Tony Hall, the BBC director general, says he has investigated the BBC’s conduct in the reporting of the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual offence.
Sir Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Robertson (the latter not known for affinities with the Liberal-Left) are both deeply experienced in the practise and ethics of journalism. Both say the decision by the Corporation to treat the search as a major news event complete with helicopter aerial shots was at best seriously over the top and at worst could be seen as a witch-hunt against the star.
Also seriously concerned are the Commons Home Affairs select committee who have ordered Lord Hall and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (who directed the search) to appear before it to explain their behaviour.
Before that, however, Lord Hall Lord Hall has written to Keith Vaz, the chairman of the select committee, stating, in effect, that there is nothing to investigate. He declares:
“I believe that BBC journalists have acted appropriately in pursuing this story. As you rightly say, the media has a right to report on matters of public interest.
“Sir Cliff Richard is one of the most successful British entertainers of all time and has been a prominent public figure for several decades. Investigations into historic sex abuse cases have – and will continue to have – a profound impact on the lives of well-known individuals and the standing of public institutions.
“The disclosure of a sex abuse allegation against Sir Cliff Richard and the police search of his property was clearly a significant story and the BBC was not alone in providing extensive coverage.
“The protection of sources is a key principle for all journalism – from broadcasters to newspapers – and for that reason the BBC will not be providing details about the source. This makes it difficult to answer some of your questions specifically; however, following speculation about this story, we did confirm that South Yorkshire Police were not our original source regarding the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.”
So, in the BBC’s book – in other words – that’s alright then. Move along there, nothing to see. We decide how we act, what’s in the public interest and that’s that. Not only that, there won’t be any further explanation because we don’t believe it is necessary.
This would be marginally more acceptable if the BBC was properly accountable and subject to genuinely independent control and sanction by a body that took its responsibilities seriously. The reality is that the only check on BBC journalism is through the BBC Trustees – and, as has been repeatedly shown on this site, they defend the conduct of the BBC rather than act as a watchdog.
The Hall response is par for the course. In effect, he is hiding behind the mock shield of the integrity of BBC journalism to justify what experts clearly believe amounted to a massive breach of ethics and conduct.
The Guardian has been running a series of features which claim to give an overview of the BBC’s state of health. They are emerging as text book examples in biased, vacuous analysis.
Latest up by Clare Higgins is an overview of the BBC’s journalism – an purported audit of the health of its journalism.
The Guardian, of course, is the most-bought newspaper by the BBC (more than 200 copies a day!) – in effect, according to some, its ‘house organ’.
The verdict of Ms Higgins? Rather predictably, she decides the Corporation’s biggest problem is not ‘institutional bias to the left’. The possibility is dismissed in a single sentence.
She provides no analytical evidence to back this up. Her sources for deciding are figures such as two former senior BBC news executives, Richard Sambrook – now a professor of journalism at Cardiff University (which receives project money from the BBC) – and Mark Damazer, now an Oxford don, along with correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen and Robert Peston.
Sambrook sums up their approach to Higgins’ questions: ‘It is a wonderful news organisation. It does fantastic journalism every day.’ So that’s OK, then. With 5,000 staff in the field and £1bn of funding, who would expect anything less?
Peston complains about the pressures that correspondents are put under by editors pursuing the agendas of newspapers, and claims that if anything, the bias in BBC output is towards the Daily Mail.
He reveals only that he, the Guardian and his BBC colleagues – present and past – are totally trapped inside an illusion of their own making. Oh, and that the journalism of he and his Guardian colleagues is risible.
The BBC’s role in the searching of Cliff Richard’s home in connection with an alleged sexual crime is ‘a witch-hunt’, according to a veteran BBC broadcaster, and has also been strongly attacked as a ‘conspiracy to injure’ Mr Richard by one of the UK’s leading human rights lawyers.
The conduct of the search by the police – in apparently agreeing with the BBC that they could witness it – is also under fire. But it is the Corporation’s decision to film the search using a helicopter, and then to name Mr Richard, and also to quickly ban the playing of all his records on any part of the BBC output that has led to major questions being asked.
