European Scrutiny Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 109-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the European Scrutiny Select Committee

on Wednesday 24 April 2013

Members present:

Mr William Cash (Chair)

Nia Griffith

Kelvin Hopkins

Chris Kelly

Penny Mordaunt

Stephen Phillips

Jacob ReesMogg

Henry Smith


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Robin Elias, Managing Editor, ITV News, and John McAndrew, Associate Editor, Sky News, gave evidence.

Q357 Chair: Thank you both very much for coming. As you know, we have already had the BBC in, and our prime concern is to try to identify, for the purposes of this inquiry into European scrutiny, how, in practice, what we are doing gets out to the public at large. Nobody can dispute the fact that we have the most enormous amount of European activity going on. Some of this is pure policy; a lot of it is also legislation. We thought it was important to get your views on the record, and ask the first question, which is as follows: Dr Julie Smith of the University of Cambridge, in her evidence to the Committee, stated, "We have a particular problem in this country about the nature of the debate [on Europe] and the depth of ignorance rather than the depth of interest." The question I put to you in the light of that is, what role do you think the media should play in improving the quality of public debate on Europe? Robin Elias, please.

Robin Elias: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I speak for ITV Network News. I am Managing Editor of ITV Network News and I have worked on ITN for 30 years. ITN also provides news for Channel 4 and Channel 5, but I am here to talk about ITV news coverage. I think we see Europe as a very important part of the political landscape and debate. Our coverage reflects all views around that debate pretty well.

We provide three main scheduled news programmes for ITV a day: lunchtime, evening and "News at Ten". That means in coverage terms about an hour and a half of coverage. One of the biggest challenges we have on a daily basis is how much we cover the European issue, and the political issue, business and economics news, foreign affairs and big events around the world, compared with what I would describe as more talking-point issues, issues of lifestyle and sport-there is a lot to get in. In our daily list today, of the stories we thought we would cover, there were 40. On any one network programme of half an hour, we probably expect to get 12 or 15 stories in. We are very limited in time, but that is not to say that we do not think we make a good decision, but I think our news programmes are required to be varied. We are regulated to provide programmes of due accuracy and due impartiality. We do that very well. Key to the ITV News ethos is a good mix of stories.

Just on your question about explanation, we have a good reputation within those time constraints that I have talked about for explaining sometimes quite complex issues in a very accessible way. That is a hallmark of ITV News, and we do that in a number of ways. Perhaps one of the hallmarks of ITV News is to tell heavyweight political stories through the eyes of people who are affected, so in your terms perhaps it is not seen as narrowly political reporting around the European issues, but we would like to find real examples of people who are affected by European legislation or political events at Westminster, and relate those to viewers who are watching, so that they would understand more.

Q358 Chair: Do you have any system for going through the agendas that we have and/or what is going on in Parliament and relating that to what you have just described, or is it just at random-you have heard on the grapevine that there is, shall we say, an immigration question and then you home in on that? We are working on a systematic basis, on agendas and on a vast array of documents. We have just had a meeting where we had a whole batch of stuff. Unravelling that and unpackaging it for the purpose of the public, as you sort of indicated, is one of the things that you regard yourselves as being particularly good at doing. You will not be able to do it if you do not know what our agenda is and know what is coming up in the lift. Do you have a system inside your organisation that enables you to track the material and say, "This is coming up. We ought to concentrate on that, because there is going to be a big debate on this issue, which has come out of the European scrutiny legislative process."?

Robin Elias: I understand what you are asking, and as to a system, as you describe it, I would say no, but we have a well resourced political team based over the road in Millbank. We have six political correspondents, a news editor and three producers who are working on political issues. They are aware of this Committee’s work and the mountain of material and decisions that come out of Parliament.

It is difficult to set quotas for the number of stories we cover or the type of stories we cover. We do not look to do this much on politics one day or this much on foreign affairs, because the news agenda almost by definition is very subjective. My background is programme editing, so I was in a very practical sense deciding, "That is a story for me," and "That is a story that helps the mix of our programmes." At the end of the day, we are producing news programmes we hope a lot of viewers will watch from beginning to end. On sifting the amount of material, our Westminster office gets emails and press releases from the European Scrutiny Committee as well as many others, and they would sift through those.

Do we sometimes miss a story? Perhaps we do. I have to say perhaps the issues that you highlight become, in our terms, more of a story further down the line, when Parliament has debated them or it strikes a chord with the public. It is slightly a vicious circle: we want to cover news that is an issue and of interest, but it is also very nice to highlight an issue before it has got into the public domain to be ahead of the pack and give that information.

