BBC Radio 4’s news not biased against Brexit, says regulator


Ofcom rejects complaint by politicians who claim BBC gives more airtime to remainers

BBC Radio 4’s news output is not inherently anti-Brexit, the media regulator has concluded, dismissing a formal complaint from a group of MPs and peers who believe the corporation is biased in favour of remainers.

The politicians had claimed “positive, pro-Brexit opinion is being systematically underrepresented in BBC output” and that “more time, space and emphasis is being given to pro-EU or anti-Brexit voices”, based on an analysis of Radio 4’s output.

However, Ofcom concluded a sufficient range of views were being represented by the BBC and its content did not break broadcasting code rules requiring impartiality.

The public broadcaster has been repeatedly criticised during and after the EU referendum by both sides, with Brexiters arguing the BBC’s output is overwhelmingly negative about the consequences of leaving the EU.

At the same time, a vocal contingent of remain supporters have lambasted the broadcaster’s content for not warning enough about the consequences of leaving the EU, with the likes of Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer, calling it the “Brexit Broadcasting Corporation”.

The complaint was submitted last year by a cross-party group of pro-Brexit peers and MPs, including Labour’s Kate Hoey, the Conservative MP Philip Davies, the DUP’s Ian Paisley and the former Ukip leader and peer Malcolm Pearson. They dismissed the BBC’s initial defence of its output last summer, forcing Ofcom to take a second look.

Ofcom said it found no grounds for further investigation but took the unusual decision to publish its reasoning in order to shed light on its decision-making process.

The complaint was based on three surveys, carried out by the campaign group News-watch, which involved monitoring 75 hours of content broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between 9 October 2017 and 29 March 2018.

Ofcom said broadcasters were required to present the news with “due impartiality”, meaning adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme. “It does not mean an equal division of time has to be given to every view, or that every argument and every facet of every argument has to be represented.”

The public debate has since moved “into a much more complex and nuanced discussion comprising many different viewpoints on the form that the UK’s exit from the EU should take, and the potential implications on a range of different areas”. As a result, it was not meaningful to simply measure the airtime given to individuals who voted remain or leave during the referendum.

In Ofcom’s view, it was likely that the audience of the programmes assessed would have “expected the discussion of Brexit-related issues to reflect a range of different viewpoints on the UK’s exit from the EU and its implications, and how the public debate on these issues shifted and developed over time”.

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