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#BrexitBroadcastingCorporation – central not sideshow to Brexit

An anti-Brexit protest in Leeds

“Be careful what you wish for” concludes Today presenter Nick Robinson in a New Statesman piece defending his employer, the BBC. It comes at the end of an elegant but flawed warning that for liberals it is the BBC or bust. Without the Beeb - in its current form, with its current content - Britain will inevitably replicate America’s toxic landscape of “bias and bullshit” Fox News, so the argument goes.

This is disingenuous. I don’t wish to overturn the principle of impartiality. I simply wish to enforce it. Impartiality requires the BBC to report politics honestly. When it comes to Brexit, the BBC has failed to do so.

Thousands of people, up and down the country, marched last weekend to demand a halt to Brexit. Revelations in the Observer and from Channel 4 News throw increasing doubt on the fairness and legitimacy of the Leave campaign’s activities. A massive advertising campaign, funded in part by crowd-funded donations and calling for a final say on the Brexit deal, has been rolled out across the country. But if you relied on the BBC for news of what is going on in our politics you would be forgiven for knowing nothing whatsoever about any of these developments. They have been - institutionally and deliberately - ignored.

The BBC’s Director of UK News brazenly told Radio 4’s Feedback last week that he is purposefully mute on all of this, on the basis that it is ‘not a live political issue’. This from an institution that dispatched a team of reporters and a camera crew to indulge the fish throwing antics of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees Mogg - accompanied almost exclusively by journalists and Leave lobbyists - the same week.

The BBC let the cat out of the bag in its response to my criticisms this week. A spokesperson said: “The BBC is no longer reporting on the binary choice which faced the electorate in the referendum, but is examining the Brexit negotiations and the impact of Brexit.” This is an astonishing statement. Parliament has yet to agree Brexit: all it has done so far is to agree to the government giving notice of an intention to leave next March. Terms are being negotiated and Parliament will decide whether to leave or not when they are presented by Mrs May. Parliament could vote to stay in the EU or to call a referendum, and there is huge continuing public and parliamentary debate about this. Yet the BBC, unilaterally, has decided that Brexit is a done deal.

This ‘Brexit is a done deal’ editorial policy explains the decision not to report anti-Brexit marches, and the pro-Brexit stance which is now BBC policy. But it is fundamentally wrong and unconstitutional.

If the BBC wishes to be considered impartial then it can’t simply declare what is and is not a ‘live political issue’. Parliament and the tens of thousands of people working, campaigning and fighting to have their voices heard on Brexit have a legitimate right to be heard.

I understand that it is easier to bow to the braying of Farage and other senior Leave figures who have spent much of the last decade demanding that the BBC allow them to promote their fantasies without interruption or challenge. These people are frightening and they seem to be in the ascendency. It is perfectly human for the BBC to feel cowed. But it is not good enough.

In his defence of the BBC I’m afraid Nick Robinson goes one step further than acquiescing to the Brexiteers’ demands, he mimics their style. If Remainers like me don’t stop complaining, he implies, then we risk losing the BBC entirely and ending up with something far darker and far worse. ‘Nice but imperfect news organisation we’ve got here, shame if something should happen to it’.

That sort of blackmail is beneath what we expect from our public broadcaster. It isn’t a reasoned response to justified criticism, it’s the threats of a protection racket. People like me are not falling for it. We aren’t snowflakes under Mr Farage’s thumb – or the BBC’s.

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