Q359 Chair: Just before I ask Mr McAndrew if he would answer the same question, is there some kind of interaction between the BBC, ITN and Sky? It is quite extraordinary how often you switch on your television and you switch from one channel to the other, and then you find, actually-not entirely, but to a great extent-the same stories are being run. It probably makes one wonder whether there is not some kind of cartel in operation with an exchange of information that enables each of you to be covering much the same kind of subject matter. Is that completely and totally unsubstantiated?

John McAndrew: Is that one for me?

Chair: Yes. You are in between the two, because you were in the BBC for a long time.

John McAndrew: Yes, I was. Let me just introduce myself first. I am Associate Editor at Sky News, so I am very much involved in our day-to-day editorial process, which stories we will do, how we will do them and how we will present them to our audience. It is a very different kind of news from the one Robin was describing. We are of course a 24hour broadcaster on many platforms. For us, any story can be replaced by any other at any particular time. We are concerned with stories that are moving, where the facts are changing that are maybe very rich in picture and very immediate. That is not to say that Europe is not a big story for us. Just a look, as I have been doing, over the last few weeks’ coverage sees lots of the substance of what you have been reporting on bleed into our coverage of many different stories as they resonate back home.

In answer to your last question about whether it is ever fixed up that we do certain stories and leave others alone, I would say the answer to that is absolutely not. There is certain collaboration on big stories where resources are pooled, as it might be a state occasion or something like that, but I am sure you are aware of that. Journalistically and editorially, that is absolutely not the case.

Robin Elias: Can I add to that, Mr Chairman? Absolutely I agree there is no cosy agreement on what the news agenda is. As a programme editor, I like nothing better than having a different lead story from what was on the BBC or what Sky has been covering all day, but there is a convention about news values. If you look at the vast range of newspapers, there is sort of an agreement on what makes news. They treat news in a very different way, but news is what will interest or affect the lives of people who are watching or reading the newspaper.

Q360 Chair: Mr McAndrew, I will ask you the same question I asked Mr Elias. What role do you think the media should play in improving the quality of public debate on Europe?

John McAndrew: What we should do is give it due prominence when there is a story in or around Europe that is going to affect the lives of people who watch our television channel or consume our output in other ways. If you take the horsemeat scandal, the euro crisis, Cyprus, various EU summits of late-where we have been a heavy presence in Brussels-we can explain to people why these things are current, why they matter to them and what the consequences might be for people in this country. What we can do is make sure we have authoritative voices there from our Westminster political team, our Brussels bureau and from our business teams that are explaining the issues when those stories are current.

Q361 Chair: You are quite satisfied that you are giving it the kind of coverage that you really think it deserves?

John McAndrew: Yes, I am. We have done entire programmes and debates and hourlong specials from Europe during key summits recently. We have done an awful lot of coverage of the euro crisis in the last year or two. Just looking across the last few days, we have done various interviews. We interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday, and we brought up the Lords EU Committee’s concerns about the European Arrest Warrant, which we put to the Deputy Prime Minister. That interview ran and ran. While we may not focus necessarily on a particular Select Committee report, those issues that you examine do tend to bleed into our coverage a fair bit.

Q362 Chair: Although you and Sky do not have the same requirements as a public service broadcaster, do you see Sky’s duties to the public in the provision and explanation of European news as being fundamental to your viewers.

John McAndrew: Yes, in the same way that it would be for Westminster or a story that is nonpolitical.

Q363 Henry Smith: Thank you and welcome. How do you interpret due impartiality when it comes to the European question? Perhaps I could ask Mr McAndrew first.

John McAndrew: One of the areas in which we make a great deal of effort is to solicit a very broad range of voices across our output, and we have the airtime to do so. Much discussion and production effort goes into, when we attack a particular story, whom we need to hear from and whether we are hearing a balanced argument across all sides. We have an interviews editor and team, who will keep a record of every interview we do. It is not just political balance; we make a big effort to make sure that we have different voices on different stories, so the same faces do not pop up on all the different stories, and to get more women on air, ethnic diversity and things like that.

Those discussions are had in advance. There is no formula to it. It relies on the sound editorial judgment of our output teams and our programme editors to cast the debates, discussions and interviews accordingly across the day. We review our coverage a great deal to see whether we are stacking up-whether too many voices in one area seem to have emerged or something like that-and we listen to the comments of our viewers, which we get a précis of weekly. Clearly we do not take a position on any story ourselves, and we seek always to have a vast array of voices across our coverage.

Q364 Henry Smith: Do you consider that due impartiality story by story, or do you consider that over a longer period of time?

