The analysis by monitoring group News-Watch looked at Radio 4’s flagship morning news programme Today and concluded that there was “overwhelming negativity” about Leaving the EU.
During the six three-hour morning shows from Monday 29 March to Saturday 4 April, Today fielded 124 guests on Article 50 but only eight, 6.5 per cent, were “given the space to make substantive arguments that the future for the UK outside the EU would yield significant benefits”.
It also claimed that in the survey period BBC correspondents “displayed what can only be described as a strong common editorial bias against Brexit”.
The report has added fuel to concerns that the Corporation has been covertly backing the continuing Remain campaign despite being funded by the taxpayer through the licence fee and having a duty to be impartial.
The revelation has followed an article by Today presenter Nick Robinson where he outraged Leave supporters by claiming that the BBC no longer had a formal duty to “broadly balance” Brexit coverage.
The Corporation says the journalist was making the point that the campaign was over but that the BBC remains “impartial”, including during the general election.
The News-Watch investigation found during the Article 50 week that overall, 61 contributors were pro-Remain against 42 who were pro-Brexit, although only 24 of those were “firmly” in favour of Leaving.
In March, 72 MPs from across parties warned the future of the BBC “will be in doubt” because its Brexit coverage had been “pessimistic and skewed” against Leaving the EU.
A previous report into the Today programme by News-Watch revealed that in the six months immediately after last year’s historic referendum, from 24 June to 22 December, 192 of the 366 guests (52.5 per cent) were negative about the impact of the vote and only 60 (16.3 per cent) expressed opinions which were positive.
The latest report into Today’s coverage of Article 50 week, said: “The overall gloom was buttressed by the programme’s editorial approach. Presenters and correspondents pushed at every opportunity to illustrate existing and potential problems.
“They were strongly adversarial towards Brexit supporters, but much less so to guests who advocated that the UK was, in effect, now staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.”
It was scathing about the “so-called fact checker” Chris Morris, saying that he “focused on topics which showed Brexit in a negative light, and he even failed at the elementary level to point out that ‘EU money’ is actually provided UK taxpayers (an enduring BBC failure)”.
Highlighting a feature done from Sunderland, the first place to declare for Leave on the referendum night, News-Watch said the programme tried to focus on what the area could lose with Brexit.
The report noted: “It gave most prominence in its framework to the possibility of Nissan leaving the area and negative business developments since Brexit and the possibility of ‘EU’ arts funding drying up.”
Mr Morris’s approach in the feature had been “emphatically not neutral despite the editorial claim to the contrary”.
The report noted that Morris “failed to clarify that ‘EU money’ for local arts projects actually came from the UK taxpayer and was only distributed by the EU.
“In addition, he painted a mainly gloomy picture of the post-Brexit future in terms of the availability of grants for the arts and the availability of EU football talent for local clubs.”
News-Watch added that bias by BBC correspondents was “evident from the start.
It said political editor Laura Kuenssberg “projected in her defining sentences the negotiations as ‘fraught'” while Europe editor Katya Adler focused on the “many across Europe” who thought the UK’s expectations were “unrealistic”.
Concerns were also raised about the way questions were chosen by the programme to put Brexit in a bad light.
It highlighted comments by Leave Means Leave chairman John Longworth, the former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, who was asked before an interview on Today why wages were being kept low.
He wrote: “Amongst other things I said that the unlimited supply of cheap labour from the EU was beginning to bear down on wages.
“The interviewer declared that in view of that he wasn’t going to ask me the question on air! It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has and will continue to cover Brexit in a responsible and impartial way independent of political pressure.
“The job of impartial journalism is to scrutinise the issues and interrogate the relevant voices, not advocate for a position.
“It’s precisely for this reason that the public trusts the BBC.
“During that week the Government was given full opportunity to set out the thinking behind Article 50, and large segments of the Prime Minister’s statement were played out on Radio 4’s PM and the World at One.”
The Corporation says impartiality is not necessarily achieved simply by having equal numbers of guests or length of interview, because there are other factors to take into account such as strength of argument and range of topics.
May 15th, 2017: Express