Appearance of News-watch before the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee.
BBC Director General Lord of Hall of Birkenhead, unusually for any big media organisation, is both managing director and its editor in chief. It gives him immense power.
His most important role in a general election is to ensure scrupulous political balance. The BBC Charter and electoral law require him to do so.
He recently told the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that he keeps track of news coverage through a daily briefing meeting and steps in fast if there are any issues of concern.
In this context, the Challengers’ debate on Thursday night was inevitably a key occasion. It is inconceivable that he did not personally discuss and approve the proposed format with his phalanxes of advisors.
So what does it say about Lord Hall and his editorial team that he and they ever thought the framing of this so-called ‘debate’ could be regarded as fair?
There has been much discussion of this in the media already and it has now emerged that Nigel Farage himself is consulting lawyers about especially the composition of the studio audience, which bayed with derision at him and cheered to the rafters the lefty extremism of Sturgeon and Co.
I will address that in more detail later, but there is a much deeper issue here. In crude terms, this ‘debate’ was – and could only ever have been – the broadcasting equivalent of a gang bang. This was predictable from a million miles away. It was four politicians with highly-publicised (especially by the BBC) and very similar anti-austerity, pro-immigration views ranged against one Nigel Farage.
The BBC held the debate because they could, not in the interest of fairness. Could it be seen as an act of revenge on the Conservatives for not agreeing to their desire for a full leaders’ debate? How else could they sign off on a programme that gave an inbuilt totally disproportionate 4-1 bias to the left wingers on the panel?
Senior BBC editors argue in defence of the continual bias against eurosceptics and EU come-outers that Nigel Farage is a big boy who is well able to defend himself against the insults he regularly receives from them.
And, in fact, this was a blue moon occasion on the BBC airwaves. Analysis of the 13,700-word transcript shows that Farage actually had the chance to talk more than few words about some core policies. He seized the opportunity with relish and with calmness under fire.
That said, everything else that followed was a travesty of fairness and balance. It defies belief that Lord Hall approved it. One measure is arithmetic: Farage contributed 2,756 words, 20% of those spoken. That means that those ranged against him commanded 80% of the airtime. Furthermore, time wasn’t apportioned equally between the other leaders as the debate moved on from the leaders’ formal, timed one-minute responses. This meant that Farage’s overall contribution was less than two thirds of Miliband’s 4,274 words, and that the Labour leader dominated the airtime, accounting for 31% of the total words spoken by the five leaders.
But the bias against Farage and the withdrawal perspective doesn’t end there. In this election, the British relationship with the EU is a central theme of the ‘right’. Ukip want to come out and the Conservative party has promised an in-out referendum.
So why on earth as there not a direct question about the EU? Farage would still have been howled down by Miliband and Co, but at least such a question would have forced them to declare their pro-EU stance and back it up with supportive facts.
Instead, the Ukip question was about immigration and housing. That meant that Sturgeon and Co could not only heap abuse on Farage, but also effortlessly frame their arguments in terms of their anti-austerity bleeding heart socialism. The way this unfolded was absolutely predictable: the set-up deliberately gave a platform for the left-wing torrent of anti-Ukip abuse that ensued.
It is here that Lord Hall has been most derelict in his duties. He and his advisors facilitated gross imbalance.
But in addition, this was a glaringly biased audience. David Dimbleby instantly denied this, but it has now emerged that ICM has consistently under-represented both the Conservative and Ukip vote. So why on earthy were they chosen as ‘independent’? The BBC response is that ICM was also used to select the ITV debate audience. This is a risible excuse. .
BBC news chiefs know full well – because the European Scrutiny Committee spelled it out last month – that many believe that their coverage of the EU is deeply flawed and biased. In that context, those who hired ICM should have been aware of their controversial track record and turned instead to an above-reproach pollster. That they did not is an indicator of arrogance or incompetence, or both.
A second issue relates to the use of the audience tracking ‘worm’, which was a feature of the debate coverage on the BBC News Channel last Thursday. This conveys instant audience reaction and – unsurprisingly given the overall composition of the audience – was especially negative when Farage spoke.
Yet In using it, the BBC was flying against the advice of academic research by psychologists at Bristol University who analysed use of the worm in the 2010 leadership debates. They found they have a strong and disproportionate power to sway voting intentions. The House of Lords communications committee considered the findings in depth and decided the fears were well-founded. As a result, they warned broadcasters that they should not be used in election debate coverage.
The BBC, of course, considers itself to be above any such strictures. They ignored the research itself, the House of Lords advice and a letter from the Bristol University written to the Guardian on April 13. It opined:
‘Our results….showed that the worm has a powerful influence both on voters’ opinions of who won the debate, and on their voting intentions. An unrepresentative worm poll, based on responses from only 20 to 50 people, has the potential to exert a strong influence on millions of viewers.’