John McAndrew: I would not say there is any kind of formula that we can then tick at the end of a story, when it is done and dusted. It is an ongoing matter of review, our bidding process and discussions with our editors about the direction we are taking a story in. Certain parts of our output may look at this kind of story in a different way. Adam Boulton has a programme at lunchtime that, while not overtly political, is devoted to giving more time to interviews along these kinds of lines-possibly political issues or interviews that need exploring in more depth-than we might in the more fastmoving daytime. Similarly in the evening, Jeff Randall may take a business slant on a European story or a political story. We try very hard not to just do this through the prism of MPs necessarily and have a left and right spat; we will try to look well beyond that and talk to the people it affects as well.

Robin Elias: If I can add to that, Mr Smith, the phrase "due impartiality" is required of us by Ofcom, the regulator. At ITN, we also have our own internal requirements that are outlined in the ITN compliance manual, which is quite a weighty document. On impartiality, that dictates that we give the main arguments from all sides on any matter of public debate or controversy. That is not a document that we keep hidden away: it is on every desk; every member of staff is required to have read it and signed an assurance that they have read it. It is even more than that: I firmly believe it is part of the ethos, the fabric, of what we do. When we are covering any sort of contentious issue, we reflect both sides. The public and, I am sure, politicians would be very quick to point it out if we did not do that, so as a programme editor, it is inconceivable that, if we are covering a debate about Europe, we would not hear a sceptical voice as well as a pro voice.

You asked about timing and would that have to be in one programme. Generally speaking, it would be within one report, though I think we would have to agree that there is leeway. If it is a particular issue that a particular side is making the running on, perhaps the balance would come over a series of programmes over a week or whatever, but it is something we do take very seriously.

Q365 Henry Smith: If I may, Mr Chairman, I have one supplementary with regard to the expression used of taking opinion from either side. That, I take it is, not confined to an opinion from the Government or the Opposition, but includes different perspectives on the European question within political parties and beyond political parties.

Robin Elias: Europe is the best example of where it is not cut and dried, Government and Opposition, so that is very much the case, yes. We would not necessarily feel we had to have a politician from one side or the other. From a coverage point of view and an accessibility point of view for the viewer, I was looking at some examples of where we covered the business debate about it to find business men and women who were arguing either in favour of their particular business, against European integration or in favour. I think it is nice to be able to do that. It also helps us in televisual terms to show people out and about in real life, if you like. In interviewing a factory owner or a trawler skipper in Peterhead about fishing quotas and so on, real people allow us to tell the story not only in a more accessible way, but in a visually more interesting way.

Q366 Chair: Would you regard the advent of UKIP, for example, as being a reason why someone like Nigel Farage might get a great deal of attention, but not necessarily, if I can put it the other way round, those eurosceptics who have been involved in the arguments that UKIP is now engaged in for much longer and also perhaps in more depth? In other words, do you feel that you are giving enough space to them, given the fact that there is this nonpartypolitical element to the European issue, because it is pervasive? We have Kelvin Hopkins here, for example, who is an extremely experienced member of the Labour Party, but who is also extremely articulate on the European question.

Kelvin Hopkins: Eurosceptic.

Chair: And eurosceptic, you see. What I am really getting at is that while one party emerges as having a lot of publicity attached to it at a given point and it is new, the fact is that there are others to seek out from the political spectrum at large, such as Kelvin Hopkins-and I could give you other examples from the Labour Party, or indeed from the Conservative Party. You are looking at some of them around this room, for example. I just ask the question: do you think that you are giving enough coverage to the full range of views within parties, as compared with the fact that UKIP, for example, is now articulating a view that they hold as their political party?

John McAndrew: What I would say echoes Robin’s point a bit. When we tackle some of these stories, we would be much more inclined to take them on from the point of view of those affected. If we were doing something about the Working Time Directive, it may be that we want to speak to GPs. If we are looking at how EU legislation plays into the debate about alcohol pricing, it may be that we pick that story up with people who drink or think that it is a good idea or a bad idea, or who sell alcohol and things like that. I just want to be clear that, just because Europe is a heavily political matter, it does not mean that we will always examine it through getting voices on from left and right, eurosceptic or europhile Conservatives, or anything like that. We would rather take the story on its more consumerfacing merits, and go and pursue it in that way.

As to whether Mr Farage gets too much media attention, I do not feel, certainly speaking for our channel, that that is something we are guilty of. When Eastleigh came around that was clearly a news story and one that UKIP participated in, and a story came of it. We would not necessarily just turn to well known voices for or against Europe, from either the House or UKIP, as an automatic reaction to those stories.