On ITV news, chat show host Michael Parkinson suggested that there was some kind of witch-hunt going on against Mr Richard, and that BBC had acted wrongly and too hastily by naming someone who had not been charged.
And in the Guardian, rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson said the BBC had abused public trust. He said that the case called into question both the ethics of the BBC and the legality of the search warrant on Richard’s house, particularly if it had been granted by the courts after a deal had been struck between the BBC and the police.
He was quoted:
“The BBC should have been covering the raid because this was important news but it can be criticised for suppressing the more important news that its coverage was a collaboration with the police. It is the police misbehaviour in orchestrating this public spectacle which deserves to be condemned and the BBC, by keeping their deal a secret, failed in its duty as a public interest broadcaster. By keeping this news a secret the BBC betrayed its public trust and involved itself in a conspiracy to injure Cliff Richard.
“The real question, which goes to the heart of our civil liberties, is how and why this warrant was issued in the first place. The police were under a legal duty to disclose the deal with the BBC to the magistrate – did they do so? How were they able to show a ‘reasonable belief’ that evidence of ‘substantial value’ was on the premises, in relation to an alleged assault 25 years ago? How did they convince a judge presiding they could not contact Mr Richard? There must be a real possibility that this warrant was not properly obtained.”
He added: “I think what the police are doing are trying to pin the blame on the BBC as a pre-emptive strike. How long did the hearing at Sheffield magistrates court take? Was there a careful examination of the application or was it rubber-stamped?”
Mr Robertson and Mr Parkinson both therefore allege the Corporation has not acted according to due process in criminal proceedings, and thereby has seriously damaged the reputation of Mr Richard. Would they have acted so precipitately against someone who was not Christian and on their books? Jonathan Ross or Russell Brand, say?
The BBC keeps telling of us that its coverage of the immigration debate is getting better and fairer.
Remember, for example, when, back in January, political editor Nick Robinson uttered a solemn and very public apology and swore that Auntie was mending her ways? No longer, he suggested, should opponents of the EU’s ‘free movement of peoples’ directive be branded as xenophobic or racist
“My own organisation, the BBC, has admitted that in the past we made mistakes. We were too slow to recognise and reflect the concern, dislocation and anger felt by many.”
Six months or so on, how is Auntie doing? Well…
Exhibit A is from the think tank Civitas, which published a few days ago a very important contribution to the topic by respected Cambridge economist Bob Rowthorn. This former ‘leftist’ (as the Daily Mail gleefully described him) pointed out that on current trends immigration would lead to a population growth of 20m in the next fifty years, and would create massive strains on the country’s infrastructure while at the same time having few discernible economic benefits and only minimal improvement in GDP per capita.
This is a meticulous 83-page survey by a master of economic theory, a cool-headed, objective look at the immigration debate. It received widespread coverage in newspapers, including the Independent as well as the Daily Mail and Telegraph.
So what did the new, immigration-aware BBC make of it?
Well nothing. The BBC website has not mention of it, and David Green, the director of Civitas, says his office has not received a single call from any of the corporation’s serried ranks of 5,000 or so journalists.
Importantly, Professor Rowthorn’s paper debunks a report by Christian Dustmann, a University College, London, immigration ‘expert’, who argued back in November in a paper for the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration that immigrants, especially those from Eastern Europe, were having a strongly positive impact on the UK economy through the increased taxes they paid.
The Dustmann report – unlike Professor Rowthorn’s – did receive widespread coverage on the BBC, those massed ranks of newshounds went to town with items in the bulletins and a string of features, including on Radio 4’s Today. Breathlessly, the bulletins declared:
“A report says recent immigrants have paid substantially more into the public purse in taxes than they have taken out in benefits. The study, by University College London says migrants from European countries have made a particularly positive contribution.”
Professor Dustmann’s views, it is true, were ‘balanced’ in the Today feature with commentary by Sir Andrew Green of the Migration Watch think tank, who questioned the statistical techniques employed by professor Dustmann. But there was also commentary from BBC correspondent Danny Shaw, who said that the report was ‘the most thorough of its kind’. No partisanship there, then.
Back in March Migration Watch itself published a comprehensive report rebutting Professor Dustmann’s arguments. The BBC’s reaction? Well, they completely ignored it.
