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Fri 26 April 2019
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Patrick Howse spent decades reporting for the BBC, risking life and limb. He believed in Auntie’s credo. But the former producer says the corporation’s unquestioning Brexit coverage has now crossed the line.

I  worked for the BBC for 25 years. I started as a trainee in 1989 and progressed through various newsrooms to become a news gathering producer. I covered conflicts in the Middle East – particularly in Baghdad – and the peace process in Northern Ireland.

In the course of my career, I was shot at, punched, kicked, tear-gassed, spat at, insulted, pelted with stones, bottles and petrol bombs, and our office in Baghdad was struck by a rocket. I worked long hours at some personal risk and personal cost. But I believed passionately in what the BBC was doing, and I was proud to work for the corporation.

Patrick Howse holding the remains of a rocket that came through the BBC Baghdad Bureau ceiling in 2007. Photo by AFP

While BBC journalists working around the world in terribly difficult circumstances still meet the highest ideals, I have to say – with an extremely heavy heart – that I have changed my view of the BBC.

I am an “unashamed Remainer” (to use John Humphrys’ phrase), and have been
publicly critical and uneasy for some time about the corporation’s Brexit coverage. Nevertheless, I still believed that the BBC was trying to do the right thing, and that it was ultimately a force for good.

That finally changed with the way it covered the launch of Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party and, in particular, his speech in which he said he wanted “to put the fear of God” into MPs.

While BBC journalists working around the world… still meet the highest ideals, I have to say, with an extremely heavy heart, that I have changed my view of the BBC.

If these words had come from the lips of an IS spokesman, they would have been (rightly) condemned. While Mr Farage was not only allowed a platform to make these remarks, he was not confronted with their implications, and the audience was not reminded of their context. That context is, of course, that Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a Nazi less than three years ago and, just a few days ago, a threat against the life of another MP, Rosie Cooper, was dealt with by the courts.

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At best, Mr Farage’s comments were completely irresponsible; at worst, they were an incitement to political violence, and democracies don’t work if elected representatives live in fear. I’m astonished that it seems Mr Farage needs to be reminded of this. The coverage of this speech has actually made me see things in a different light.

I was so outraged that I sent a letter to the BBC‘s Director General, Lord Tony Hall. It was a difficult to write because it seemed like a denial of my commitment to an organisation I had risked my life for and which still employs many of the finest people and journalists in the world. But, before any doubts were allowed to creep in, I saw David Lammy being interviewed by Andrew Marr.

I’m no longer proud to have worked for the BBC – I’m ashamed to be associated with an organisation that facilitates fascism and transmits its propaganda uncritically.

I can summarise what happened there quite quickly: Jacob Rees-Mogg approvingly posted an AfD video (the AfD is, of course, a German fascist party that has advocated the shooting of refugees); Mr Rees-Mogg’s supporters and followers got the idea that it’s okay to be a fascist; a row ensured and, some time later, Mr Rees-Mogg apparently apologised. When MP David Lammy made a connection between the ERG [the Conservative European Research Group] and the AfD, Andrew Marr interrupted him, saying that Mr Rees-Mogg has “made it very clear he doesn’t endorse the AfD”. Really? Who says?

So, I stand by my letter to Lord Hall. I’m no longer proud to have worked for the BBC – I’m ashamed to be associated in any way with an organisation that facilitates fascism and transmits its propaganda uncritically and without challenge.

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