Post truth: BBC quietly admits lying about anti-war demonstration over Syria

The BBC's political editor is Laura Kuenssberg, who has come under considerable criticism for pro-Tory reporting. Whether she had anything to do with this story is debatable.

The BBC’s political editor is Laura Kuenssberg, who has come under considerable criticism for pro-Tory reporting. Whether she had anything to do with this story is debatable [Composite: EvolvePolitics].

Is this post-truth reporting? The BBC was so keen to get the public on the Conservative government’s side regarding air strikes in Syria that it lied about an anti-war demonstration.

In the story, a violent hard-left hate mob made a show of intimidation outside Labour MP Stella Creasy’s home in an attempt to bully her and other MPs against supporting the strikes.

In fact, a peaceful demonstration filed past her Walthamstow office – at a time when nobody was there.

The BBC published a correction in the most unobtrusive place possible – a feedback page on its website. It read as follows:

“Today, Radio 4, 3 December 2015

“Two listeners complained that the programme had inaccurately reported that a peaceful vigil in Walthamstow, in protest against the decision to bomb targets in Syria, had targeted the home of the local MP, Stella Creasy, and had been part of a pattern of intimidation towards Labour MPs who had supported the decision. The claim that the demonstration had targeted Ms Creasy’s home, and the implication that it was intimidatory in nature, originated from a single Facebook posting which later proved to be misleading (the demonstration’s destination was Ms Creasy’s constituency office, which was unoccupied at the time, not her home, and it was peaceful). Nevertheless, it had been taken up by a number of commentators on social media and by reputable news outlets, including The Independent and The Guardian. The first reference to the story in the 3 December edition of Today was in a review of the morning’s papers. Later in the programme, a report by Ross Hawkins included an audio clip from the demonstration, stated that it had taken place outside the constituency office, and carried an interview with one of the organisers who described it as “very peaceful”. Shortly after this, Nick Robinson interviewed John McDonnell about divisions in the Labour Party in relation to the vote on bombing Syria in terms which reflected the belief that the demonstration had taken place outside Ms Creasy’s home and had been an instance of bullying and intimidation (a belief which Mr McDonnell did not contest). The 7 December edition of Today included a correction which made the venue of the demonstration clear but did not address the question of intimidation. The ECU found that the 3 December programme had been duly accurate in its review of the papers, but inaccurate in the references to the matter during the interview with Mr McDonnell, and that the 7 December correction had left a significant element of inaccuracy to stand. Outcome: Partly upheld.”

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.

As the vote on bombing Syria approached there was increasing scepticism about the bombing campaign. An initially supportive public were slowly remembering the lessons of Iraq and Libya and were feeling apprehensive about another sortie. They needed galvanising behind the war to protect MPs from reprisals at the ballot box. Something had to be done.

A peaceful protest outside Stella Creasy’s unoccupied Walthamstow office became a show of intimidation and violence outside her occupied home. Peaceful protestors became a “hard-left hate mob” and perhaps most bizarrely “vicars, imams and net trolls.” Famously violent people, vicars.

The story was a way for the BBC and the rest of the media to delegitimise the anti-war view by tying it inexorably to a group of thugs. Actually, not even a group of thugs but an image of a group of thugs.

The essence of their excuse is that it was better to report a story that may not be true because it was topical. Plus, all the other papers were doing it!

Source: BBC quietly sneaks out correction admitting it blatantly lied in the run-up to war in Syria |


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12 thoughts on “Post truth: BBC quietly admits lying about anti-war demonstration over Syria

  1. Martin Blank

    That’s pretty much the same excuse I got following a complaint I made regarding the continuously incorrect coverage of the breaking of a stairwell window in the building which housed the Stalking Horse’s constituency office by persons unknown, as the deliberate and malicious breaking a window of the Stalking Horse’s constituency office – with intimations that it was by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. Basically they say other media outlets reported it that way so they did nothing wrong. I sh*t you not. I lost the will to fight it further I’m afraid. Seemed pointless. Oh the joys of circular logic. Here is the reply I eventually received which was dated 06.08.16. Enjoy.

    Reference CAS-3936742-LD7648

    Thank you for contacting us about our coverage of current events within the Labour Party.

    Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We appreciate that you feel it was inaccurate to report that a brick was thrown through Angela Eagle’s office window.

    Our coverage reflected not just Angela Eagle’s statement, but also a comment issued by Merseyside Police, which referred to damage being caused to “the front ground floor window of an office”. This incident was reported in this way by the wider media.

    We do not believe that our coverage implied anything against Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters. We fairly reflected Mr Corbyn’s denunciation of this type of behaviour, and his supporters saying that he couldn’t be blamed for these actions. We also featured comments made by Ms Eagle, and others, saying that his condemnation was insufficient.

    We reported on this incident in the wider context of the current climate within the Labour Party, with allegations of abuse via social media, claims of threats and intimidation, and over 40 female Labour MPs raising this as an issue.

    Thank you again for your feedback. Complaints are sent to senior management, news teams and programme makers every morning and we included your points in our overnight reports. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC ensuring that complaints are seen quickly by the right people. This helps inform decisions about current and future programmes.

    Kind regards

    Stuart Webb

    BBC Complaints Team

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Yeah – pretty typical BBC self-exoneration.
      You’ll have read my article about coverage of the Wallasey window yesterday.

    2. Philip Wagstaff

      I made the same complaint and received the same reply. I appealed and this was rejected. I’ve appealed to the Trust but they shelved it because I could not provide the time and day of the transmission which is in breach of their own complaints procedure. I’ve now lodged a complaint about the handling of my complaint and renewed the original complaint after finding the date.

  2. Neilth

    This begs the question ‘if no demonstration, violent or otherwise, took place outside Stella Creasy’s why didn’t she release a statement correcting this?’

  3. Dez

    what did the alleged victim Stella Creasy do about this pack of lies? Not sure if she was pro bombing, or not…..or if this misinformation was helping a larger leadership agenda.

  4. Adrian D.

    A few days ago I made a complaint about the umpteenth time that Laura Kuenssberg had referred to Theresa May as a ‘safe pair of hands’ and asked specifically for any evidence that Kuenssberg had to back up this (preposterous) claim.

    As evidence for the contrary I listed, amongst other things, May’s inability to meet any immigration tarets, her admission she had no idea who was coming into the country, Yarl’s Wood, the post Brexit cabinet farce etc. In response I got this desperately tired boiler-plate hogwash – you’ll be glad to learn we’re free to disagree, but it seems that their correspondents are under no obligation to back up their ‘insight and understanding’ with actual facts..

    “As the BBC’s Political Editor, it’s Laura Kuenssberg’s role to provide insight and understanding of the stories emanating from Westminster.
    Such observations, along with her assessments of the reasons and politics behind them and the reaction to them are, again, entirely consistent with her role as our Political Editor and readers and listeners etc are of course free to disagree, as you have, with her analysis.
    Please be assured that all BBC correspondents, reporters, presenters and editors are well aware of our key commitment to impartial reporting at all times.
    All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our viewers, listeners and web users to make up their own minds.

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