This adds up to that Lord Hall is failing on multiple levels to fulfil his duties as Director General. The only conclusion can be that his organisation is engaged in a systematic effort to shut down elements of democratic debate, especially those related to the EU and immigration.
One thing is certain in this phony election: vote any colour but purple and you are supporting policies that continue to sanction the wasting of countless billions on climate change lunacy.
At the heart of all three main party manifestos is labyrinthine state regulation, a forest of new restrictive measures foisted on both businesses and individuals. They want tougher measures in favour of ‘decarbonisation’ under the UK’s insane Climate Change Act. You can read them here, here and here.
Whatever the outcome of the General Election, the next stage of this multi-billion spending extravaganza is that the parties will be working in unison to achieve them at the UN Climate Change ‘summit’ in Paris in the autumn.
Be afraid, very, very afraid: the declared goal is a ‘universal climate agreement’ which will hobble efficient economic growth for the foreseeable future and will ratchet up the price of energy generation, putting our well-being, prosperity and real chances of ending poverty into a stalling nosedive.
The most obscene aspect of this is that artificially high energy prices hit the poor and the old hardest. MPs know this, but they do damn all about it, and this eco-lunacy certainly does not affect three-kitchens Ed, £5K cooker-owner Nick or call-me-Dave’s father-in-law, a major beneficiary of subsidies for ‘renewables’.
What is this agenda? The mainstream media scarcely touch the issues involved. But The Guardian is already in full gung-ho eco-warrior mode and giving maximum publicity to the pre-Paris agenda. Pride of place goes to their Keep it in the Ground campaign, the aim of which is a total cessation of recovering and burning using fossil fuels.
Actually, this is happening at a time when former UN climate change chief alarmist Yvo De Boer, has accepted that coal is an essential part of the energy mix, especially for developing economies, and when most of Asia is flocking to a new investment fund in China, which, unlike the Green-dominated World Bank, will provide investment support for new coal-fired power stations. But our MPs are too immersed in their green ideology to do joined-up thinking.
More alarmingly – in true Politburo style – these zealots want to shut down debate in this highly complex arena. Anyone who disagrees that the science is proven is contemptuously dismissed by Guardianistas as a ‘denier’, a phrase deliberately hijacked from ‘Holocaust deniers’. Full-blooded nastiness is intended, and some want the jailing and even killing of opponents.
It boils down to the fact that the allure and stranglehold of doctrinaire Communism/socialism – which kept the Left happy for decades – may have weakened, but it has been replaced by a new Green ideology that is every bit as repressive, if not more so. At its core it is not only anti-capitalist but also anti-welfare.
This immense Green Blob present themselves to the world as a downtrodden, progressive and right-on. But they are bankrolled by billions of pounds or private and public cash. Big Green has more cash than Big Oil,most of it from our pockets. And all the manifestos show that they are now going to get even more.
Green campaigners are working to flat out to stifle dissent in the climate change debate and the party manifestos demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that all our political class – but Ukip – are signed up to this eco-zealotry. The extent to which it has taken hold is best illustrated by the semantics involved: the Liberal Democrats want an Office for Accelerated Low Carbon Innovation.
The BBC, of course, is fully complicit in this. It’s the mouthpiece of all three parties’ drive towards ‘decarbonisation’. While the Corporation’s election campaign coverage focuses on the phony differences between them, it’s eco-warrior business as usual on the BBC website. Here it is pushing the climate alarmist agenda with every sinew of its corporate clout – we will no longer be able to eat fish and chips because of global warming. That’s what Met Office models tell us, so in the BBC’s world of weather doom, it must be true.
There are a few glimmers of sense. David Cameron has rowed back from his Green Blob thinking in that he has declared that the Tories will no longer support the further development of onshore wind farms – and he says the party also supports fracking. But all other aspects of eco-lunacy – including enthusiasm for the Paris summit – are adopted hook line and sinker. Tory policy is broadly indistinguishable from any other.
And the party continues to support idiotic green schemes, such as the Swansea ‘lagoon’, a tidal energy project, which if it goes ahead with generate probably the most expensive electricity in the world.
Only Ukip’s manifesto promises to repeal the Climate Change Act and halt this insane spending on a political ideology that, in reality, is a massive con trick on the British electorate.
This is without doubt the no-choice, phoney election. Take the EU. Opinion polls say that the majority of Britons would vote to leave if given the chance. That is why David Cameron and Ed Miliband are actually working to shut down debate on both the UK’s relationship with the EU and its closely-related bedfellow, immigration.
David Cameron is as much in his own way a Brussels enthusiast as Ken Clarke, Ted Heath or Nigel Heseltine. His declared ambition is that its domain eventually stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. At every opportunity he and George Osborne say that they want the UK to stay inside what has now become arguably a bigger socialist/statist experiment than the USSR ever was.
Cameron says he is offering a blend of ‘renegotiation’ and in/out referendum, but the details have remained conspicuously and suspiciously vague.
