The BBC and UKIP: the best of friends

The BBC might claim its news coverage is fair and balanced, but what exactly is fair and balanced about this headline on its front page?


The headline – UKIP’s Farage back on campaign trail – is almost propaganda. Of course Farage is campaigning for the up-coming by-election in Rochester and Strood. But then so are all the other political parties.

The other associated stories develop this uncritical pro-UKIP perspective:

The first gives Farage free rein to say that he could be in government next May. This is preposterous given that UKIP has only one MP. But the claim is made less preposterous by this blanket coverage.

The second, a piece by political editor Nick Robinson, is typically nuanced, but ends essentially confirming the pro-UKIP stance:

“Maybe but maybe the seemingly ever onward rise of Mr Farage will, as he’s long predicted, continue ever onward.”

The third is a long profile of the rise of UKIP, again reiterating how they “defy the odds.” It is complete with the standard and necessary picture of Farage in the boozer. (Message: do you drink beer? Here’s a politician who also drinks beer. See how much you two have in common?!)

farage beer

To my dismay, they print a picture of the UKIP billboard advert which uses Winston Churchill to push its anti-immigration message. Having read Roy Jenkins’ 900-page biography of Churchill, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been appalled by the small-minded, insular attitude of UKIP.

Churchill UKIP

The fourth article is Ed Miliband’s response to UKIP. The FOURTH article in this UKIP bonanza, and the first in which the Labour leader – the party which has won three of the last four General Elections, is quoted at any length. Miliband says that a party which wants to cut the taxes of rich people (such as Carswell and Farage) could not genuinely represent the interests of the working class. Which makes sense, and exposes the contradiction of UKIP’s public face and private ideology.

Having let Red Ed and his band of radical left-wingers have their say in the previous article, the BBC leaves any semblance of criticism of UKIP to one side in its fifth story, “By-elections leave biggest parties with plenty to ponder.” Again, the rise of this extremist party is talked of in excitable terms. While UKIP has had “hype, attention and victories of recent years” it has “never had a night like it.”

It goes on to quote the new, and old, Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell: “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other.” This is plainly untrue. No political party can be for all Britons, particularly not UKIP, which is directly offensive to a large proportion of the country.  This minor quibble is not addressed by the BBC.

Let us imagine that in, let’s say, a northern mill town, a militant Islamist party rose up and gained enough popular support to get an MP into Parliament. Would the BBC be talking in upbeat terms about such a party, and quote its leader extensively and uncritically? More likely, it would talk of the troubling rise of Islamism, and would ask Farage, in the pub over a pint of Spitfire, about his concerns.

Finally, there is a glowing profile of Douglas Carswell MP, in which he is described – not in quotes, but as stated fact – as a “free thinker” a “maverick” and a “moderniser.” These adjectives don’t tally even remotely with the reality: an ex-City worker who has dedicated his life to keeping himself in Parliament and immigrants out of the UK.

To add to the cosy image of Mr Carswell, it is noted that he likes swimming, gardening and making quince jelly.

The profile ends with a quote from Carswell’s victory speech: “If we always speak with passion, let it be tempered by compassion.” The reader is not asked whether a politician whose leader does not want people with HIV entering the country could be considered to be compassionate.

This bumper batch of stories from the Beeb would lead any reader without detailed political awareness to make several conclusions:

1. UKIP is a major political force
2. UKIP is a mainstream political party, which does not hold extreme views
3. UKIP has a good chance of being in Government at the next General Election
4. Douglas Carswell is a brave and noble politician, and a family man, standing up for what he believes
5. Immigration is the major issue facing the UK, not housing, jobs or inequality
6. The Green Party, and the Lib Dems, are irrelevant.

There is no doubt that the coverage from some of the national newspapers, and Sky News, has been even more triumphalist. However, the newspapers are explicitly partisan. The BBC, known as being fair and balanced, is at present covering UKIP as if it was the party of government rather than one with a single MP.

We should remember that David Cameron described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.” Michael Heseltine said that UKIP is racist.

If these two right-wing politicians regard UKIP with such horror, why does the BBC give them so much publicity and uncritical commentary? I do not think that the BBC is managed by UKIP supporters. It is, like all news organisations, enamoured by a good narrative, which UKIP provides: the rise of the underdog, triumphing against the odds; the man with charisma who likes a beer; the fight against the existential threat to our cosy, nostalgic way of life.

