Tuesday 25 April 2017

Exit from Brexit?

Five months since last post. It's not that I've stopped thinking, rather I could not keep pace with events! Trump's first 100 days, T.May's path to Article 50, the French elections first turn yesterday. A lot has been speculated on the reasons why T.May has called a snap general election. Her official reasons are all bogus, especially she does not need a stronger majority, and it's doubtful that she would get one anyway; the editorials on the Times and Guardian the next day also I think were off.

Closer, I think, is the observation that this is the last possible moment, before damage of the Brexit path starts being felt. She needs this right now before the economy loses its pound-devaluation-driven doping effect, and things start to hurt and fall apart. From that point, every day would bring bad news. This is the one and only moment that she can go for a vote from an apparently strong point in terms of economy figures.

 It will be very interesting to see how she will choose to pitch her exit strategy, since it's now very risky and difficult to be propositive with respect to Brexit terms and goals. Indeed, she seems to be rejecting TV debates which to me is quite telling: she knows that the more she says the more votes she loses. i.e. clarity hurts. I don't think it's clear what style of Brexit she aims for, but all signs are that she does want a strong personal mandate and perhaps her strategy for that is still catch-all-the-different-reasons-even-if-they-are-incompatible.

But maybe there is more. A hard Brexit was the direction taken so far, and in fact there was no obstacle that could have derailed this... except for an election. So perhaps in T.May's mind this is actually giving the UK people a last chance to rethink? Is this a strategy to offer an exit to Brexit? We know that 52.8% of people had things close to their hearts that they did not want (different things...) Now in an election the question is turned around: what do people want? This is a much better question, and the stuff of politics.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Trumping Brexit?

This morning waking up to news on the alarm clock radio I (I imagine not alone) had a sense of deja vu with last June's Brexit result. The two events are linked by much more than the feeling of surprise for such a large number of people voting (apparently, personally) irrationally against overwhelming evidence.

I was not eligible to vote in either consultation, and yet in both cases will be part of the history that unfolds from here. Of course in the case of American elections this circumstance is shared with the rest of the world's population. But particularly as a European this hurts because if we abandoned our tribalism (sorry, I mean our Nations in which we are brainwashed to patriotically recognise ourselves) we might actually have something constructive to say. We hand over the role of "leader of the free world" by a potent combo of voluntary and unconscious actions. We then get what someone else thinks best.

In this case the election seems to me to have been won by Trump (this is probably the strongest link with Brexit) because of the disenchantment of sections of working and middle class who, despite the best job market conditions one could imagine, have actually been losing quality of life, not on an absolute scale but certainly relative to the top earners and to the "models" that society puts before us. I'm 42 (the answer to everything), and I felt Obama was the best USA president of my lifetime... yet as many have written there are many things that have not been solved or have even gone worse in the last decade. One is wealth distribution and lack of equality in opportunities across society. Will Trump manage to do something here? There's the potential for an economic disaster, but perhaps he will find a way to actually address this problem.   It's a problem that will surface again in the forthcoming votes in Italy, France and Germany... let's see if the "old world" is in sync with UK/USA or if the "social contract" there has (hopefully) held up better.  More of the same, even with good intentions, and even when things go well (e.g. low unemployment) is not sorting this problem out.

Let me be clear that I am pessimistic and sad, and I could not put my feelings better than Katharine Viner, Editor in Chief of the Guardian: "It was a terrible night for women, for Muslims, for Hispanic Americans, for people who believe climate change is a real and present danger, for people who believe women have a right to abortion, for men and women who object to sexual harassment of the most brutal and obvious kind, for disabled people, for black people, for Jewish people, for gay people, for progressives, for liberals, for people who believe Barack Obama was born in the USA, for a free and independent media working in the public interest", concluding that we need to hold up: "Progressive ideas are good ideas".

