Once again, the BBC shows its hand

Leaning back in horror, using her hands to push away the cause – “Well, wait a minute…..” Emily Maitliss’s body language says it all as she interrupts, 13 times in five minutes, a 10-time elected democratic politician, having previously given uninterrupted free reign to a former Brussels bureaucrat.

by Sir Thomas Crapper

So, the BBC shows its hand on the EU referendum. The Corporation is not for Brexit. Gosh, that’s a shock.

How do we know? First off, we had Emily Maitliss on Newsnight. She first interviewed Pascal Lamy, you know, that guy; household name; well, obviously you voted for him – didn’t you? He was European Commissioner for Trade from 1999 to 2004. How could you have forgotten?

Maybe it’s because, no, you didn’t vote for him. And unless you’re a total EU nerd, you’ll never have heard of him, nor known what he did. Still, he got four minutes of airtime to tell us how stupid we are to even consider leaving the EU, how we’d have turned our back on the world stage, how our trade would crumble, how demented the Brexit camp was in imagining that the UK, a mere satellite state, could survive on the other side of the comfort blanket that is the EU.

Maitliss asked him three questions. He answered at length. She didn’t interrupt him once. Nor did she argue with him.

Then she turned to David Owen, former Foreign Secretary, Labour Party star until he joined the ‘Gang of Four’ (with Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers) to break away and form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Owen was elected as an MP 10 times and held various high offices. So he might be worth listening to. But he’s for Brexit, so Maitliss was having none of that. He was on screen for just under seven minutes. In the first five of these, Maitliss interrupted 13 times, arguing with him, waving her arms in frustration, apparently in sheer incredulity at what he was saying.

She started out by outlining Michael Gove’s vision for Brexit and asked how he, Owen, felt about it. “Oh, I buy in completely to the Gove vision. People ask, “Where is the biggest risk?” Well, I think the biggest risk is in the collapse of the Euro. Can we get out before the collapse? Greece could default.” He also referred to the massive problems in Spain and Italy (which, lest we forget, is technically bankrupt).

Challenging him about trade, Maitliss barely let Owen get started on what was possible for the UK as a standalone sovereign nation. She threw her hands up. She gestured back to the screen from which the nonentity Lemy had lectured us, uninterrupted, for four minutes. “But we’ve just seen a former chief negotiator of the WTO say the Gove vision is pie in the sky, a lie. Frankly, he doesn’t believe it!” This to a former Foreign Secretary who had, on behalf of a sovereign UK, negotiated trade treaties outside of the EU zone.

Maitliss’s 13th interruption was breathtaking. She had suggested to Owen that a UK exit would be a signal to other EU countries that they, too, might consider leaving. Owen, quite reasonably, countered that some other countries liked being in the EU. It provides a net benefit for them, particularly those whose economies are tanking and require constant bailing out.

And this is what Emily Maitliss said to that: “But Gove’s vision is democratisation of an entire continent. That’s his end goal here.” Now. Take a deep breath. Gove is not about to invade Poland and spread fascism throughout Europe.

Gove’s dreadful dream is to spread democracy. Well, how awful is that? Surely we can’t have that. Rather, let the Pascal Lamys of this world continue, unbridled, on their anonymous bureaucratic path.

And so it goes. On Thursday, the Radio Four programme Inside Science breathlessly devoted a large segment to a report that the science community is almost unanimously in the ‘remain’ camp. All the statistics and arguments put forward were politely and graciously – but with ruthless efficiency – pulled apart by Matt Ridley, journalist, rationalist and author on science, the environment and economics.

But for the purposes of this programme, and so that we’d be against him from the start, he was introduced as Viscount Ridley, a title he rarely uses. Once again, the BBC shows its hand.

You can hear the programme for yourself here, rather than be subjected to another Maitliss breakdown. But you might like to ask yourself the question: if our scientists are so rubbish at raising funds and grants, and finding the best scientific partners to work with, is it any wonder that they would hate to see the 3% (yes, three percent) of funding that comes through the EU disappear?

Except, they are not rubbish at all, on any of these scores. Which then begs the question, why did the House of Lords set up this enquiry in the first place? The process has been entirely political (nothing, really, to do with science). And that is a disgrace of itself; making the BBC’s reporting of it even more disgraceful.

And then there’s the general reporting across radio and TV news. On one programme this week, the proposition was put forward that one of Brexit’s biggest premises – the £350m that the UK hands over the the EU every week – was untrue, because the UK gets back just under half of that. Have you heard that number put forward without qualification by Brexit?

Even so, and just to be straight – that makes the net contribution from the UK to the EU £190m a week, the best part of £10bn a year. And the amount we ‘get back’ takes time, and it comes with strings attached.

So it’s not dishonest to talk about £350m a week, £18bn a year, that the UK would regain control of. Not having to send it off to Brussels, not having to wait for some of it to come back, and not having any of it attached to strings we cannot debate.

But if anyone wanted to investigate the possible sources of ‘misinformation’ on the subject, look no further than here. On the basis that no-one reads the small print, the BBC cannot blame anyone for not getting to the bottom two paragraphs. In a world of short attention spans, the BBC should know better than anyone to get to the bloody point. This is how myths are created.

The Brexit/Remain debate is not a level playing field. It’s too late to do anything about that. But David Cameron, George Osborne and the BBC will look back in shame at their partisanship – so far removed from Harold Wilson’s 1975 EC referendum where, despite wishing for a ‘Yes’ vote, the Prime Minister of the day refrained from campaigning.



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