Q367 Penny Mordaunt: Clearly we do evidence sessions like this. We recommend issues for debate in European Committees and on the floor of the House. Actually, a great deal of what we do, and the heart of what we do, is documentbased. Peter Knowles, the Controller of BBC Parliament, told us that this creates an immediate distance between the work of the Committee and broadcasters, because broadcasters tend to operate in a speechbased environment and like to film interesting things. Do you agree with that and do you have a view on the content produced by this Committee in our reports and on our website?

John McAndrew: I suspect the argument he is getting at is that, while the substance of what you are scrutinising and the consequence for people in this country is going to be sometimes newsworthy, it will not always be newsworthy. In itself, the publication of a report might not necessarily be news, no matter how important it may be. While broadcasters may well end up looking at the story once it has resolved itself to some degree, sometimes the process of scrutiny of legislation will not in itself be newsworthy, certainly speaking for a news channel that is very concerned with immediacy, changing facts and the breaking news story. Of course, it runs the risk, as any other story does, of taking its chances up against 10, 20 or 30 stories or even, like last week, only two stories that dominate the news agenda for the whole week. The process itself may not, in the immediate sense, be newsworthy, I suppose.

Robin Elias: Some of the paperbased nature perhaps does not help, but I do not think it is critical to decisions on how much coverage the Committee gets. More witnessbased Committees are more televisual, but not every Committee can have a Rupert Murdoch incident, which got quite a bit of coverage, didn’t it? Workings within Westminster generally probably get less coverage than five years ago, but focusing on how much the workings of a Committee and Members on all sides of the debate appear on television is perhaps missing the point. A much more valuable question is whether the issues, as they affect real people, are reflected in our programmes. I would say this, but I think we get that balance about right.

Q368 Penny Mordaunt: Given that, and clearly you have to operate within limited resources, when there is an issue that is particularly interesting, for example the early report that this Committee did on the sovereignty lock or something like that, and that would give your journalists an interesting slant on a national story-something that was prominent happening on the floor of the House-do your journalists, researchers and producers use this Committee as a resource in that respect, given that they might not be spending enormous amounts of their time focused on the output of this Committee?

Robin Elias: I spoke to our Westminster team about this Committee. They are all very aware of what you are investigating, scrutinising, and aware of the website links, press releases and so on, but there is an awful lot of that material that is coming out of not just this Committee, but many others.

Q369 Chair: One of the things we heard in evidence from the BBC-I am paraphrasing slightly-is that it is all frightfully complicated and we do not really think that people outside understand it. There was a kind of inference that they did not understand it themselves, to some extent. The real question is this: with the vast array of legislation that is going through, which some people would put as high as 70% of everything that is legislated in Westminster itself, it does seem a little incongruous, when all that is going on and it is the only means of the public knowing that it is happening-and it is, as you said earlier, affecting their daily lives-that there is not really any system in place for evaluating exactly what it is that is being legislated, other than drawing it in from foreign correspondents who are in Brussels. Then, of course, they are themselves being fed the information by the European Commission or whatever.

I am trying to probe into this issue of where you get this information from and whether and to what extent you are satisfied that, given the impact it must have on everybody the whole time, you are really digging into it or are you simply receiving information from a foreign correspondent that that is a really important question that has come up? You then give it coverage, but it is not necessarily related to the fact that it is being implemented in this place and, for example, debated on the floor of the House of Commons.

Abu Qatada today is going to be all over the news, but we are dealing with things the whole time that, one way or another, if you were looking at the whole range of our material in relation to Syria, Mali and all these other things, are extremely relevant to what is affecting people’s lives, both here and abroad. I am not quite convinced at the moment that you have a system of being able to go through your team at Westminster to get the perspective, as to what it is that we are doing. We are not doing this for our benefit; we are doing it for the benefit of the public. Under the Standing Orders, we have a requirement to go through the legislation and to require it to be debated if we think it is legally or politically important. When we do that, we are, as a result of this European Scrutiny inquiry, taking a look at the extent to which what we are doing actually ever gets out to the public. To paraphrase, some people say the best way to keep a secret is to make a speech in the House of Commons. Do you get the sense of what I am saying?

John McAndrew: Yes, I do, but I again have had conversations with our political teams, our Brussels team and our business team about the work of this Committee. All seem well aware of what the Committee does. I was pointed to bits of reports that have had commentary from people like Adam Boulton and Joey Jones, when they are at EU summits. I would say there is a system in place to gather news. Whether that answers your question, I do not know.

I would also add that, when a legislatively contentious issue is debated on the Floor of the House, or indeed in Committee, or if newsworthy or newsmaking people are called to give evidence, it most certainly would take its chance as a story to be covered that day. Again, I go back to my earlier point: that would be up against whatever else is going on. I am sure we are taking live coverage of the House of Commons on Abu Qatada as we speak. It is a big story and rightly so.