However, contrary to Brexit (where I simply cannot see any glimmer or anything good that can come out), I could imagine some positive things following Trump's election: (1) His "America Great/Strong again" might well have the effect of reducing Russia's aggressiveness not through specific threats but simply because I can imagine then several "alpha male" characters all claiming to stand up to each other is a stable scenario; this is a terrible view of how some equilibrium can be maintained, but better than war. It is harder, and takes consensus, to disarm, etc. and maybe the conjuncture of leaders is not the right one, so maybe this is the best we can hope for. (2) He might invest on infrastructure,  things like trains - this is something that would boost the right sectors of society, and would be good. (3) The middle eastern "knot", like all knots, does not necessarily disentangle if you keep pulling the same strings; it could be that a shift of approach will move things in a better direction (hard to see how things could be worse, there is one war happening in Siria, another in Yemen, unsolved tensions in Israel, and increasingly strong friction between Iran and Saudis). (4) He *might* find some way to make USA society more equal- this is a big one, because the potential is also there for things to go much worse than now (like Brexit, you can imagine many lose-lose scenarios where simply everyone loses out; he might well start a huge trade war with China from which the vast majority loses out).

The first President ever without experience of Public Office or military... I suppose that more than ever the people around him will count a lot. Let's hope there's a good team!   Other "expert" politicians, Wake Up!  - people need from you vision, ideas and well designed policies!  Or they will think they can do better without the experts.

Friday 21 October 2016

Draghi on the occasion of De Gasperi prize

I’ve remarked and lamented several times that “normal” people who have an interest in the EU working well, doing more and better than it is now of the things we need, don’t currently have a voice to represent them. National politicians are in a clear conflict of interest, and all too ready to invoke “national sovereignty” as some sort of ideal condition and excuse for inaction. The *many* who have worked in various countries, perhaps need to pay taxes and receive pensions across the 20th century states, or have started families in other regions, perhaps intercultural, feel European and need more. This is a large and growing number, an important and vibrant fraction of population in all EU regions, and I do wonder how it can get its voice heard. Not very clearly through the national MPs; not very clearly through the MEPs who also in the current system are a representation of national interests. This is a silence that needs to be filled – future EU structures must evolve. We also must find some bottom-up way or getting heard.

What we have today is that there are very few authoritative voices from the “top” who can take a European stance. I had the pleasure of finding and reading Mario Draghi’s speech last month, as he received the “De Gasperi Prize” in Trento  (De Gasperi was prime minister of Italy in the 8 years after World War II, and one of the key positive political figures in Italy's reconstruction and in establishing early European structures). I was going to summarise the speech in my own words, but I decided instead to translate it all. It's amazing that a banker (Draghi is head of the European Central Bank) should provide these striking words (stick to the end!). Draghi, 13th September 2016:

I have so many reasons to be grateful and honored by your decision to attribute to me today the De Gasperi prize. His figure, in the memory of his experience, send us an inspired message, strong, confident: "In Europe we go forward together in freedom." This message is rooted in European history of the last century. The ultimate reason for existence of government is to offer its citizens physical and economic security and, in a democratic society, to preserve the freedoms and individual rights along with social fairness, reflecting the judgment of the same citizens. 

Those who after World War II turned their eyes to the experience of the previous thirty years concluded that those governments that had emerged from nationalism, populism, from a language in which charisma was accompanied to lies, had not given their citizens security, fairness, freedom; they had betrayed the very reason for their existence.

 In tracing the lines of international relations between the future governments, De Gasperi and his contemporaries concluded that only cooperation between European countries in the context of a common organization could ensure mutual security of their citizens. 

Democracy within each country would not be enough; Europe also needed democracy among its nations. It was clear to many that erecting barriers between countries would have made them more vulnerable, and also less secure because of their geographic proximity; withdrawing within their own borders would make governments less effective in their action. 

In the words De Gasperi spoke in various speeches during those years we see his vision of how this community process was to be characterized. 

The common challenges should be faced with supranational strategies instead of intergovernmental. De Gasperi tells the Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (CZECH) 1954: “from 1919 to 1939 about seventy intergovernmental treaties have been prepared, and all have been reduced to scrap paper when we had to go to their implementation, because there was no joint control of common resources”. The experience of politicians was reflected in the analysis of famous economists including Ragnar Nurkse, showing how intergovernmental treaties ended up supporting protectionism. 

 Integration should first and foremost respond to the immediate needs of citizens. In his words: “we have to start by sharing only the minimum required for the realization of our most immediate goals, and do so through flexible formulas that can be applied in a gradual and progressive manner.” 

 The community’s actions should be focused in areas where it is clear that action by individual governments would not be enough: joint control of raw materials of military importance, in particular coal and steel, was one of the first examples. In this way the fathers of the European project were able to combine effectiveness and legitimation. The process was legitimized by popular support and had the support of governments: the project was directed towards goals in which the action of European institutions and the benefits to citizens were directly and visibly connected; Community action did not limit the authority of the Member States, but rather strengthened it and so received the support of governments. 