For his part, Ed Miliband makes no bones that he wants to cosy up to the Eurocrats and the federalists in the same way that Tony Blair did. Without doubt, five years of a Labour-SNP government would enmesh us even deeper in the Brussels mire.
Both MIliband and Cameron clearly know that their approaches to the EU are hated by a significant part of their core vote. But their calculated, cynical gamble is to focus their electoral fire elsewhere. Their hope is that the country’s deep and visceral distrust of the EU won’t really count when the ballot boxes are opened. And afterwards, whoever is elected will carry on regardless in their pro-EU trajectory.
Where does the BBC fit into this anything-but-the-EU-and-immigration election?
The Corporation, of course, loves Brussels with a passion because of its core Marxist-socialist founding principles, its dismantling of and disdain for British common law, history, institutions and traditions, and its stance on issues such as climate change.
In this space it is impossible to unpick the full range of Corporation bias as the election approaches. Suffice it to say that they are enthusiastic partners in the Camerband dance. A primary feature of coverage – as evidenced in previous News-watch reports – is that there has been massive bias by omission, an editorial avoidance of discussing the issue of withdrawal itself.
Another aspect of the endemic bias is that editors bust a gut to find and explore the views of those who oppose withdrawal – and virtually ignore those who favour it. Tony Blair’s intervention in the election is a classic case in point. Blair’s pronouncements on the economic disaster that would ensue if the UK left the EU were given maximum exposure and weight – and those who genuinely disagreed did not get a look in, as analysis of the flagship coverage on BBC1 News at 10 shows.
David Cameron, of course, was wheeled out to say that Brussels’ iron opposition to changes in immigration and general reform could be achieved. But for the reasons already mentioned this was emphatically not a pro-withdrawal, or even a balancing, contribution. Cameron actually agrees with much of what Blair said. It was the false optimism of an EU sycophant.
The clearest evidence of BBC bias in the News at 10 sequence came in the final contribution by economics editor Robert Peston.
Pulling the lens back for a moment, BBC news now treats these contributions by correspondents as a fulcrum of their coverage. Major stories are not complete without them. The idea is that they explain, put into context and summarise the key points. But in an organisation with its own agendas – which the BBC now has in areas such as the EU and climate change – they have instead become a powerful propaganda tool.
And that’s exactly what happened with Peston in the Blair item. This is what he said in full:
“Well, the UK is an economy particularly dependent on big multinationals; in fact, it’s been a point of government policy for about 30, 40 years to attract them here. Why do they base themselves here? Well, it’s for access to the single market of the European Union – the biggest market in the world of its sort. Now, in the couple of years or so, if the Tories win the election, that would be the run-up to a referendum there would be considerable uncertainty about the outcome in that period, there is a risk that those multinationals would stop investing, or at least put investment on hold. That would be a cost. That would slow down the economy.
“If in that referendum we were to vote to leave the European Union, well, a group like Open Europe, which is fairly critical of the way the European Union runs itself, it estimates that the potential costs by 2030 of leaving on worst case basis would be about 2%, a bit more than 2% of GDP. They do address the UKIP argument that we would have more control over things like red tape imposed on businesses, how to tax ourselves, you know, how to run our economy. They say the best case, if everything went to plan, would be an improvement in GDP of 1.5%. So they’re saying the worst case outcome is significantly worse than the best case outcome of independence. So they would say the costs massively outweigh the potential, well, not massively, but they outweigh the potential benefits.”
Put another way, Peston declared loud and clear that Blair was spot on. Not only that, he amplified Blair’s prejudice by suggesting that what he had argued was based on well-researched facts. If Britain left the EU, Britain would lose at least 0.5% of its GDP – an immense sum (GDP is currently around £1.9 trillion) .
What he chose not to say was also outrageous bias. Peston knows perfectly well there is a wealth of well-documented material which – unlike Open Europe – suggests that leaving the EU would boost the British economy. This document, by economist Ian Milne for the Bruges Group, shows that 90% (by value) of UK trade is not with the EU – 10% is, but 80% occurs within Britain and 10% with the rest of the world. And this paper, by Michael Burrage, for Civitas, concludes that the trade advantages of being in the EU are virtually non-existent because the volume of trade now with EU countries is exactly the same as it was in 1973 when the UK joined.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Peston could have included a snapshot of this opinion and analysis – instead he deliberately emphasised the importance of the UK staying in the EU.
While the BBC agitates with all its sinews to prevent those it loathes from being elected at the General Election, two new Corporation Trustees have been appointed.
Will that change anything at the Biased Broadcasting Corporation? Do not hold your breath.
Most go native the moment they are appointed, as chairman Rona Fairhead has repeatedly shown.
This is what one of the two new appointees says about what he thinks about the Corporation: “It expresses noble ideas of impartiality and fairness. It expands cultural horizons and can make us think, laugh and cry.”
Sounds like high-level sycophancy.
