The BBC is getting its reporting of the European Union wrong because it over-simplifies the issues, it stereotypes, and it is reluctant to question the pro-European agenda, an independent report has warned.
A panel charged with investigating criticisms of pro-EU bias in BBC news reporting concluded that the broadcaster was failing the public in its coverage and recommended that the corporation should take urgent action.
The Today programme and The Politics Show were singled out in the inquiry, led by Lord Wilson of Dinton, a former civil service chief and a former non-executive director of BSkyB, which concluded that the BBC must draw up a strategy to improve its coverage of the EU before the referendum on the European constitution.
While the report found no evidence of deliberate bias, it said: "We do think there is a serious problem. Although the BBC wishes to be impartial in its news coverage of the EU, it is not succeeding ... the BBC is getting it wrong, and our main conclusion is that urgent action is needed to put this right."
The BBC's governors commissioned the independent report after criticism that the broadcaster is systematically Europhile and has excluded anti-EU voices from its coverage. While the report rejected the accusation of systematic bias, it found "a reluctance to question pro-EU assumptions," which it blamed on a "homogenous professional recruitment base" and a "distaste for conservative ideas" in the BBC.
Journalists often lack understanding of the issues, the report said, with presenters appearing "ill-briefed and insufficiently armed with facts necessary to challenge assertions".
Presenters throughout the BBC were often not sufficiently briefed to counterbalance interviewees' assertions, the report said. It pointed out that, during an interview on the Today programme in December last year, Gordon Brown stated that: "Three million jobs depend on Europe," and argued that detaching ourselves from Europe would be bad for the economy. This claim was then left unchallenged.
The Politics Programme stereotyped an anti-euro journalist, the report said, when they drafted a script for a commissioned opinion piece for the show. They required the journalist to say: "There's just something about being British that we don't want to lose - our great British traditions - the pub, the great British breakfast ... that's why I'll never vote for the euro.'
The report also accused the BBC of over-simplification of the issues, pointing out that there was a middle ground between those who favour closer integration and those who want to withdraw from the EU. It said that stereotyping has arisen from a "quirky and idiosyncratic" choice of interviewees, ill-chosen vox pops and the tenor of questioning, and added that reporting EU events through the prism of party politics "can lead to the real story being neglected".
The report recommended that the BBC should implement a strategy to address its failings, including more advance planning, appointing an EU editor and more careful selection of interviewees.
The BBC's board of governors said that the broadcaster was committed to an "independent, impartial and accurate" news service.
Kevin Marsh, editor of the Radio 4 show. The inquiry pointed to an unchallenged assertion about Europe and jobs.
Jeremy Vine on 'The Politics Show' on BBC1. The inquiry said it stereotyped an anti-euro journalist.
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