BBC bias: Question Time's most frequent panellists are ALL Remainers


Celebrating ex-Tory MP Ken Clarke taking the record for the most Question Time appearances in 2019, the BBC revealed the ten most frequent panellists at the time – but critics quickly realised that all those featured were Remainers. This throws into question ex-BBC newsreader Emily Maitlis’ claims that the outlet suffered from “both-sides-ism” in its presentation of the Brexit debate.

Media reporting outlet Media Guido described the overrepresentation of Remainer panellists as “remainergeddon”.

It clarified that in its assessment that all the panellists were Remainers it had posthumously assumed that Charlie Kennedy would be a remainer, given he was president of the pro-EU European Movement. Other notable panellists on the list included former Chairman of the Labour party Harriet Harman and former Tory MP Michael Heseltine, who has campaigned for the UK to rejoin the EU since it left in 2020.

BBC chairman Richard Sharp said in 2021 that Brexit coverage in general and “Brexit representation” on BBC Question Time has been “unbalanced”. Three analyses of the show’s coverage from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) (2016-17), the blogger Joel Rodrigues (2017-19) and the anonymous Question Time Watch (2016-2021) all reported a “bias against Brexiters”.

For instance, the IEA reported that of 281 Question Time panellists from June 2016 to December 2017, 60 percent were Remain supporters, 31 percent Brexit supporters and the remaining 9 percent ‘Releavers’ who changed their support to Leave after originally voting Remain. They found that Remainers had been featured roughly twice as much as Leavers had on the programme – despite Leave winning by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent by Britons.

However Dr Heinz Brandenburg and Dr Brian Boyle, writing for research group UK in a Changing Europe, made the case that judging Question Time’s bias depends on the metric by which you analyse it. They observed that BBC Question Time intentionally reserves over 60 percent of its slots for political party representatives, meaning that the show should aim to proportionally represent the views of Parliament – not necessarily the British public as a whole.

These slots are usually reserved for one representative from the Government and another from the opposition, as well as, according to their online FAQ, “representatives from other political parties across the series, taking as our guide the level of electoral support at national level which each party enjoys”.

The researchers found that while the representation may differ from the split of the electorate, it “perfectly represents the distribution viewpoints in the 2015 Parliament, where 74 percent of MPs supported Remain.” They also found that non-politicians on the show were evenly split between Remain and Leave support, with just a one percent margin in favour of Remainers – although noted that no information was available for around five percent of the non-partisan guests.

The study also analysed Question Time appearances during the Brexit negotiations between 2017 and 2020.

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They found that 47 percent of politicians on the show after 2017 preferred a second referendum, while a majority advocated for delivering Brexit in one form or another. Other critics have noted that from 2010-2019 Question Time featured 50 appearances from British MEPs, 45 of which were from UKIP, two were from the Brexit Party, and the other was Brexiteer Daniel Hannan.

The controversy over possible bias in the show comes following Ms Maitlis’ explosive claims that the BBC Board designed to ensure impartiality had been infiltrated by a “spin doctor” who was able to coordinate political coverage.

She said: “It might take our producers five minutes to find 60 economists who feared Brexit and five hours to find a sole voice who espoused it. By the time we went on air we simply had one of each – we presented this unequal effort to our audience as balance. It wasn’t.

“I’d later learn that the ungainly name for this myopic form of journalist was both-side-ism.”

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Ms Maitlis continued: “[It] talks to the way it reaches a superficial balance, while obscuring a deeper truth. At this stage, I’d never heard the term, or indeed the criticism, I just thought we were doing our job.”

The former BBC journalist insisted that, at the time of the Brexit Referendum, the broadcaster’s persistent efforts to display both sides of the debate had not triggered any concerns for her. Ms Maitlis described her speech as “not a post-BBC ex-employee rant” but “an exhalation – a deep breath out.”

The BBC has clear guidelines which describe the importance of balanced reporting: “Due impartiality usually involves more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring that the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.”

Express.co.uk has contacted the BBC for comment.



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