Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Farage praises BBC's Brexit referendum coverage

  • Nigel Farage on fire - taking up the challenge of debating journalism at the world's largest news conference. (Photo: EUobserver)

Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader and self-appointed scourge of the establishment, has praised the BBC's coverage in the run-up to Britain's referendum on EU membership as "fair and balanced".

He told a media conference in Copenhagen that the public broadcaster had done everything it could to be fair, apparently reversing earlier criticism of the corporation as "left-wing" and "dishonest".

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Although he said since the referendum, the broadcaster had reverted to "telling us what a disaster Brexit would be".

The News Xchange conference in the Danish capital debated the low level of trust in established media, and the risk of "fake news" spreading on the internet.

The former Ukip leader told the EUobserver he was broadly in favour of the internet as "a wonderful check and balance on parliament and on traditional media".

But he warned: “If trust in traditional media completely disappears you could get dangerous ideologies - like national socialism or who knows - that catch fire on the internet."

He told the conference that mainstream outlets needed to readjust, move out of their "metropolitan comfort zone" and become more representative.

Who to trust?

Brexit campaigners and supporters of Donald Trump in the US presidential campaign sought to portray established media outlets as part of a liberal elite that was out of touch with ordinary people’s concerns.

The campaigns also saw a proliferation of new online media, some of which deliberately circulated fake news.

Before the US elections, the US news website BuzzFeed identified more than 100 pro-Trump sites being run from a single town in Macedonia.

The new trend shows no sign of abating as Italy heads toward a potentially destabilising referendum this week and as France and Germany prepare for elections next year.

On Wednesday, BuzzFeed reported that the 5 Star Movement (M5S), a self-styled “anti-establishment” party, also stood behind a network of blogs and other sites that spread lies.

M5S leader Beppe Grillo tweeted in reaction that BuzzFeed's inquiry was itself “fake news".

German chancellor Angela Merkel recently warned MPs that bots and trolls might try to manipulate the public debate.

The rumoured expansion of Breitbart News, a hard-right US website that championed Trump and that used to be run by Steve Bannon, now a senior Trump aide, into Germany ahead of the vote has also raised concerns.

Amy Selwyn, the managing director of the News Xchange conference, which is run by the Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union, told the Copenhagen conference the Western public was facing a “perfect storm” of disinformation.

She noted that 45 percent of the American public now saw Facebook as their main source of news, even though it is a tech firm that takes no editorial responsibility for content.

Amid the accusations and counter-accusations, Ulrik Haagerup, the director of news at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, said the big issue was an all round lack of trust in the authorities, the Church, doctors, banks, politicians and journalists.

"Without anyone to trust, your facts are as good as mine," he said.

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