BBC defends £2mn EU handout, says it won’t prejudice Brexit referendum coverage

The BBC newsroom ©
Critics of the British Broadcasting Corporation have said that financial contributions from the EU could unbalance its reporting of next year’s expected referendum on whether the UK should remain a part of the European Union.

The Telegraph has reported that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster has received in excess of £2 million ($2.98mn) over three years from the EU Framework Programme, which supports scientific research within the 26-member political bloc.

The BBC, which has an annual budget of around £5 billion ($7.45mn), said the EU contribution was relatively meager, and was spent in research areas such as 3D broadcasting and high-definition filming, not in news coverage.

“BBC News protects its impartiality by not permitting any external funding, which includes EU grants. Our Annual Report discloses any income received from grants covering a variety of areas, of which, a very small proportion comes from the EU for non-news research and development projects,” it said in a statement to RT.

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Yet this has not convinced several euroskeptic politicians, who have said the Corporation – which has a remit of impartiality – could play a decisive part in what is predicted to be a finely-balanced vote.

“Everyone knows that the BBC has an inbuilt pro-EU bias, but it should be above reproach during this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote on the future of our relationship with Europe. It already receives £3.7 billion ($5.51bn) from the licence fee, and taking EU funding unavoidably creates the impression that it is being paid to do the EU’s bidding,” Andrew Bridgen, a Conservative MP, told The Telegraph.

The accusations are the latest in a long-running saga, with the corporation admitting earlier this year that it has received £35 million ($52.12mn) in over a decade from the EU for its affiliated Media Action charity, which helps provide communication skills and outlets in volatile and impoverished regions. Just as in this latest instance, when questioned before parliament in October, senior BBC administrators said the charity was “separate” from its news division, though did admit that EU money was occasionally received by independent program-makers, whose output was subsequently broadcast on the Corporation’s myriad channels.

The nitpicky row is a personification with a wider tensions over BBC coverage, some of which have been noted in government inquiries going back a decade.

Earlier this year, an MPs committee on EU coverage at the BBC said that “the country's public service broadcaster must command wide confidence in its coverage of such a sensitive and complex issue.”

“We do not believe that this has been achieved," stated its report, expressing “deep concern.”

In September, Tory culture secretary John Whittingdale urged the BBC to correct any “erroneous information” it broadcasts more quickly, saying the “track record in coverage of EU matters is not faultless.”

Britain's UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament (MEP) Nigel Farage © Francois Lenoir

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the likely face of the anti-EU campaign, has chosen a different tack, accusing the BBC of propagating subtle biases, such as referring to the ‘European Union’, a term which has negative connotations among many of the electorate, as ‘Europe.’

"To do so is inaccurate, and suggestive of a general dislike of our continental allies, when what eurosceptics oppose is membership of a supranational political organisation, not fellow continental European nation states,” the MEP said in a complaint filed with regulator Ofcom in October.

"It has been widely reported that those campaigning to remain in the European Union are deliberately replacing the name of the organization with the term 'Europe' for this very reason, and by doing the same, correspondents are inadvertently playing into the deliberate, dishonest framing of the debate.”

The Corporation insists it has taken recommendations on-board, and says that all of its editorial staff will be sent on “mandatory” course that will educate them about the inner workings of the European Union, and its relationship with the UK.