Andrea Leadsom has been taking some stick lately when, during a BBC interview, she called on broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” in their reporting of the Brexit negotiations.
Social media practically boiled over in outrage as thin-skinned observers and media professionals alike took it upon themselves to feel affronted.
How dare she try to shut down scrutiny of the government, how preposterous that she would expect the BBC to go easy on her and her fellow ministers as they try to get the best deal for Britain.
Except, that’s not what she was saying. It’s easy to knock down a straw man (or woman) but by mentioning patriotism Leadsom was merely asking that our own country be given a fair hearing – that broadcasters recognise the EU has its own agenda and is questioned just as hard as our government is.
And she does have a point. A day rarely passes that does not start with the BBC’s Today programme offering a bad news story that is linked to Brexit. By the time the moon rises, BBC’s Newsnight is doing the same.
Recently, we were subject to a BBC report of a decline in nurses coming from the EU, when the truth is that applications have climbed. Last week’s anniversary of the Brexit vote was marked by a Question Time panel that had four Remainers against one Leaver, and an audience dominated by Remainers in Plymouth – a constituency that voted overwhelmingly to Leave.
Just how does the BBC manage it? Worse still, how do broadcasters not realise this is bias on stilts?
Leadsom was referring to how easy a time of it the EU negotiators have from our media. Their motives are never questioned, the disputes between the member states are rarely reported, and the latest plans for the EU super state are conveniently ignored, while the slightest difficulty for our own team is seen as a major crisis that might bring down the government.
Have you ever seen a documentary on British television about how the EU Customs Union has led to widespread poverty across Africa? Have you seen a film or news report about how EU-subsidised Italian tomatoes were dumped in Ghana, causing a collapse of tomato farming there? Has the BBC discussed on Today how, thanks to EU tariffs, Germany makes billions more from processing coffee beans than the whole of Africa does from growing them?
Today, we are likely to have another example as the EU budget commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, lays a paper before his colleagues discussing how the EU tackles a black hole of €25bn. Oettinger calculates that when the UK leaves, the EU will lose some €10bn annually and that a further €15bn will be required for new spending plans.
To fund that gap, the budget commissioner is suggesting a raft of new taxes linked to climate change, such as top up levies on gasoline and fuel, electricity and other energy – and yes a financial transaction tax too.
Are we likely to find the BBC interviewing Gunther Oettinger, or anyone else at the EU, in the coming months about the financial difficulties facing the bloc? If not, why not? It is those realities that drive their negotiating stance with us in demanding an expensive divorce settlement.
Oettinger is also looking to cut budgets, such as the agricultural budget that accounts for 40 per cent of EU spending, and he is eyeing up ending the discounts that some countries get on their membership fees. All of these proposals will cause huge fallout between the remaining member states, causing them to disagree and diverge – all while they are seeking to agree a deal with the UK.
Yet how often do we hear of the backstory to what our negotiators are up against?
Despite these huge problems faced by the EU, the broadcasters’ focus is always on the slightest of differences between David Davis, Boris Johnston and Liam Fox. It’s as if they think viewers and listeners are too ignorant to be interested in politicians with foreign names, or Brussels politics that are causing the EU dream to become a nightmare.
By deciding to back Brexit, UK industry and business have avoided yet further regulation and taxes that would have priced us out of vital international markets. Reporting the evidence and informing the audience of both sides of the coin is a patriotic act. Simply bashing the government of the day is pure bias, and that’s why Andrea Leadsom had a point in what she said.