James Harding points to four examples of how the BBC challenged politicians to justify his claim that the broadcaster did a good job during the referendum campaign (“A truly balanced view from the BBC: don’t blame us for Brexit”, Comment). There were, indeed, some cases in its thousands of hours of coverage when journalists grilled their interviewees effectively, but there were many times when they didn’t.
I paid special attention to its agenda-setting Today programme in the early period of the campaign and noted many cases of inadequate challenge. For example, it let Andrea Leadsom say falsely that we send £350m a week to the European Union on 8 March and Gisela Stuart say the same on 15 April. During that interview, the Vote Leave chair also promised to use the money for the NHS. As late as 11 May, Today allowed Boris Johnson to say we are sending the EU £20bn a year.
Other failures included letting interviewees spread the myth that the European Union needs us more than we need them. Chris Grayling said this on 10 March, without being adequately challenged, as did John Redwood on 22 March. Meanwhile, on 24 March, David Davis was allowed to get away with saying we can’t stop killers with EU passports coming to the UK when we can.
These examples could be dismissed as anecdotal. Given how the BBC dominates our news coverage, there should be an independent audit of how it fared during the referendum, backed up by recommendations of how to do better in future.
Chairman and editor-in-chief, InFacts
It’s not actually the duty of the BBC, or any other broadcaster, to tell us what is “true”. This bloke says this, this other bloke says this other, fair enough. But to announce the one true truth is a little bit too far towards telling people what they ought to believe, don’t you think?
Oh, and why isn’t Hugo complaining about Osborne running around shouting “immediate recession”? That turned out not to be true too, didn’t it?