MPs Question BBC Neutrality On Europe Ahead Of Referendum

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In the run up to the European referendum MPs have said they are “deeply concerned” about the way the BBC covers the EU. The European Scrutiny Committee claimed BBC bosses had tried to avoid giving evidence to them and when they did appear it was only to defend their own opinions.

The chairman of the Committee, Sir Bill Cash, told the Daily Express: “As the nation’s public service broadcaster the BBC has very particular obligations under its Charter and Framework Agreement, both to be impartial and also to educate and inform.

“We do not believe this is currently being achieved in the context of the BBC’s EU coverage.”

Cash was particularly concerned about the actions of Lord Hill, the head of the BBC. He appeared before the committee earlier this month to defend the Corporation against charges that it was “not as impartial as it should be”.

Sir Bill said: “We deplore the fact that we had to repeatedly press for Lord Hall, as well as the previous BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten, to appear before us… Furthermore the BBC has not properly carried through its compliance with its own published aims following the serious criticisms made of the BBC by the Report by Lord Wilson of Dinton in 2005 relating to the BBC’s coverage of EU issues.

“Accountability to Parliament and proper impartiality must be a key factor in the forthcoming review of the BBC Charter.”

The committee report, which was published on Wednesday morning, said: “We still remain deeply concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues. Our witnesses seemed to be more intent on defending and asserting their own opinions, mindset and interpretation of the obligations under the Charter and Framework Agreement than in whether they had in fact discharged them or whether they had the mindset to carry through their post-Wilson aims.

“In the interest of the licence fee payers, and the public in general, and in the context of the approaching general election and a prospective referendum on the EU, and given the fact that the BBC themselves state that 58 per cent of the public look to the BBC for news they trust, we believe that the BBC has a duty under its Charter, Framework Agreement and the general law, and following the Wilson report in particular, to improve substantially the manner in which it treats EU issues.

“Our central tenet, regarding the BBC’s coverage of the EU scrutiny process in the House and EU issues more generally, is that the country’s public service broadcaster must command wide confidence in its coverage of such a sensitive and complex issue. We do not believe that this has been achieved.”

A BBC spokesman said: “As Lord Hall told the committee, we are and will be impartial in all matters concerning our coverage.”

The Conservatives are committed to a European Referendum in 2017, whilst UKIP advocate going to the polls in 2015. Both parties privately fear vested interests like the BBC and the CBI will do whatever it takes to keep the UK from voting to leave.

The news comes on the day the corporation dispensed with one of the very few openly right-wing presenters, Jeremy Clarkson.