That said, appointment number one is superficially interesting and a tad less predictable than most. He is , an investment banker. Shock, horror, he is possibly even a ‘Conservative’ – the first such Trustee since Lord Patten became chairman – a former party deputy treasurer, and joint founder with Iain Duncan Smith of the respected Conservative think-tank the Centre for Social Justice. Its recommendations in their Breakdown/Breakthrough Britain reports – if they had been implemented by David Cameron – would have led to significant positive change.
Sadly, most weren’t. They were jettisoned by George Osborne, in favour instead of spending billions on forcing mothers out to work.
Scratch the surface of Florman’s activities and a familiar rotten smell begins to appear. He may be Tory on the outside, but it is clear that he is also at the epicentre of the so-called ‘responsible’ investment racket, as this report of the British Venture Capital Association, of which he was chief executive, makes clear.
This means in practice that he and his fellow high-powered financial acolytes are all (or were until very recently) greenie fanatics. Their interpretation of fiscal ‘responsibility’ is that they are totally wedded to the green agenda, and they want, in effect, a Britain that is covered in giant wind farms and solar panels. Their real aim, of course, is self-enrichment in the pursuit of billions in green energy subsidies, and to persuade the government to continue jacking up energy prices through the insane ‘decarbonisation’ dictated by the 2008 Climate Change act.
Florman is not only a leading advocate of greenie investment ideology, he is also a former chairman of LM Glasfiber, said to be the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines, and is therefore also at the heart of the green energy scam. And his other current main activity listed in his gleaming new BBC biography is that he is a non-executive director of 8 Miles, a venture capital fund that is investing in Africa. In this capacity he works closely with the fund’s main advisor Sir Bob Geldof – yet another greenie fanatic (who rather paradoxically in this context believes the world will end in 2030 unless we abandon capitalism), and is thus a firm BBC long-term favourite activist.
If there was a PR manual on how to spread greenie propaganda, being appointed to the BBC Board of Trustees with the background and experience of Florman would be at the level of the untrumpable gold card. The Corporation has 8,000 journalists who relentlessly spread eco-lunacy as one of their main goals. No doubt Florman and his fellow investment gurus are triumphant about his new role.
Some would call this a massive conflict of interest. But in the warped thinking of our political establishment, greenie causes are not liable to challenge or dissension, so that’s OK then – it was Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, who signed off the appointment.
The second new Trustee is Mark Damazer. Here, there is no pretence that this might be an appointment to provide contrasting views or ballast to the other Trustees. Damazer – now the Dean of St Peter’s College, Oxford – was a BBC journalist and executive for almost 30 years from 1981 to 2010 and as head of current affairs, political programmes and then deputy director of news for more than a decade was totally resistant to the idea that the BBC might be biased in its news reporting.
The idea that he can now somehow be ‘independent’ in exercising judgments about BBC impartiality is totally risible. Time and time again when in his news posts, Damazer rejected charges of bias in EU reporting – at the very time when Lord Wilson of Dinton found that the BBC’s reporting of EU affairs was grossly unsatisfactory.
In his new role, he joins fellow BBC career placeman Richard Ayre, the chairman of the Trustees Editorial Standards Committee (also a green fanatic), whose job it is to systematically rebut almost all the complaints filed against BBC journalism on any grounds they choose.
The fundamental problem with the BBC, as has been made clear in the TCW manifesto, is that it is the broadcasting arm of the Guardian. If the Trustees were genuinely independent and operated with tough resolve to ensure impartiality – as they undoubtedly have the statutory capacity to do – then there would be a remote chance of reform.
These latest appointments mean that the possibility of this happening is zero. Rona Fairhead and her BBC-loving henchmen are continuing full steam ahead in their deliberate bias.
For 16 years, News-watch has been monitoring in interviews by the BBC of Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
It’s the broadcasting equivalent of painting by numbers.
With wearying predictability, each one has been essentially the same. Question one usually suggests they are racist by wanting immigration controls. Question two posits the party is a flash in the pan, and then that their electoral bubble has definitely burst. Voters are now realising that supporting the party was a bad mistake. And then comes number three: why are there so many nutters and closet Nazis in party ranks?
All the main presenters – from John Humphrys to James Naughtie and from Justin Webb and Evan Davis to Sarah Montague – have clearly been tutored in this mechanical interviewing approach, and none of them deviates beyond a few commas and names from the script.
The goal has been relentlessly and viciously the same: to discredit the party and its leader and to sabotage the chances that withdrawal from the EU is properly on the political agenda.
In any other organisation, such lack of originality would be considered a risible dereliction of duty, but this is the Biased Broadcasting Corporation, whose agenda is to attack UKIP’s core policies – restriction of immigration and departure from the EU – with every sinew of its £2bn-a-year news budget. Handling of the party by BBC presenters makes it blatantly obvious they are dealing with the political equivalent of the stench of rotting fish.
