Exclusive: BBC data has shown that Arron Banks’ appearance on the Andrew Marr show received 521 complaints during or after transmission, but “thousands” more complained before it was aired according to Newswatch.
Banks appeared on the BBC show on Sunday 4 November, to be interviewed amid a National Crime Agency investigation into electoral campaign spending.
A total of 521 viewers complained about the show from its transmission up to 11 November, fortnightly complaints data published by the broadcaster shows. However, on a BBC Newswatch segment, host Samira Ahmed said that prior to the show going on air: “Thousands of people contacted the BBC, arguing that Mr Banks was not a suitable guest for the programme.”
Post understands that Ofcom only requires the BBC to report post-transmission complaints, where there are more than 100. This means that the “thousands” of complaints prior to airing are not included in the data made public by the broadcaster.
Due to this, it is not possible to break down exactly how many complaints were received regarding Banks’ appearance on the show.
However, there were 16,893 complaints over the fortnight, which was a record for the year so far. The next highest number of stage 1 complaints was over a two week period in March, when 12,443 were submitted. This included 5204 directed at a Newsnight show in which people felt “the backdrop displayed bias against Jeremy Corbyn.”
As data is published fortnightly, any complaints received after 11 November would not yet have been accounted for. The BBC must receive at least 100 complaints about the same show in a given period for the data to be published.
The reasons the BBC has shared for complainants airing their grievances include that they “Felt interviewing Arron Banks was inappropriate and/or displayed a pro-Brexit bias”, and that they “Felt the interview with Mr Banks itself was either biased for or against Brexit.”
High-profile complainers included Lord Adonis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and MEP Molly Scott Cato. Following an ICO investigation and an ongoing audit, Scott Cato has also urged businesses with links to Banks’ broker Eldon to “review their relationship with the company, given the strong risk of reputational damage.”
On the show, Banks was quizzed about the source of his wealth and where an £8m donation to his unofficial Brexit campaign had originated from.
Banks denied any wrongdoing. He said: “There was no Russian money and no interference of any type. I want to be absolutely clear about that.”
“The money came from Rock Services, which was a UK limited company,” he added.
A spokesman for Banks declined to comment specifically on the complaints data when contacted by Post. The Eldon owner took to Twitter the week after the interview aired, to reveal he had been axed from an upcoming episode of the BBC’s Question Time.
Appearing on Newswatch, Andrew Marr show editor John Neal said: “Arron Banks made the single biggest donations in British political history to the unofficial leave campaign Leave.EU and on Tuesday the Electoral Commission published a six-page document which set out questions which it still thinks need answering about where the money came from that Arron Banks then passed on to Leave.EU and then on Thursday the National Crime Agency announced that it was undertaking a criminal investigation into those details, so on Sunday there was a clear public interest in doing that interview and it’s a news story and we’re a news programme and it’s an obvious interview for us to want to do.”
“Legally there was no impediment whatsoever to that interview. Mr Banks has not been charged, he hasn’t been arrested, so there’s no active proceedings and as there’s no active proceedings, there is no reason for us not to do the interview,” he added.
The BBC declined to comment further on the matter.
The broadcaster had defended its editorial decision in a statement prior to the 4 November interview: “There is strong public interest in an interview with Arron Banks about allegations of funding irregularities in relation to Leave.Eu. and the 2016 EU Referendum. The Electoral Commission has laid out concerns about this in public and it is legitimate and editorially justified for Andrew Marr to question Mr Banks robustly about them, which he will do on Sunday morning.”
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