A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

The BBC's Blatant Bias is No Excuse

The BBC is clearly biased. But does it matter?

The People's Pledge references Rod Liddle's video commentary on the Sunday Times, on its Facebook page. The topic this time is the bias of the BBC - the sort of topic that many conservatives, and non-establishment figures in general, have waited years to see addressed. Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former leader of UKIP, Britain's foremost Eurosceptic party, is one of those that weights in with his opinion.

BBC bias has long been the elephant in the room for opponents of our continued membership of the European Union; it is all to easy to accuse it, the dominant source for news and information in all of the British media, of being the one thing stopping us from leaving. What other explanation is there, when upwards of sixty per cent of the British population want out of the EU, for our remaining within it, other than our esteemed national broadcaster? The BBC sets the tone and topic of the debate for the rest of the media, and somehow the EU is never included. That's the conclusion that many Eurosceptics - and indeed anyone outside the dominant consensus in each of the three main parties - has come to over the years, and it's easy to see why.

There are countless examples of BBC bias towards Eurosceptics; arguably contrary to its charter, it does receive funding from the European Union, as revealed in Hansard. Lord McIntosh of Haringey, then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, replied that 'the BBC's producers' guidelines make clear that co-funding from any third party is not appropriate for programmes aimed at a general audience. But the BBC does receive some EU funding for some specialised educational and support material (such as basic literacy and IT skills training for adults).' The BBC's commercial subsidiaries also borrowed almost one hundred million pounds from the European Investment Bank. The full details of this are covered excellently by EUReferendum.

The European Investment Bank is supposed to promote the EU's objective of integration. That's according to its own mission statement. Would it loan money to an organisation that might act against this interest, as a truly unbiased organisation would? No, it would not. The BBC's bias is fairly clear-cut in my view. But, still, despite its immense power, the BBC cannot be used as a reasonable excuse for Eurosceptic inactivity; yes, its presence is regrettable, but it does not hold a monopoly on news, and, even if it did, to accept defeat at its hands would be to severely underestimate the power that we hold in ours.

Think back to 2008, when the Irish 'No' campaign was in full swing. The EU and EU-affiliated institutions poured hundreds, literally hundreds of millions of euros into the 'Yes' campaign. The amount of airtime and advertising space that they could buy dwarfed that of the 'No' vote. Allegations of conspiracy swirled around the head of Declan Ganley, the 'No' campaign's main sponsor, about his less-than-savoury connections. An investigation into his funding was ordered, and it was even suspected that he was a CIA stooge. Yet, for all this, the 'No' vote was, lest we forget, ultimately successful. And the problems that faced the Irish campaigners were not at all dissimilar to those that a similar campaign would face in the UK.

There was massively biased media coverage, unprecedented interference from Brussels, an almost complete cross-party consensus, and a classic smear campaign to contend with. They were actually compared to paedophiles. And yet, despite at first being behind in the polls, the 'No' campaign pulled out ahead and went on to win a landslide. By the logic of the 'if the BBC is against us we can't win' argument, the Irish 'No' vote should never have occured. But it did. And the European Union knows the reason why. It is not the intervention of big business. It is not Declan Ganley's millions. It is not Brussels simply being wrong. It is grassroots activists making a mess of things for the 'Yes' vote by exposing the EU's biggest lies. Bloggers, primarily, but street protestors and campaigners, as well. They all played their part in derailing the EU machine, and, despite the biased media and the hundreds of millions of euros in the pocket of the 'Yes' camp, they did so successfully.

The EU was so incensed by the problem that it even tried to 'regulate the Internet' in order to shut them up, proposing the creation of a regulatory body that could ensure, in the words of Marianne Mikko, the drafter of an official report on the subject, that bloggers could not 'pollute' cyberspace with 'malicious intent.' As Daniel Hannan observed at the time, 'the mainstream media was uniformly pro-Treaty, whilst Internet activity was overwhelmingly sceptical.'

If grassroots campaigners could defeat the European Union in Ireland, a country where membership of the European Union continues to be immensely popular, think what they could do in Britain, where scepticism or outright opposition to the European Union is almost universal. The simple lesson that we can learn - not just from the Irish referendum, but from France and the Netherlands, too - is that we do not need the media and politicians on our side to make a difference. Anyone can make a difference. Whether they choose to do so online, on street corners, or in Trafalgar Square is up to them: but we can no longer use the BBC's bias as an acceptable excuse to do nothing. If we believe - sincerely believe - that membership of the European Union is bad for the UK then we must make the point regardless of who will oppose us; whoever has something to say ought to say it, and, if they are a natural-born leader, then people will follow. We must continue to call for referendums. We must continue to call for withdrawal. Whatever the BBC thinks.

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