BBC presenter Andrew Marr accused of breaking guidelines on referendum coverage


  By a Newsnet reporter
A BBC presenter is at the centre of a row after appearing to voice his own opinion on the issue of a newly independent Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
In an interview with First Minister Alex Salmond, Andrew Marr ended an exchange with Mr Salmond on EU membership by saying he believed a Yes vote would see Scotland forced out of the EU and finding it hard to get back in.

“I think it will be quite hard to get back in, I have to say”, viewers heard the BBC man say.

The BBC presenter was immediately challenged on the airing of his personal view by Mr Salmond who appeared to have been taken by surprise by Mr Marr’s statement.  Marr defended the statement, saying he was basing the comment on views expressed by EC President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Mr Marr’s personal view is expressed at 2 mins 21 secs into the clip

However the incident has now sparked a row between the broadcaster and the SNP after MSP Stewart Maxwell called on the BBC to explain Mr Marr’s actions, which appeared to break the BBC’s own guidelines on its handling of the independence referendum.

The call comes after the same presenter Andrew Marr was criticised for his failure to press Mr Barroso during an interview last month in which the soon to be retiring EC President compared Scotland to Kosovo and suggested it would be all but impossible for Scotland to obtain a continuation of its current EU membership.

President Barroso’s personal comments have been criticised by EU experts and questioned by his own Vice President.  Following the interview, the EC was forced to issue clarification statements distancing itself from Mr Barroso’s views.

Speaking after his BBC interview, Mr Barroso’s vice-president for Justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, Vivienne Reding said Scotland was “Nothing like Kosovo…Because Kosovo did not leave a country that was a member state of the European Union, it can’t be compared.”

Speculation has been rife for some months that Mr Barroso has been seeking the support from the Governments of London and Madrid for a move to the top job at NATO, when his tenure at the EC ends.

Senior French Conservative, Mme Garriaud-Maylam, secretary of Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces commission recently said in a special statement to the French senate, “The threats formulated by Mr Barroso are inappropriate and the result of Spanish and English pressure.

“London is increasingly worried.  They (the threats) are not credible.  If Scotland votes for independence, it will stay in the European Union.  It would be in England’s interest.”

Mr Barroso’s intervention has brought criticism from others:

  • Professor Charlie Jeffery, Professor of Politics at Edinburgh University, “Barroso’s was a personal, not a Commission statement, made by an outgoing Commission President with no influence on what might happen in the event of a Yes vote, on a matter where there is neither treaty provision nor precedent.”
  • Former Czech President (2003-13), Vaclav Klaus, speaking at a conference on secession movements at Edinburgh University answered a question regarding Mr Barroso’s comments, “It is arrogant of the EU to say Scotland and Catalonia will not be members.”
  • Sir David Edward, former ECJ judge has rejected Barroso’s approach on 23 Jan 14 to the EERC Committee he said “The simple fact is that there will be a gap between a vote for independence and the moment of separation.  My point is that, during that period, there will be an obligation to negotiate a solution that does not lead to the absurd result that is being suggested.” Sir David later added: “I will just say this. I was a judge at the European Court of Justice for 14 years
  • Jim Currie, former EC director general, said of Barroso’s comments “The statement he made was extremely unwise and I also think it was inaccurate.”
  • Graham Avery, Honorary Director-General of the European Commission, (who wrote Commission opinions on membership applications of 14 countries and 19 negotiation frameworks for accession): “It is obvious that the common sense solution would be for Scotland’s membership of the EU to be effective on the same day as its independence, and it is obvious that 5 million Scottish citizens, who have been European citizens for 40 years, should not be treated in the same way as people of non-member countries, or third countries as they are called in the Euro-jargon.”

Commenting on the comments from Mr Marr, Stewart Maxwell MSP, who is also Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee which took evidence on the BBC’s approach to referendum last week, said:

“The Scottish Parliament has heard a number of incredibly eminent witnesses explain how and why Scotland would continue as a member of the EU on independence.

“That appears to have been ignored by the Andrew Marr programme in favour of an opinion from the President of the Commission that has been roundly rejected by EU experts.  Any assessment of the balance of evidence would show an independent Scotland continuing in the EU.”

Mr Barroso’s comments were this week criticised by French MP Axelle Lemaire who became the latest European politician to attack the EC President’s intervention.

“Well, more than anything else, I think it’s important to remain neutral in this debate. It’s up to the Scottish people and to the people who live in Scotland, in general, to express their views. There is a very heated but democratic debate going on, and I don’t think it was up to President Barroso to say what he thinks about it.” She said.

Ms Lemaire also suggested the Portuguese politicians interventions into the independence referendum were more to do with personal ambition than anything else: “We all know he’s the current President of the European Commission, but his mandate is coming to a term soon with the new commission that will be nominated after the European elections taking place at the end of May, so he has a personal agenda- he apparently wants to be the next General Secretary of NATO.

“In order to become that, he needs the support of the United Kingdom and David Cameron, so, clearly he did that for reasons that probably aren’t as legitimate as they appear, so I wouldn’t like to do the same. I think it’s important for foreign countries or foreign politicians remain neutral and respect the will of the Scottish people.”

This weekend it emerged that the BBC had published new guidelines designed to ensure balance and impartiality from its reporters when covering the independence referendum.  Currently the BBC’s standard editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”

Mr Maxwell added: “There are questions for the BBC to answer over their coverage of this issue. Firstly, they failed to press President Barroso about his comparison of Scotland – which has been part of the EU for over 40 years – with Kosovo. And now a presenter offers what appears to be a personal view on an independent Scotland’s EU membership.

“The comments from Andrew Marr appear to be outside the BBC’s editorial guidelines, and no amount of backtracking can change that.”

The issue of an independent Scotland’s EU membership has already led to the broadcaster being rebuked by its own watchdog.  In January the BBC Trust found BBC Scotland guilty of having broken editorial guidelines after it misrepresented the views of Irish European Minister Lucinda Creighton.

The ruling followed a broadcast on flagship news programme Reporting Scotland in January 2013.  Despite the ruling coming over one year later, BBC Scotland bosses have refused to issue a correction to their original broadcast or to issue any apology to viewers.