Millions of dollars has been raised from anonymous US donors to support British rightwing thinktanks that are among the most prominent in the Brexit debate.
American donors are giving money to US fundraising bodies that pass the donations to four thinktanks in Britain. A Guardian analysis has established that $5.6m (£4.3m) has been donated to these US entities since 2008.
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Exchange and the Legatum Institute have all received financial support from US backers via this route.
The disclosure leaves the thinktanks facing questions as to whether wealthy Americans have undue influence in British politics, particularly over the form Brexit takes.
The UK thinktanks are some of strongest proponents of radical free trade deals with reduced regulation – positions likely to benefit big American businesses, which have opposed Europe’s tighter regulations since the 2008 financial crash.
They have a policy of not disclosing their donors, arguing they respect their backers’ right to privacy unless the backers wish otherwise. Critics say the lack of transparency allows unseen donors to influence political debate.
The charitable status of the thinktanks requires them to remain non-partisan, and they all insist they have not taken a line as institutions on whether the UK should leave the EU.
However, they have published or contributed to policy papers that advocate a Brexit deal that makes a clean break from European regulations.
This really does sound like an ideal topic to explore on BBC Panorama, BBC Newsnight or BBC Radio 4 Today.
Now at Tescos in Shrewsbury. Please remember EU protectionist racket means inefficient EU growers preferred to other non EU Mediterranean growers,due to massive tariffs imposed by EU. This leads to you paying more for your products! No more after March 2019!
Given John Humphrys’s view that it’s “all getting a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand” [ BBC Radio Four Today, 10 September 2018 at 2:12:20 in], why not substitute Duncan Smith for someone who can explain?
Reminder: BBC Sports commentators are meant to explain the game to viewers rather than just cheer on one side.
A “left-wing” think tank:
But these don’t rate a “left wing” warning:
Here’s the guest list breakdown:
“Other panelists” is presumably where the think tank guests go – so it is a shame Question Time hasn’t broken the pie chart down further for the segment of “left wing” think tanks. And there’s still no explanation as to how Farage is such a regular guest.
See also today’s BBC Brexit Coverage: Objective Truth, Relativism and Gaslighting.
Then yesterday John Humphrys prefaced a question about the type of Brexit Leavers want with the words that this is “all getting a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand” (2’12” in).
All this (and you can no doubt think of more or better examples) is a symptom of a BBC bias – a preferences for reporting splits and divisions rather than detailed analysis of policy. This has nasty effects.
One is that, as Nick says, it creates a bias against understanding. The question: “what type of Brexit do you want?” is a vitally important one. The fact that one of the BBC’s best-paid journalists can dismiss it as “stuff most of us don’t clearly understand” is therefore an admission of colossal failure. Polls show that the public are wrong about many basic social facts. Our biggest broadcaster must surely take some responsibility for this.
Secondly, it generates a bias towards charlatans. Because the BBC doesn’t do policy detail, empty windbags who don’t have such policies get a free pass. Brexiters who don’t have a plan for leaving have gotten far more coverage and deference than they merit. This bias perhaps plays against the Tories as well as Labour. The fact that clowns like Johnson (the mere fact that journalists call him Boris in a way they don’t use first names for (say) Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn is itself revealing. ) get more coverage than the likes of Rory Stewart, Robert Halfon, David Willetts or Jesse Norman surely puts the Tory party into a much worse light among thinking people than it would get from a reputable broadcaster.
By the same token, MPs who cultivate links with journalists (and share their posh backgrounds?) get better coverage than those with, say, technocratic backgrounds or links to trades unions. I suspect that one reason why the BBC has been so bad at covering Corbyn (especially soon after his election as Labour leader) is that it has been blindsided by the fact that he has much more support outside Westminster than in.