Motivating De Gasperi and his contemporaries was not just the failed experiences of the past, but also the immediate success brought by these first key decisions of the postwar period.

 The results obtained by working together. 
Peacebuilding, this fundamental achievement of the European project, produced growth immediately, setting a path to prosperity. By comparison we have the ravages of two world wars. 

 GDP per capita in real terms fell by 14% during the First World War and by 22% during the Second, canceling much of the growth of the previous years. 

Economic integration built on this peace in turn produced significant improvements in living standards. Since 1960, the cumulative growth of GDP per capita in real terms was higher by 33% in the EU 15 than in the US. In the poorer European countries the standard of living converged towards the levels of the richest. EU citizens acquired the right to live, work and study in any country of the Union; with the establishment of the courts of European Justice they enjoy an equal level of protection wherever they live. 

The single market, one of the main successes of the European project, has never been just a scheme to enhance integration and efficiency of markets. It was mainly a choice of those values represented by a free and open society, a choice of the EU citizens. 

The European project has sanctioned political freedoms, has from its beginning promoted the principles of liberal democracy. Guarantor of democratic principles, it served as a point of reference for those countries who wanted to escape dictatorship or totalitarianism; so it is has been for Greece, Portugal, Spain and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The Copenhagen criteria and the Charter of Fundamental Rights ensure that all EU countries comply with well-defined political principles, recognized in European and national laws. 

There is no doubt that these freedoms have contributed immensely to the welfare of Europe. It is also for these freedoms that today a huge flux of refugees and migrants seek their future in the European Union. 

European integration has ensured many years of physical and economic security to its citizens, perhaps for longer than has ever occurred in the history of Europe, at the same time spreading and growing the values of an open society. The European citizens who have started this process, and we who have experienced it, have proved to the world that freedom and security are not mutually exclusive. Rooting democracy we have ensured peace. 

 New challenges for Europe 
A growing dissatisfaction with the European project, however, has characterized the last years of this path. In the referendum of June 23 UK citizens have voted for an exit from the EU. 

 For some of the EU countries these were years that have seen the most serious economic crisis of the postwar period, with unemployment, especially among young people, reaching unprecedented levels in the presence of a social state whose margins for action shrunk for low growth and the constraints of public finance. These were years in which, in an aging continent, uncertainty grew about the sustainability of our pension systems. These were years in which large-scale migration called into discussion ancient customs of life, social contracts accepted for a long time. This awakens insecurity, arouses defenses. 

This disaffection has certainly also other causes: the end of the Soviet Union, resulting in the disappearance of the nuclear threat, have diverted attention from the notion of "safety in numbers." The balance of forces among the largest nations, ongoing geopolitical tensions, wars, terrorism, the changes in global weather, the effects of the continuous, relentless technological progress: in a short span of time all these factors interacted with the economic consequences of globalization, in a world inattentive to the distribution of its quite extraordinary improvements. While in the emerging economies this has redeemed from tyranny of poverty billions of people, in the advanced economies the real income of the most disadvantaged part of the population has remained at the levels of a few tens of years ago. The sense of abandonment felt by many is not surprising. Anxiety is growing. But the political response to this sometimes brings to mind the period between the two wars: isolationism, protectionism, nationalism. This already happened in the past: At the end of the first phase of globalization, in the early twentieth century, several countries, including those with a tradition of immigration like Australia and the United States, introduced restrictions on immigration, in response to fear in the working classes of losing jobs to the newcomers willing to work for lower wages. But rejecting these responses, although justified, must not prevent an examination of the causes of the lower participation to the European project. 

Again the foresight in the words of De Gasperi helps us to understand: "If we will build only common administrations, without a higher political aim enlivened by a central body, where the national aims can meet (...) we risk that this European activity, in comparison to lively national vitality, will be seen as cold and lacking ideals - It may also appear at some point to be a superfluous superstructure and perhaps even oppressive ".

 The structure of European integration is solid, its core values continue to give it a base, but we have to direction this process to answer more effectively and more directly the citizens, their needs, their fears and concentrate less on developing its institutions. Institutions are accepted by citizens not for their own sake but only insofar as they are necessary tools to provide these answers. 

