Nick Cohen, a political journalist and writer, is a columnist for The Observer and The Spectator magazine, and a TV critic for Standpoint magazine. He is the author of several books, including Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous (2000), What’s Left?: How the Left Lost Its Way (2007), and, most recently, You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom (2012). (July 2018)
James Stephenson: The BBC does indeed occupy a unique position in world journalism—as the most trusted international broadcaster. That is why hundreds of millions of people worldwide turn to BBC News each week.
Nick Cohen: I am not alleging a conspiracy. The BBC journalists I speak to talk of something less sinister but more pervasive: a fear of the consequences of honest reporting. The BBC has let Britain down because it fears being seen to question the people’s verdict. Fear is killing the BBC’s journalism.
The BBC’s reporting of the scandals around the Brexit referendum is not biased or unbalanced: it barely exists. It is as though the US networks had decided the Mueller investigation was no concern of theirs. There have been three huge stories the BBC has covered with only the most perfunctory reports: the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data leak, the Brexit campaign funding scandal, and the exposure of Russian interference in British politics. What is the point of a news organization that is frightened of journalism?