SIR ROBBIE GIBB: Will the BBC wake up to the bias of the Today show

SIR ROBBIE GIBB: When WILL the BBC wake up to the bias of Radio 4’s Today show

  • Robbie Gibb observed ‘ impartiality’ debate as senior programme editor at BBC
  • He says the broadcaster has been too defensive to criticism of its coverage 
  • BBC received 24,435 complaints in two-week period during election campaign  
  • He says BBC colleagues feel Today staff act in the ‘most arrogant way possible’ 

Hundreds of MPs will return to Westminster next week to press on with the historic legislation that will take Britain out of the EU for good.

Emboldened by a resounding majority, the Conservative Government will forge ahead not only with Brexit but with sweeping reforms to the country — to make our streets safer, control our own borders and protect the NHS.

Ministers will once more be dispatched to television and radio studios to outline this vision but one programme will be excluded from these daily broadcast rounds — BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme Today.

BBC Radio 4’s flagship news programme Today (pictured, John Humphrys presenting his final show) is to be excluded from the broadcast shows where ministers will give interviews on the week building up to Britain’s exit from the EU

The Government took the dramatic step last year of refusing to put up ministers to be interviewed on Today amid an on-going row about bias along with a concern about its trivial approach to interviews.

The boycott will continue well into 2020 if BBC bosses fail to grasp the scale of the problem they now face.

Humphrys poses for a photograph with the other presenters in the studio at New Broadcasting House presenting his final show on the Today programme on September 19. Ministers have been denied being interviewed on the show due to the bias row and concern about its trivial approach to interviews

There is growing mistrust over BBC impartiality — not just among politicians but with whole swathes of the public.

As a senior programme editor at the BBC and as a Director of Communications at Number 10 under Theresa May, I’ve watched the debate over ‘broadcast impartiality’ from both sides of the fence.

And I’ve never been more passionate in my belief that broadcasters must remain politically neutral — especially the BBC, which should be the standard-bearer for impartiality.

Since the government refused to allow ministers to be interviewed on the programme (pictured, Former Chaancellor Philip Hammond MP on Radio 4 Today programme on August 14) Today will not be included in the daily broadcast sounds, unlike Channel 4, in the run-up to MPs returning to Westminster next week

Increasingly, commentators and senior political figures complain of bias within the BBC but, to date, its reaction has been far too defensive.

Director general Tony Hall, writing last month about criticism of bias in the BBC’s election coverage, said: ‘The fact that criticism came from all sides shows to me that we were doing our job without fear or favour.’

If doesn’t quite work that way. Just because you’re being criticised from both sides doesn’t mean you’re not being biased.

BBC received a record 24,435 complaints in just a two-week period during the election campaign should be cause for concern at the BBC but its reaction was far too defensive (pictured, a protester holds a banner during an Extinction Rebellion demonstration on October 11)

The fact the BBC received a record 24,435 complaints in just a two-week period during the election campaign should be cause for concern at the BBC. It is unwise for Lord Hall to dismiss these concerns so casually.

Nowhere is impartiality more important than Radio 4’s Today programme, but its election coverage was a masterclass in why the BBC is losing the trust of its audience.

Trapped by its own woke ‘groupthink’, Today — or Radio Misery as my friends increasingly call it — bombarded its listeners with a relentlessly negative and sneering tone and painted a picture of Britain that was monstrously out of touch.

It spectacularly misread the politics of the election with endless outside broadcasts in universities, full of interviews with Left-wing, entitled, virtue- signalling students.

Meanwhile, the real election story was being played out in working-class English towns across the Midlands and the North.

Patience with the Today programme’s haughty attitude is wearing thin even with my former BBC colleagues. One tells me that ‘they behave in the most arrogant way possible’.

Unfortunate: The Today Programme’s editor Sarah Sands (pictured, December 29) believes ‘it’s a pretty good time to put the foot on the windpipe of an independent broadcaster’, while accusing No 10 of ‘Trumpian’ tactics in its refusal to appear on the programme

A debate now rages within the BBC’s senior management about how best to respond to these growing charges of bias.

They would be wise to take them very seriously.

I understand the BBC has carried out private opinion research that reveals concern about impartiality is at its highest among voters in the Midlands and the North.

These are the one-time heartland Labour seats where voters switched to the Conservatives and delivered the majority needed to get Brexit done.

