Magazine article The Spectator

There's No Need to Go Barmy, but We Should Complain like Mad about BBC Bias

Magazine article The Spectator

There's No Need to Go Barmy, but We Should Complain like Mad about BBC Bias

Article excerpt

I remember it very clearly. It was about quarter to seven on the Today programme on Monday 14 February and Jim Naughtie's voice was trembling with excitement. The BBC had discovered that the Tory chief whip in the European Parliament was lobbying on a considerable scale and charging fees for doling out advice. There was no suggestion that Timothy Kirkhope had acted illegally oh no - but it was definitely very odd. Mr Naughtie clucked disapprovingly. Andrew Gilligan, the BBC correspondent who had unearthed the story, also clucked disapprovingly. All sorts of other people were brought on over the next hour and a half, including the Labour leader in Brussels, to cluck disapprovingly. The rest of us, lying at home in bed, driving to work, thought - so they're at it again. Will they never learn, these Tories? Is there no end to it?

The apology I did not hear. It came at the same time on the Today programme on Monday 5 June. That story about Mr Kirkhope which we got so excited about - it was almost totally wrong. Of course, they did not quite say this, but they certainly ate humble pie. `The report . . contained a number of inaccuracies. Mr Kirkhope has not turned himself into a political consultant and has not and does not lobby the European Parliament. In addition, the BBC report implied that he will for a fee advise on how to handle things in the European Parliament, which the BBC accepts is not the case. The BBC is happy to make this clear and has apologised to Mr Kirkhope for the errors.'

Now it may be that the original story was just another piece of innocent Tory-bashing which the BBC indulges in from time to time. But there could be more to it than that. Mr Kirkhope is not simply a Conservative. He is a Euro-Conservative of mildly Eurosceptical views, and therefore ranks high in BBC demonology. There are allegations that the Labour group in Brussels originally tipped off the BBC and may even have colluded with it; and suggestions that large numbers of Labour MEPs registered shortly before Monday 14 February so that they would not fmd themselves caught in the backwash. I am sure these stories are as utterly baseless as they are completely offensive. The BBC does not need any encouragement when reporting the activities of Eurosceptics.

When I say that the BBC's bias is a timehonoured tradition, I hope I am not guilty of the occasional paranoia of those of a Eurosceptical turn of mind. Recent research by Christopher Cook (ironically, broadcast on a little publicised programme on Radio Four) has established that during the 1975 referendum campaign on the Common Market BBC bosses attended meetings at the Connaught Hotel at which pro-Common Market government ministers and civil servants were also present. Has anything changed? There have been countless examples in recent months of the BBC's continuing tendency to report European matters in a skewed way. On 1 February the Today programme implied that when Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe in his speech in Zurich in September 1946 he intended that Britain become part of such an entity. After a complaint by the Labour EuroSafeguards campaign, the BBC governors conceded that Churchill `saw Britain as one of the friends and sponsors of the new Europe, not as one of its members'.

Then there was the item on the Nine O'Clock News on 15 March which suggested that since joining the euro the Republic of Ireland had benefited from lower interest rates and cheaper petrol prices than obtain north of the border. …

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