Mike also put up today a piece from EvolvePolitics, which reports that the BBC on its Feedback page on its website, has admitted misleading the public about the anti-war demonstration it claimed in December last year had been staged outside Labour MP Stella Creasy’s home. The protests were aimed against MPs supporting further airstrikes against Syria. The Beeb’s report claimed that the protesters were ‘far left’, and the demonstration was bullying and intimidatory. Neither of these details were true. The protest was a peaceful vigil. It was not held outside the Walthamstow MP’s home, but her constituency office at a time when no-one was there. The Beeb’s retraction of the distorted report states that it ultimately came from a single Facebook post, that was picked up by a number of other social media commenters and reputable news sources, including the Independent and the Guardian. A few days later, the Beeb issued a partial correction, which changed the location of the story, but still retained the falsehood about the mood of the protesters.
So the BBC had decided to run with the inaccuracy because other “reputable” news outlets had done so – and even misled the shadow chancellor into believing the lie.
It had allowed listeners to go on believing the lie that the demonstration was violent and intimidating, even after broadcasting a correction that only revised the location of the event – and not the mood.
Most damning of all is the fact that the full correction appeared – on a little-visited feedback page – on July 8 this year, and has only just been picked up (by the EvolvePolitics site – I had no idea this BBC page even existed).
It seems clear the BBC is quite happy to mislead the public in order to help the Conservative Government. This is not the behaviour of a reputable news outlet.
My advice: Stick to social media sites like Vox Political. We may not always have the full facts but we don’t actively lie to you.
Mike’s statement that the BBC is quite willing to mislead the public to support the Tory government should no longer be a surprise to anyone. A few years ago Mike’s blog, along with, I think, Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman, reported that Scots academics at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities had found that there was a pronounced right-wing bias at the Beeb. They found that the Corporation was something like three times more likely to interview Conservative politicians and businessmen than Labour MPs and trade unionists. My feeling is that the Beeb sees itself as part of the establishment, and interprets its duty as the state broadcaster to produce programming, or at least news reporting, that broadly supports the status quo. Its managers and senior staff come from the same social class as those in industry and the civil service, and many of its journalists and programme makers are part of the same social circle as the Conservative leadership. At least they were during David Cameron’s tenure at No. 10 with the Chipping Norton set. I don’t believe things have changed since Theresa May took over.
I also found it interesting that the Beeb should partly try to excuse itself by stating that it came from other reputable news sources, explicitly naming the Independent and the Guardian. This looks like the Beeb is trying to head off any claims of Conservative bias by citing two supposedly liberal papers. Except when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn, they’re not. Both papers, like the rest of the press, are strongly biased against him. Moreover, there have been reviews of books in Lobster, which have shown that the so-called left-wing press in Britain actually isn’t terribly left-wing at all. In the 1990s, the Guardian regularly used to appear in Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column for the way it promoted various brutal dictatorships, from Nigeria to Indonesia, praising them as excellent places to do business while ignoring these nation’s appalling human rights records. Some of the articles written in praise of these countries were straightforward PR pieces written by companies specially set up to promote them abroad.
And the excuse that others were following the same line really doesn’t excuse the BBC. Newspapers and the news media are supposed to check their stories. There are even specialist media organisation in America which do so. The Beeb, as the state broadcaster, surely should have had the sense and the resources to check that story as well. But it didn’t. This shows that either the Beeb was simply being lazy, or that the repeated purges of its journalism and newsgathering staff in favour of cutting costs, and boosting the salaries and expanding the jobs available in senior management, has had a detrimental effect on the Corporation’s ability to provide reliable news. Which is exactly what Private Eye has been saying every time more redundancies have been announced at the Beeb of the people, who actually make programmes and produce the news.
The BBC isn’t the sole culprit in this regard. The newspapers have also been shedding large numbers of journalists in order to remain afloat, and give their senior executives, proprietors and shareholders the bloated salaries and dividends they’re accustomed to expect. And several times their journos have been similarly caught out using entirely spurious reports on Wikipedia, posted as pranks, as their sources. For example, when Ronnie Hazlehurst, the composer of a number of well-remembered signature tunes for the BBC, such as that for 80 comedy series To the Manor Born, passed away a few years ago, someone altered his Wikipedia page so that it read that he had composed one of the Spice Girls’ hits. He hadn’t, as presumably any one of the Girls’ fans could have told them. But that didn’t stop the journo, and others in the rest of the press, repeating the story. They were also caught out during the World Cup one year, when someone altered the entry for one of the football teams from the Greek islands. This claimed that its supporters had a special name for themselves, wore discarded shoes on their heads, and had a song about a potato. All rubbish, but the journos decided it had to be true, ’cause it was on Wikipedia. Now it seems that Facebook is being used in the same way for journalists too stressed or too lazy to check their facts.
Of course, the other possibility is that they didn’t bother checking the details, and dragged their heels about correcting the statement that the protesters were out to threaten and intimidate, because the Facebook story told them exactly what they wanted to hear. All the prejudice about peace protesters and ‘hard left’ trade unionists – like the miners at Orgreave colliery, presumably – being violent thugs came flooding back, just like they had from Fleet Street during the 1980s. One of the daftest stories to come out about the peace movement then was a report that the Greenham Common women had managed to knock ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine to the ground, when he visited the base. Heseltine’s a big fellow – 6’3″, and so not easy to deck. He did fall over, but even he admitted that it was an accident. I think he fell over a guy rope or something. But whatever was the cause, he wasn’t pushed, shoved, punched, knocked or anything else. But Fleet Street published the story, ’cause as radical protesters, clearly the Greenham women had to be pathologically violent. Even when they said they weren’t, and gave interviews saying that they didn’t want men at the camp because they were afraid that any men present would start a violent confrontation.
As for hiding the correction on an obscure webpage, this seems to be part of common journalistic practice. Whenever a newspaper or magazine is forced to make a correction, it’s always tucked away in an obscure corner of the publication. The Beeb in this instance is no different. But their does seem to be a change of policy involved. I recall several previous instances, where the regulatory authorities had ruled that one of the Beeb’s programmes had misled the public. The ruling was announced on television or the radio itself. I can remember hearing such rulings on the 7.15 pm slot, or thereabouts, just after The Archers on the radio. For television, they used to issue the notifications of such rulings on Sunday evening just after Points of View and before Songs of Praise. This is a time slot when there would be relatively few people watching, but it’s still not as obscure as a very obscure webpage. Perhaps this is the new way the Beeb hopes to bury the news when its caught bending the facts.