It was the turn of Today presenter Mishal Husain to have her crack at Mr Farage on Thursday morning. She did not disappoint – exactly true to form in terms of content. The right-on Ms Husain spiced it up by adopting a sharply judgmental, condescending and authoritarian tone. It was if she was dealing with someone who should be subjected to the worst excesses of Sharia law.
Section 1: Ms Husain attempted to show that Mr Farage’s concerns about communities becoming segregated as a result of the volume of immigration are actually racist. This is what the Corporation has done for years on the topic of immigration. It has been so blatantly obvious that BBC correspondents such as Nick Robinson have been forced to make apologies for it. But no matter: This is Ukip and any chance to discredit Mr Farage would clearly do for Ms Husain. Instead of having a sensible, grown-up exchange about the how immigration can be managed, Ms Husain preferred instead to descend into the broadcast equivalent of crude name-calling.
Section 2: Here, Ms Husain tried to rubbish the concept of an Australian-style cap on immigrant numbers. Her ammunition – which she fired with both barrels and with such vehemence that Mr Farage could scarcely get a word in edgeways – was that it is totally impracticable because it is hard to define what a skilled worker actually is and where such immigrants should come from. Mr Farage very patiently persisted that it was possible, but Ms Husain was having none of it. Her focus then shifted to suggesting that if there was a cap on immigrant numbers at all, it would be economically disastrous for Britain. Normally, the BBC hates big business, but here, Ms Husain invoked the authority of the CBI to posit that Ukip policies were dangerously misguided. Mr Farage then raised a very important point: that cohesion of communities is more important than economic wealth. Ms Husain ignored that and moved on….to
Section 3: Ms Husain kept to the script again, precisely. Now it was time to show that Ukip are a bunch of dangerous, venal nutters, and she had a string of names to prove her case. Her examples were larded with the usual alarming labels: Nazi, Adolf Eichmann…more painting by numbers. Mr Farage politely pointed out that other political parties have also had similar problems with candidates, but this did not make headlines. Ms Husain was totally unresponsive to his protests. She ploughed on with the theme and ensured that in several different ways she was able to tell the audience that Ukip members are dangerous extremists.
What remains clear is that as the election coverage gathers pace, the Biased Broadcasting Corporation has no intention of portraying Ukip and all it stands for as anything other than a dangerous aberration. The Commons European Scrutiny Committee recently highlighted that bias. One mercy is that the more these attacks continue, the more voters see through it- Ukip has risen despite the relentless opposition of the BBC. But the Husain interview illustrates graphically that many of the real issues of the campaign are not properly being discussed.
Read the full transcript below:
Biased Today, biased yesterday and biased tomorrow, the BBC has much to answer for over its uncritical and inadequate EU coverage.
More than any other news outlet the BBC shapes and moulds public opinion. Over the years, it has inspired an unwarranted public confidence in the EU. It has been responsible for conveying a sense of the inevitability and necessity of British membership
Had it not so determinedly stuck to its view that the EU was ‘a good thing’, a fact of life that anyone in their right mind should accept, Britain might not be in the mess it’s in today. We might not have uncontrolled immigration; we might be able to deport who we want when we want; and we might still have a vibrant fishing industry. That’s just three of the many areas over which we have lost national authority at great cost.
The House of Commons all-party EU Scrutiny Committee’s report, published yesterday, which accuses the BBC of ‘falling down severely’ in its obligation to provide impartial coverage of the EU, raises these questions.
Its findings confirm what many of us have been arguing for years – that BBC coverage of EU matters is deplorable, that it has a ‘concerning’ pro-EU bias, and that Eurosceptics have been given inadequate airtime. Specifically the MPs criticise Lord Hall for failing in his role as the BBC’s editor-in chief .
All this rings a profound bell with me, just as does the arrogance of the BBC’s response. The crux of it is that the BBC cannot be criticised because (in their perverse world) any criticism by MPs (however valid it may be) constitutes a breach of the Corporation’s independence. It can’t be seen to follow MPs criticism – no, not even if it is right.
I wonder which Propaganda (sorry Press) Officer there dreamed this excuse up as he pondered the embargoed document before publication? I know that nothing should surprise me but I am amazed that Lord Hall signed off such a response for release. Perhaps for this particular editor-in-chief, intent and belief are adequate substitutes for whatever is actually broadcast. During his appearance before the Committee, his claim that the desire for balanced output “ran deep” within the BBC and that he believed that this was being achieved now, sounded like weasel words. It isn’t being achieved.
This is far from the first time that the BBC has stonewalled criticism about its EU coverage. I have in my files copies of an ongoing correspondence with Helen Boaden, the then Controller of Radio Four, back in the early 2000s. Like today’s BBC spokesperson, her response that the Corporation provided extensive and impartial coverage of European and Parliamentary issues was (or should be, she thought) sufficient unto the day.
Boaden refused to consider the consistently logged, timed, comprehensive transcript evidence and analysis, that we (Minotaur Media Tracking) sent her, as evidence. In her thinking no external monitoring of BBC output could or would ever constitute evidence – however objective or impartial – because the BBC editorial process meant that the BBC was always impartial – and therefore above criticism. It’s surprising to find she has a degree in English literature; the concept of tautology could not have featured in her studies.
