“Blatantly Backing Conservatives”: the malady seems to have spread from BBC news and is now affecting all its departments. But can the Corporation bow to public demand and restore its tattered claim to impartiality?
Who would have thought that one little tweet would rock the world’s biggest public service broadcaster to its foundations?
That’s what Gary Lineker seems to have done with this message:
He was referring, of course, to the language used by Suella Braverman when she introduced her silly Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament last week – and he was right.
Subsequently, we learned that the measures in the Bill, and the language around it, would be more appropriately compared to the UK’s own treatment of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s – politicians of that time sent more than half a million back to Europe where an unknown number ended up being killed in extermination camps as part of the Holocaust.
Everybody should think very hard about that – and about the way politicians in both the Conservative Party and Labour condemned Mr Lineker and denied that the current Bill, or the way it was described, bore any resemblance to what happened in the 1930s.
The BBC reacted to Tory pressure the way it usually does – it caved in.
Mr Lineker was removed from his position as host of Match of the Day – and the Corporation lied about the circumstances. First we were told he was “stepping back” voluntarily until he could reach an agreement with the BBC over how he conducts himself on a social media account that is nothing to do with his employment and over which his employers should have no influence at all. Then we found out that he had been forced out.
And then the effluent hit the air conditioner.
Mr Lineker’s co-presenters on MOTD walked out in solidarity with him and everyone asked to be a possible stand-in host refused on principle.
Now, we are learning that sports coverage at the Beeb is suffering even more:
And the backlash has spread into other parts of the BBC.
- Question Time, which actually discussed both the Illegal Migration Bill and Mr Lineker’s tweet about it, has come under fire after host Fiona Bruce played down the significance of Stanley Johnson beating his wife, in a discussion of his son Boris’s nomination of that man for a knighthood.
Here’s what she said (with apologies for the strong language used by the person tweeting it):
The charity Refuge, which supports women and children who are victims of domestic abuse – and for whom Ms Bruce is an ambassador, made its position abundantly clear:
“Domestic abuse is never a ‘one off’, it is a pattern of behaviour that can manifest in a number of ways, including physical abuse. Domestic abuse is never acceptable.”
In a parallel with the BBC’s treatment of Mr Lineker, the charity said it had also been in talks with Ms Bruce: “She is appalled that any of her words have been understood as her minimising domestic violence. We know she is deeply upset that this has been triggering for survivors.
“Like the host of any BBC programme, when serious on-air allegations are made about someone, Fiona is obliged to put forward a right of reply from that person or their representatives, and that was what happened last night. These are not in any way Fiona’s own views about the situation.
“Fiona is deeply sorry that last night’s programme has distressed survivors of domestic abuse. Refuge stands by her and all survivors today.”
Sadly, the BBC did not see fit to support the charity’s assertion that Ms Bruce was “appalled” and “deeply sorry” for “triggering” and having “distressed” survivors.
Instead, it merely defended what happened on the programme: “When serious allegations are made on air against people or organisations, it is the job of BBC presenters to ensure that the context of those allegations – and any right of reply from the person or organisation – is given to the audience, and this is what Fiona Bruce was doing last night. She was not expressing any personal opinion about the situation.”
Not good enough.
- A BBC decision not to broadcast an episode of Sir David Attenborough’s new series Wild Isles for fear that its its themes of the destruction of nature would risk a backlash from Tory politicians and the right wing press has provoked a huge backlash – not just from environmental groups but, again, from within the Corporation itself.
The sixth episode will appear only on BBC iPlayer. All six episodes were narrated by Attenborough, and made by the production company Silverback Films, which was responsible for previous series including Our Planet.
Chris Packham, presenter of Springwatch, told The Guardian: “At this time, in our fight to save the world’s biodiversity, it is irresponsible not to put that at the forefront of wildlife broadcasting.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting. This government has taken a wrecking ball to our environment – putting over 1,700 pieces of environmental legislation at risk, setting an air pollution target which is a decade too late, and neglecting the scandal of our sewage-filled waterways – which cannot go unexamined and unchallenged by the public.”
The Guardian added that “senior sources at the BBC [said] that the decision not to show the sixth episode was made to fend off potential critique from the political right.
Again, the BBC’s response was cowardly. The broadcaster claimed the six-part series was only ever intended to have five episodes: “Wild Isles is – and always was – a five part series and does not shy away from environmental content. We have acquired a separate film for iPlayer from the RSPB and WWF and Silverback Films about people working to preserve and restore the biodiversity of the British Isles.”
If this sixth film is part of a package of such films – a series, if you will – all made by the same organisations and narrated by the same person, and all to be available together on iPlayer, then it seems clear that it is an episode of that series and the BBC is again being economical with the truth.
This behaviour – and the decision over Mr Lineker – drew the following comment from economist Richard Murphy;
He’s right, isn’t he?
- Finally (for now), the BBC has faced a backlash against its continued employment of Lord Sugar on The Apprentice, whose own political tweets – particularly attacking former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – have gone unquestioned by the Corporation.
Here’s an example:
Mr Corbyn found an unlikely defender – on a BBC news programme – in Alastair Campbell. And the former New Labour press secretary didn’t pull his punches when referring to any of the scandals mentioned above:
I’m aware that Campbell himself is a controversial figure but he’s absolutely right here.
The BBC is in serious trouble over these politically-motivated decisions. Its claim of political impartiality lies in tatters.
The only way out is to apologise and reform.
But, as Beth Rigby stated above, when crises blow up like this, climbdowns become very hard to do.
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