While the BBC has at times come across as the mouthpiece for the EU, there seems to be a connection between the handling of anti-EU sentiment and the coverage of UKIP, which is the second biggest party representing the UK electorate in Brussels, argues John Bufton MEP • I read in the Daily Mail that the BBC are planning to rethink their coverage of the EU after complaints that they are regularly one sided and too pro-EU.
At last a BBC I can get behind!
I have said on my blog before that I often feel that reportage of the EU is handled in a very one sided manner. Let me not even start on how I feel the BBC covers UKIP as a political party. When UKIP are polling just below, and sometimes just above the Liberal Democrats it's hard to understand why one party has every media resource thrown at coverage of the conference, from Live updates, multimedia reports, continuous streaming of interviews, speeches and so forth, while the other barely scrapes a mention. There is the argument that the Lib Dems are currently in power as part of the coalition. Of course this is undeniable and quite rightly the public would wish to know the policies and proposals being outlined by the Deputy Prime Minister. But even before the results of the 2010 general election, there has been a disproportionate amount of air time for the Lib Dems compared to UKIP in relation to where the parties regularly feature in opinion polls.
Of course, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Get bums on seats inside Westminster and surely our coverage would have to increase exponentially. But how does a party raise its profile when even supposedly unbiased public owned news organisations fail to treat the party with the same level of respect as is gifted to the "established" three? The BBC is an organisation that has for years strived, some may argue too hard, to be representative of the public. Whereas in countries such as France it is still shamefully rare to see black or asian television personalities, Harry Roselmack being, I believe, the first black news anchor on TF1, having debuted in 2006 (astonishingly late), in Britain the BBC, ITV and Channel Four have always fought to make sure the faces we see on the news are the faces we see on the street. Some might complain that perhaps the levels of "positive discrimination" have gone too far, but that is another matter.
Yet when it comes to Eurosceptics, as we are dubbed, and according to the majority of public opinion polls, accounting for around two thirds of the population, we are handled as if we are extremists and lunatics.
The BBC has at times come across as the mouthpiece for the EU. If not championing Brussels, then at the bare minimum the BBC seems to be resigned to the opinion that because the EU exists, what is the point of arguing against it.
There is seemingly a connection between the handling of anti-EU sentiment and the coverage of UKIP.
We are the second biggest party in Brussels, striving to become the largest after the next European elections and standing a good chance. Why then, when issues about the European Union are addressed, are we rarely given a platform other than on Question Time, which is essentially the televisual equivalent of sticking politicians in the stocks?
I also have direct experience of the attitudes of certain BBC staff I have encountered and others whom I have heard about. I was once informed how one member of the production team kept referring to UKIP as "BNP-lite", a vile and utterly disparaging comparison that bares no reflection to UKIP's libertarian views.
It is also increasingly common to label UKIP as "Right Wing" or even "Far right".
I myself am from a Labour background and do not associate myself with Conservative politics at all. UKIP serves largely as an umbrella organisation for people disenchanted with the fickle and unreliable policy making of the two main parties who are able to dominate politics and thus change direction and betray the voting public whenever they see fit as they are protected by the first past the post system.
I do not believe the terms right and left wing have any place in today's politics. A highly interesting article on the Libertarian Press website discusses how this linear description of politics is outdated and unhelpful to voters who deserve to be better informed. The article proposed replacing the left and right wing system with a more astute political compass with the four points differentiating between Socialist, Socially Liberal, Free Market and Authoritarian. On this political compass, Stalin and Hitler are found at exactly the same point, when history has them down at opposite ends of the spectrum.
While we cannot expect the newspapers (being partisan by nature and vessels for the privilege of opinion of a few wealthy magnates) to give us an unbiased report on politics, it is to the BBC as a publicly funded organisation we should be able to turn for a broad spectrum of opinion.
Yet from programming to news reportage the BBC increasingly occupies the same territory as the Guardian newspaper. (It has even been said by people within the BBC that all the young guns are observed in the cafeteria or walking into the newsroom with the Guardian tucked firmly under an arm).
The Guardian, which has carefully molded itself to occupy green and inoffensive territory of being seemingly inoccuous and friendly, is in fact possibly one of the most preaching and harshly critical, one-sided of broadsheets in the UK. Dressed up in hemp clothing, vegetarian recipes, folk festivals and a penchant for everything humanitarian, it is the one newspaper that will not only scathingly attack anything they deem as 'right wing' but also let it be known what you should be eating, watching, wearing and listeneing to.Whilst it is hard to protest against tips on allotment gardening as being culturally subversive, there is an increasingly accepted sense that there is a right and a wrong way to conduct your life, which is endorsed not just by the pitchfork waving Guardian, but also by the majority of BBC programming. The right way is eating only organic food, listening to PJ Harvey, growing a beard and wearing ethically sourced designer latex wide rimmed glasses. The wrong way is, amongst other things, disliking the EU and therefore voting UKIP.
Interestingly the biggest threat to purported freedoms and values, farming standards, animal welfare and ethically sourced latex wide rimmed glasses is probably Brussels. And the biggest champions of libertarianism, a reduction in bureaucracy, real democracy and the welfare of fish, fishermen and farmers is UKIP. So while the Guardian waxes lyrical about buying local and eating in restaurants were the provenance of their ingredients and credentials of their suppliers is highlighted on their recycled environmentally friendly menus, the only way to really ensure local trade prospers and British farmers are able to turn out high quality, environmentally sound and economically viable produce, is by leaving the EU.
UKIP as a party struggles with image. This is without doubt a sorry truth. It is normal for a small, upcoming party, as a threat to the established powers, to be at the receiving end of mudslinging and dirty politics. But you don't expect the BBC to join in, albeit unwittingly.
Meanwhile the Green Party, with two MEPs and a coveted seat in the Commons, gets not only equal coverage to UKIP, with 13 seats and 3% of the vote in the General elections, but somehow manages to get the red carpet (or should I say biodegradable astro-turf) rolled out for free speech, despite only garnering less than one percent of the vote in 2010.
As I write this, Yougov's daily poll reflecting voting intention shows the projected vote share as:
CON 34%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 10%
Yes, that's right. We are a full 2 per cent clear of the Lib Dems.
That is without the fair share of coverage and in spite of the propogation of negative reportage by main media outlets.
Just imagine what that poll would look like if we were given the fair and balanced and accurate coverage we rightly deserve.
I welcome with open arms this review commissioned by the BBC to be published sadly not until 2013.
But while it may be a small step forward in our favour, it is a giant leap that is needed if UKIP are really going to get parity of coverage.