BBC bias: Corporation chief apologised for ‘misleading’ anti-Brexit graphic

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The BBC received more complaints about “bias against Prime Minister Boris Johnson” than any other issue in the period from December 21, 2020 to January 3, 2021, newly released figures reveal. The complaints related specifically to the Prime Minister’s appearance on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, January 3. More than three times as many complaints were sent to the BBC about bias against Mr Johnson than the second most complained about item in the period, which was the Black Lives Matter (BLM) symbol appearing during the Happy New Year Live! show.

A total of 1712 people complained about Mr Marr’s apparent bias against Mr Johnson, while 500 complained about the BLM symbol.

The corporation has often been accused of bias – but the issue of Brexit has seen a marked rise in complaints in recent years.

Audience surveys carried out on behalf of the corporation reveal a worryingly negative reaction to its coverage.

And several reviews of BBC News and current affairs by the regulator, Ofcom, mention “dissatisfaction with the BBC’s coverage of Brexit”.

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In 2019, the broadcaster was even forced to apologise as a result of a BBC News graphic showing anti-Brexit political parties performing best at the European Parliament elections.

The BBC reported in May, 2019, that the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, SNP, Change UK and Plaid Cymru, which all opposed Brexit, had won 40.4 percent of the vote, while pro-Brexit parties took a 34.9 percent share.

However, its tally of pro-Brexit parties only included the Brexit Party and UKIP, excluding the Conservative Party, which at the time was pushing forward with taking the UK out of the EU under former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Had it included the Tories as a pro-Brexit party in its tally, Brexiteers would have outperformed anti-Brexit parties by more than three percent.

Labour were similarly not counted for either side.

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A complaint was twice “rebuffed” by the BBC’s complaints unit, according to Guido Fawkes, before the corporation eventually upheld it.

The BBC ended up removing the graph and published a correction note in its story.

In a letter leaked online, BBC executive complaints unit deputy head Dominic Groves said the graphic was an “attempt to provide some clarity” around arguments by pro and anti-Brexit parties, claiming that the results of the European elections favoured their side.

BBC News also said the graphic was an effort to “illustrate the squeeze on Labour and the Conservatives by parties offering a clear cut proposition on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU”.

Mr Groves wrote to the complainant: “We think this is a reasonable approach in principle, but the resulting graphic does not seem to us to have contained sufficient information to achieve the desired result.

“The bar labelled ‘pro-Brexit’, as you have pointed out, reflected only the combined vote for the Brexit Party and UKIP.

“Those were the parties either advocating a no deal Brexit or explicitly willing to countenance it – but those are not the only ‘pro-Brexit’ positions, and a significant section, if not a majority of the Conservative Party is in favour of a form of Brexit, whatever the actual balance of opinions in it.”

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He later added that there had been a “lapse of editorial standards”.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We note the findings of the ruling.”

Its correction note reads: “This article has been amended to remove a chart that attempted to show the performance of pro and anti-Brexit parties, after a ruling from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit.”

The Brexit Party received the largest share of votes at the European elections in May, 2019, standing at 31.6 percent, with the Liberal Democrats in second place with 20.3 percent of the vote.

Labour and the Conservative Party received a combined 23 percent of the vote.

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