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Anti-Brexit bias by ‘impartial’ British media

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The supposedly ‘impartial’ BBC provided some anti-Brexit propaganda in their TV listings magazine “Radio Times” in 2018. In a preview for a documentary on a possible outcome of a flu pandemic (“Contagion! The BBC4 Pandemic”, BBC4, 22nd March 2018), the “Radio Times” reviewer DAVID CRAWFORD wrote: “Forget terrorism, nuclear apocalypse – or even Brexit – the greatest risk to British society, according to the Government, is a flu pandemic. But don’t worry, the BBC is here to help.”

To mark one year before Britain’s official exit from Europe in 2019, the BBC have been broadcasting numerous programmes on the subject in March 2018, and also some satirical ‘shorts’ on BBC Radio in between the main programmes. The comedy shorts were from the “Dead Ringers” comedy satirists, who as usual mocked Brexit and the Brexit Secretary of State DAVID DAVIS. But should this satire have been broadcast in between the main, advertised, programmes?

In the BBC1 one-off comedy “Comedy Playhouse: Static” (broadcast in 2017, 15th Sept) the protagonist’s parents have a “Brexit jar”, like a swear jar, when anyone mentions ‘Brexit’. The show was written by the well-known comedian/TV panellist ROB BECKETT (anti-Brexit) and SHAUN PYE, the latter a writer for numerous British mainstream comedy/satirical TV shows, and acted alongside RICKY GERVAIS in the sitcom EXTRAS. Pye has been a “Programme Associate” on the BBC satirical panel show “Have I Got News For You”.

The BBC jointly owns the TV Channel “Dave”, which has been airing in 2017 and 2018 the anti-Brexit, anti-UKIP, anti-Trump satirical show “Unspun With Matt Forde”, originally intended for BBC2. MATT FORDE was a pro-Tony Blair, Labour Party supporter but quit the party because he didn’t like the new leader Jeremy Corbyn. Forde has written for – and presented – mainstream TV and Radio comedy/satirical shows.

Although not the BBC, another British TV channel that is also a PUBLIC SERVICE PROVIDER is CHANNEL 5, which in March 2018 promoted itself with some curious adverts that could be a subtle dig at Brexit. The adverts (on TV and Radio) carried the theme “At Home On 5”, which was based on the old maxim ‘Home is where the heart is’, i.e. home is not a physical location like Britain. Various celebrities gave their views on what ‘home’ is, e.g. BEN FOGLE talked about a location that wasn’t his physical home, but felt like a spiritual home. “Wherever you are”, said the Channel 5 advert, “…you’re at home on Channel 5”. Channel 5 in 2018 was owned by VIACOM.

ITV4 (one of the ITV channels) aired a documentary in March 2018 on foreign footballers in the English Premiership (“Football’s Foreign Legion”, ITV4, 28th March 2018). Although a football documentary, at the end a few pundits spoke about the possible impact of Brexit. The ITV political commentator ROBERT PESTON said that the Premiership needed to be protected from Brexit: “…the drawbridge should not go up…I could make exactly the same argument about loads of other British industries…”

The ITV humorous clip show “You’ve Been Framed”, consisting of home videos of amusing events, is narrated by HARRY HILL who includes satirical comments, e.g. mocking Brexit. In the episode aired on April 7th 2018, there was a clip of a boat that caught fire by mistake due to fireworks being lit upside down. Hill commented: “In many ways this is a perfect analogy for Brexit.”

The stand-up comedian and long-time BBC stalwart, STEWART LEE (Oxford education), is anti-Brexit and anti-Trump, as evidenced in his BBC2 show in 2018: “Stewart Lee: Content Provider”.

Arguably the most blatant bias to date that I’ve seen by the BBC came in December 2018, just 3 months away from the official leaving date in March 2019. On BBC Radio 4 the prominent British art historian and BBC Radio presenter NEIL MACGREGOR explored his view that the rest of the world sees Brexit as foolish. For his series “As Others See Us”, he interviewed 15 (fifteen) pro-Europeans from 5 different countries, but no pro-Brexit opinion. His view was expressed in a centre left newspaper article (“The Guardian”) on his series. He said:

“The rest of the world do not understand any rhetoric about Europe as a repressive, dominant, constraining force. They see it as an enabling phenomenon that has been achieved at great effort and which is also a model for the rest of the world” (“The Guardian”, CHARLOTTE HIGGINS, 28th Dec 2018).

