BBC Brexit coverage ‘lacking in curiosity and depth’ on Ireland

Former executive suggests broadcaster’s interest in Irish matters waned after 1998 peace deal

The BBC’s coverage of the UK’s departure from the European Union has been ‘distinctly lacking in curiosity and depth’ about Ireland, a review by a former executive at the British broadcaster states. Photograph: Daniel Leal Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The BBC’s coverage of the UK’s departure from the European Union has been ‘distinctly lacking in curiosity and depth’ about Ireland, a review by a former executive at the British broadcaster states. Photograph: Daniel Leal Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

 

The BBC missed the Irish dimension of Brexit, and its coverage of the UK’s departure from the European Union has been “distinctly lacking in curiosity and depth” about Ireland, according to a former senior executive at the British broadcaster.

In a review of the BBC’s Brexit coverage, former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer also said a policy decision taken by the BBC Trust to give broadly equal time to the Remain and Leave campaigns during the 2016 referendum “sowed the seeds of some of today’s difficulties”. He also pointed to a lack of BBC coverage of Germany and the rest of continental Europe.

As a member of the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s governing body, in 2016, Mr Damazer had oversight of the BBC’s editorial performance during the Brexit referendum.

In an essay in Prospect magazine, Mr Damazer writes that sometime after the Belfast Agreement in 1998, interest in Ireland waned. “The main story – violence and peace – had gone. That may be why the BBC missed the Irish dimension of Brexit in the campaign and for a long time afterwards,” he writes.

‘Triumph’

“The story – the backstop – was forever done via Westminster arguments, and Westminster maths. When [Theresa] May got her outline deal with the EU in late 2017 – how long ago that seems – it was greeted as a Westminster triumph with only minor genuflections towards the Irish conundrum that it left nakedly unresolved. Dublin-based journalism got barely a look in. Overall the coverage has been distinctly lacking in curiosity and depth about both the Irish economy and Irish politics.”

Similarly, except briefly around 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany had “never been a big deal”, according to Mr Damazer.

During the 2016 campaign, both sides made claims about Germany’s likely negotiating position in the aftermath of a Leave vote, but these claims were never interrogated by way of sustained reporting in Germany, he writes.

‘Lack of appetite’

“It isn’t simple to cover properly the politics of the 27 and of the central EU apparatus and it isn’t only lack of appetite, expertise or tolerance for subtitles. The senior European figures don’t feel the need to be accountable to the UK electorate over Brexit. It was, as they repeatedly say, our choice. Andrew Marr pointed out a few weeks ago that his programme had invited Michel Barnier on multiple times-to no avail.”

Mr Damazer argues that the BBC Trust’s decision to give broadly equal time to the Remain and Leave campaigns, while “easily reached” at the time, sowed the seeds of some of today’s difficulties. “Because many senior Remainers, in particular, were unprepared for the sheer volume of Brexit voices that the half-and-half policy would introduce to the airwaves,” he writes.