How unbiased is “Full Fact” when it comes to Brexit?

4th May 2016 / United Kingdom
Are Full Fact really independent when it comes to the EU referendum

I received an email from “Full Fact” a couple of days ago and looked at it with some degree of interest – after all, the main theme was about “Brexit”.

Subject headings were: EU Facts behind The Claims: UK Influence, Immigration and Norway. Also, there was the question, “Will the money we could save by not paying for EU membership actually represent a gain to the UK economy?” amongst a couple of others.

In one section headed “EU facts behind the claims: trade rules” there was the following statement:

The plans to establish a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP, are principally about reducing such behind the border restrictions, in this case between the USA and the EU. The negotiations for this agreement have already created controversy as it would include access to each side’s market by setting common standards and opening up processes, such as public procurement, to greater participation and competition. Some people argue that common US-EU environmental standards, for example, would be lower than Europeans are used to.”

To say “some people” is hugely understating the gravity of public feeling against this trade agreement. In the EU’s largest ever survey conducted, 165,000 citizens were asked about the TTIP trade deal and 97% were found to be against it.

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Six months ago, anti-TTIP activists submitted a 3 million-signature petition (currently now standing at nearly 3.5 million) to the European Commission in London and Brussels in a vain bid to halt secret trade negotiations between the EU and US. The petition, believed to be one of the largest ever compiled, calls for an immediate end to the secret TTIP negotiations.

One should also not forget that of the 28 nation EU bloc consisting of some 508 million citizens, 500,000 of those petition signatories were from people in the UK alone. This represents nearly 17 percent of the total petition.

Full Fact have clearly diminished the very high levels of sentiment against this hugely unpopular and anti-democratic trade deal that is set to be the biggest in history currently estimated to be something like 40 per cent of global trade.

Another excerpt under “EU facts behind the claims: UK influence” lies an equally strange under-statement.

“Any defeats may have “significance” to somebody. As for the claim by Remain campaigners that significant UK defeats are hard to find, it is impossible to know what an “EU regulation of significance” is. Different people find different kinds of law significant. Whether a particular vote is “significant” is a matter of judgement. The 2003 regulation on genetically modified food was probably hugely significant for some farmers and consumers, but not necessarily the average voter.”

In a YouGov survey in 2014, 31 per cent of the UK population didn’t know anything about GMO crops, 46 per cent were negative towards it and just 23 per cent of the population had positive feelings towards it. That is less than one quarter of the population giving the thumbs up to GMO foods in the UK food chain. One wonders what the numbers would be if that 31 per cent that didn’t know, did in fact know.

Additionally, British adults say the government should not be promoting the adoption of GM technology by a margin of 2 to 1. A survey ten years earlier got similar results with 78% saying they were worried about this new technology being driven more by profit than by public interest.

Whilst the Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) continues to battle to keep the public in the dark over GM industry influence on policy and media it is hardly fair for Full Fact to make such statements that again understate citizen concerns so widely.

These understatement’s feed into public perception that corporations and the EU Commission are not driving undemocratic proposals such as TTIP that will clearly affect every single person in Britain.

Of course there might be another reason for Full Fact’s language. Some of the sponsors of Full Fact are well known REMAIN campaigners. The Labour party and a number of its affiliations for one. The hugely powerful, wealthy and influential City of London Corporation, largely representing the banks publicly backs membership.

Diageo is the worlds largest drinks distributor, is another financial sponsor of Full Fact and a huge supporter of EU membership as is Roll Royce the BMW owned manufacturer who have admitted to sending letters to thousands of employees warning of the consequences of Brexit in a clear campaign (that they ended up apologising for) to garner more favourable pro-EU votes.

Then to add a little more weight to the debate as another sponsor of ‘Full Fact’ there is the equally influential Cambridge University who’s Vice Chancellor has said ‘I cannot identify a single persuasive reason to recommend leaving Europe’.

This comes in the guise of The Centre for European Legal Studies who produced a video of students voting in a mock referendum where the result was Undecided 2, Leave 12 and Remain 150 – with one student pleading for the referendum to be stopped altogether. This is blatant propaganda at its very worst.

Full Fact reports on EU referendum - but how unbiased are they exactly?

See the VIDEO HERE

In addition the FT reported that a “Group of 300 senior lawyers pushes for Britain to stay in Europe”, one of its most vocal pro-EU partners is a law firm King & Wood Mallesons who are also sponsors of Full fact.

Various legal firms representatives in this group of 300 also stated that they’d not know of any lawyers forming groups to support the LEAVE campaign.