Q370 Chair: There are issues that do come up that are debated on the Floor of the House. We asked the BBC this and we got some quite interesting answers, because it seemed quite clear that, in terms of our Committee proceedings for example, very little was actually being reported to the public at large. As I said, we are not doing this for our benefit; we are doing it for the benefit of the public. When we do that and then it is not reported, we are just left in the position of knowing it is important, knowing that the matters should be out there and yet not really having any reason to believe that it is ever going to get to the people whose daily lives are affected by it.

John McAndrew: I cannot speak for them, obviously enough. What I would say from Sky’s point of view is that we do not have political programmes as such. We do not have programmes devoted to Europe. Our programmes are just strands of rolling news. They may do stories in a different order, refresh the production or present the stories in a different style as the day goes on, but there is not somewhere that would necessarily be a home for something like that.

Chair: It is not quite like the BBC.

John McAndrew: That is what I am saying. We are just concerned with the main stories of the day.

Q371 Stephen Phillips: I just wanted to try to cut through it a little bit if I could. Being frank, we turn out a lot of paperwork. Now, some of that paperwork is highly critical of the Government, for example, and one would think that, if it were being read and assimilated, or even the press releases accompanying it were, it would be something in which those who are in the news business would be interested, yet my brief experience on this Committee in the last three years points to the contrary. The question I want to ask is, is it the case that our press releases and reports are being read, given the limited resources that you, your producers and your journalists have? If they are not, which I quite understand-you are faced with news decisions every day and vast amounts of material coming in-what can we do to make it better and more easily accessible for editors and producers to make the judgments that we think ought to be made about important matters that we are debating?

Robin Elias: To address the question about language in answer to what the BBC said about impenetrable language and the dryness of the subject, I would be very disappointed if our coverage was dependent on having things that were immediately and very easily understandable. Part of the job of any journalist, and certainly on a popular channel like ITV, is actually to cut through complex subjects and find a way of making them relevant to viewers. That is our job, I would say. It does not really address your question perhaps, or does not give you the answer you would like to hear, but regarding the volume of material and how much of what you do gets on mainstream television news, I think you should have quite low expectations about that, because of the time restrictions we are under. The balance argument I outlined earlier is probably the biggest challenge you have.

Q372 Stephen Phillips: Can I give you an example, and then maybe Mr McAndrew can come in as well? There is a massive decision coming up in the United Kingdom about the justice and home affairs optout. A highly critical report of the Government was published by this Committee relatively recently-no coverage at all-and it is an issue that does not seem to have featured in the broadcast media at all, as yet. Admittedly, it is coming down the tracks, but it is a very important decision for the United Kingdom coming up. Is there something that we could have done not necessarily to get the Committee into the news, but to get the issue into the news?

John McAndrew: I think you might be referring to the same piece of legislation that I said earlier we did give some coverage to yesterday, and put to the Deputy Prime Minister. It is not that we do not consider that newsworthy. It is very hard to talk about publication of a report that may have happened whenever it happened without knowing what else was in play on any particular day. I know that our Westminster team will see the press releases when reports are published. Discussions will be had about whether the content is newsworthy. A similar point to Robin really is that, often a Select Committee report is not necessarily going to make a major piece of news in itself, depending on the nature.

Q373 Kelvin Hopkins: This inquiry arose, as you may know, from a perceived bias in the BBC in particular. There was a report produced eight years ago concluding that the BBC had a deeply ingrained proEU bias, which they were almost unaware of themselves, but everything they said was proEU. More recently, only a few weeks ago, we had an academic report presented to us that said they had not changed, in spite of that critical report. We are really concerned to see that we do not have the same kind of thing in ITV. I must say that I am a great admirer of the BBC in almost every other way, but on the European issue this institutional bias is at complete odds with the views of the population, for example. They will say, "Well, it is all very complicated; just think of yourselves as being proEuropean."

I also have to say-time and again I have to repeat this-the European Union is not Europe. Europe is a certain lot of countries, which are wonderful and I have the greatest affection for them, but I have a deep criticism of the European Union, which is a political construction on those countries. If broadcasters simply talked about "the EU" or "the European Union" instead of "Europe", that would be a step forward. You have mentioned "Europe" several times already this afternoon as if it is Europe, and it is not; it is the European Union, which is a political construct that could easily be amended and disappear next year. Europe would still be there-these wonderful countries.