An excellent initiative. And this is a good point for the BBC:
Simon Jenkins is completely wrong when he says that the Brexit “campaign was ironically [the BBC’s] finest hour”. The exact opposite is true. The BBC treated the referendum like a general election, with a rule book which said focus on the two campaigns and ensure any coverage is even handed. It mattered not that this produced a blue on blue campaign where opposition politicians were hardly heard. It mattered not that this allowed the Leave campaign to state facts that were simply untrue: by and large journalists kept their head down. It mattered not that their viewers wanted more information about the EU and the BBC has a duty to inform. The BBC had a good campaign only in the sense that they played by rules they designed to keep them out of trouble.The area where this BBC failure mattered most was the economy. The Remain campaign, for better or worse, focused on the economic costs of leaving. They were on strong ground, with a near unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term. A view that was backed up by international institutions like the OECD or IMF. Yet the BBC’s rules meant that this view had to be treated as just one side’s opinion, to be always and everywhere offset by an opposing opinion from the other side.In essence the BBC’s key mistake was to not treat the consensus among economists as knowledge. Knowledge that their viewers should be informed about and the reasoning behind it explained. The view that Brexit would reduce average incomes was no more of an opinion than man made climate change is an opinion. They are both almost certain facts. That the BBC did not treat it that way meant that Leave won the vote.That this lost the referendum is unquestionable. Many surveys pointed to a belief among Leave voters that they would not be worse off after Brexit. Surveys also showed that most Leave voters were not willing to pay anything, in terms of loss of personal income, to reduce immigration. That is not because immigration does not matter to them, but because for many Leave voters it mattered because they believed reducing immigration would improve their access to public services. In that they were completely wrong, but the BBC failed to tell them why they were wrong.I mention climate change because almost the same fate befell this science. The non-partisan media’s default mode is to treat anything that is politically contentious as a clash of opinions, and with some politicians adopting a climate change denial view, the BBC began to treat climate change as a clash of opinions. But the BBC is open to reason and pressure from scientists. So when scientists complained about the BBC treating climate change as a controversial opinion rather than knowledge, the BBC changed their policy. Debates between climate change scientists and climate change skeptics were largely dropped. When man made climate change was in the news, it was to be treated as a fact: as knowledge.I have heard no good reason why the consensus views of economists about trade should be treated differently from climate change science. What the BBC’s policy in effect says is this. Forget that society spends large sums of money on research in economics: at the end of the day this research has less worth than a politician’s opinion. Forget we teach large numbers of students about economics in our universities. What is good enough for university students is not good enough for BBC viewers. It is an untenable position for the BBC to have, yet they will continue to hold it until it is challenged, and the only people who can challenge it are economistsThe key difference between climate change and economics is that scientists have more institutional clout than economists. The Royal Society in the UK has a staff of over 150. I fear economists have a hopelessly naive and individualistic view about how public policy works. That naive view is that the better ideas will win out. Policy makers will come to economists and choose the policies that most economists think are best. They often don’t. The BBC will represent the consensus view of economists as knowledge: it didn’t.
A few angry letters from the Royal Economic Society to the BBC are not enough. We need to force the BBC to defend what they did publicly. If they say they fairly represented academic opinion, we should challenge that by looking at the data. We need to start defending economics, because I do not think anyone else will do it for us.
False balance in media reporting on climate change is a big problem for one overarching reason: there is a huge gap between the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and the public perception that scientists are evenly divided on the subject.
This can undoubtedly be traced in large part to the media giving disproportionate coverage to the opposing fringe climate contrarian views. Research has shown that people who are unaware of the expert consensus are less likely to accept the science and less likely to support taking action to address the problem, so media false balance can be linked directly to our inability to solve the climate problem.
The BBC is one such culprit, having repeatedly given climate contrarians disproportionate air time on its programs. Frequent recent BBC guests include blogger Andrew Montford and politician and founder of the anti-climate policy think tank Global Warming Policy Foundation, Nigel Lawson. The former was recently interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show, together with climate scientist Paul Williams from the University of Reading. The latter was invited onto the BBC Radio 4 Today program alongside climate scientist Brian Hoskins from the Imperial College London and Royal Society.
As climate experts, Williams and Hoskins were excellent choices to discuss the subjects at hand – climate science, models, and the link between climate change and the extreme weather causing flooding in the UK. On the other hand, Montford and Lawson are not climate scientists, nor even scientists of any sort. Williams and Hoskins are entirely capable of discussing the knowns and uncertainties in their areas of expertise, which calls into question the BBC’s motives for inviting non-scientist climate contrarians onto the shows alongside these experts.
Whatever the reason, as could have been expected, both Montford and Lawson repeated several falsehoods on these shows. For example, Montford incorrectly claimed “we haven’t had any warming at all for the last two decades,” and Lawson made the same assertion for “the past 15, 16, 17 years.”
As well as the specific concern about climate change, there are some interesting observations about the types of commentator the BBC uses.
As Nick Cohen in the Observer notes, it is how the BBC has treated the key whistleblowers and promoted the others involved that is so contemptible.
Everyone knows the story of how Liz MacKean, a reporter for BBC Newsnight and her producer, Meirion Jones, found the evidence that Savile was a voracious paedophile and how the BBC stopped them broadcasting.
Not many know what happened next. George Entwistle, the director general at the time the scandal broke, said the BBC “must make sure that nothing like this can happen again”. People in power always say that when they are in a corner, whether they are running the banks, the Murdoch press, the BBC or the Vatican.
The best test of their sincerity is how they treat whistleblowers. If they mean what they say, they will make good on their promise of “never again” by showing by their deeds that no one suffers for delivering urgent but awkward news.