BBC tries to defend its recent absurd interview with Republic

Marie Ashby: "Overwhelmed"
There's now a month to month hit counter in this blog's side bar. Our readership has expanded over the last year and we now pull in about a thousand readers every week, thanks largely to exposure on the website.

Many have read and reacted to a recent piece regarding the UK state broadcaster's terrible bias against anyone who dares criticise the Monarchy. Some wrote letters of compliant to the BBC after watching the show themselves.

UPDATE(15th July): Thanks to one of our readers, Zac, who has kindly posted a link to the interview section of the BBC's pro-monarchy piece:!/photo.php?v=10201447206652246

I've done a bit of freelance work on the BBC in the past and don't dislike what it claims to be, nor do I think all of it needs scrapping forever. Most critics just think its in dire need of major reform but internally the notion is pushed to staff that it is all "one BBC" and so a belief has formed that it's an all-or-nothing operation. Attack one part of it and these goons think you want to shut the entire thing down forever, there's no nuance in their thought process whatsoever. I can understand the fear for people who rely entirely on it for their income but find the idea that it's not institutionally bias toward the Monarchy absurd.

Thanks to Helen for this response to her complaint. If anyone else gets a reply I'll gladly pop it up here to a wider audience:
Thanks for contacting us.

We’re sorry that you were so unhappy with the studio discussion segment of the Sunday Politics East Midlands on 30 June about the Monarchy.

In light of your concerns, we reviewed the programme but we can't agree with your assessment of it.

You state that the interviewer - Marie Ashby - "constantly interrupted and talked over" Republic's Chief Executive, Graham Smith, but she did not.

At the outset she posed a question which he answered fully and clearly, and during a pause she rightly added a point to focus the discussion on the local (i.e. specifically East Midlands-related) aspects to Republic's views to ensure the discussion was relevant to local East Midlands viewers. She did not interrupt or talk over nor was she rude - it was a simply addition to her full question simply to help steer the interviewee to keep his answers relevant, i.e. focussed on the East Midlands thus for the benefit of viewers and Graham went on at some considerable length to answer.


Republic were on because they'd launched their annual conference in Leicester. The excessive pursuit of a local angle confused the issue. That the pursuit of this angle was excessive is implicitly admitted in this letter where they say her opening question had already been "answered fully and clearly".

The opening question was:

"Admittedly this isn't a very scientific poll but how come you've said the East Midlands is this hotbed of anti-Monarchism?"

If "answered fully and clearly", as the letter from the BBC says it is, there's no need for the additional one.

The result of this unnecessary question is to confuse the issue. Remember by this point, a good five minutes into the piece, we've NOT HAD ONE REASON WHY ANYONE OPPOSES THE MONARCHY. All Her Majesty's broadcaster has done is use the time as a chance to put forward arguments in favour.
In my review I pointed out chasing a local angle like this is not in the interest of viewers but mere box ticking to benefit a bureaucracy. Localism in media can be a good thing but to pretend that people in the East Midlands will only be interested if there's a rock solid local angle to this discussion is obviously not true.


The interview proceeded absolutely and perfectly normally with Marie posing several questions and points which Graham answered fully and clearly, and the other two studio guests - Anna Soubry MP and Chris Leslie MP - were brought in.


The BBC's enormous financial resources allow it to hire some of the best interviewers in the UK. It's a little odd to argue the interview has proceeded "absolutely and perfectly normally" when there's no investigation of the most obvious angle, why do people want rid of the Monarchy? 

Remember people who support the Monarchy have been actively encouraged to provide reasons in the piece which preceded the interview, as you would if you were exploring a point of view in an 'absolutely perfectly' normal fashion. Their journalist's lack of curiosity as to WHY Graham Smith and the thousands who support him hold a contrary viewpoint strikes me as an obvious symptom of bias.


The issue of the perceived financial benefits or otherwise for the UK economy by virtue of having a Monarchy gave rise to a lively debate of course, and that's exactly what we set out to achieve with any such interview - a frank exchange of views.

Here, Marie did have to interject but did so in a perfectly normal fashion as would be expected in any interview or even just any regular conversation on a particular topic - she was not rude to her guest and it was perfectly clear that he didn't judge her interjection with a relevant point and financial research as such - indeed, it was clear that he very much welcomed her point as it gave him the opportunity to comment upon it great detail which further helped him to explain his views thus allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions based on all they heard.

To suggest that this (or indeed any) interviewer "expressed her own opinions on the subject being discussed" is to comprehensively misunderstand the entire role and premise of the interviewer. They are there to facilitate the discussion and to allow guests to make their points but also to help draw out and to challenge - on behalf of viewers - opinions being expressed. Thus an interviewer will be simply playing devil's advocate by posing questions, putting forward counter-arguments and suchlike simply to widen the discussion and to challenge the guest to justify and elaborate or to focus their views as and when necessary.


Notice how the letter now tries to pull rank by suggesting Helen is able to "comprehensively misunderstand the entire role and premise of the interviewer".

How is that possible?

Do they really think us so-called normal people can't understand such basic concepts as an interviewer?

If so, are they sure that their viewers understood that it was in the role of "Devil's advocate", that the presenter:
  • Flatly states: "opinion polls regularly show overwhelming support for the Royal Family".

