Huw Edwards rejects 'toxic cynicism' over BBC's election output

Newsreader says political attacks are intended to cause ‘chaos and confusion’

Huw Edwards has defended the BBC’s journalism against claims of bias, warning that “toxic cynicism” about the broadcaster’s news output during the general election risks undermining the corporation as it comes under attack from the new Conservative government.

The host of the BBC’s election night coverage said journalists had been under enormous stress in recent weeks as a result of criticism from all sides of the political divide. He said the alternative was “the kind of dross that’s polluted American political discourse”.

“Providing a fair and balanced account of a complex election campaign – with feelings running high on all sides – is difficult enough. Trying to do so while dealing with relentlessly vitriolic attacks is doubly challenging,” Edwards said.

“And you realise yet again that the real purpose of many of the attacks is to undermine trust in institutions which have been sources of stability over many decades. The apparent purpose, in short, is to cause chaos and confusion.”

Downing Street confirmed on Monday that the culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, who stepped down as an MP at the election citing the impact of the role on her family, had been elevated to a peerage and would retain her ministerial job.

The surprise reappointment may be only temporary until a wider post-Brexit reshuffle planned in January. Over the weekend a wide range of candidates to replace Morgan had been mooted, including the former culture secretary John Whittingdale and the newly elected Andrew Griffith, a former senior Sky executive.

Downing Street has already said it intends to look at decriminalising non-payment of the TV licence fee which funds the BBC, potentially downgrading it to a civil offence, similar to non-payment of a utility bill.

When the government looked at the issue five years ago, an independent review concluded that the current system should be maintained as decriminalisation would put at risk around £200m of BBC revenue.

The review concluded that maintaining non-payment as a criminal offence was “broadly fair and proportionate response to the problem of licence fee evasion and provides good value for money” while the licence fee funding model remained intact.

In addition to criticism from the Conservatives, the BBC has come under attack from the left. On Monday Andy McDonald, a member of the shadow cabinet, claimed the BBC had “played a part” in Labour’s election defeat.

“We’ve always had the print media, which is page after page after page of press barons absolutely destroying and vilifying Labour leaders from time immemorial. What’s changed in this election is the way the broadcast media have joined in with that battle,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“If the BBC are going to hold themselves out as somehow having conducted themselves in an impartial manner, I think they’ve really got to have a look in the mirror.”

YouGov polling released on Monday suggested the proportion of the population who did not trust the BBC’s news journalists to tell the truth rose from 14% to 20% during the election campaign.

Channel 4 also faced criticism from the Conservatives during the campaign. There continues to be speculation about whether the government would consider changes to broadcasting legislation that would allow for more opinionated news coverage on British broadcast channels. It could be possible to force this through the House of Commons, where the government has a large majority, but it could face opposition in the Lords because no such policy was mentioned in the Conservative manifesto.

Edwards, who has worked at the BBC for 35 years, said mistakes made during the campaign were human errors. “The most curious notion of all (promoted with great energy by the BBC’s critics on both left and right) is that these mistakes are often deliberate,” he said, “carefully planned to undermine one party and boost another. These critics imagine a world in which thousands of BBC journalists – of all backgrounds, nationalities, outlooks – work to a specific political agenda dictated by a few powerful individuals, as one commentator insisted recently on social media.”

He said this would not work at the corporation. “BBC News is a rather unsettling mix of awkward, contrary and assertive people who (in my very long experience) delight in either ignoring the suggestions of managers or simply telling them where to get off.”

Contributor

Jim Waterson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Baroness Morgan of Turncotes brings her disingenuity to BBC debate | John Crace
Culture secretary has figured out that to succeed all she has to do is be tirelessly loyal to Boris Johnson, if not to herself

John Crace

05, Feb, 2020 @7:56 PM

Article image
TV licence could be abolished from 2027, says Nicky Morgan
Culture secretary calls for ‘open-minded’ approach to BBC funding system

Jim Waterson Media editor

05, Feb, 2020 @2:04 PM

Article image
Loss of free TV licence could push over-75s into poverty – charity
Thousands of older people could be forced to cut back on heating or food, Age UK warns

Jim Waterson Media editor

12, Jan, 2019 @12:01 AM

Article image
Nicky Morgan open to replacing BBC licence fee with Netflix-style subscription
Culture secretary said she would consider it during appearance before select committee

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

16, Oct, 2019 @10:45 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson threatens BBC with two-pronged attack
No 10 boycotts Today programme and considers decriminalising non-payment of licence fee

Matthew Taylor and Jim Waterson

15, Dec, 2019 @4:15 PM

Article image
'Mortal enemy': what Cummings' thinktank said about BBC
New Frontiers Foundation blogposts from 2004 reflect No 10 aide’s hostility towards BBC

21, Jan, 2020 @8:14 PM

Article image
BBC warned against pandering to Manchester's 'metropolitan elite'
Corporation does not do enough for people who live in smaller towns and rural areas, says minister

Jim Waterson Media editor

21, Jul, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
Do Manchester's 'metropolitan elite' feel pandered to by BBC?
Residents of suburb of Didsbury are mostly sceptical of Tory minister’s criticism of broadcaster

Helen Pidd North of England editor

22, Jul, 2020 @5:17 PM

Article image
How will the next 10 years shape the BBC's output?
The following decade is set to have a dramatic effect on all aspects of the corporation

John Plunkett, Josh Halliday and Mark Sweney

02, Apr, 2013 @7:52 PM

Article image
Tom Watson urges Tories to reject DUP plan to abolish TV licence fee
Conservatives agreeing to scrap BBC licence fee in return for Unionists’ support would be ‘a great mistake’, says Labour deputy

Mark Sweney

13, Jun, 2017 @4:01 PM