The BBC has been accused of pro-European Union (EU) bias just one week into the referendum campaign.
In a letter to the Corporation’s Director for News James Harding, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said that certain major current affairs programmes were not giving the “leave” side a fair hearing and pro-EU guests were given greater prominence.
“On flagship shows such as Newsnight and [Radio 4’s breakfast show] Today, the guest selection has steered the debate,” Mr Bridgen wrote.
“Meanwhile Today continues to give greater prominence to pro-EU guests. The 6.15[am] business slot in particular has become an opportunity for a business leader to quickly claim that we must remain in the EU with little to no scrutiny behind the arguments for this.
“Eurosceptic business leaders meanwhile are impugned for wanting to leave for either reducing workers’ rights or dodging the bonus cap.”
The Telegraph reports that Mr Bridgen also accused the BBC of failing to properly scrutinise pro-EU arguments, especially the Prime Minister’s claim to have won “special status” for Britain inside the EU.
“At the heart of Prime Minister’s renegotiation claim is something deeply contentious and what many believe to be deeply contentious: that he has secured legally binding changes that will give Britain ‘special status’.
“The BBC must be cautious of using this phrase ‘special status’ given the renegotiation gives Britain no more special relationship with the EU than it had before the renegotiation.
“The BBC – as the UK’s main public service broadcaster – should I believe be challenging this claim and subjecting it to the most intense scrutiny.”
The BBC has already drawn criticism for issuing guidance saying it was fine for journalists to refer to the European Union as “Europe” during the campaign.
Mr Bridgen responded: “The EU is not Europe. This is an EU referendum, not a Europe referendum. It is a deliberate campaign tactic of the ‘In’ side to conflate the two to create a certain impression of what a vote to leave would mean.
“The BBC should not be helping the remain side in its choice of language for the debate. I have lost count of the amount of times the phrase “leaving Europe” has been uttered on air or by the producers calling up colleagues and myself to appear on the network.”
Mr Harding responded to the letter by saying he would not comment on the BBC’s coverage only one week into a “four-month campaign”.
In October the corporation’s impartiality was also questioned after it was revealed that the BBC’s charitable arm had received more than £9 million from Brussels to deliver key parts of the EU’s political strategy to countries on the fringes of Europe.
Just a few days before, it was reported that BBC journalists were to be sent on a compulsory course to tackle pro-EU bias.
Speaking to MPs at the time, James Harding said: “We know this will be a period really of great scrutiny of our coverage, so our view is that we should reinstate mandatory training of all BBC journalists, so that they are as well-informed as possible of the issues around the workings of the institutions of the EU and its relationship to the UK.”