Belfast Telegraph

Boris Johnson’s Brexit manifesto set out a positive vision, but BBC distorted his Euro message

We have been fed a daily diet of negativity and gloom by those on the liberal Left, writes Nelson McCausland

Last Sunday Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had a 4,000-word article in the Sunday Telegraph. That is about six times the length of this column, and in it he set out a positive vision for the United Kingdom after we leave the European Union. I welcome that because ever since the EU referendum last year we have been fed a daily diet of negativity and gloom.

In it he referred to the UK contribution to the EU and the fact that we would regain control of our own money, free from the diktats of Brussels bureaucrats.

On the back of the article and the associated media frenzy, Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to Johnson and his criticism was published in the newspapers. Johnson then spoke directly to Norgrove, and issued a written reply.

In this letter there are two important sentences, which unfortunately have not received the coverage they deserve. Johnson said to Norgrove: “When we spoke you conceded that you were more concerned by the headline and the BBC coverage, though you accepted that I was not responsible for those.

“I suggest if the BBC coverage offends you that you write to the BBC.”

Much of the controversy in this matter was generated not by the newspaper headline, as most of us will not have read the newspaper, but rather by “the BBC coverage”.

This was very much a media-manufactured story whereby the media coverage overshadowed the actual content of the article.

In the end the content of the Foreign Secretary’s article was never properly considered in the media and much of the coverage was mangled and distorted.

Oddly enough, on the same day there was another good example of misreporting when the BBC broadcast an interview with Arlene Foster on Radio Ulster.

The problem was not the actual interview, but rather the misinterpretation that was put on it by the BBC and in the end the BBC had to issue a clarification to correct that misrepresentation.

These are just two examples, but there is a growing concern about the culture within the BBC, and earlier this month Gregory Campbell MP secured a debate at Westminster on the BBC.

He spoke about the lack of transparency in the BBC as regards salaries and complaints, but he also spoke about inaccurate reporting which gives rise to some of these complaints. He acknowledged that there had been some progress as regards transparency but there is a long way to go. That is one Hansard report that is very well worth reading.

Of course, ‘fake news’ is nothing new. Back in 2003 I challenged the BBC about a particularly nasty urban myth that was discussed at length on the Talkback programme as though it was true.

Then it was just an urban myth, but today it is called fake news. Afterwards the BBC was very reluctant to admit that it was a myth, and it took five weeks to get it to broadcast a retraction and apology.

During those five weeks BBC employees had spent hours trying to justify their story but had failed.

Such a belated retraction had limited value and it took even longer, around five months, to get a written retraction. Meanwhile, an urban myth had received the endorsement of the BBC and was repeated by others ad nauseam.

Unfortunately, the BBC hierarchy tends to hide behind assertions of public satisfaction with the organisation. Well that is simply not good enough! There are some great journalists in the organisation, but there are also cultural issues that need to be addressed.

So back to Boris. Why was there so much media-generated spin around his article? The truth is that a positive vision for Britain after Brexit is something that is really long overdue.

The daily predictions of doom and gloom by the liberal Left feed into the ambitions of those who want to undo the referendum. They want to wear down support for a bright future outside the EU and hope that over time their spurious speculations will change public opinion.

In that context, anything positive is problematic for them.

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