The BBC needs to break out of its institutional culture of Brexit negativity

Written by John Longworth.

John Longworth was formerly Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce and Chairman of the Vote Leave Business Council and is now Co-Chairman of Leave Means Leave.


The BBC has once again been challenged re bias, in contravention of its charter and on the eve of a new regulatory regime, this time by a large group of MPs and in respect of Brexit.

The valid question of bias crystallised for me in the winter of 2015 when I attended one of a series of suppers organised by the German Ambassador at which the entire discussion seemed to centre around how those present should orchestrate to persuade the British people to vote remain. One of those present was an Editorial Director of the BBC.

Well before the Brexit issue, editorial bias on business reporting or matters that did not fit the prism of the left-liberal media elite had been apparent, and this was not isolated to the BBC. Although, probably not systematic policy, it was and is undoubtedly institutional, in so far as it is cultural. Editors cannot help themselves as they are all cut from the same block.

Anecdotal examples are legion. When waiting to participate on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, I was asked why I thought there was a downward pressure on wages while the economy was growing. 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.

During the referendum campaign, in a series of interviews for BBC Breakfast TV, the subject matter was carefully chosen to appear negative to Brexit. On fisheries for example, the focus was on the environment (not that Brexit would be bad for that), rather than on the screamingly obvious benefits of the rebirth of a multi-billion pound industry, jobs and regeneration of communities. It seemed that the fish discussed by the “chattering classes” of Hampstead mattered more to the BBC than the fish in the sea, not to mention the good people of Grimsby.

What is really important in all this is that there are huge economic and social benefits to be had from Brexit, but these can only be crystallised if we leave the single market and the Customs Union. However, we hear precious little on the BBC about this – the great future to come and what the government needs to do to make this happen.

Business confidence is important and can be self-fulfilling, so justifiably “talking up” the economy is vital for our future, unless of course you are one of those who want it to fail, or at least miss its potential. No longer the doom and gloom of “Pestonitis” (now ITV).

Beginning every good news story, of which there have been many since June, with the words “despite Brexit” and every bad news story with “following Brexit”, doesn’t sound like unbiased reporting, let alone talking up.

By the same token, no business person would go into a negotiation expecting a good outcome unless the other side was convinced that they were prepared to walk away from the table – “no deal is better than a bad deal”. With a tough enemy ahead (the European Commission are fighting for their lifeblood, not to mention their pensions), what the Prime Minister does not need is a fifth column behind her. It is bad enough that this extends to yesterday’s politicians, business policy wonks and the roundly undemocratic Liberals, without it also extending to the national broadcaster.

We are leaving the EU. Most practical business people have embraced the creative disruption and are looking as to how to take advantage. What we all need is the best outcome for Britain. The media need to catch up with this and quickly.

For the sake of balance, one final observation. The only true business programme on the BBC is Radio 5 “Wake up to Money”. Always in depth, always neutral – even on Brexit, always starting the business day. The BBC is not beyond redemption and can learn from itself.

March 27th, 2017: Brexit Central