 At other times it was rather the institutional incompleteness that prevented an optimal management of changes imposed by external circumstances. Think of the Schengen Agreement. Despite having largely eliminated internal European borders, it did not provide for a strengthening of the external ones. Therefore the onset of the migration crisis was perceived as a destabilizing loss of security. 

To these needs and concerns, the European Union and the nation states have given so far a deficient response. The polls, along with the decline of support to integration European Economic, also show public opinion having less confidence in the European Union and even less in the national states. 

This is not only true for Europe: data indicate even in the US diminished public confidence towards almost all institutions: the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court. The fact that this is a worldwide phenomenon should not, however, be justification for us Europeans, because we alone in the world we have built a supranational entity in the knowledge that only with it the national states would give those answers that they were not able to give alone. 

Can Europe still be the answer? 
The question is simple but crucial: is working together still the best way to overcome the new challenges that we are facing? 

For various reasons the answer is yes, without conditions. If these challenges are of a cross-continental nature, then acting only at the national level is not enough. If they are global, then it’s the collaboration between its members that makes a strong European voice. 

The recent climate change negotiations are an example. The global issue can be addressed only through coordinated policies at the international level. The critical mass of Europe speaking with one voice has led to results well beyond the reach of individual countries. Only the pressure exerted by the European countries, who presented a common front, has enabled the success of the Paris conference on climate. Only the existence of the European Union has enabled building this common front. 

In a world where technology reduces physical barriers, Europe also exerts its influence in other ways. The ability of Europe, with its market of 500 million consumers, to impose the recognition of property rights globally, or respect for the rights to privacy on the Internet, is obviously higher that any Member State could hope to achieve alone. 

National sovereignty remains in many respects the key element of the government of a country. But as regards the challenges that transcend its borders, the only way of preserving national sovereignty, that is, to make the voice of their citizens in a global context, it is for us Europeans to share voices in the European Union, which has demonstrated can work as a multiplier of our national strength. 

As for the answers that can be given only at the supranational level, we should adopt the same approach that has enabled De Gasperi and his contemporaries to ensure the legitimacy of their actions: focus on interventions that bring tangible and immediately recognizable results. Such interventions are of two orders. The first is to carry out the initiatives already in progress, because stopping in the middle of the road is the most dangerous choice. We would have taken away from nation states part of their powers without creating at Union level the ability to provide citizens with at least the same degree of safety. 

A genuine single market can stay long free and fair only if all parties who take part are subject to the same laws and rules, and have access to systems judicial that apply them in a uniform manner. The free market is not anarchy; it is a political construction that requires common institutions capable of preserving freedom and fairness among its members. If these institutions are lacking or do not function adequately, we will end up eventually restoring nation boundaries to address the need for public safety. Therefore, to maintain an open society the single market must be developed fully. 

What makes this different today from the past is urgent attention that we should put towards the redistributive aspects of integration, towards those who have paid the highest price. I do not think there will be great progress on this front, and more generally in terms of market opening and competition, unless Europe will listen to the appeal of the victims of a societies built on the pursuit of wealth and power; if Europe, as well as a catalyst of integration and arbitrate of its own rules does not also become a moderator of its results. This is a role that today it is up to national states, but they often do not have the strength to see it through fully. It is a task that is not yet defined at European level, but that fits the characteristics outlined by De Gasperi: it complements the activities of national states, and legitimates European action. Recent discussions regarding the fairness of taxation, about a European insurance fund against unemployment, about funds for retraining, and other projects with the same footprint, go in this direction. 

But because Europe should intervene only where national governments are not able to act individually, the response must originate in the first place from the national level. We need policies to kickstart growth, reduce unemployment and increase individual opportunities, while providing the essential level of protection for the weakest. 

Second, if and when we will launch new joint projects in Europe, these must obey the same criteria that made possible the success of Seventy years ago: they should be based on the consensus that the intervention is actually necessary; They should be complementary to action by governments; they should be visibly connected to the immediate concerns of citizens; They should address unequivocally areas of European or global reach. 

 If we apply these criteria, we see that the involvement of Europe is not necessary in many areas. But it is necessary instead in other areas of clear importance, where European initiatives are not only legitimate but essential. Among these today specifically: immigration, security and defense. 