Despite Lord Wilson’s subsequent critical report, despite the cumulative log of evidence of BBC bias by News-watch, despite the fact that this is far from the first time that the BBC has been called to account, the BBC never wavers in it pre-programmed ‘Boaden’-style response. It refuses to harbour any self doubt – not a smidgeon.
Lord Hall has taken a leaf out of Ms Boaden’s book. “As Lord Hall told the committee, we are and will be impartial in all matters concerning our coverage,” the BBC spokesman said.
James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News and `Current Affairs, was not backward in going on the offensive either. His ‘Aunt Sally’ was that if the public was going to trust the BBC to report on politicians impartially it had to be clear that BBC journalists weren’t “asked by politicians to come and account for what they do and in effect do the bidding of those politicians”.
True to form the Today programme thought there was nothing to defend either.
In its own inimitable way yesterday morning’s edition of Today devoted 8 minutes to a Mark Knopfler record plug but nothing to the EU Scutiny Committee’s report that just happened to criticise the BBC on a subject of fundamental importance to every British citizen!
This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman
The economical-with-the-truth Broadcasting Corporation – that’s the conclusion of a new report into BBC behaviour.
In response, the Corporation has brushed aside without even a flicker of acknowledgement the findings of one of the UK’s most senior policemen over their disgraceful conduct in vastly inflating the importance of the raid last summer by South Yorkshire Police on the home of Sir Cliff Richard.
This is despite the fact that former chief constable Andy Trotter, who retired in 2014 from his final role as head of the Transport Police, is one of the UK’s leading experts in handling the press. Trotter cut his teeth in this sector at the Ladbroke Grove train disaster, and at his retirement was the Association of Chief Constables’ lead on media relations.
On that basis, his credentials in terms of understanding the needs of the press and the delicate complexities in the flow of information from the police to the outside world are impeccable. They were honed in the white-hot crucible of deeply tragic events such as 7/7 and at the highest levels of policing.
Trotter was asked by the police commissioner in South Yorkshire to investigate the raid on Sir Cliff.
As I have previously reported extensively on TCW, the raid went ahead despite being based on the flimsiest of evidence, and – even more disturbing – in full collusion with the BBC who treated it as a major news event, complete with helicopter shots. The scale of the coverage conveyed the impression that the singer had been convicted of major crimes.
Leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, whose leftist sympathies would normally make him an ally of the Corporation, was so outraged by the BBC’s conduct that he described it as a ‘conspiracy to injure’ the singer.
The BBC’s response, of course- as it always is – was to deny with sullen insolence any wrongdoing. In their stance, they were unfortunately aided and abetted by the publicity-seeking Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee. He conducted an over-hasty inquiry with incomplete evidence and decided that the over-the-top elements of the raid were all the fault of the police.
Subsequent leaks of conversations between the police and the most senior BBC news management figures involved in the raid show that Vaz’s conclusions were nonsense – the BBC, in effect, conspired with the South Yorkshire cops to make it a no-holds-barred news circus, the impact of which was bound to damage and humiliate Sir Cliff to the maximum extent.
Trotter’s report on the events has not been formally released. It has been obtained as the result of a freedom of information requests and accounts are now available in the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Mail.
According to both, Trotter is deeply scathing about South Yorkshire police’s actions for breaking basic media-relations police rules, and says that officers should never even have even confirmed to the BBC that they were investigating Sir Cliff. The decision to work with the Corporation in planning the raid was therefore wholly wrong.
But his conclusions about the BBC are even more damning. According to the Yorkshire Post report, Trotter decided that the Corporation’s account of events simply does not add up. He believes they effectively conned the South Yorkshire Press Office into working them with them on the story by not being straightforward about their sources.
Of course, journalism is to some extent about wheeling and dealing and the darker arts of persuasion. But here, it seems, the BBC was hell-bent on nailing Sir Cliff – irrespective of the strength of the evidence – and therefore they conned the force into panic reactions. What happened subsequently has been described as ‘shocking collusion’ to besmirch the singer’s reputation.
Trotter has made six recommendations for change about how South Yorkshire Police should deal in future with press relations and all have been fully and instantly accepted.
The BBC, however, does not give a damn. Its response to his report is that Keith Vaz found no evidence of BBC misconduct or errors of judgment and therefore they have no response whatsoever to his allegations. That amounts to arrogant complacency.
In other words: Car crash? What car crash? BBC lawyers have, it can be guessed, advised Lord Hall and his senior management that if they admit anything, it will open the doors for Sir Cliff to claim very substantial damages. That could be on the cards.
But that’s not the point. The BBC Trustees are charged to ensure that in return for its massive public financing, the Corporation acts with integrity and the highest journalistic standards. As the full picture of BBC conduct in this sordid affair gradually unfolds it is clear that this is emphatically not the case. But not only that: they don’t give a damn about standards.
