The BBC’s biased coverage of the Brexit debate is denying the British public the comfort of knowing the fight was fair – knowledge that may prevent anger from boiling over post-Brexit, says David Hardy.
As the UK’s painful, weary and protracted exit from the EU continues (just), the establishment plot to thwart the withdrawal becomes ever more belligerent, ever more desperate, ever more unhinged. Whatever it may or may not be, Brexit has certainly shone a very disturbing light on British democracy or what has always been assumed to be democracy.
According to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, MPs who respect the outcome of the 2016 Referendum are “extremists.” Several of his conservative colleagues – most notably Nick Boles and Anna Soubry – have threatened to quit the party if democracy is actually upheld. Amber Rudd has started to agitate for a second referendum. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee has labelled Tory Brexiteers ‘far right’ – a sure sign that the Remain side has lost the intellectual debate.
But these antics are nothing compared to those of the BBC. Leaving aside the Remain-heavy panels of Question Time, Marr and The Daily Politics Show and the very different treatment meted out to the minority of Leave supporters compared to the majority of guests/panellists who support Remain, buoyed by tacit support from government the broadcaster has, over the past few months, morphed from implicit to vocal Remain cheerleader.
Only last week Kirsty Wark of Newsnight shouted over John Redwood, who was attempting to explain the mechanisms and benefits of a UK exit to Word Trade regulations. In what was an unedifying but increasingly common example of BBC partisanship, the Newsnight host was absolutely determined the audience would not hear a WTO rational. It worked too. Mr Redwood’s message got lost in the commotion.
Wark’s performance should not have come as a surprise. Britain’s national broadcaster remains determined to suppress and/or disparage any entity offering a rational explanation of the World Trade organisation – what it does, how it operates and most importantly how the UK could benefit from extended membership.
When was the last time you saw or heard a WTO expert interviewed by the BBC? When has the BBC even bothered to explain the mechanisms of the WTO? When was the last time the broadcaster aired the opinion of Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the WTO who has categorically stated that UK transition to WTO regulations will not cause the post-Brexit catastrophe promoted by the BBC? Contrast the lack of visibility of WTO experts on the BBC to the ubiquity of the likes of Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair and Mairead McGuinness Vice President of the European Parliament.
‘There is nothing to fear from trading on WTO terms,’ writes Lord Bamford of JCB. Bamford also notes how his company trades under both EU and WTO regulations. When did you hear the BBC solicit the views of business people such as the JCB chairman?
Instead, it prefers to recycle the rhetoric of Remain. Day in day out, BBC correspondents such as Katya Adler assail their viewers with grim talk of “crashing out” of the bloc and horrifying “No Deal” scenarios. Meanwhile, Emily Maitlis obsessively steers Newsnight guests towards the topic of a second referendum, hoping of course to normalise what is nothing more than a cynical establishment coup to thwart democracy.
Making Brexit – WTO exit – invisible, the last resort of the ‘extremist’ and the ‘far right’ has become BBC policy. Similarly, pushing for a second referendum between Theresa May’s ‘deal’ (Soft Remain) or full Remain has become the Holy Grail of not only the BBC but the majority of the British political class.
The plot to subvert Brexit in the shape of a second referendum though can only happen with media – BBC – complicity. For in BBC land there is an indomitable belief in the benevolence of the big state and governance of the many by the few, and an even more zealous belief that the little people cannot be trusted with the really big decisions. Above all else, the BBC wishes to maintain the status quo. In order to achieve this aim, the likes of Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis must ensure the British public are exposed to only one side of the story: the pro-EU side in what amounts to calculated and wilful deception – brainwashing by any other name.
Consistent exposure to propaganda is known to break down resistance. Psychologists call the tactic of normalisation through exposure and repetition ‘The Mere-exposure effect.’ This theory postulates that individuals develop preferences largely through familiarity. Thus, when Emily Maitlis keeps repeating her second referendum mantra, she does so in the knowledge that the more the message is repeated, the likelier it will become accepted by the masses. “No Deal,” “Brexit rebels,” “people’s vote,” the current lingua franca of Britain’s ‘impartial’ state broadcaster is a (none too) subtle attempt to brainwash the population, to crush its resolve, to frighten, scare and ultimately control how it conceptualises EU withdrawal.
That the broadcaster has so readily adopted the language of Remain tells its own story. The BBC – in particularly its Director General Lord Hall – is distraught at the idea of leaving the EU. Nor is this devotion simply a matter of money. EU payments to the corporation may amount to several million pounds, but this is small beer to an organisation that enjoys an annual budget of around £5 billion. The corporation’s fervent devotion to the EU springs rather from ideological affinity, an assumption that the rich and powerful have an inherent right to impose their will upon the populace.
Indeed, ever close union does not alarm, but rather thrills the BBC ideologue. With its relentless march towards control of free speech and expression, the Brussels bureaucracy’s peculiar form of authoritarianism together with its stringent anti-populist rhetoric is peculiarly attractive to those of a similarly autocratic disposition.
This is why Brexit is no longer about tariffs or trade deals. It has become a philosophical struggle between the forces of globalism (BBC/Parliament) and populism (the ordinary citizen). Brexit is, and always has been, a struggle between the powerful and the dispossessed, between the Haves and Have-nots. It is not, as the BBC has attempted to portray, a fight between Left and Right.
So how much longer will the UK put up with BBC? Faced with a political class that is fully in line with its own brand of right-think, the broadcaster grows more audacious by the hour. Neither broadcaster nor government appear to care about the long-term ramifications of their proposed anti-Brexit coup. But there will be consequences, quite possibly profound ones.
What happens when democracy fails so catastrophically? To where do the disenfranchised majority turn and what action can they take? “When the broadcaster is part of a totalitarian system,” prophetically writes Sir Hugh Greene, BBC Director General from 1960-69, “it may require a revolution to eject broadcaster and government together.”
Just over two hundred years ago the French proletariat finally said “enough!” The time had come to expel a corrupt, aloof establishment class. If the state broadcaster insists on continuing along its current trajectory, ejection might be the only viable option left to the people.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way: Britain’s state broadcaster could simply choose to report ethically and truthfully, to treat both sides of the debate with equanimity. This way should Remain prevail, the British public will at least have the comfort of knowing the fight was fair – knowledge that may prevent anger from boiling over. Losing fair and square is one thing, losing through deception another thing altogether.
Will the BBC ever change its ways? Can a leopard change its spots?