Macgregor was admitted by the Queen to the prestigious ORDER OF MERIT.

Another type of anti-Brexit bias is to just focus on the Brexit stance, rather than on the pro-European stance, thus avoiding discussing any possible weaknesses in the pro-Europe view. For example, the BBC presenter (TV and Radio) ADRIAN CHILES fronted a primetime BBC TV documentary in 2016: “Why Brexiters voted to leave: Britain speaks” (“Panorama”, 04/07/2016), in which he said that he wanted to challenge the London view that Brexiteers were stupid and uneducated. A few pro-Europe voters were also heard, but only to criticise the Brexiteers, of whom the latter mostly expressed the usual clichés about immigration and jobs, etc.

Chiles presented a follow-up program on BBC Radio 4 a few months before the official leaving date in 2019: “Brexit: Bewitched, Bothered or Bewildered” (Jan 1st 2019), in which he returned to some of the people that he had interviewed to see if they had changed their opinions. He concluded that both sides had softened their views, which were more balanced due to a greater understanding of Brexit.

Also on BBC Radio 4 in January 2019 was a comment by the broadcaster/journalist SAM DELANEY in a program on the British advertising industry. He said that the unrealistic nostalgic view of an old Northern village (in a famous TV advert) was typical of Brexit voters who wanted a return to a Britain that never existed (“The Archive Hour: Powers of Persuasion”, BBC Radio 4, Jan 26th 2019). Delaney’s diverse career included hosting a BBC London Radio show; articles for THE GUARDIAN and THE OBSERVER; ex-Editor of HEAT magazine; ex-Editor-in-chief of COMEDY CENTRAL UK (owned by VIACOM).

The veracity of official British history was challenged in a BBC series, “British History’s Biggest Fibs With Lucy Worsley” back in 2017, not long after the Brexit referendum result. While I welcome any uncovering of historical lies, the timing of this series was significant – designed to challenge the romanticism of nationalism and historical national icons, at a time when the Ruling Elite want to see the death of the idea of the Nation State. The BBC series got repeated in 2019 less than 2 months before the official Brexit leaving date (BBC4, Feb 12th 2019).Less than a month before the official leaving date, ITV (another public service provider) aired a documentary on the unregulated world of online political campaigning (Brexit in particular) and its’ damaging effect on democracy, hence the program’s title: “Exposure: Brexit Online Uncovered” (ITV, March 4th 2019).

During 2018 and 2019, the BBC ran an advert for their news show “Beyond 100 Days”, which contained subtle digs at Brexit and Donald Trump. The advert spliced together brief excerpts of the show’s main presenters, KATTY KAY and CHRISTIAN FRASER, talking about Brexit and Trump, then finished with Kay hesitating in a bewildered way, followed by Fraser saying “…we’ll move on”. The duo have long had a barely suppressed contempt for Trump in particular, which manifests in their conversations with each other when they employ the old media trick of 2 presenters interviewing each other for their opinions.

BBC Radio 4 maintained its’ usual Brexit negativity in its’ long running satirical show “The News Quiz”. In an episode broadcast just over a month before the leave date (BBC Radio 4, Feb 15th 2019), all 4 panellists and the host (MILES JUPP) were anti-Brexit, e.g. HUGO RIFKIND, son of the anti-Brexit former senior politician MALCOLM RIFKIND (Conservative party). The panellists were keen to point out the cliché that many Brexit voters were elderly. Panellist PAUL SINHA pointed out sarcastically that Britain had done a Brexit deal with the tiny country, LIECHTENSTEIN, the world capital for false teeth manufacture, “…which means they’re playing to the Brexit audience.” The host, Miles Jupp, said that Brexit comedians were “…not of our generation”, responding to Rifkind’s sarcastic comment that it was a scandal that there weren’t more pro-Brexit comedians on the show. Panellist SUSAN CALMAN sarcastically countered the show’s obvious negative stance towards Brexit by saying that Brexit “…has been very positive for the metaphor industry.”

