Broadcasting House

The programme this morning discussed the recent revelation that, in February 2016, Boris Johnson wrote an unpublished article setting out arguments in favour of remaining in the EU, only to declare his support for leaving the EU a couple of days later. Mr Johnson’s explanation was that he was trying to get his thoughts on the issue straight before making a final decision.
Mr Pierce and the BBC commentator speculated on why Mr Johnson should have written such an article and, in doing so, they referred to Mr Johnson’s family, specifically his father and sister, both known Remain supporters. The inference was that Mr Johnson himself was probably a Remain supporter at heart and that the article reflected his “true” views.
The information about Mr Johnson’s family was incomplete and inaccurate and the above inference misleading. The BBC commentator should have been aware, and should have stated on the programme, that another member of Mr Johnson’s family, his wife, was a prominent pro-Leave QC, Marina Wheeler. Ms Wheeler wrote a couple of articles in the legal press earlier this year setting out arguments in favour of leaving the EU (namely the increasing and arguably illegitimate influence of the ECJ). The omission of the information about Mr Johnson’s wife encouraged the public to form the impression that Mr Johnson’s explanation was not plausible. If the public had been made aware in the programme of his wife’s views and actions, this would have shed much more light on Mr Johnson’s state of mind at the time he wrote the unpublished article. It was perfectly reasonable of Mr Johnson, married to a senior lawyer in favour of Leave, but part of a government that wanted to Remain, to examine and rehearse his arguments thoroughly before committing to one side. Indeed it would have been appalling if he had not done so.
The BBC constitution has at clause 44 of its Agreement with the State a requirement that “(1) The BBC must do all it can to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality….” It is clear that the subject of Mr Johnson’s true motivations in relation to his article has not been treated with due accuracy or impartiality. The public was given only half the relevant information and were encouraged, by omission, to draw the wrong inferences accordingly. In addition, the BBC suppressed information on Leave arguments in not mentioning Ms Wheeler or her views on the ECJ. Overall the programme was not therefore impartial and was biased in favour of Remain.

One Comment on ““Broadcasting House”

  1. Hilly

    What a very informed, high quality argument this is in regard to the partiality on the BBC. I only wish the quality of debate and discussion on the BBC in regard the EU referendum was as fair minded and cogent!

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