Contrary to this statement, a group — named Lawyers for Britain — led by Martin Howe QC, barrister want the UK to vote to leave the EU in June’s referendum and includes Slaughter and May’s lawyer Eric Phillips and CMS Cameron McKenna associate Victoria Hewson.

Though it was formed just a few weeks ago, the message from Lawyers for Britain, outlined on its website, is clear:

“We believe that there needs to be a fundamental change in Britain’s relationship with the EU. This cannot be achieved unless we vote to leave the current Treaties, and then build a new and constructive relationship which preserves our trading links but restores our ability to be governed by our own laws.”

In 2014, CivilSociety reported that; “The Charity Commission has announced that Full Fact can be entered onto the Register of Charities. The organisation’s first application for charity status was rejected in 2010, and the decision was upheld by the Charity Tribunal in 2011 due to the Charity Commission’s concerns over the terms “civic engagement” in its objects.
Full Fact made a further application in 2013 with revised objects based on the “advancement of education” which was approved in September of this year. The Commission had been concerned that Full Fact would not meet requirements of education in charity law. To address this, the charity agreed to adopt objects that stated that the organisation has an “impartial, objective, balanced, and independent manner observing strict political neutrality”.

In other words, Full Fact was denied charitable status because it was not funded like a charity and was not a politically impartial organisation.

Then there is this chap – Michael Samuel. According to his website,  Samuel is Chairman and trustee of five family charities. He is a director of a number of companies, one quoted and the others private, and was Chief Executive of Mayborn Group plc. He is a Conservative Party donor. Michael has many business interests as shown below and he is also Chairman of the children’s mental health charity, the Anna Freud Centre and Chairman and joint Founder of Full Fact.

At truepublica we are not suggesting that Full Fact or its Chairman is being dishonest. However, Full Fact has considerable access to the establishment and mainstream media and has the ability to influence millions of people. With financial sponsors who are so vocal about their intentions to influence public opinion in favour of remaining in the EU it is hard to see why such powerful sponsors would spend money without getting some sort of return – a bit like lobbying.

We emailed Full Fact and asked how they were dealing with such such powerful sponsors on the subject of the EU referendum. At the time of publication, there has been no response.

Graham Vanbergen – truepublica.org.uk

Update, a response was received from Full Fact on May 6th:

Thank you for your email of bank holiday Monday. We respond as quickly as we can to all the emails we receive. However we are a small team and are working very hard to factcheck claims as well as respond to the numerous enquiries we receive every day, so please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

In response to your questions:

Full Fact is a registered charity. We do not receive government funding. We rely entirely on donations from individuals, charitable trusts, and to a much lesser extent corporate supporters and earned income to carry out our factchecking work. We actively seek a range of funders in order to preserve our neutrality and we are transparent about our funding. All donations greater than £5,000 are listed on our website.

We have been going for six years and factchecking on all kinds of topics. We don’t have a brief on the EU any more than we do on any of the topics we have covered.

Our ongoing corporate membership scheme is part of our long term strategy to diversify our funding base. We are proud to list our current corporate members on our funding page (and the value of their donations is now set out there, it adds up to 8% of our income budget). Inaccuracy in public debate is not just damaging to voters but to wider society too, and this is the argument we have successfully made to our corporate supporters.

We are also grateful for the past and ongoing financial support of our Chairman, Michael Samuel, who is himself on the Leave side of the referendum debate. We have trustees who sit on either (or neither) side of the EU debate.

There are a number of inaccurate statements in your article. I would be grateful if you would take steps to correct these immediately:
You claim that the Labour party is one of our sponsors. This is not correct and never has been.
You claim that Full Fact was denied charitable status because we were not funded as a charity and were not politically impartial. This is inaccurate. The Commission rejected our application because it had concerns over the term ‘civic engagement’ in our objects, which was subsequently changed to ‘the advancement of education’.

None of our donors has any input or influence over the editorial content of Full Fact, where we guard our impartiality and independence fiercely. Actually, our donors value our work because it is independent and rigorous and they fund us for that reason.

There are a number of safeguards and checks in place to ensure our neutrality. All of our work, including factchecks on claims made throughout the EU referendum campaign, is reviewed three times, including by me personally, to check for accuracy and impartiality. This applies to individual factchecks, and to our body of work as a whole.

Most importantly, we provide links to all our sources so that our readers can check for themselves.

I am sure you will agree that you did not make it clear in your email on Monday that you were writing an article, you did not offer us a right of reply to the statements you make within it, and you did not indicate a deadline for response. Next time, I hope you will agree, it will be only fair to do so.

Yours

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