The Guardian, predictably, is trying to exonerate the BBC for the way they behaved by splitting hairs over the implications of what the Trotter report actually said– but the overall facts speak for themselves. This was disgraceful conduct.
Scratch the surface of almost any BBC statement about ‘impartiality’ or ‘bias’ and you unearth a rather an unpleasant smell.
The BBC says no EU money was used in the making of its Sunday night pro-EU extravaganza The Great European Disaster Movie, which depicted in ludicrous, extremist terms the total disintegration of civil society across the continent, if, God forbid, the EU was forced out of existence.
Note the weasel words: ‘in the making of’. The reality is that post-production, the film-makers Bill Emmott and Annalisa Piras – both of whom are pro-EU fanatics – have told the outside world they are receiving EU money for the transmission of the film in other languages. So put another way, it is an EU propaganda project.
And the BBC were co-producers of that film.
What’s also not clear is who did fund the project. It was made by Piras’s company Springshot Productions, and that means its financing is totally opaque. Things here don’t add up. It’s unlikely that the budget of a project of such scale and production standards would be anything less than £1m, and yet Springshot is tiny. According to the company website, it has made only one other film, two years ago.
The point here is that it is only larger production companies turning over millions a year that can afford to make glossy hypothetical dramas – and they don’t generally make money, which is why they are so relatively scarce. Someone with deep pockets and a deep desire to spread massively pro-EU propaganda was behind it. The BBC should tell us who this was so we can make up our own minds about the decision to show it.
It seems that someone, somewhere in the higher echelons of the BBC hierarchy has a guilty conscience, because immediately after it was shown, a very rare occurrence happened, the BBC equivalent of a Blue Moon. In a Newsnight special hosted by Robert Peston, two genuine EU ‘come outers’, Mark Reckless, the Ukip MP, and Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist, were fleetingly allowed to make some of the arguments in favour of withdrawal and to explain why the claims by Emmott and Piras were preposterous.
Unlike the unremitting one-sidedness of the film, the views of Reckless and Hitchens were of course offset, notably by a spokesman of the Greek Marxist party Syriza, who agreed with Emmott in ascribing all the current massive economic problems of the EU to nasty ‘austerity’.
There are other BBC-related problems in this film which only surface with digging. Emmott, a former editor of the Economist, and Piras, an Italian who worked as a foreign correspondent in London for many years, are clearly united in their huge desire to ram the need for the EU down our throats.
They are so fanatical that they have set up an organisation called The Wake Up Foundation, a so-called charity, the main aim of which – though clothed in high-flown language – is as another vehicle to spread their EU bile. A feature by Emmott on their website in which he compares Nigel Farage to Silvio Berlusconi typifies the approach.
Far more concerning about the Wake Up Foundation, however, is that one of its trustees is Richard Sambrook, who is a former head of BBC newsgathering and Director of News, who was moved sideways to the World Service at the end of his BBC career because of question marks in some quarters in his judgment relating to the BBC’s handling of the fall-out from the Iraq war.
Sambrook, after a spell as a public relations advisor, re-surfaced as a Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University. His department was commissioned by the BBC Trustees in 2011 to conduct research linked with the Stuart Prebble inquiry into whether the BBC was covering EU-related issues in accordance with the Charter.
That research, as has been reported by Kathy Gyngell on TCW, was ineptly conducted and as a result gave the wholly false impression that BBC news programmes gave adequate coverage to eurosceptic and withdrawalist opinion. Not only that, the main person who conducted the research had recently received a substantial slug of EU cash from the EU for a project designed to ascertain how the EU might better project itself.
So, put another way, the BBC commissioned a rabidly pro-EU programme from a programme making duo who have close professional and organisational links with a former Director of BBC News who, in turn, has been appointed by the Corporation to tell the outside world – on a supposedly ‘objective’ basis – how balanced and impartial the BBC’s output in relation to the EU is.
The linkage raises several awkward questions. Was Sambrook directly involved in the making of the European Disaster Movie? Was he involved in any way in persuading the BBC to show it and to become co-producers? To what extent is he involved in the dissemination of the pro-EU propaganda of the Wake Up Foundation? Were the BBC aware of his links with Emmott when they commissioned his department to do the Prebble survey?
Something in the state of Denmark, if not rotten, smells very fishy indeed.
It is not clear from Google how Professor Jean Seaton became official historian of the BBC. But she was appointed to that dizzying status in 2001 – and she is without doubt perfectly suited to the role.
Why? Well because of her impeccable Labour credentials. What is it about the Corporation that even its mysteriously-appointed ‘official historian’ is a card-carrying Guardianista?
Seaton is the widow of former Labour ‘intellectual’, MP, and historian Ben Pimlott. She is a regular contributor to the Guardian in defence of the Corporation, and she clearly believes in her many books of media analysis from her lofty role as Professor of Media Studies History at the University of Westminster that the BBC is the only bulwark against those nasty, encroaching hordes of the free-market media.
