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!
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