Both sets of interventions are essential, since the unresolved internal divisions, concerning for example the completion of EMU, are likely to distract us from new geopolitical, economic and environmental challenges that have emerged. It is a real danger today, that we cannot afford. We must find the strength and intelligence to overcome our differences and move forward together. 

To this end, we must rediscover the spirit that allowed a few great leaders, in far more difficult conditions than today, to overcome mutual distrust and succeeding together instead fail alone. In conclusion I come to mention Alcide De Gasperi, whose words retain from 1952 all their actuality: “Economic cooperation is certainly the result of compromise between each participant’s natural desire for independence, and prominent political aspirations. If European economic cooperation had depended on compromises put forward by the various administrations involved, we probably would have stumbled on weaknesses and inconsistencies. It is therefore the political aspiration to unity that must prevail. We must be guided first of all by the fundamental knowledge that the construction of a united Europe is essential to ensure peace, progress and social justice.”

Friday 30 September 2016

Rosetta and the BBC

Today, the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission to make for th first time in humanity contact with a comet came to a close, as the "mothership" was sent to crash land on the comet surface, as planned, gathering unprecendented data in the process.

See if you notice something:

BBC online front page title:
Rosetta probe crashes into its comet
Europe's Rosetta probe has ended its mission to Comet 67P by crash-landing on to the icy object's surface.

Italian daily La Repubblica:
Rosetta, gran finale :
si รจ spenta la sonda Esa arrivata sulla cometa 67P

The Guardian
Rosetta space probe to end mission with touchdown on comet 67P
ESA’s Rosetta space mission is to end today with a touchdown on its target comet at 12:18 BST. Follow this daring manoeuvre live

I may be a bit paranoid... but is there a Brexit bias even in reporting on the European Rosetta mission?! I saw the BBC website first, and thought the whole thing had failed!

Anyway - rest assured, I am not emailing the BBC on this. I'm sure you all want to know what happened to my previous complaint. Here is the response:
 It's natural that our coverage before and after the referendum will be different. The UK has voted to leave, so rehearsing all of the arguments for and against does not address the current situation. So while you say the BBC is no longer digging into issues, we are reflecting the prevailing landscape and the issues and concerns that brings with it; it is likely there will be less focus on some of the areas that featured more prominently before the vote.
We're sorry you did not like Gavin Hewitt's piece; it sought to assess the state of the EU in the wake of the UK vote, and we believe it did so informatively and accurately. He acknowledged that there are those who wish to expand the union further.
We are all in limbo to some extent, waiting to see where the government is heading, so it can be difficult to address specific points in our coverage. James Dyson was a prominent leaver who we spoke to before the referendum, so it is reasonable to hear his views now on the single market.
From the other perspective, we have reported the views, among others, of the head of the German central bank, Wall Street leaders and other political parties:
But we don't really recognise the picture you seem to be painting of us ignoring pro-European voices; you can get some idea of the scale of our coverage here:
However, it may be fair to say that in-depth reports about the future plans of the European Union are less of an imperative given that the UK has voted not to be part of it.

I must say I'm impressed that the BBC does get back to people who file complaints... and this time they picked the response from the right box. I'm not sure if this looks more like a curled up hedgehog or a tightly shut clam, but in either case the point is that both those animals are not up to very much very much in their corresponding defensive states.
Again, rest assured, I am not going to waste more precious license-fee paid time on this complaint even though I find the EU and Brexit coverage outrageous for a license-fee funded news broadcaster. I'm just going to have my final word here on two points: (a) obviously coverage evolves with new events, but it is *not* natural that editorial policy should change suddenly, it cannot be that something right has become wrong overnight and all reason is lost; (b) One should be very worried about the statement that the EU will not be reported on in-depth, since the UK is still part of it, and if/how it really exits depends quite substantially on the evolution of the EU itself and how public opinion here might come to change their minds. We live in an amazing time.
P.S. What a missed opportunity, in the wake of this spectacular European failure, not to announce today the UK do-it-alone manned space mission to Mars: contracts have been awarded to JCB for terraforming tractors, and Dyson to clean up the dust and vacuum.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Data and error bars

I spend most of my working hours as a scientist looking at data in research papers, and unpublished data from my group's experimental activity, and figuring out when these data are significant enough to represent a firm conclusion.