Exhibit B is that News-watch is now well advanced in the he process of completing analysis of more than 300 transcripts across eight of the major BBC news programmes in the month leading up to European elections, which took place in May.
The clear headline is that throughout, Nigel Farage and UKIP were treated as aberrant, venal incompetents pursuing racist, nasty-party policies focused on immigration. Throughout the coverage there were frequent references to claims by others that the party’s approach was racist.
By contrast, those who favoured the EU’s free movement policies and indulged in the ‘racist’ name-calling, such as the Labour MP Mike Gapes, received a much fairer hearing. Of which, more when the research is complete.
The BBC, as I have already pointed out in a separate posting, have already declared this News-watch analysis to be wrong, without having read or considered it. Their view is that the coverage of the European election campaign was perfectly fair and balanced.
Which leads where? The BBC tells us they are being fair on immigration and indeed, they allow one of the chief correspondents to shout it from the rooftops. But meanwhile, when hard evidence is produced to show that this is not the case, they either ignore it altogether – or say it’s wrong. How very, very Animal Farm.
Scratch the surface of the BBC, and connections with vested climate change alarmist interests and the EU seem to lurk everywhere. Not only has the Corporation become an alarmist propaganda machine, but also its personnel seem to be working on a massive scale behind the scenes to spread the message even further.
Acting chairman of the Trustees Diana Coyle is a paid advisor to energy company EDF – as was former chairman Lord Patten. And fellow trustee Richard Ayre is a former chairman of Article 19, whose goals include climate change rights advocacy throughout the world.
Deputy director of news, Fran Unsworth, can now be added to this list. As well as being one of the BBC’s most senior female executives, she is also a board member of a major EU initiative that includes systematic ‘education’ about climate alarmism. This is called the programme – of which, more later.
First, through, it seems that Ms Unsworth has taken personal charge of the BBC’s response to the row over the Corporation’s coverage of climate change centred on Lord Lawson.
She declares in a letter to The Spectator that Lord Lawson, contrary to some reports, is not banned from BBC coverage. Instead, editors must make it clear that his views don’t carry equal weight to those of alarmists because he is not an expert.
Ms Unsworth’s lofty pronouncement would also seem to mean that Owen Patterson, the sacked environment minister, who has described alarmist lobby as ‘The Green Blob’, will not be afforded ‘equal weight’ in future coverage of environmental issues.
Who else will join this list of ‘non experts’?
This will presumably be down to individual programme editors, who as a result of the BBC’s unbending partisanship on this most complex of subjects, are now in a position of deciding who is properly qualified to comment and who is not. On what basis?
An interesting parallel, I would suggest, comes in the history of eugenics, which I am currently studying. From the 1890s onwards, overwhelming numbers of scientists and liberal ‘reformers’ (Marie Stopes and George Bernard Shaw among them) came to believe – on the basis of Darwin’s theories, as well as a torrent of books –that selective breeding and enforced sterilisation was essential to eliminate mental and physical disease and to improve mankind’s genetic strength. They wanted to help natural selection on its way.
As a result, of course, we got Nazi Germany, but before that (less well-known but perhaps just as chilling, but now almost forgotten) more than 30 US states introduced enforced sterilisation laws and Britain came within an ace of following suit in 1913. Sweden passed laws, too, and they were not repealed until the 1970s. A ‘consensus’ of leading scientists, industrialists and politicians (who included Winston Churchill) believed stridently in this social Darwinism and thought the only way forward was selective breeding.
Would the BBC have then been its cheerleader? On Ms Unsworth’s logic, and with her certainty, it most probably would.
And what of Ms Unsworth herself, what equips her to make such clear adjudications on complex matters of science? Not, I would submit, her education…in fact her degree, according to the BBC, was in drama. Very apt for a BBC journalist, perhaps, but not in the understanding of the finer points of meteorology.
May be she is emboldened by the seminar which the BBC held back in 2006, at which, the Corporation claimed, a consensus of ‘scientists’ advised them that the science was settled. But Anthony Montford, of the Bishop Hill website, has shown conclusively that the whole meeting was a farcical charade – the scientists were in fact, mostly political activists, the ‘Green Blob’ that Owen Patterson has identified.
