Transcript of Talk Radio, Julia Hartley-Brewer interview with David Keighley, News-watch, 13 September 2017, 12.03pm
JULIA HARTLEY-BREWER: First up, a fascinating story that I wanted to get to, because it was something that did concern me at the time, this is something that went back all the way to the end of August last year, a couple of months, of course, after the Brexit vote. Now, Nigel Farage, one of the keen, leading figures of the Brexit campaign was somebody who was accused of having ‘blood on his hands’ after, we were told, there had been an increase in violence against EU migrants and indeed migrants from other parts of the world in the wake of the Brexit attack (sic) this was reported repeatedly on the BBC, and in particular, on August 31, news broke that a Polish immigrant in Harlow had been killed. Rumours circulated that it was a gang of feral youths who were responsible, and that it could have been a racist attack, because he was Polish and triggered by Brexit. This was reported on by the BBC repeatedly. But, last Friday we had the sentencing at Chelmsford Crown Court of the youth responsible for that man’s death, and now we know the full story, and it’s really rather different. So I’ve invited David Keighley on, he’s the managing director of the media monitoring company News-watch, and himself a former BBC producer who has written about this. Now, and to tell us the full story, David – thank you very much for joining us.
DAVID KEIGHLEY: Good morning and thank you very much for having me on the programme.
JHB: Well, thank you very much for talking to us. I saw your article you wrote on this online yesterday and I wanted to ask you about this, because it is something . . . it was a report that, I suppose, I accepted on face value when I heard the reports but talk us through what happened and what the reporting claimed. And then, if you could outline for us what actually were the real, objectively true events that have now been proven in a court of law?
DK: Right, yes, basically, this man, Mr Jozwik who was a Polish man living in Harlow, well-liked by all accounts, was killed in a . . . after a fracas of sorts, late night, few days before the reports broke out. He banged his head and a couple of days later the story broke. Basically, what the BBC said that evening, very excitedly and very sensationally was that he had died after what some were saying was ‘a frenzied race hate attack’ following, or ‘triggered by’ – was the exact phrase – the Brexit vote. Now . . .
JHB: But was this just the BBC claiming this, or did other news outlets claim the same.
DK: Yeah, no, other outlets also took that line, though to a lesser extent than the BBC. And of course, the BBC has got extra responsibilities as a public service broadcaster to check out the facts before reporting something quite so sensationally. Now, to be fair, the report, the main report on the 6 o’clock news did have the alternative theory that this was youths and nothing to do with Brexit, but the overriding impression in the reports, the sensationalist side of it was that this was a race hate attack. And that was added to by John Sweeney, later on in the evening, on Newsnight, and he actually interviewed a friend, or someone who was said to be a friend of the killed . . . the dead man, who said, as you said in your intro, that Nigel Farage . . . he said, ‘Thank you Nigel Farage, you now have blood on your hands.’ Now this wasn’t a live interview, it was a package, it was recorded, so John Sweeney deliberately included that in the report that he presented that evening, and there were lots of other lines about the level of race hate going on.
JHB: And we have discovered since that a lot of research into what was now considered to be these supposedly race hate crimes, but actually that doesn’t even have to have been even a police investigation, there doesn’t even have to have been a complaint from the person who was supposedly the victim, it is an entirely subjective view of a person who may have just been an onlooker, an exchange between two friends where there was a . . . perhaps there was a word used that perhaps most of us wouldn’t use in our daily lives, someone else might say, ‘Well, I thought that was racist’ – they can report it to the police, whether there’s an investigation, any conviction or anything at all, any charges brought, that now stands as a race crime that has been reported and there stands in the stats?
DK: Absolutely, it’s a self-report crime, which is almost unique on the British statute books. For the police to record such a crime there has to be . . . there need not be any evidence whatsoever, it’s just that somebody perceives there’s been an offence. Now, what’s happened subsequently is that, first of all the police . . . the point was on the day, the police said they hadn’t ruled out race as a motive, but any journalist knows that if you ask the police when they’re opening an investigation if they’ve ruled anything out, they will routinely say, ‘No, we’re looking at all possibilities’ – they don’t know, so they’re cautious. The BBC weren’t cautious in their approach . . .
JHB: No, but what’s emerged when it came out in court with the actual sentencing, and a 16-year-old has eventually been sentenced to 3 years in a youth detention centre, not for murder, but for manslaughter, but it’s also emerged, categorically accepted in court by all sides that the gang, so-called gang involved, didn’t instigate this incident which led to the punch, but they, the defendant and his friends were provoked, and that this man, the man who sadly lost his life was very drunk and very aggressive with a bunch of his friends, and had actually started the fight, very taunting, very aggressive towards this bunch of young youths, and they had made, themselves, racist remarks to the youths and invited violence from the youngsters, and that was when the punching, the punch happened and then very sadly this Polish man died. So, in no way was this a racist attack on a Polish immigrant because of anything to do with Brexit, it wasn’t a racist attack at all, on the contrary it was a youth who felt that he was under attack himself.