Robin Elias: I understand your point. When it comes to balance, you talk about an organisation or coverage being proEurope. I looked at some of the weightier European stories just this year, and probably the biggest one was Cameron’s speech about the referendum. I looked at the range of voices within that, and it was not only done on party lines. In fact, we did three pieces on "News at Ten" that night; it covered half the programme. In coverage terms, that is a big commitment. We did the main piece on the speech itself and reaction from party leaders, but then we did a broader piece. We went to Paddington and had businessmen coming off the Eurostar. Unsurprisingly perhaps, they were pretty proEurope and were voicing that view. We also did a piece in Europe itself with our Europe editor, which is another indication of how seriously we take it-that we appointed a Europe editor last year just to look at these issues across the continent.

Overall, that coverage had real people from different viewpoints, and politicians not necessarily on party lines talking about the issue. In fact, the following day we did a piece out of Davos, which was going on at the same time, and focused on businessmen. One, Sir Martin Sorrell, I think it was, was very proEurope, and then another businessman was talking specifically about the weight of European legislation and how that was strangling his business. All the way through, I was very satisfied that that was not only comprehensive, but very balanced coverage and actually told in a way that viewers would understand and get the significance of.

Q374 Kelvin Hopkins: With this complication and these difficult issues, it is the job of journalists to make issues understandable to the public. Good journalists can do that. Certainly when I speak about European Union matters, I talk in a way that is understood by the people who hopefully vote for me. I have seen broadcasts, again, where we have had an apparent debate about what people call "Europe" and I would call the "European Union". You might have-and I shall use some names from the past, which is easier-Peter Mandelson for the Labour Party, John Major for the Conservative Party and Paddy Ashdown for the Liberal Democrats. Actually, they have an identical view. I have taken a ridiculous extreme, but you can get these apparent debates. You can have three major party representatives and Nigel Farage taking a different view. The eurosceptic left is almost never seen, certainly in the Labour Party. Having an intelligent analysis with serious economists who understand the problems of the European Union and can put a seriously critical view seems rarely to surface in the media. Is it not your responsibility to make sure that the full range of debate takes place?

John McAndrew: I would disagree with that analysis, given the amount of effort that goes into finding those voices, particularly from business, for a show like Jeff Randall’s in the evening, where the remit of the programme is to go out and find those voices from different angles. I do not know where your threehanded debate took place.

Kelvin Hopkins: It is an imaginary one.

John McAndrew: It would not happen on our channel. I cannot think of the last time we approached a story like that, with a simple threehanded, onefromeachparty debate. Much more thought would go into it, not least because it does not sound like it would be very interesting. We take our commitments to impartiality very seriously, and we take our obligations to our viewers very seriously. If we provide them with something along those lines, they are likely to switch over.

I also think we go to great lengths in our political coverage, be it about Europe or indeed Westminster, to try to explain some of the denser issues around it. If you look at even the way we tackle Prime Minister’s Questions, which is fairly straightforward, we do tend to go into an edit suite afterwards. Our deputy political editor will pull apart things you have missed, nuances of the exchanges or something perhaps you did not see over to the side of the shot. We will throw that kind of effort at our political coverage, as a way of making it engaging.

Q375 Chair: Could I just try to give some kind of practical illustration of what is going on in the minds of members of the Committee? You would of course agree that the question of growth of the British economy is fundamental to the whole issue that is in front of the electorate as a whole, Parliament and the media. We are told that the single market is absolutely fundamental to our trading performance, and the figure is something like 45% of all our trade is with Europe. In the document that we debated the night before last, there was the reference by the Government, in its paper, that Europe was "the key market". Those were the words that were used. In fact, our trade deficit in goods and services with the other 26 Member States is running at £47 billion as of last year. Yesterday, I ascertained that the figure has gone up to £70 billion in one year-from £47 billion to £70 billion deficit. Our surplus, however, with the rest of the world, was running at £20 billion and is now running at £12.9 billion.

Just to give that as an example, I would have thought that was something that would be of grave concern to an awful lot of people. What we are talking about is such an incredible deficit it is impossible for us to be able to grow our economy in trading with the European Union, with 26 Member States, as a result of which we are now running this unbelievable deficit of £70 billion, according to the UK Statistics Authority. This is all in the documentation that came out of this debate only a couple of days ago, and I am not trying to test you on this, but asking you to respond to the illustration. This ought to be, I am sure, a matter of the gravest concern. By the way, Germany is running a surplus with the rest of the European Union of £30 billion a year, as compared with our £70 billion deficit. I am just wondering whether, to take that as a spot check, you would regard that as something that was worth reporting on. It has not been reported by anybody I am aware of. I am not accusing you; I am just interested to know what your reaction is.