But no matter how flimsy these foundations, Ms Unsworth must be jolly sure of her facts about climate change, as her other connections also testify. The BBC Register of Interests shows she is also an advisory board member of the EU Erasmus Mundus programme. This, on the surface, is presented as an exchange scheme for students, and it clearly attracts lavish funding. But hang on – there’s a catch.
This paper shows it has extensive climate change alarmist objectives. It is doling out our money to create whole new generations of climate change warriors though a massive programme of international seminars and ‘education’.
No doubt listening only to Ms Unsworth’s approved ‘experts’ and properly constituted BBC reporting as they learn.
The BBC swears until it is blue in the face that it is not biased against the case for withdrawal from the EU, and that it reports the campaign fairly. It engaged at vast expense Stuart Prebble, a former BBC trainee, and long-time chum of BBC Trustee David Liddiment, to write a highly questionable academic report that said so.
But this is a big fat economy with the truth, as events at the end of the European Parliament election campaign have revealed graphically.
First, as Guido Fawkes has adroitly revealed, Jasmine Lawrence, one of the roster of editors of the BBC News Channel, has let slip in her (now deleted) Twitter account the BBC’s corporate derisive view of UKIP. They are ‘sexists’ and ‘racists’. And second, the BBC complaints bureaucracy has been forced to admit that the May 18 News Review Radio 4 programme seriously misrepresented the views about UKIP of Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens.
Mr Prebble, it will be recalled, penned his ‘objective’ report about BBC EU output for his chums at the corporation against a background in which John Humphrys, one of the corporation’s most high-profile presenters, and Mark Thompson, a former director general, were thinking privately (and eventually admitted publicly) that despite outward protestations of fairness, the corporation’s EU coverage was in fact deeply biased against those who supported withdrawal.
Mr Prebble went out of his way to pour a massive bucket of cold water over research by News-watch – conducted over more than 15 years – that showed beyond doubt that what Mr Humphrys and Mr Thompson thought privately was true. He pointedly ignored statistics taken from sustained monitoring of the Today programme by News-watch that showed that less than 0.004% of programme time was taken by ‘come outers’ talking about their case, together with transcript analysis which emonstrated that interviews with eurosceptics focused relentlessly on the negative and rarely, if ever, touched on the actual arguments against the EU.
News-watch has consistently shown that the reality of the corporation’s EU coverage is that it is, and always has been, pro-EU and has often been venomously negative against those who want to leave.
The Peter Hitchen episode shows how deep and pervasive this hostility actually is. The full account of what Mr Hitchen wrote and what the BBC broadcast is up on Biased BBC. He was quoted in News Review on May 18 as saying that UKIP was ‘doddery’, ‘farcical’ and ‘very unclear about its goals’. The quote came in a newspaper review sequence which contained a torrent of anti-UKIP comments, including that they were racists. Mr Hitchens’ comments were taken completely out of context from a much longer item in a way which even the most novice reporter would have known was gross misrepresentation.
The BBC is actually going to broadcast an apology (something that very, very rarely happens). This shows how crass the journalism was, but it doesn’t deal at all with the main issue. As Mr Hitchens points out, they routinely do this with his views on such topics. And as New-watch research shows such negativity fits with the BBC’s overall pattern of anti-withdrawal reporting.
Miss Lawrence and her twittering is a different matter. This was a middle-ranking BBC news executive, who tweeted:
The ‘Why I’m Voting UKIP’ Twitter tag was actually set up as a vehicle for those who want to pour vile opprobrium on both UKIP and the case for withdrawal. It is filled with venomous invective that shows the nastier side of political ‘debate’. That Miss Lawrence felt it appropriate for an ‘objective’ BBC senior staff member to comment there defies belief. It is surely a disciplinary matter.