It is this narrative that gets UKIP its extensive coverage. But if the BBC doesn’t try harder to provide balance, then it won’t be only the Tories or Labour who are under threat. It will be the BBC’s reputation as a trustworthy news organisation.

Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.
Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.

8 thoughts on “The BBC and UKIP: the best of friends

  1. Well said mate. The Rochester election will be won by Chester – the King Sized Jester for the public jestering party. Who stole the gold – can you answer me that Mr Farage?

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this article. The day before the European elections Have I Got News For You must have mentioned UKIP 30 times and the lib dems about twice and the Greens not at all. When it came to polling, despite being a sane, liberally inclined leftie I felt the power of advertising taking effect as my pencil hovered over the new nasty party. The power of repetition and exposure, as the ad men have always known is hypnotic. That, and UKIP are exploiting the fact that people are rightfully rageful at the status quo, and their timing and rhetoric are exploiting that to push the Tories further right than they already are. My only hope is that Labour can create a coalition with the Greens and/or lib dems otherwise if it’s a tory ukip coalition there will be roiting regularly.

  3. Isn’t the headline simply reporting a fact? That’s what news organisations do. What part of that headline is inaccurate? Why are you so offended by it?

    • Thanks for reading and commenting David. I suppose why I disliked the headline was because it makes it look as if only Farage counts, and not the other parties. Why should they simply focus on Farage on the campaign trail? Also, it is not even him fighting for the seat. This jolly cult of personality around him is something that works well in the media, but seems at odds with how every other politician’s activities is reported, certainly all the other party leaders. This, combined with the other associated stories, and the generally uncritical tone, I thought imbalanced. However, I am not against the BBC reporting on UKIP and giving it legitimate coverage relative to its popularity. I wanted to provide a note of caution at buying into the UKIP/Farage narrative, a lot of which strikes me as factually suspect. I also recognise that the the BBC generally does a good job in trying to provide clarity, objectivity and balance to a lot of news.

  4. It’s an interesting read with some good points however, I think that the coverage is not quite as in favour as you may have perceived it. For one thing, I do not think that seeing an MP in a pub with a pint is a positive image. He looks like a prat. Also you provide no background as to why the BBC may be friends with UKIP so the title is misleading and a bit too tabloid shocker. It makes it sound as though the article is going to be an expose on the relationship between BBC and UKIP. It is alarming the amount of coverage given to UKIP, particularly with regards to the underdog way they are being portrayed. It’s like the’re being clumsily built up to be this election’s equivalent of what the Lib Dems were before the coalition. But you could also say that its a way of making people aware of the party’s growing popularity and the dangers that come with it.

    This is an interesting and possibly important article. We should keep an eye on how these things continue to be reported. Let’s hope it’s been a clumsy few days at the BBC and you’re not right.

  5. Your description of Carswell as “an ex-City worker who has dedicated his life to keeping himself in Parliament and immigrants out of the UK” also fails to tally remotely with reality. If he was dedicated to keeping himself in parliament he’d have stuck with the Conservatives, and he’s pro-immigration. There’s an interesting piece about him here:

    • Hello Graham, thanks for reading and commenting. I read the article – thanks for sending over. It’s an interesting read. Of course, my article was primarily looking at the BBC rather than UKIP.

      But on the point you raise, he is an ex-city worker, so that is true. I would contend that he very much wants to stay in parliament, and would not have changed party if he didn’t think he had a reasonable chance of winning a by-election. If we take him to be a practical man, he would want to stay where he retains power and influence.

      Is he pro-immigration? That is the main point of contention. No politician would say they want no immigrants whatsoever – Tony Abbott for instance wants some, although I get the sense he has clear ideas of good and bad immigrants that is to his discredit.

      If carswell’s comments are to be taken at face-value – and I think they deserve greater investigation by the media – then he has different views to most of his fellow party members, and his leader, and a lot of voters in Clacton. That should be looked at by the media, and it mostly isn’t, which is my main point.

      So, it’s fair that you question that part of the article and, although i am not persuaded, I can see carswell is more complex than most in UKIP. All best, Richard

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