Support for the BBC is highest in affluent areas with levels of high diversity such as London and Manchester.

If the election showed us anything, it showed us that hard-working and decent families who live outside the metropolitan ‘luvvie’ bubbles that envelop ‘media land’ and Westminster are fed up with being ignored or patronised.

The Today team is thought to ‘behave in the most arrogant way possible’, according to a BBC colleague of Gibb’s. Private opinion research has revealed concern about impartiality at its highest among voters in the Midlands and the North

The political editor Laura Kuenssbery tweeted that a Labour activist had punched an aide of Matt Hancock, which later proved to be false. BBC intends to launch a review into how its staff engage on social media soon, according to Gibb

These are the people who delivered a seismic election result and put into power a government that is now more in touch with the people it serves.

But there are depressingly few signs that the Today programme is learning any lessons from this election.

Interviewed on the BBC’s Feedback programme over the Government’s boycott of Today, its editor Sarah Sands declared the Government believes ‘it’s a pretty good time to put the foot on the windpipe of an independent broadcaster’, while accusing No 10 of ‘Trumpian’ tactics in its refusal to appear on the programme. This is extraordinary and unfortunate language coming from the former editor of the Right-wing Sunday Telegraph who championed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London when she was editor of the Evening Standard.

Surely she should now be listening to criticism from inside and outside the BBC and trying to build bridges with the Government, not burn them down.

From the way the BBC conducts its interviews to the way its journalists behave on social media, the corporation needs to reform to make sure it once again becomes a by-word for impartiality.

This should be the one place where viewers and listeners can get news they know they can trust.

In a withering put-down which has racked up over a million views online, BBC’s Andrew Neil questioned how Mr Johnson hoped to face down strongmen on the world stage if he was too frightened to be interviewed. He said: ‘The Prime Minister of our nation will at times have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. ‘So we’re surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me’

We all know what to expect when we pick up a newspaper — a reflection of our own world view. Papers share the morals and values of their readers and help to give them a voice.

But people expect something quite different from broadcasters, particularly the BBC. Impartiality is literally what we all pay for via the licence fee.

Maintaining impartiality is a huge challenge for all broadcasters but it is made much harder by social media, which has given rise to the dangerous concept of ‘journalist as personality’.

You cannot be both an impartial journalist and a political commentator. So it’s high time some news professionals made a choice.

In a lengthy blog post on LinkedIn, Huw Edwards accused the BBC’s critics of  malicious intent

The BBC’s Nick Robinson publicly backed his long time colleague online

And BBC foreign correspondent Clive Myrie took a Twitter user to task for criticising the Beeb

Journalists and producers working on news programmes should rigorously police themselves online. They should avoid ‘liking’ or re-tweeting opinions that could reveal their own political views.

Meanwhile, the temptation to try to humiliate a politician during an interview for the sake of some Twitter praise should also stop.

I understand that MPs are not everyone’s favourite people. But in a democracy they are rightly held to scrutiny in a way few of us are — by the ballot box, Parliament and the Register of Members’ Interests.

By and large, MPs and ministers are decent, hard-working people who want to do what’s best for their constituents, their party and their country.

The truth is Ministers don’t fight shy of television interviews because they are sitting on some hideous lurking secret they fear may spill out under the glare of the studio lights.

They are simply weary of a generation of Andrew Neil-wannabes trying to trip and trap them at every turn. Not every interview has to be the Spanish Inquisition.

There is a world of difference between Andrew’s well-researched and forensic approach and those interviewers who seem more interested in bagging the latest ‘car-crash interview’ to boost their profile online.

Channel 4’s decision to ban non-political journalists from tweeting about politics is a step in the right direction

What has happened to simply asking the questions the public actually want asked and letting politicians answer so that the audience can judge for itself?

There are signs that broadcasters are belatedly beginning to address some of these concerns, at least in relation to Twitter.

Channel 4’s decision last month to ban non-political journalists from tweeting about politics is a step in the right direction.

I understand the BBC intends to launch a review into how its staff engage on social media soon.

This is to be welcomed.

The age of social media has given rise to the professional political pundit. These days, everyone has an opinion — facts are harder to come by.

That is why the BBC should serve as a beacon to all broadcasters, where facts, accuracy and impartiality are fundamental. 

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