  • Shows no awareness of the fact both of The Queen's ministers of Parliament have sworn an oath to support her and therefore have no choice but to support the Monarch.

  • Heaves with laughter when MP Anna Sourby admits to being mean towards Republic.
  • Announces "they bring an awful lot of money in" and then cuts Smith's attempt at a response with "well they do".

And so on...

It's a fair question to ask if even Marie Ashby was aware she was being an advocate of the Devil?


Mr Smith's answers were very full, very detailed and very clear for audiences to follow - yes, the interviewer was called upon to interject at times as any interviewer is required to do with any guest on any subject matter - thus we can't agree with your assessment of this segment of the programme because, in essence, it was no different to any other interview and therefore absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

You can appreciate that the BBC endeavours to serve the whole of the diverse United Kingdom and we are a broadcaster so by definition our approach has to be somewhat "broad" thus requiring a degree of compromise by all parties. That being the case, there is no way we can possibly hope to match every single individual viewer's own personal and subjective expectations, demands, preferences or tastes but we hope that viewers generally are comfortable and happy with our general approach.


Bias and prejudice is often unconscious so the BBC is not likely to be overtly aware of them. Anyone who opposes a Monarchy will notice, in the studio piece, there is a presenter (backed by the BBC's Royal Charter) and two MPs (both of whom have sworn a sacred oath of allegiance to Her Majesty), so disdain for anti-Monarchy sentiment is implicit throughout the interview, hence MP Sourby snorting "of course" when asked if she supports them. If you think selecting our Head Of State by birth right is a great idea, or if you're paid a healthy income by the BBC, it's harder to notice a problem.

On a wider issue, having worked in media for just under 15 years, I honestly don't think most BBC staff have any idea of the scale of the crisis brewing for them regarding their overall performance. The fact they employed (and failed to expose) "Britain's most active serial sex offender" Jimmy Savile, alongside a number of other deeply suspicious characters, is not just a news story which will be forgotten. Licence fee payers cash being pumped into massive severance payoffs and gagging orders, to stop ex-employees from speaking out against them, doesn't look good in this context because it begs the question, what are they using £28 million to cover up?

The core problem is the fact their audience is gradually and permanently leaving "old media" behind in preference for the online world. The BBC must reform itself urgently or be swept aside by the tidal wave of cultural change see all around us. Commercial media is already taking a horrific beating as a result of these changes. Many professionals nowadays regard the BBC's legally backed poll tax as the only currently workable media business model. Advertising revenues are being swallowed up by the internet as social media inevitably moves local, that's why stations like Kerrang are again being forced to dramatically restructure.

One of the biggest problems the old media world has is the fact that its audiences are now on more of an equal footing with them than ever before. I remember a friend of mine once relating a direct instruction from his boss at the BBC "stop putting so many callers on air, it's giving listeners ideas above their station". The bloke in question will likely be long retired but it helps frame the problem they face in terms of old attitudes when all of us now have access to a global communications system. Non of us have to back off and feel powerless in the face of an organisation which has been given a licence to broadcast. That's why the Savile story broke, it was everywhere online. That's why massive abuses of trust won't be forgotten.
I remember a radio station boss joking in a David Brent fashion about the "special filing cabinet" for complaints that looks like a waste paper bin. Such a caviller attitude is no longer present anywhere in the commercial media these days. That's because the world has changed, forever.

Here, other audience feedback doesn't suggest to us that your views are shared at all thus we have to deduce that viewers, generally speaking, were happy with how these things work, but we're of course sorry that you felt we should have done things differently. That said, you will also understand that in a situation like this if the interviewer hadn't interjected when required to focus the question and/or answer or to raise valid points, we would equally have received feedback from a viewer such as yourself complaining that she should have interjected to ensure the discussion was properly focused. There's no definitive right or wrong approach, but in a live situation the interviewer has to try and judge how best to approach matters - it's purely subjective and everyone will have their own views of course, but in this case we are happy that the interview was appropriate.
It would be very interesting to see this "other audience feedback" as it would dispel the possibility that it's a bluff and there isn't any. This suspicion of mine comes partly because I have a bias on these matters but also because of the curious claim that they'd get people writing in asking for the interviewer to chip in more.

We’d like to assure you that we've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff. This includes all programme makers and presenters, along with our senior management. It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

This is interesting.

Those people who read this blog and work at The BBC, I wonder if you can fact check the claim that "other audience feedback" is against us?

If so, and you want to remain confidential, get in touch on twitter with a direct message:
Helen writes:

I think they must have been watching a different programme than me.

They say that the interview was no different from any other and that it is the role of the interviewer to play devils advocate.

Funny how I have never seen an interviewer do that with a pro monarchy guest!! They might not have found her tone rude and think she talked over and interrupted but the evidence is there for all to see. I have complained over the years several times to the BBC on different issues and not once have they agreed with me. Closing ranks and being defensive seems to be their only position on complaints.

Either that or I am just wrong on everything, all the time!!



Anonymous said…
It's a shame the show is no longer on iplayer,is it anywhere else ?
Zac said…!/photo.php?v=10201447206652246

A clip of the interview

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