John McAndrew: My reaction is, yes, of course it is. It is the kind of thing that we do in our business and economic coverage a great deal, both in our business bulletins with our economics editor and on Jeff Randall’s programme. It is precisely the kind of story he would do. Whether we have done that particular one over the last few days, I do not know.

Q376 Chair: It is pretty significant, is it not?

John McAndrew: It is certainly that. What I would also add is that, for a rolling news channel, if you take last week, which is when I think you said these numbers were published, that was a week where we had a huge story coming out of Boston, a big story coming out of Canada and the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. I am not saying that is why that specific story perhaps did not get more publicity. I do not know the answer to that, but that, I hope, illustrates that any story, whether it comes out of Committee or whatever scale it is, will sometimes be up against something that is very immediate, very serious or very picture driven.

Q377 Chair: What I am really saying is that-not to approach this in an accusatorial fashion, but simply as a matter of system-the assumptions that are made by Government that the single market is necessarily good for you may be part of the mantra. The question whether it is really working to the advantage of the United Kingdom is something that is challenging and also merits a degree of continuing analysis, over a given year. Although it may be that I have just picked on something that came out recently and I happen to know it is on the immediate agenda, I am just asking-whether in relation to the economy, criminal justice, energy or whatever-if your organisations were monitoring what is happening out in the European Union, whether it might be helpful to you to identify things that you would pick up from having a very systematic approach to the kind of documentation that we produce, or would you take the view that the BBC is probably right and it is too complicated for people to understand, even if it affects them?

Robin Elias: The way you put those figures was pretty easy to understand. As to whether I think that, as a revelation, is a news story in itself, off the top of my head I would say probably not. Facts such as those should be part of the information we give out when we are doing a story about the merits of the single market, new growth figures or whatever; that is a way in which that information could be disseminated to the public.

I will just make a slightly separate point. It is interesting when you talk about how much information you deal with and analyse gets in front of the public. On scheduled news programmes, for the reasons I have said, it is tough; it is a very high benchmark to get on. We, as all news organisations now, increasingly rely and depend upon websites. The ITV News website is a great platform and vehicle for putting context on to sometimes complex issues. I looked at some of our European links on there around the debate about the European Union budget last year. On our website, there was a blog from our political editor that gave a bit of context about Cameron’s position and where other European countries were coming from in the debate on spending, and links to other factual information, tables and figures. That, combined with television bulletins-and we do crosspromote details and coverage of both-is a way of adding that context and, I think, serving a real benefit to the public.

Q378 Kelvin Hopkins: With the BBC, we have two reports on the BBC eight years apart. The evidence is conclusive in my view: they are definitely proEU in their bias. It may be very conscious, it may be semiconscious, but they are proEU. Have any criticisms of that kind of bias been levelled at either ITN or Sky?

Robin Elias: To my knowledge, no. I would be surprised, because I genuinely believe our coverage is impartial. I deal with viewer complaints, complaints by political parties and complaints from Ofcom, which obviously we treat very seriously indeed. I am not saying there has never been a complaint, but I am not aware of any tide of complaints on one side or another. Almost whenever we cover political stories, there will be people complaining either from one side or the other. If we are getting complaints from both sides, that is generally speaking probably quite a good sign that we are not biased on either side of that debate.

Q379 Chair: You do not take the view that the European issue and the point that Kelvin was making earlier about the difference between the European Union and Europe, if I can put it that way around, is too boring.

John McAndrew: No, we do not take that view at all, and we do huge amounts of coverage of things going on in the EU. As I have said before, we have entire dedicated programmes and special editions of strands; we present programmes from there and send presenters over there-our highcalibre political and economic team-to go and explain these issues. I do not take that view at all. As regards complaints, much like Robin says, any time we do a story about the EU, Europe or pretty much anything else, we are going to get a lot of communication from our viewers on it and it stacks up on both sides, which means you probably land somewhere in the middle. In terms of official allegations of bias in any way, no, nothing like it.

Kelvin Hopkins: There has been no academic research.

John McAndrew: No.

Q380 Chris Kelly: We often recommend documents for debate in European Committee. Peter Knowles from the BBC told this Committee that European Committee debates are "not advertised to broadcasters by Parliament… They are off our radar." How aware are you of debates in European Committees and how frequently do you cover them or interview Members appointed to serve on them? Can I ask each of you in turn?

John McAndrew: I cannot give you an occasion when we have covered one live. These are televised, are they?

Chris Kelly: They are held in these Committee Rooms.

John McAndrew: I cannot give you an occasion that I know of when we have taken live coverage from one.

Q381 Chris Kelly: Have you followed up with a Member who has been involved in a Committee?