But hang on! This is the BBC that both routinely villifies EU withdrawal, and believes beyond doubt that manmade climate change is a serious threat and that it must report the debate about such matters accordingly, suppressing comment from those who disagree. Perhaps, in that deliberately anti-capitalist climate, Miss Lawrence automatically assumed that espousing withdrawal is racist, and that this gave her permission to go into attack dog mode. The BBC have been saying so for at least 15 years, and much of the other media is joining in, so what’s wrong with that?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, initiated an hour’s debate in the House of Lords about biased BBC coverage of the EU. His main demand was that the BBC Charter is not renewed until the bias is rectified, and his key point that despite repeated assertions to the contrary the BBC simply does not cover the withdrawal perspective fairly or adequately. The debate can be read in full here: Click here
The peers’ collective words on this vital topic have gone unreported – especially by the BBC. Lord Pearson of Rannoch referred centrally in his contribution to a News-watch report that said that says that the BBC’s Prebble report (which gave the corporation’s EU coverage a virtual clean bill of health) was unprofessional and ‘incestuous’.
Lord Pearson asserted in conclusion:
“So I ask the Government not to renew the BBC’s charter until they are satisfied that it is capable of fulfilling it. This afternoon, I have dealt only with the BBC’s coverage of the EU. Similar criticisms could be made of its coverage of immigration and manmade climate change, at least. In conclusion, I trust that the Government will ensure that the BBC’s editorial freedom is preserved, but with that freedom must come the fulfilment of the great ideals of its charter. I beg to move.”
News-watch has written a paper for Civitas, the respected think-tank, that shows that the Prebble report into the BBC’s EU coverage ‘is not worth the paper it is written on’ and was not independent.
The Times says that the Civitas paper demonstrates that ‘the clean bill of health for the BBC (given for the EU coverage by Prebble) “raises serious questions” about the impartiality and competence of the BBC Trust, the oversight body that commissioned the study’.
The Civitas release about the report is here: http://www.civitas.org.uk/
The full report is here: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/
One of the problems of the BBC’s coverage of ‘withdrawal’ from the EU is that mostly, they don’t do it – but when they do deign to do so, it’s through a totally negative lens.
The News-watch long-term survey of Today – which goes back twelve years and covers roughly half the programme editions – shows that there have been only 108 appearances by ‘come outers’ where withdrawal has been mentioned. That equates to only one appearance every three weeks, compared to an average 47 EU-related speakers in the same period.
But that’s only part of picture because transcript analysis shows that most of these mentions have been very fleeting, and only very rarely indeed do Today presenters pose questions directly about withdrawal policy. What is also clear from the transcripts is that editorially, the programme tends to focus on negative issues. Are withdrawalists racist, venal, disorganised or opportunist? These are the favourites that crop up monotonously and almost mechanistically.
Another constant in the treatment of withdrawal is that the majority of the interviews has been with UKIP. Of the 108 appearances logged by News-watch, 80 were with members of UKIP. Only three (in nine years!) were with Labour figures and only 14 with Conservatives. Others, for example, were with those such as Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, who is usually viewed by the BBC as both ‘extremist’ and ‘racist’.
It’s in that context that the rather startling interview on April 22 by BBC political editor Nick Robinson of Nigel Farage must be seen. Basically, it looks like Mr Robinson sought to inflict maximum damage on the day that UKIP had launched their poster-based EU election campaign against the EU’s free movement of people directive.
Mr Robinson first established that Nigel Farage was employing his wife (a German) as his secretary. Here is the exchange:
NR: No British person could work for you as your secretary?
NF: Not at the moment.
NR: You don’t think anyone’s capable of doing that job?
NF: What, of marrying me?
NR: No. Of doing the job of your secretary.
NF: I don’t know anyone who would work those hours, no.
NR: So that’s it. It’s clear – UKIP do not believe that any British person is capable of being the secretary of their leader?
NF: That’s nonsense and you know it.
NR: You just said it!
This is truly jaw-dropping, even by the BBC’s previous standards. What is seemingly obvious was obvious from the context and what Mr Farage said is that was employing his wife not because she was German but because he worked anti-social hours and nobody else would put up with that.
But Mr Robinson was having none of it. As Biased BBC notes, he had already seemingly made up his mind what the story was about. – that UKIP did not believe that ‘any British person was capable of being the leader’s secretary’. For his part, Mr Farage was incredulous that Mr Robinson could make such crass assumptions.
The rest of the interview touched on the levels of immigration that might be thought be fair by UKIP under the free movement of people directive. Mr Farage suggested that the current number of 100,000+ per year should be cut to a ‘more manageable’30-50,000 and that there should border controls.
