BBC Media Action was paid to deliver key parts of the EU’s political strategy in countries on the fringes of Europe
By Tim Ross
he BBC is at the centre of a new row over bias in its coverage of Europe after it emerged that the broadcaster’s charitable arm has received more than £9 million directly from Brussels.
The charity, BBC Media Action, was paid the money to deliver key parts of the EU’s political strategy in countries on the fringes of Europe.
However, the charity receives hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of donations from the licence-fee funded BBC each year, while the broadcaster continues to appoint the majority of the charity’s trustees.
Photo: HM TREASURY
The row comes at a critical time in the national debate over Europe as David Cameron seeks to negotiate new terms for the UK’s membership of the EU. He has promised to give voters the chance to decide whether to stay in Europe on new terms in a referendum before the end of 2017.
BBC Media Action received £9.3million between 2011 and 2014, much of it to deliver the EU’s “European Neighbourhood Policy”. European Union officials have described this as “a broad political strategy” designed to strengthen the “prosperity, stability and security of Europe’s neighbourhood in order to avoid any dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its direct neighbours”.
As part of this work, BBC Media Action led the consortium of media companies that delivered a three-year project called Media Neighbourhood, which provided training for hundreds of journalists in 17 countries on the outskirts of Europe.
Reporters taking part in the scheme attended “study tours to the EU in Brussels” during which they were able to interview “top EU policy makers” in the European Commission and the European Parliament.
Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said he was deeply concerned that the BBC’s news coverage of the referendum debate would be compromised by its charity’s reliance on EU funding.
He said he would write to Lord Hall, the BBC director general, to demand full disclosure of how much the BBC itself and its charity had received from Brussels.
“I, and many other parliamentarians, already have grave concerns over the ability of the BBC to report the EU referendum debate fairly and impartially,” Mr Bridgen said.
“The BBC’s pet charity may well be doing good work but I am concerned that it is taking EU money to do Brussels’ bidding and to promote pro-European propaganda.
“I will be writing to Tony Hall to ask for full details of all EU funding that the BBC receives. He must provide details of how he will ensure that the BBC’s coverage of the forthcoming referendum will be impartial.”
The BBC claims that its charity is fully independent. However, the charity’s board of trustees is chaired by Fran Unsworth, the director of the BBC’s World Service division. She is also deputy director of BBC news and current affairs.
The charity’s trustees also include the television newsreader, George Alagiah, and Mike Wooldridge, who was BBC world affairs correspondent until he retired in the summer.
BBC Media Action used BBC office space valued at £581,000 per year in 2014, which was recorded as a “donation in kind” in the charity’s accounts. BBC World Service, which is now funded by the licence fee, gave an unrestricted cash grant of £150,000 to the charity in 2014, with the same amount given the previous year.
Almost half of the charity’s funding comes from the Department for International Development, with other significant donations from the US State Department and the United Nations, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
A BBC spokesman said: “BBC Media Action is an independent charity which works to support free and fair journalism and reduce poverty around the world.
“Its work has absolutely no bearing on the BBC’s editorial decisions. The BBC’s editorial remit is to deliver fair, balanced and impartial coverage and we are satisfied that our coverage of the European Union does just that.”