Sunday 23 September 2018

"No, I can't see that at all"

Samira Ahmed: It was also interesting this week seeing you and other BBC journalists on TV directly answering viewer questions about Brexit. What was the thinking behind that? 
Nick Robinson: I think the thinking was that wherever you go around, if you do my sort of job, if you do the job of senior editors at the BBC, people will stop you on the street and say "We don't really understand this". And actually this particular set of items came from a conversation I had in a shop. I was buying a cheap plug in Maplin, when it was about to close down, and a guy came up to me and said, "Nick, why haven't we left? I don't really understand it". And I found myself explaining to him and enjoying the process of saying to him, "Look, you're not hearing this on air? Are we not explaining this to you on air?" And he said to me, "You know what? You've been clearer in this conversation than anything I think I've seen". So I then went to the 10 O'Clock News and said, "How's about I make this conversation as a piece?" And it seems to me every so often we need to correct ourselves and say, we are in too deep, we know too much detail, pull back and try to explain it in a way that people will follow more easily. 
Samira Ahmed: With all these questions, some viewers feel that the BBC has focused too much on the potential problems and pitfalls, and that can seem anti-Brexit. 
Nick Robinson: Well, there are certainly people who say that, why do you follow this forecast, or that warning, or that projection, aren't you being sort of anti-Brexit as a result? The answer to that is, that is our job. It is our job to report on the warnings made by authorities, whether it is the IMF or the Bank of England, the warning that comes from the biggest companies in the land, for example Jaguar-Land Rover, again, something I put to the Prime Minister and other people this week. It is our job to warn about it. Clearly, in the process, we have to also say to people there is a difference between a worry, a concern, a forecast, and a fact. Forecasts are not facts. That's not what they are. But I think to say that we ought to be positive about Brexit, to say we should be cheerleaders for Brexit, to say we should be patriotic, which sometimes people do, is to misunderstand the role of a journalist. It is not the role of a journalist to be on one team or another. We don't wear the scarf. We don't sing the songs. It is our job to report on the match, to do it fairly and, if you hear things you don't like, I am afraid that is the nature of BBC journalism. You are going to hear people you don't like saying things you don't agree with. 
Samira Ahmed: The political pressure for another referendum is getting more and more airtime. Can you see why some viewers feel it is effectively supporting it? 
Nick Robinson: No, I can't see that at all. I think that is again to misunderstand how reporting on something is advocating something. If we report there are calls for a second referendum it is not the BBC taking a position on whether there should or should not be another vote of the public. It is reporting. That's what reporting is. The truth is there is now a highly organised campaign for what they call a people's vote. There is evidence in the opinion polls of it picking up some support. There are some prominent politicians, Justine Greening for example, the former education secretary, coming out in support of it. It is our job to report it. It is not our job to say that because it might offend people who don't want a second referendum, or who voted Leave, or who see this as undermining democracy, we mustn't report it. What we ought to do is while reporting calls for a second referendum, also report on the objections to it. 
Samira Ahmed: Nick Robinson, thank you. 


  1. NR: (People) say, "aren't you being sort of anti-Brexit?" - "sort of"? - excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing!

  2. Are you thick Nick or being disingenuous? If the BBC was "just reporting" on the second referendum campaign, it would report where the campaign was getting its money from and who designed its message. They would ask whether it was right for a billionaire US citizen to be interfering in our politics. They would be asking why he was interfering in this way. They would ask about his connections to Blair, Adonis, Mandelson and Campbell (who are suddenly nowhere to be seen now they've got the campaign going!). It would also ask of the campaigners just as hard hitting questions as they do of Leave supporters. What questions are going to be on the ballot is a basic issue. The campaigners seem unable to tell us, but the BBC let them off the hook every time. Are they proposing the same voter basis as last time? Or are they planning to rig this second referendum? The People's Vote Correctly This Time Campaign just get the soft fluffy treatment from the BBC.

  3. 'No, I can't see that at all' should be framed and displayed prominently, perhaps at the head of the BBC News front page or on a plaque next to George Orwell's statue.

    There it is: what people say ('some say') about the BBC being part of the establishment. What could be clearer than going from 'our job to report on the warnings made by authorities' - important people - to 'It is our job to warn about it.'? From reporting to being the authority with a duty to warn in one easy leap: the voice of Carney and Lagarde and important business!

    Here was I thinking the BBC was supposed to be dedicated to analysis and explaining rather the echoing of noises from the palaces of power and position. Shouldn't they be casting a sceptical eye over Carney Lagarde and informing us of their previous warnings and positions and how they turned out? Of course he can't see that at all.

    And as for the difference between a worry, a concern, a forecast and a fact, why is the BBC always so worried and concerned, especially about us leaving the EU but not about us staying in an overbearing EU and why do speculative comments become warnings and why do concerns become mounting fears or stray comments in the wind turn into growing clamours in the hands of the BBC? No, he can't see that at all.

    1. Yes, v good point. If they were balanced, they would be reporting more on the EU's inability to work out a proper migration policy or defend its borders against undocumented migrants. They would report on the EU string of foreign policy disasters: Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Libya, Ukraine and Syria. They've stuck their oar in, hit a hornets' nest, and then done a runner each and every time - if I may mix my metaphors. This isn't kids play either - hundreds of thousands of people have died horrible deaths as a result.

      And if the EU is such a benign and beneficial influence on our lives, why on Earth doesn't the BBC report on its Parliament and administration regularly rather than only in a crisis.


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