Nick Robinson & Charles Moore

Bias and the BBC: A discussion

Last week, Nick Robinson wrote an article in the Radio Times saying Radio 4’s Today programme no longer has an obligation to balance its coverage of Brexit. This led to criticism from Charles Moore that he was, in effect, admitting to BBC bias. The two met for a discussion in The Spectator offices.

Nick Robinson: As you’re so fond of pointing out, Charles, most economists, business organisations, trade unions and FTSE 100 chief executives were Remainers. The BBC’s difficulty is that news tends to be about interviewing people in power: scrutinising them, asking tough questions. It’s right that we should go and look for other voices, look for critics. But what we shouldn’t do is treat everybody as if they fit into a Leave or Remain category, and seek to balance every discussion along those lines. That would be absurd.

Charles Moore: I see and accept that. However, I dispute that — in most of these cases — these people are being asked tough questions. One of the things picked up by News-watch [an organisation that monitors BBC bias] is the balance of such discussions. There’ll be four people on one side of an argument, for example, and one on the other.

Robinson: Well the establishment is largely — or was largely — pro-Remain. But there’s a second problem: it’s rational for public organisations and companies to be assessing risk and uncertainty. If you interview the head of the port in Dover, you would expect him — it happens to be a him — to be focusing on the challenges that might be posed by Brexit. So we’d hear his concerns about queues of lorries, and that they might be worse than anything we saw in that crisis a couple of years ago. Now, we should treat such claims with proper scepticism. And ask: ‘Why is he saying this? Might he have an ulterior motive? Does he want cash from the government?’ But what we can’t do is — every day — say: ‘Would Owen Paterson or Iain Duncan Smith or Dan Hannan like to come on to say this is all nonsense?’ And anyway, to put it crudely, what the hell would they know?

Moore: Yes that’s true, as far as it goes.

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