Another BBC Radio 4 satirical show, “The Now Show”, included an anti-Brexit comedian, IAN MOORE, in an episode aired less than a month before the leave date (March 1st). Moore was English but got French nationality after marrying his French wife.

A falling British currency (Sterling), caused by Brexit, did more harm than good, according to the economist PAUL JOHNSON when presenting a program on the subject on BBC Radio 4 not long before the leave date. (“Analysis”, Feb 18th 2019). Johnson then was the Director of the influential research institute, the INSTITUTE FOR FISCAL STUDIES.

A challenge to nationalism, and the notion of British identity, occurred in a BBC Radio 4 series that began a month before the leave date: “The Invention Of Britain” (1st episode, Feb 24 2019). There was no great revelation to be told by the series’ presenter, MISHA GLENNY, that British identity has not been static nor is it ancient, and the same applies to English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish identity. Many English or British monarchs weren’t English. The Scottish warrior and national hero ROBERT THE BRUCE might have been born in England, said Glenny.

Another identity buster came a month before the official leave date in a CHANNEL 4 documentary on British ancestry that said that “The First Brit” had dark skin and blue eyes (“The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000-Year-Old Man”, Channel 4, Feb 23rd 2019). I disagree with the title “The First Brit”, because the evidence came from the DNA of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton (to date), estimated to be 10000 years old.

A Channel 4 documentary (aired a few weeks before the leave date) focussed on the people financially profiting from Brexit, including those who publicly supported Brexit. “The Brexit Millionaires” (March 11th 2019) featured some Brexiteers who had profited from the fall in value of British currency (Sterling), and Brexiteers who had made money from public speeches on Brexit. One person who hadn’t benefited – a toy shop owner whose shop had had to close – blamed Brexit. The documentary was written and presented by a centre left journalist, ANTONY BARNETT, not to be confused with ANTHONY BARNETT.

In the few months before the official leave date, BBC2 repeated its’ spoof history series “Cunk on Britain”, created by the anti-Brexit satirist CHARLIE BROOKER (“Black Mirror” creator). In the episode aired on March 11th, the fictional presenter PHILOMENA CUNK talked about the British government making “…stupid mistakes, like Brexit.”

12 (twelve) days before the leave date, Channel 4 broadcast another identity buster, with its’ documentary on the crew of the 16th Century Royal ship, THE MARY ROSE, that sank in 1545: “Skeletons of the Mary Rose”, March 17th 2019). Analysis of some of the skeletons of the hundreds onboard revealed that the crew were not exclusively white nor English. Some were from the Mediterranean and some were of North African descent. A BBC online article on the story led with the headline and sweeping generalisation: “Mary Rose crew ‘was from Mediterranean and North Africa'” (March 16th 2019).

11 (eleven) days before the leave date, there were 3 TV programs of note – 2 on ITV that explored race and nationality in English football. “Out of Their Skin” (ITV, March 18th 2019) – a repeat – charted the rocky rise of black footballers in English football. Following that program was another ITV repeat – the aforementioned “Football’s Foreign Legion” with a Brexit comment from Robert Peston. On BBC2 was another repeat – the last episode of “Cunk On Britain”, in which spoof presenter Philomena Cunk concluded the series by saying of Britain, “…what sort of massive country am I?” (rude word insinuated). One of the writers for that spoof series was the former Channel 4 Head of Entertainment, BEN CAUDELL (a BBC Executive Producer).

8 (eight) days before the leave date, the ubiquitous anti-Brexit comedian JO BRAND expressed her views on the BBC Radio 4 satirical show “Where’s the F in News” (March 21st 2019).