She has now turned her attention to the Thatcher-era BBC. And in line with much of the central mission of the BBC itself, her primary aim in Pinkoes and Traitors – The BBC and the Nation 1974-1987 appears to be trash the reputation of the Iron Lady.
And in an extract in the weekend press, she certainly delivers. This is a claws-fully-out attack from someone who clearly hates Thatcher with a vengeance and has old Kinnock-era scores to settle.
The charges against her are multiple and multi-layered. Foremost, according to Seaton, she hated the BBC because it would not tell the story of the Falklands War or the battle against terrorism in Northern Ireland in the way she wanted. As a result, she was rude to BBC staff, thought the Corporation was scheming against her, and delighted in humiliating BBC interviewers. She flounced out of studios. Seaton throws in that Mrs T had the temerity to be truculent and aggressive towards BBC management figures, refused to talk properly or rationally to them, did not know what she really wanted in terms of reform, but and above all wanted her own way.
Professor Seaton claims in reaching this verdict that she has talked to many BBC people and delved deep into the archives. But the conclusions are exactly what might be expected by a Labour historian of the era – so she might just as well not have bothered.
There is also a glaring inconsistency in her picture. She has apparently unearthed from the archives something not previously known: that the disastrous Labour Winter of Discontent government had devised a plan to end BBC independence, replacing the licence fee with funding through general taxation. In her blind mission to rubbish Thatcher, it seems to have passed under Seaton’s radar that actually, the Labour party of Harold Wilson and his heirs was viscerally against the BBC and wanted to curb its journalism in a way that no Conservative government has ever attempted.
In fact, when Thatcher was elected in May 1979, her government actually rejected the Labour plan for socialist-style state control and instead, Mrs Thatcher – despite her frequent grumpiness about BBC conduct and reporting – actually acted decisively to continue the licence fee.
Subsequently, as I have written recently on TCW, she did decide the BBC needed reform through taking advertising. But it was pressures from within the Conservative party that prevented this from happening.
It was 1985 before she acted on the plan by appointing the Peacock Commission – and here, she made the fatal mistake of also allowing the appointment to that body of former Guardian editor Sir Alastair Hetherington. When it finally reported, the fire had been turned decisively away from the BBC and towards reform of ITV. So Mrs Thatcher – far from wrecking the BBC – actually saved it in 1979 and was thwarted in her efforts to achieve even the most minor reform.
Another part of Seaton’s analysis seriously lacks credibility. I worked at the BBC for a substantial part of this period (1978-85). Part of my role entailed regular attendance at planning and briefing meetings of the most senior BBC editors at Lime Grove and at Television Centre. I thus had a ringside seat observing the Thatcher-BBC battles that Seaton claims were dominated by Thatcher’s irrational, vicious petulance.
It was a different era, and there were still vestiges of a solid, professional desire at the BBC to deliver properly balanced journalism. There was even one editor who I suspected might have voted Conservative, though he would never have had the guts to confirm it to his colleagues. But boy, did those editors hate Thatcher. And while they professed to be ‘impartial’, it seemed to me at the time and in retrospect they delighted in nothing more than when they thought they had got one up on her or her government.
A main issue back then revolved round the redoubtable Sir Robin Day. In his heyday, Sir Robin had been the feared scourge of all politicians, an adroit, highly-skilled interrogator. But by the 1980s his star was beginning to fade. He told me in 1985 (for a BBC syndicated feature) that it seemed to him he had started out as Torquemada, and was now (as humble as) Uriah Heep.
The BBC editors wrung their hands that Sir Robin – still their most senior political interviewer, and the one who therefore handled the key election interviews – was not skewering Thatcher. This came to a head in the famous 1983 General Election Panorama encounter when Sir Robin was clearly flustered and stung when Mrs T called him ‘Mr Day’, rather than ‘Sir Robin’ no fewer than 11 times. Behind the scenes, there was much plotting to oust him for his failure – but his reputation and track record still counted massively, and it came to nought.
Now of course, it was part of the BBC’s job to attempt to skewer Maggie. But this was a disproportionate, concentrated and festering drive for vengeance. And during 1984, another crisis point was reached when the Panorama programme Maggie’s Militant Tendency – the central premise of which was that Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative party had Nazi leanings – was broadcast.
I was ordered by the then DG’s office on the night of its transmission, when it became clear that some of the journalism involved was suspect, to tell the media in Watergate fashion that the Corporation ‘stands by its story’. Eventually, the programme – like so much of Seaton’s vitriol against Thatcher – was shown to be hot air, and substantial libel damages were paid to the MP Neil Hamilton.
Memories are of that bitter defeat, it seems, are long: now the BBC knives are out for David Cameron – and, he like Mrs Thatcher before him, has failed to reform the Corporation. But at least the Iron Lady tried.