DUP sides with 70 MPs and peers to accuse BBC of 'unfair' Brexit coverage as May sets start date for talks
The DUP has joined scores of other MPs and peers in sending a sensational letter to the head of the BBC, warning the broadcaster that it is out of touch with viewers over Brexit.
More than 70 infuriated Westminster politicians — including at least 12 from Northern Ireland — have signed the letter to the director-general of the BBC, Lord Hall, accusing the BBC of bias over its coverage of withdrawal from the EU.
The MPs and peers criticised the broadcaster for “unfairly representing” Leave voters, including by focusing on those who regret backing Brexit “despite there being no polling shift towards Remain since the referendum”.
The public service broadcaster’s inability to break out of “pre-referendum pessimism” to “accept new facts” was skewing its coverage, the letter states.
It was published as Theresa May announced that she will trigger the beginning of formal withdrawal talks on March 29.
The Prime Minister promised to “negotiate hard” for the best possible deal for the UK as it leaves the European Union.
But many of her own party have been outraged by what they see as opposition to Brexit from within the BBC.
That attitude is openly shared by many in the DUP over the broadcaster’s coverage of, not only Brexit, but the ‘cash for ash’ scandal and the party generally.
The letter begins: “Brexit is the most important political challenge facing our country.
“Bearing in mind the new Royal Charter’s first ‘Public Purpose’ is to impartial news, as national broadcaster the BBC has a special obligation to ensure that it reflects available evidence and the balance of argument on the subject as fairly as possible.
“We believe the BBC has fallen far short of this high standard.”
And it warns bluntly: “If politicians and the public don’t view it as an impartial broker, then the future of the BBC will be in doubt.”
Former BBC journalist Julian Knight, now an MP, helped organise the letter. “The next two years present the biggest journalistic challenge to the BBC of our lifetimes and it simply has to get this right,” he told the Telegraph.
“I am really worried that if it continues to go down the road it has been it will alienate itself from 52% of the voting public and many of those like me who wanted remain but accept the decision and just want what is best for our country.”
The letter is signed by all eight of the DUP MPs in the Commons, as well as two peers, Lord Morrow and Lord Browne.
During the recent Assembly election, DUP politicians openly attacked the BBC during interviews, accusing it of bias on its own political programmes such as The View and the Nolan Show — a claim that BBC Northern Ireland has repeatedly denied.
The letter is also signed by two Belfast-born MPs — Labour’s Kate Hoey and Conservative Conor Burns — as well as former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
The letter adds that “BBC bias can have a substantial effect on national debate”.
“We fear that, by misrepresenting our country either as xenophobic or regretful of the Leave vote, the BBC will undermine our efforts to carve out a new, global role for this country,” it states.
In a statement, the BBC said: “The BBC is covering the political and financial events following the referendum vote in a responsible and impartial way. The BBC is also one of the great exports of this country and makes a significant contribution to the UK creative sector.”