|That Oxford panel: Stephen Gethins, Camilla Cavendish, Clive Lewis, Damian Green and Jo Swinson.|
Over at News-watch David has an important piece about what appears to be Ofcom Content Board's first BBC-based ruling.
The complaint from Gavin Hunt focused on BBC One's Question Time. Gavin had tracked 25 consecutive editions of the programme in the first half of 2017 and discovered that 22 had panels which contained a majority of Remainers - something that he believes demonstrates significant bias against Leavers.
I'd urge you to read the ruling in full.
The first thing that might make your jaw drop is that Ofcom chose to focus on just two editions (and then narrowed it down even further to just one) - the two programmes (one from Oxford, the other from Salford) which had five Remainers and no supporters of Leave.
What was the point of doing that? (Laziness, from what I can see.) The complainant's point was based on it being a comprehensive January to June survey. Ofcom just flicked that aside, declared that their time was precious, and based their findings on two episodes out of 25.The BBC always asks to be judged over time not on single examples when it comes to bias. Ofcom is going with the single examples that the BBC usually complains about!
Yes, if the second edition - the Salford one - barely touched on Brexit then it's nowhere near as clear a case of a 5:0 panel on Brexit as the clearly-duly-unimpartial Oxford edition. The panel listed by Ofcom for the Salford edition (Amber Rudd, Andy Burnham, Colin Parry, Sara Khan and Nazir Afzal) was clearly a panel chosen very carefully in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack specifically to talk about terrorism and Muslims.
BUT that (a) doesn't excuse the Oxford edition and (b) doesn't even begin to answer the main point that the complainant was making:
“2 episodes had Leave majorities of 3:2 on the Panel; 1 episode was balanced; 22 out of 25 episodes had Remain majorities on the Panel; 2 episodes (Oxford and Salford) had 5:0 Remain majorities; 8 episodes had a 4:1 Remain majority”.
Ofcom simply failed to deal with that. They changed the goalposts from 25 episodes in a row to just two episodes, and then changed it again to just one. As a result they side-stepped the complainant's point.
My jaw also dropped at the bit in the 'Oxford programme' section where Ofcom tried to pass Damian Green off as 'not Remain'.
During the discussion, there were a number of viewpoints expressed which could be described as critical of Brexit to some degree. However, we considered that there were also views expressed which could be described as supporting Brexit in some form, or otherwise challenging the Remain position. For example, Damian Green disagreed with various statements that were supportive of a Remain position. He said most people had not changed their mind since voting in the 2016 EU Referendum (“the referendum”), and although he was part of the referendum campaign for Remain, he respected democracy and the referendum outcome.
It's not sensible of Ofcom to claim that that either supports Brexit or challenges the Remain position given that plenty of Remain-voting people, including politicians, (a) have been honest enough to acknowledge that that most people haven't changed their minds (as the polls mostly show) and (b) have said again and again and again that they respect the referendum outcome. Even Keir Starmer, Anna Soubry & Co. repeatedly say that they respect the referendum outcome. To say that that's "Damian Green disagreeing with various statements that were supportive of a Remain position" here is absurd.
He also: rebuked Tim Farron for saying the Liberal Democrats would frustrate the Parliamentary process for introducing Brexit; stated a strong and stable government would get a good Brexit deal; the referendum outcome ruled out membership of the Single Market and being subject to the European Court of Justice; and argued that Brexit had to mean more control over immigration and our budget. We considered that these were views that could be reasonably described as supporting what may be termed a form of “Hard Brexit”.
Well, if Ofcom thinks that Damian Green in any way supports a 'Hard Brexit' then they know absolutely nothing about Damian Green (or politics). That claim alone should be enough to make them laughing stocks.
And when you watch what he actually said on 'Hard Brexit' - from 19.48 here - you find (surprise, surprise!) that Damian Green is actually arguing, despite some 'hard talk' for 'Soft Brexit'. That Ofcom didn't realise that and thinks that what he said there is 'Hard Brexit talk' suggests where their collective mindset is on Brexit.
So to claim that he was "putting the Leave perspective" is deeply disingenuous. He was actually putting a Remain perspective, but a Remain perspective which accepts the democratic result and wants to try and make the best of it and to be as positive about it as possible.
Ofcom's claim that this edition was duly impartial is nonsense.
So, all in all, Ofcom actually out-BBCed the BBC here. The BBC is canny when it comes to complaints and can waffle away like a Complaints Houdini at the drop of a rabbit-containing hat. The BBC would never have released such a gormless, self-damning ruling.
Except, of course, that most of these Ofcom people are closely tied to the BBC....see News-watch link here!