Has the BBC taken its claim to impartially serve up both sides of news stories a few steps too far?
That’s how it seems in the case of Arron Banks, who is apparently being investigated by the National Crime Agency after the Electoral Commission found that his campaign group in the EU referendum – Leave.EU – had broken electoral law.
After it was announced that the NCA is investigating, the BBC decided to invite him onto The Andrew Marr Show to discuss the matter. The show was to be broadcast live at 9am today (Sunday, November 4). Here’s the Corporation’s statement about it:
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) November 2, 2018
“There is strong public interest in an interview with Arron Banks about allegations of funding irregularities in relation to Leave.EU and the 2016 EU Referendum. The Electoral Commission has laid out concerns about this in public and it is legitimate and editorially justified for Andrew Marr to question Mr Banks robustly about them, which he will do on Sunday morning.”
No it isn’t. In fact, it may pervert the course of justice.
We already know Leave.EU is guilty of breaking electoral law – that’s what the Electoral Commission found. Now it has passed the matter on to the NCA, which will investigate the possibility that serious criminal offences were committed.
Nobody from the NCA or the Electoral Commission has been invited to put forward what they know, so this is basically giving Mr Banks an opportunity to influence the nation’s thinking on the matter. This could be disastrous for justice if a jury is ever asked to decide on his innocence or guilt.
People have picked up on these facts. For instance:
— Chris Kendall 🇪🇺 (@ottocrat) November 2, 2018
It’s a perfectly legitimate question, if the BBC is interested in balance. Carole Cadwalladr is the investigative journalist who uncovered much (if not all) the evidence against Leave.EU.
More to the point is this:
I wonder whether the BBC would give a platform to a police officer to tell viewers, in advance of criminal proceedings beginning, why they believe the person they’re investigating is guilty.
Can’t for the life of me understand this one. https://t.co/ekxSqEJA6z
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) November 3, 2018
This is the substantive point – presenting evidence that might go before a criminal court may prejudice the case.
I genuinely cannot compose a coherent sentence that conveys my feelings about this. Shall we now expect all people investigated of crimes to be given airtime on #marr to put forward their side of the story? @BBC is reaching new lows. I certainly won't be tuning in. https://t.co/XKsQDOUwOc
— Laura C #FBPE (@smilinglaura) November 2, 2018
Trouble is, I think we need to watch, just to check whether what’s broadcast is reasonable. This member of the public thinks it won’t be:
Unfortunately @AndrewMarr9 is no longer a “robust” interviewer. He merely gives his interviewees a platform to air their opinions and does little to challenge them with evidence (that he doesn’t have anyway). Leave it to the NCA.
— James West (@ejwwest) November 2, 2018
Again, good points. The BBC is acting hypocritically as it is affording Mr Banks a courtesy never offered to other people in the public eye, whose behaviour has been the focus of legal interest in the past. And it is the job of all reporters to ensure that they do not prejudice the outcome of criminal inquiries and court cases when reporting them.
Here’s the email to the BBC sent by myself and @CarolineLucas explaining why they should reverse their decision to give a platform to Arron Banks
— Molly Scott Cato MEP (@MollyMEP) November 3, 2018
Will the following be mentioned?
THE FACTS: 1. The man that bankrolled Brexit is being investigated by the NCA. 2. The Vote Leave campaign committed electoral crimes on an unimaginable scale. 3. 40% of the Leave budget was spent on a data company banned by Canada & UK. 5. Brexit was won by criminal activity.
— Shahmir Sanni (@shahmiruk) November 1, 2018
Probably – but not in anything like the exhausting detail with which Mr Banks is likely to put his side of the story.
So it should be no surprise that the BBC has received a huge number of complaints and people have been calling on other members of the public to make their views known:
Please retweet if you think it obscene @AndrewMarr9 is giving Arron Banks – the subject of an active investigation – a platform this Sunday.
— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) November 2, 2018
And what do you think was the BBC’s measured response?
— Socialist Voice (@SocialistVoice) November 3, 2018
It closed down the complaints page on its website.
This is not the action of a responsible organisation.
It gets worse than that, though – information has been leaked to suggest Theresa May quashed an investigation into Mr Banks’s dealings, years ago, quoting “political sensitivity” (which is the reason the Met Police has given for failing to do anything about the matter over the last several months).
Here‘s The Guardian:
“A Labour MP has asked Theresa May whether she or any other minister had ever declined a request from the security services to conduct an investigation into the controversial Leave.EU campaign donor Arron Banks.
“Ben Bradshaw wrote to the prime minister a day after it was announced that a criminal investigation into Banks had begun, amid repeated allegations that May had blocked an investigation in 2016, when she was home secretary.
“Downing Street would not comment on Bradshaw’s suggestion that an investigation was blocked, although it is understood the claim is denied. A No 10 spokesman said: “We would never confirm or deny the detail of any conversation with security services on any topic.”
“The Daily Mail reported on Thursday that May declined a request by one of the security services to investigate Banks in 2016, repeating a claim made by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, at his party conference in September.
“At the time Watson asked: “Did [May] ask the security services to investigate? Or did she stop them doing so? There is a suggestion that in the run-up to the referendum the prime minister – in her capacity at the time as home secretary – declined at least one application from the security services to mount a full investigation into Mr Banks and others suspected of Russian influence. We need to know if that is true.””
Again, the social media have been having a field day:
So two and a half years ago Theresa May, as Home Secretary, quashed an investigation into Arron Banks out of 'political sensitivity'. Is it just me or is this dodgy as fuck?
— Tony Green #PeoplesVote #FBPE (@NoIAmTonyGreen) November 2, 2018
The then Home Secretary Theresa May now PM is being accused of blocking MI5 investigation as it’s confirmed Police will now probe ‘Brexit Bad Boy’ Arron Banks as BBC break with justice protocol and invite him onto Marr!!!! You what?!? pic.twitter.com/pXKl1gdApi
— ARTIST TAXI DRIVER (@chunkymark) November 3, 2018
And there is a critically serious issue at the heart of this: Alleged interference in UK politics by a foreign power – Russia – with the aid of individuals like Mr Banks and, it seems, Mrs May.
The fact that lawbreaking has happened, the spectre of foreign interference, and the possibility of corruption at the highest level of government – all focused on the UK’s departure from the European Union – mean that the legitimacy of Brexit has been called into question.
Ardent ‘Leave’ voters will be infuriated at Professor Brian Cox’s suggestion…
If it is true that elements of the leave campaign were funded by significant amounts of foreign money, the result cannot and will never be accepted as legitimate. Government and / or Parliament must pause the process until the results of this criminal inquiry are known. https://t.co/2os2PJTL6Z
— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) November 2, 2018
… but in legal terms – in a nation run by people who accept the rule of law – it is the correct course of action.
This is potentially a huge issue for Theresa May. If the #Mueller investigation confirms that there was Russian interference with US & UK elections and LeaveEU were involved, her past actions to ignore and the need for investigation would deem her unfit for office https://t.co/kD1U9Nq7ne
— Clive Peedell (@cpeedell) November 3, 2018
We need to know the facts before Brexit happens – not when the damage has been done.
That is why it is important for the facts to be examined thoroughly – including and especially the facts about Arron Banks and Leave.EU.
And that is why the BBC should respect the rules – or does Auntie think that she’s above them?
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