DK: Yes. That sums it up very neatly. And the point was that however you look at this, it was nothing to do with what the BBC actually reported. Now, as I say, the BBC has responsibilities as a public service organisation, special responsibilities to do with impartiality and getting balance in their reporting, and yet when the sentencing hearing happened on Friday and all these final facts emerged, that it was the polar opposite of what had been said, what did they do? They had, basically, one piece on their website which was on their Essex section, so it wasn’t even the national part of the website, and it didn’t mention their role in their reporting. This was surely a case where they should have done a full apology, they should have outlined that they’d got it wrong, that this was not anything to do with race hate. People are saying that what they did last August amounted to racial provocation by them and yet . . .
JHB: But . . .
DK: . . . and yet, they’ve just glossed it over as if they’ve done nothing . . .
JHB: (speaking over) But this is the interesting thing, the attempts to get newspapers to make sure that they give correct reporting and that they correct mistakes and they apologise when they get things wrong would require a newspaper that’s signed up to that plan, post-Leveson, for them to give exactly the same prominence to that story, to do the correction, not a small, little ‘news in brief’ on page 16, it would have to be a full page apology, effectively, in a newspaper, on the front page, probably, equivalent. And I remember, certainly, how prominent that story was and its been brought up in debate after debate in the last year, when people say, ‘Well, yes, but, you know, all those racists who voted Leave and how they all started being more racist because of the Brexit vote, and isn’t it your fault?’ – I mean, I personally have had tweets from people saying that I’m partly responsible for Joe Cox being murdered. I know Nigel Farage has had those, because I’ve spoken to him about it. Now he has actually asked for an apology on this himself, hasn’t he?
DK: Indeed, yes, he . . . on his show on your rival station – perhaps not rival, your . . .
JHB: (speaking over) We don’t know who they are!
DK: Yes, he actually said he wants an apology from the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall. And it will be very interesting to see now how the BBC reacts, because of course, they so often just brush off complaints, they pretend that they have done balanced reporting when they haven’t, there’s loads of evidence of that on the News-watch website. And, it’s just an endemic, systemic problem in the BBC. They are incapable of admitting their own errors, and the bias seems so deeply entrenched now in their Brexit coverage.
JHB: Well, I mean, there’s been lots of complaints about this recently, haven’t there, and there’ve been, you know, formal complaints from the Conservatives, because we know during election periods, during referendum periods, I mean, there are strict laws. I don’t work for the BBC, I’m allowed to give my own opinion but not during election campaign periods, I mean, I quite, absolutely . . . as much as it’s tying my hands behind my back, I completely agree with it as someone who believes in democracy, that we shouldn’t be having bias, but I mean, it is something . . . and I say as someone who loves the BBC and does a lot of work for the BBC as well, freelance, that I am stunned on a daily basis by their reporting on this issue. But then, is it that ‘I would say that wouldn’t I, because I’m a Brexiteer, and you would say that, wouldn’t you, because you’re a Brexiteer, and Nigel Farage would say that, wouldn’t he, because you’re a Brexiteer’ – isn’t it the case that everyone sees bias against their own personal viewpoint?
DK: Of course that’s true to an extent, but again, if you go to our News-watch website, the way we measure bias is not just on an impressionistic basis, we look at coverage over a long-term period, we do it properly and academically. And basically, what we’ve looked at is, for example, the Today programme’s Business News coverage after Brexit, and . . . for the six months after Brexit, every single edition, and transcribed every single word that was said, and the amount of . . . the number of people who have appeared on the programme who were pro-Brexit was minuscule, the numbers are so small as to be vanishing. They just are not taking into account properly pro-Brexit opinion.
JHB: Well, we shall see, David Keighley, thank you for talking to us, managing director of the media monitoring company News-watch, he’s a former BBC producer himself. I wanted to highlight that because, you know, I was as horrified as everyone else, I think, at the thought that there could be an increase in violence and certainly racist violence, violence against EU migrants, that wasn’t . . . that wasn’t what the Brexit campaign was about, that’s got nothing to do with Brexit, nothing whatsoever, and I really object to any racist hijacking [of] a cause for democracy, to carry out such crimes. It would appear that they just haven’t been those crimes, and claims that there have are just totally unfair. I absolutely, if I was the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, I would issue that apology, because I think, you know, you’ve got to admit when you get it wrong, and we don’t always get it right.