John McAndrew: We may well and almost certainly have interviewed members of that Committee on that story or any other. I do not know. I could look into that and write to you if you wish. It is not something that we would expect to cover live.

Robin Elias: Similarly, I am not aware of a news report with coverage of this Committee on mainstream programmes. As I said earlier, it is slightly dangerous only to look at the conventional way of reporting political news. We would try, with any political story, to find a way of telling it not necessarily through the eyes of politicians. I do not want to mislead you; in the dealings of this Committee, no, I do not think there has been coverage.

Q382 Chair: For example, the Public Accounts Committee is one of the only other scrutiny Committees; there are two scrutiny Committees, effectively. There are Delegated Legislation Committees as well of course. Basically, it is our job, and that is what we are having this inquiry about: to gauge your reactions to the questions that we are asking. We want to inform ourselves, as some of my colleagues have been saying, on how we can improve our input, so that the public at large are aware of something we know is going on all the time. It is sometimes a bit subterranean; it is going on and it is affecting them, but we do not have any means of communicating other than doing the job that we are doing by examining the documents and making the reports. You are the means of communication these days with the public at large, so it is a democratic question, which is the extent to which Parliament, in examining these questions, is able to project the information in such a way as to make the public aware of what is happening. That is really the essence of the reason for this inquiry, and it is also what our Standing Orders effectively require us to do, but we cannot communicate with the public except through the broadcast media, whether it is radio or television. They might not put on the material- I say "they" because I am not accusing you; I am just simply looking for a way through the thicket to try to get more attention on what is really happening to their daily lives. I just feel that we are conscious of the fact that you are interested in news and we are conscious of the fact that you have a system. Whether what we are doing is getting through to the public at large is really what we are interested in, for the purposes of these proceedings.

John McAndrew: You mentioned the Public Accounts Committee. That presumably is an example of where the system, such as you call it, does work. If they published their report about allegations of tax avoidance-

Q383 Chair: That is the issue, because when you are doing that you are actually saying something, which is, "It is interesting and it is news that there are accusations made against Starbucks, Google or whatever it happens to be." We are not, in fact, in that position, but what we are doing is no less important. They are answering the question whether the public are getting value for money. We are saying, "With regard to the vast range of legislation that is affecting you, are you aware of what is being done to you?"

John McAndrew: Yes, but what often happens is that, when those bits of legislation get to the point at which they meet the consumer or the person who is affected by them, a number of those stories are covered. Again, I would say something like alcohol pricing, where we make mention of the EU’s role in that story. While we might not necessarily focus on the process of the scrutiny, the story as it affects people at least has the potential to be one that will be covered, if it affects people, is interesting and is newsworthy.

Q384 Chair: It could be too late. It has happened already, by the time the legislation has gone through. That is part of the process that we are engaged in. We are drawing attention to things before those decisions are taken.

John McAndrew: I am not saying that would be a rule. I am just saying there are examples. Alcohol pricing has not necessarily happened.

Q385 Henry Smith: Do you think that the coverage of European issues would be increased if there was a dedicated, as indeed was the case so many years ago, European oral question session on the Floor of the House of Commons, or perhaps a regular debate in a forum like Westminster Hall, for example?

John McAndrew: I do not know, and I feel slightly uneasy about giving my view as to what would gain more coverage, because that is not really my job. What I would say is that Prime Minister’s Questions features. If there is a big story going on in the economy, Treasury Questions may be featured live on our channel. The rest of the time, if it is fairly day-to-day material, it will not. In the same way, we might take live coverage of a debate about a European issue on the Floor of the House anyway, as we have done when there have been various discussions about financing of the EU and things like that, or any contentious issue, the sniff of a rebellion or something like that. We will feature that. As to whether it would increase coverage, as I have said, I feel quite satisfied with the amount of coverage and the way in which we do it.

Robin Elias: I suspect the answer is no. It presupposes that the reason this Committee does not get coverage is that no one knows what is going on. We are aware of what is going on. If it was debated in the main Chamber, that would not affect it. It would still have to meet the quite tough requirements and high benchmark for getting on a scheduled news programme, as far as ITV News is concerned.

Q386 Chair: If it is not news, it tends to have a fairly low priority. Is that about it? If it is not news, it does not tend to get a very high priority, realistically speaking?

Robin Elias: Yes, that is right.

Q387 Chair: You are not really that interested in the process?

Robin Elias: The process in itself is a dry subject, and therefore we would find it difficult to get it on to a halfhour programme.

Chair: You have been very candid. Thank you very much for coming. That is the end of these proceedings.

Prepared 27th November 2013