Although Nick Robinson once accused the Corporation of anti-Corbyn bias, he takes a different approach when it comes to allegations of Brexit bias. After 70 Eurosceptic MPs signed a letter accusing the BBC of a biased and ‘pessimistic’ view (and another 80 Remain MPs sent a letter asking the BBC to stay strong), the former BBC political editor has addressed the issue in an article for the Radio Times.
Rather than saying there is no bias, Robinson has — curiously — opted for a different approach. He says the BBC has no duty to be balanced as now that the referendum is out of the way, the corporation is no longer obliged to balance the two sides of the argument:
‘The referendum is over. The duty we broadcasters had to “broadly balance” the views of the two sides is at an end. Why? Because there are no longer two sides, two campaigns, two rival sets of spokespeople reading out those focus-grouped slogans.
The BBC’s job is not to look over its shoulder wondering whether a report, interview or discussion will provoke letters of complaint or a tide of tweets from Remainers or Leavers – who, like fighters who emerge after months of hiding in a bush, seem not to accept that the war is over.
Our job, instead, is to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the audience as a whole – the people we serve – who, in the main, are not members of political parties or campaigns or, indeed, people who would dream of defining themselves by how they voted in the referendum. They are viewers, listeners and readers who want the most significant policy decisions to be taken in decades explained, analysed and scrutinised.’
Robinson says the BBC does endeavour to ensure ‘no bias’ is displayed — but claims this is done by making sure there are no errors and correcting such errors if they do arise:
‘The BBC has a commitment to what’s called “due impartiality”. Translated, that means we aim to get as close to the truth as we can each day – to weigh arguments, to assess the evidence, to ask difficult questions – and then be ready to listen and learn and correct any errors we may make. We must, of course, ensure that we display no bias.’
This is a curious line of defence. Although the BBC does not need to offer the same balance as it would during an election, the BBC impartiality guidelines state the broadcaster must be ‘inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected’. Even a national treasure like Nick Robinson has no authority to make up — sorry, ‘translate’ BBC policy on the hoof. Still, given that a recent News Watch study of the Today programme found that of the 366 guest speakers who appeared in the Business News segment, only 60 (16.3pc) expressed opinions which were pro-Brexit or saw the post-referendum economic outlook as positive, it’s probably for the best that they don’t claim an attempt at balance.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.