So I continue to be worried about the 48/52 result and it's strength. Let's call this ratio the "Brexit index". There are two problems.

(a) This was an index that had huge fluctuations (judging from polls) up to the vote; the vote captured one moment in time of this fluctuating volatile index. Now one does not embark on a project that takes at least two years, and has consequences for future decades, on the basis of one "read". One would not do this in buying a house, or some stocks... and even when we shop in the supermarket we know (for our regular products) the average price, so that we are not scammed too much by promotions.

(b) The second problem is that this "Brexit index" as well as being volatile due to people changing their minds is also subject to changes due to changes in the people eligible to vote. It is not easy for the human brain to contemplate very different timescales, and these days we are so bombarded with rapid changes and statements that I suspect we all focus (Brexit-wise) on the short term. Almost 1 million people die each year of old age, and 1 million people come into the electorate. Nobody can dispute that the vote was polarised between young and old (of course, not all the young and not all the old...) but for the sake of argument let me assume the case (there is the strong assumption here that on this issue the younger will not drift to the opinions of the older; I think this is a valid assumption because the desire to remain comes from personal experience and culture that was simply not shared by older people).
So, this is an index quite likely to drift towards remain. How quickly ? Well very roughly there is a 4% turnover of the electorate in less than 3 years.

In conclusion: (a) We don't know if the result has statistical significance; (b) it would be a huge paradox if the UK finally exited from the EU just when its electorate became in favour of remaining in.

What should we do? The brexit process will carry a huge "direct cost" in legal fees (there are reasonable estimates for this around), and much greater "indirect costs" that are at the moment impossible to estimate precisely because they depend on how the process goes. In this context, I suggest that measuring the "Brexit index" weekly, via a very well done poll (made public, and with such a sampling base that nobody can argue about its validity) is a necessity. In fact, this should be the first thing that the "Brexit Minister" should deliver. And then what ? (a) we will have an idea of the "error bars" on this result, and (b) we will be able to see what trends there might be on the index (obviously, demographics is just one aspect, and people might be responding differently as they understand better what is happening).

Finally, to state the obvious: if the "Brexit index" is not significantly < 0.5, and/or if there is a trend that sets it to get above 0.5 in the timescale of leaving the EU, then I don't see how there is any sort of mandate to leave.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

BBC - this is unbelieavable!

Ok hold on tight, you may not believe this.
On 14th Sept, I sent this complaint (following up from my previous blog post):
Bias in Brexit reporting and opinion pieces
Full Complaint:
The Gavin Hewitt piece is shallow and misinforming. (Today, the interview with Sir Dyson on the front page is simply a bias of information through selection of what is chosen for the website: where have the pro EU voices gone ? I seem to remember they were the vast majority of business.) Some Brexit facts, let’s repeat them in the face of the brainwashing that is going on: There has been a consultative referendum; A narrow majority to leave the EU; No clarity over a “delivery plan”; Almost unanimously the experts (politicians, economists, academics) are in favour of remaining in the EU; Most business was also pro-EU; The country is still in the EU until it actually leaves (if it does), and this will take many years (if it happens). The BBC is a better public information organisation than the equivalent in many other countries, but if you have lived here enough you will have spotted significant changes following the political fortunes. BBC, remember who deserves and needs to be informed, and who pays you! Stand up to any blackmail from the government! Most opinion pieces (and the choice of people shown, and facts reported) during the last few weeks are very worrying in terms of balanced reporting. Gone seems the desire to dig into issues, investigate and report in an independent manner. The Gavin Hewitt piece makes a curry out of many problems facing EU countries and politicians. It is undeniable that parts of public opinion in every country will have different views on various issues. The piece fails to acknowledge the significant benefits to wide sectors of society that come from EU agreements, and how for large numbers of people (probably a sign (probably a significant majority) things would be better if further progress was made towards a federal or better coordinated union.
Today, I get the following answer:

Thanks for contacting us about BBC News’ coverage of the EU referendum, in particular the result of the vote and the direct consequences over the past few weeks. We appreciate you feel our coverage has been overly negative and biased against the decision to leave the E.U.
We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story across our news programmes and bulletins. Keeping in mind pressures on licence fee resources, this response seeks to address the key points raised. That said, we apologise in advance if your complaint has not been specifically addressed here.
As you may be aware, Jonathan Munro, Head of Newsgathering at BBC News, appeared on ‘Newswatch’ on 1 July to specifically address concerns raised by our audience about our recent coverage. You can still watch the edition here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07htbgq
During the programme Jonathan Munro addressed criticisms that BBC News’ coverage has been alarmist after the result, featuring too much coverage of people who wanted to remain in the EU. He explained BBC News has looked at reactions from both sides (those who wanted to remain and those who didn’t) and are covering the story of what it looks like to leave the EU from many different angles.
Jonathan explained that he didn’t agree with the suggestion that BBC News are looking only at the negative outcomes of the vote. He explained that we believe our coverage has been balanced and that we have looked at the potential effects Brexit could have on the job market, because technically we still don’t know the full impact.
He went on to explain that BBC News has covered many positive aspects of the outcome. For example, what immigration for non-EU citizens could look like, and what trade deals with places like New Zealand and Canada could look like. BBC News has also covered some positive outcomes coming from the falling value of the Pound.
Jonathan Munro went on to assure viewers that nobody at the BBC thinks that 17 million people of the population are racist. He pointed to examples of where we have interviewed a wide range of voters who chose “leave”. Jonathan added that he didn’t believe the BBC was too ‘London-centric’ and explained that ‘Question Time’, for example, came from both Preston and Birmingham in the run up to the referendum.
We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns. We believe our coverage of the result has been fair, accurate and impartial. This is a quickly developing story and we will strive to continue to report on it in this manner.

I appreciate (green highlight) that the BBC is getting a lot of complaints. I hope actually that they get a number sufficient to cause great worry. What is unbelievable is that they have taken my complaint as meaning I wanted more "Brexit" strength!!! Now I can only assume one of two things: (a) they don't really read the complaints carefully; (b) they are now so Brexit-biased that my text reads to them as an accusation of supporting "remain" too much?!!
In either case, this is beginning to feel a bit hopeless. Your complaint (it seems) could be taken to mean the opposite of what you say. I will complain now again, and I am curious to see if they have a different standard response for "remainers" that I can treasure. At least I want to make sure the bean-counters record that I was a remain voice.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

BBC, you have a duty towards your license fee payers, not to the government!

On the front page of the BBC news website few days ago, a promising titled piece “What has the EU learnt since Brexit?”, by Gavin Hewitt Chief correspondent:

Today, front page interview with Sir James Dyson recommending a full exit from the free market:

The Gavin Hewitt piece is shallow and misinforming. The interview with Sir Dyson is simply a bias of information through selection of what is chosen for the website: where have the pro EU voices gone ? I seem to remember they were the vast majority of business.

Some Brexit facts, let’s repeat them in the face of the brainwashing that is going on: There has been a consultative referendum; A narrow majority to leave the EU; No clarity over a “delivery plan”; Almost unanimously the experts (politicians, economists, academics) are in favour of remaining in the EU; Most business was also pro-EU; The country is still in the EU until it actually leaves (if it does), and this will take many years (if it happens).

The BBC is a better public information organisation than the equivalent in many other countries, but if you have lived here enough you will have spotted significant changes following the political fortunes. BBC, remember who deserves and needs to be informed, and who pays you! Stand up to any blackmail from the government!

Most opinion pieces (and the choice of people shown, and facts reported) during the last few weeks are very worrying in terms of balanced reporting. Gone seems the desire to dig into issues, investigate and report in an independent manner.

The Gavin Hewitt piece makes a curry out of many problems facing EU countries and politicians. It is undeniable that parts of public opinion in every country will have different views on various issues. The piece fails to acknowledge the significant benefits to wide sectors of society that come from EU agreements, and how for large numbers of people (probably a significant majority) things would be better if further progress was made towards a federal or better coordinated union.

Why does Gavin Hewitt think that national politicians should lead on EU integration? Politicians would have to cede some power a “level up” (to other democratic institutions), and it is not very much in their own interest.

Who are the EU ambassadors ? People like the Erasmus exchange students, those who have set up international families, those who study, work or have retired in another country or enjoy not worrying about where they are spending bits of their lives. It is not easy for this group to have a loud voice, but they have to try! This is the EU from the “bottom up”. (Top-down EU is motivated and proceeds into agreements only when there are threats and emergencies…) EU exit would be a huge obstacle to a lot of people, and the current and future positives of the EU for normal people need to be brought to light much more.

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