Mr Robinson’s conclusion sidestepped those national interest debating points. He said instead:
‘Mr Farage’s decision to employ his wife at public expense highlights two important questions he and his party now face – about what their immigration policy means in practice and their attitude to public money.’
Put another way: it seems that rather than looking at the important issues involved in immigration policy, Mr Robinson was determined to focus instead on showing
a) That UKIP and Mr Farage had very odd attitudes towards employment
b) His policy and attitudes towards his wife’s employment meant that his ideas about immigration were potentially at least very odd and possibly racist (the word was not said but Mr Robinson’s focus suggested it was somewhere in his mind)
c) Nothing at all about withdrawalist objections to the free movement of people directive.
Mr Robinson, it has been noted elsewhere on the site, has himself recently suggested that the BBC has not covered the debate about immigration properly; on this evidence, it is easy to see why.
Jamie Angus was appointed editor of Radio 4’s flagship Today programme almost a year ago, in May 2013. Monitoring by Newswatch has shown that a highlight of his tenure to date is that the programme devoted 83 minutes to items on Nelson Mandela on the day of his death – the highest total for any single topic since the introduction of euro notes and coins on January 1, 2002.
Under his watch, too, his main and highest-profile presenter, John Humphrys, has declared that he believes the Corporation has been guilty of ‘bias by omission’ – that is, excluding key figures from appearances in the debate about key topics such as the EU and immigration.
So who is Mr Angus? He had previously worked for the BBC World Service, where he held ‘senior editorial roles’. He was also editor of R4’s World at One, and briefly – in the wake of the Savile and McAlpine debacles – acting deputy editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.
But the web in general – and the BBC’s own website – is curiously silent about him. He seems to have risen without a trace through the BBC’s ranks. Apart from a spasmodic and rather boring BBC blog, he has virtually no web profile at all. That must be through choice and careful management.
In fact, his only public recorded utterance was on his appointment to Today, when he said the programme was at the heart of Radio 4 news and central to what the BBC offered its audiences.
Whatever his background, behind the scenes he is now making rulings that nail his colours to the mast. The Biased BBC website reports that, in effect, he has declared that the debate over ‘climate change’ is over. The background is that listeners were worried that those who challenge climate alarmism hardly ever appear on his programme, as was evidenced by a recent very rare interview with the widely-known sceptic, the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson on February 13. Mr Angus wrote in response:
‘The BBC’s reviewed its coverage of climate change and climate science, and it has set out some admirably clear guidelines for us to follow. We are able to put on air people who take a differing view from the majority view of climate science. However, that coverage should be proportional, and I think that any reasonable listener who listened to Today’s coverage of climate change, across the past three months, would probably find that Lord Lawson was the only climate sceptic, if you like, who’d appeared in that period. And I think, you know, when Justin and I and the programme team discussed that interview, we thought we’d allowed it to drift too much into a straight yes-no argument about the science. And of course the settled view of the expert scientists is just that – settled, and I believe that our coverage reflects that, over the long term.‘
Put another way, Mr Angus says that he, his fellow editor, the BBC as a whole and his programme team, have decided:
· The issues around ‘climate change’ are known and decided because that’s what the majority believe and because it’s ‘the settled view’ of ‘expert scientists’.
· It’s a big favour putting on Today anyone who disbelieves the science is settled, because such appearances should be ‘proportional’ to point 1.
· Climate change debates on the programme, on the very rare occasions they do occur, should not allow a simple ‘no’ perspective – because yet again, the science is settled.
What this actually means is that anyone who disagrees with the party line, if they appear at all, will be pushed to the margins of Today and not allowed to argue, especially if it against the majority verdict. Of course, the BBC Trustees, in their infinite wisdom, have already separately and definitively decided that climate science is settled. The only surprising element of Mr Angus’s unquestioning obeisance is the Orwellian, mechanistic, dictatorial tone. And, whoever Mr Angus is, he appears not to have the faintest glimmering of an understanding that science is not, and never has been, decided by ‘majority views’ but by the facts.
That, as Christopher Booker notes, may be the BBC groupthink, but it’s not the real world.
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