coverage that we have, whether it's my blog where I can get a little bit of colour into it. We have something called Brexitcast - the podcast that goes out every week....
Samira Ahmed: Yes, tell us about Brexitcast. What's the thinking behind it? 
Katya Adler: Well, the thinking behind Brexitcast is twofold really, I think, on the one hand, because, for example, if I have to do 'a live' - like, you know, a Q&A on the Ten O'Clock News, I'm often told, You've got 50 seconds - five zero seconds - in which to get so much nuance in. That's pretty much impossible, never mind trying to get fact and a bit of colour into it. It's very hard. You go on Brexitcast and you've got ages of time to chat with, you know, Adam, who's the host here in Brussels, or Chris, who's the host in London, and there's Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of the BBC. There's a lot of knowledge in there, and there's lot of humour as well, and we are able to get some humour and banter into it. But, yes, as I admit, Brexit is not something where events happen in a fast and furious manner, but it is, nonetheless, a hugely dramatic moment in EU and UK history. 
Samira Ahmed: Katya Adler, thanks for coming on Newswatch. 


  1. What a load of unconvincing special pleading from the Europe correspondent who failed for five days to notice what had occurred in Cologne back in 2015/16 on New Year's Eve.

    I don't expect the BBC to cheerlead for the UK negotiators. But, given they analyse everything to death, even when they don't have access (e.g. Putin, N Korea and Iran - they are only too happy to comment on those closed regimes), I do expect them to mention maybe ONCE the weaknesses on the EU side - the terror threat (France only just emerging from a 2 year state of emergency which got hardly any BBC coverage), the Russian threat on its eastern borders, the continuing mass illegal migration, the huge youth unemployment, the fiscal pressures, the deep divisions with Poland and Hungary, the rise of the Far Right, widespread corruption in the elites, the fact we are a huge export market for their goods, separatist movements, dependence on our expats' expenditure around the Med and the fact they have not set out clearly their negotiating position. Why do these weaknesses never get mentioned? 50 seconds repeated several times a month is plenty of time to mention these weaknesses, given the BBC spend an inordinate length of time discussing the weaknesses on the UK side. And is there no downside for the EU if, through ideological obduracy, they refuse to do a reasonable deal?

    I think the BBC has chosen quite deliberately not to highlight EU weaknesses, in order to further the Remain cause, just as they also made a deliberate decision over decades not (as a rule, barring the odd crisis or treaty renewal) to cover Brussels governance (e.g. EU Commission directives, EU Parliament debates and so on), so as not to fuel the Eurosceptic cause. Ironically, I think this played a part in winning the EU Referendum for leave, since the UK populace felt completely alienated from Brussels, having no clue as to how it operated. But that was the BBC strategy - omerta on the EU! :)

  2. I loved the giveaway ... "You've got 50 seconds ... in which to get so much nuance in never mind trying to get fact ... into it."

    Ah darn those pesky fact things shortening a good old anti-Brexit opinion piece, eh Katya?

  3. She's talking balls as well about how "complicated" any trade agreement would be. But the EU already has the model of the agreement with EFTA, the agreements with the Swiss, the trade agreement with Canada and the trade agreement with South Korea. You can easily pick and mix - if there is a good will on both sides. It's really not that complicated. This is a punishment beating at the hands of the EU Commission - it's absolutely nothing to do with complexity. If she can't see that, then she's a useless reporter.


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