7 days before the leave date, Channel 4 featured the usual anti-Brexit sentiment on its’ flagship satirical show, “The Last Leg”. BBC TV aired adverts for the start of the latest series of the satirical show hosted by anti-Brexit comedian FRANKIE BOYLE: “Frankie Boyle’s New World Order”. The advert showed a fly (symbolising Britain) being swallowed by a Venus fly trap (symbolising Brexit?), whilst Boyle sarcastically said of Britain’s prospects: “…I’m sure it’ll all work out for the best.” Another BBC satirical show, “The Now Show” (BBC Radio 4), tried to inject some ‘balance’ with one of the very few pro-Brexit, pro-Conservative Party comedians on mainstream TV/Radio: GEOFF NORCOTT, though his short monologue was a bit too tame for my liking, being a familiar critique of the ‘Nanny State’ regulation (or proposed regulation) of activities deemed a risk to health. He preferred the ‘nudge’ technique of making healthy food cheap and easy to obtain.

4 days before the leave date – BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first episode of a radio version of the dystopian novel, “The Wall” (by JOHN LANCHESTER), in which there is a giant physical wall that surrounds Britain’s entire coastline to keep Britain safe from foreign intruders.

On the official leave date (but not anymore), the Channel 4 News Presenter JON SNOW, who has hinted on several occasions that he’s anti-Brexit, caused controversy when he commented on a pro-Brexit protest in London: “I have never seen so many white people in one place…”, thereby reinforcing the lazy stereotype that Brexiteers are white racists. Snow is the cousin of the ex-BBC “Newsnight” presenter, PETER SNOW.

Also on the old, official, leave date, ITV aired a Brexit documentary that wasn’t obviously anti-Brexit, but there were clues, in my opinion. “Brexit: The Endgame” belonged to ITV’s “Tonight” series. It was introduced by JULIE ETCHINGHAM, who said: “Tonight, the UK in crisis.” Immediately after, an anti-Brexit woman said: “This is not wartime; none of this is compulsory; we’re doing these things that seem so insane.” She was actually talking about herself and her husband’s actions (stockpiling lots of food), but that only became apparent later on in the program. Also in the introduction, a sheep farmer said of a ‘no deal’ Brexit: “The only thing the House of Commons and Europe agree on: that ‘no deal’ would be terrible, and we might land up with it. What sort of democracy is that?”.

Then came the main report by Cambridge educated ALLEGRA STRATTON, previously the sidekick to ROBERT PESTON on ITV’s “Peston on Sunday”. Stratton began her report by saying: “We’re a country in crisis”. She said that most UK businesses don’t want a ‘no deal’ agreement. Stratton interviewed Brexiteer NIGEL FARAGE, who got a little annoyed about her making the cliched claim that ‘no deal’ might lead to large job losses and extreme business turbulence. Stratton countered: “But it’s not just scaremongering…”, then gave an example of a British company that had relocated jobs to Europe. More Brexit negativity came from the aforementioned sheep farmer who was interviewed on his farm during lambing, so there were images of cute lambs baaing. A cute lamb was shown when Stratton uttered the word “slaughtered”, when saying that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could result in millions of lambs not being sold, “…and needlessly slaughtered”.

Stratton worked on BBC2’s “Newsnight” (Political Editor); ITV News (National Editor); wrote for mostly centre left newspapers/magazines (e.g. “The Guardian”).

Another BBC2 program on the old, official, leave date was the aforementioned “Frankie Boyle’s New World Order”, which naturally contained the usual cliched anti-Brexit sentiment (Brexiteers are mostly ignorant, racist savages). The panellists included the ubiquitous feminist comedian, SARA PASCOE.

Another challenge to national identity came 6 days after the old leave date, on BBC4, in “A History of Ancient Britain” (Episode 1, April 4th 2019). We were told that Britain had once been part of mainland Europe, and only became an island approximately 8000 years ago.

10 days before the new leave date of April 12th 2019, ITV broadcast a Brexit special of “The Martin Lewis Money Show: Live” (April 2nd 2019), presented by money ‘expert’ Martin Lewis (OBE), a LSE Governor; LSE graduate and BBC employee. Lewis was keen to emphasise that the show would be as impartial as possible. The only bias that I spotted was that the opening 5 minutes or so was all bad news for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. A basic propaganda tactic is to deliver your main message at the start of a program (or newspaper article), then provide the ‘balance’ later on, when the audience numbers usually tail off. The first piece of bad news came from an ‘independent expert’ who said that bananas would go up in price. Next, we were told that the free EHIC card would be removed if a ‘no deal’ Brexit, though Lewis said that there was uncertainty on what it’s replacement would be. Pet travel would involve more difficulties under a ‘no deal’ Brexit, we were told. The first bit of positivity for a ‘no deal’ Brexit arrived after approximately 5 or 6 minutes, not from an ‘independent expert’ but from arch Brexiteer JACOB REES-MOGG, and only because he had won the coin toss to decide which politician would get to talk first on Brexit: him or the Remainer.

7 days before the leave date, a challenge to British identity occurred on the Channel 4 program, “Britain’s Favourite Takeaway” (April 5th 2019), which reflected the fondness for international cuisine.

5 days before the new leave date, some very predictable bias occurred on Channel 4’s satirical panel show “Eight Out Of Ten Cats” (April 7th), which adopted a pro-Europe stance for the program. The panellists were all anti-Brexit, e.g. NISH KUMAR (presenter of BBC2’s anti-Brexit satirical series, “The Mash Report”); ROB BECKETT (comedian); KERRY GODLIMAN (comedian); FRED SIRIEIX (French Chef).

April 8th 2019 – Channel 4 documentary on the problems that have arisen (or might arise) due to the fall in the number of EU workers in Britain: “When the Immigrants Leave: Dispatches”, presented by SEYI RHODES, who worked for the BBC and Channel 5, as well as Channel 4. Again, there was the classic trick of more negativity in the first half of the program, with more ‘balance’ in the 2nd half. The documentary began with a strawberry farmer described by Rhodes as “confused”, because the farmer was pro-Brexit despite relying on foreign labour. Then Rhodes went to a nursing home where a pro-Brexit voter said that it would be “…a massive disaster” if the foreign EU workers at the home were forced to leave. Rhodes said that British workers were reluctant to take low paid jobs, though as usual there was little discussion on why those jobs are so lowly paid. Rhodes highlighted that the NHS hadn’t benefited from the infamous 350 million pounds a week that had been promised by some in the leave campaign, but Rhodes didn’t say that we haven’t left yet! Rhodes was told about some of the racist abuse aimed at foreign staff in hospitals and care homes.

As mentioned, the 2nd half of the documentary was more balanced: Rhodes said that the reason for the decline in foreign labour had not been exclusively caused by Brexit – there had been a rise in living standards abroad, e.g. in Romania. The strawberry farmer said that he was considering hiring foreign workers from outside the EU, e.g. Russia and Ukraine. Rhodes finished the documentary by saying: “I do understand the point of Brexit – we’re supposed to try to reduce our dependency on foreign labour…[but] nobody has a plan to fill that gap” [the gap between replacing foreign labour with British workers].

April 15th 2019 – the anti-Brexit, anti-Trump, BBC comedy actor/panel show host, DAVID MITCHELL, joked that the English county of Kent – traditionally dubbed ‘the garden of England’ – would become a giant car park because of Brexit. He said so as host of the BBC Radio 4 panel series, “The Unbelievable Truth”.

April 17th 2019 – On BBC Radio 4, Boris Johnson’s anti-Brexit brother, LEO, said that he disapproved of the nationalist perspective. He said this in an episode of the radio series that he co-presented: “FutureProofing”. The Johnson clan were all anti-Brexit, except for Boris, although Boris’ true allegiance is in doubt. Leo Johnson followed in his father’s footsteps by working at the WORLD BANK. His father, STANLEY, also worked at the EUROPEAN COMMISSION.

April 18th 2019 – there was an interesting softening in the anti-Brexit perspective from the aforementioned FRANKIE BOYLE in his “Frankie Boyle’s New World Order”. Boyle indicated that he would be more open to Brexit if it had a left wing stance, as championed by the pro-Brexit guest, GRACE BLAKELEY, an Oxford educated research fellow at the centre left think tank, IPPR. Boyle criticised the EU, saying that it was a “neoliberal institution”. Blakeley added that the EU was anti-democratic; very racist; a bully; and a very ‘free market’ institution. Blakeley was treated with seeming respect by Boyle and the regular anti-Brexit panellists (Sarah Pascoe and Miles Jupp). Were the BBC, in general, softening their bias because of the delay till October 2019 for the next leave date?

More to come…