30th July 2010
The BBC has been forced, reluctantly, to admit that their ace commentator, Laura Kuenssberg, got it wrong!
After a wait of several months, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit has finally responded to one of this blog’s regular commenters.
He had complained about the distorted reporting of Ms Kuenssberg when she covered Tony Blair’s appearance at the Iraq Inquiry on 29th January, 2010. [You may recall this broadcasting journalist being in trouble on the same occasion over having her Twitter link with her anti-Blair instant comments on the screen behind her as she spoke to the camera.]
His complaint concerned Kuenssberg’s reference to evidence given to the inquiry (by Sir Christopher Meyer) “that during their Crawford meeting, Blair and Bush had signed ‘a deal in blood’ that the UK would go to war alongside America if that was their decision.” (see full extract below). He pointed out that Ms Kuenssberg’s remarks were inaccurate in that Sir Christopher had actually said he was not there so he did not know whether a deal had been done ‘in blood’. He also complained that the report was biased since it chimed with the false version of Sir Christopher’s testimony put out by the anti-war lobby and was presented against the constant background of the anti-Blair demo on that day, with placards like “BLiar”, “Blair – War Criminal” being thrust in front of the cameras.
Read the BBC’s finding first (pasted below), and then see what the complainant has to say. The BBC’s response is now online. See Response from BBC Complaints Unit
ECU Ruling: News (10.00am), BBC News channel, 29 January 2010
In an item on the proceedings of the Chilcot Inquiry, the reporter referred to the evidence given by Sir Christopher Meyer the previous November about a meeting between Tony Blair and George W Bush in the Spring of 2002, and reporting him as having said that, during the meeting, Mr Blair had “signed a deal in blood…that the UK would go to war alongside America if that was their decision”. A viewer complained that this was a misleading account of Sir Christopher’s evidence which, together with the use of footage of demonstrators outside the Inquiry venue, resulted in bias against Mr Blair.
Sir Christopher, while making clear that he believed the meeting had led to agreement on the need for regime change, had also made clear that options other than military action were still under consideration, and it was inaccurate to report him as having suggested that an absolute commitment to go to war alongside the US had been made. However, as the item also reported Mr Blair’s dismissal of Sir Christopher’s evidence in relation to the meeting, the inaccurate reporting of that evidence did not result in imbalance. The footage of demonstrators simply illustrated what was happening outside the Inquiry venue at the time, and had no bearing on the issue of impartiality. Partly upheld
All involved in the broadcast have discussed the story and the issues it raised. Senior editors on the News channel will continue to emphasise the need for editorial vigilance in terms of ensuring that space and time is made for proper and sufficient context to be given when reporting specific and detailed quotations from witnesses in long-running inquiries.
Here are Ms Kuenssberg’s full remarks taken from the transcript, as sent to the complainant by the BBC:
“Well that interesting mention, as you said there, of Crawford, let’s just remember for people, that meeting that Tony Blair had with President Bush in the Spring of 2002. Now at this inquiry, one witness, the former UK Ambassador to the States said, at that meeting Tony Blair signed a deal in blood with President Bush that the UK would go to war alongside America if that was their decision. Now Tony Blair has dismissed that today, he dismissed Christopher Meyer really, saying well look, he wasn’t there at that meeting and I think you could tell from his body language really what he thought of the attempt by Sir Christopher Meyer to put that point when he was here at the inquiry.”
THE COMPLAINANT’S THOUGHTS ON THIS RULING
“Although the BBC Complaints Unit have reluctantly conceded that Ms Kuenssberg’s remarks were inaccurate they have denied there was any bias despite all the facts pointing that way.
The BBC News Editors initially defended Kuenssberg’s report on the ludicrous grounds that it was her role to make clear to the audience what Sir Christopher was really saying and that this was how it had been reported by everyone else. This in itself reveals the BBC’s biased mindset on the Iraq issue (no doubt linked to the ramifications of the Hutton inquiry which resulted in several BBC resignations).
The Editorial Complaints Unit did not refer to this absurd defence in its ruling but denied that Ms Kuenssberg’s report was biased since she had also referred to Tony Blair’s dismissal of Sir Christopher’s evidence.
This new argument for there being no bias took no account of my point about the reference to Blair’s attitude to Sir Christopher’s evidence being made against the backdrop of “BLiar” placards which subliminally must have influenced the BBC’s audience against what Blair had said. Nor did the BBC Complaints Unit take account of my point about how this biased backdrop could have been easily avoided by turning the cameras round and presenting Ms Kuenssberg’s remarks against the backdrop of the Conference Centre instead, as had been done in other reports.
I therefore remain dissatisfied with the ECU’s findings on bias and will be appealing to the BBC Trust on the matter. I do not expect much joy from them however since they have already refused to formally consider another of my appeals about the BBC’s coverage of the inquiry. There is clearly something very fishy and disturbing about how the BBC and their supposed watchdog, the BBC Trust, are treating these Iraq inquiry complaints I now have a number of them going through the complaints process covering different days of the inquiry and an obvious pattern of bias is emerging both in the reporting and in the way the complaints are being treated which accords with what was said about media coverage of the Iraq inquiry in the Ban Blair Baiting petition and in the New Statesman blog post here. This is a national scandal and I will be saying more about these other cases once the complaints process has been completed.”
MY OWN COMMENT ON THE RULING
He answered questions for more than SIX hours. From the man himself, the man who made the decisions, there was plenty of material to fill any unbiased ten minute reporting slot.
Updated: The complaint regarding Ms Kuenssberg, who is supposed to be an impartial commentator, was a complaint concerning her 10:00am report on 29th January. By that time Mr Blair had been providing his evidence to the Inquiry for half an hour. There may just have been SOMETHING noteworthy he had already said in his OWN evidence. A little something positive on his own behalf? If there was, Ms Kuenssberg chose to ignore it. Instead she resorted to reminding viewers of an earlier witness’s evidence. NOT a witness who necessarily agreed with Mr Blair wholeheartedly. NOT a witness who understood that the Prime Minister was in the end the man in the hot seat. Oh no. She felt compelled to resort to the anti-war/anti-Blair lobby’s twisted version of Sir Christopher’s “signed a deal in blood” phrase.
I note that as far as I understand it Sir Christopher did NOT contact the BBC to complain about the distorted use of his words. However in their investigation, the BBC Compaints Unit seems to have consulted him as to the meaning of his original words. Perhaps his failure to make his own complaint about Kuenssberg’s twisting of the colourful phrase tells us something about HIS political sympathies. [Aside: yesterday his voice was heard on the BBC News Channel defending and even praising David Cameron’s foreign policy pronouncements in India on Pakistan, and in Turkey against Israel. So clearly we understand his political sympathies.]
Why did Ms Kuenssberg not remind people of those who agreed with Mr Blair’s decision? Why start off the day by putting the anti-view so firmly to the audience? Bias. Pure and simple.
Such distorted and brainwashing reporting of another’s words is disgraceful. Not only was it NOT what Meyer said, it is exactly the opposite. There should have been much more than just a cosy BBC discussion about it. Laura Kuenssberg should have been severely reprimanded .
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A recent comment from an Albanian, Mr Leonard Dedej from Tirana – “It takes big leaders to make the hardest turns in peoples life…mr Blair is a big leader and a great man for millions of people in Balkans!!!for stopping a savage war!about Iraq I believe that the press wherever it is has not the right to judge on this issue because it simply is to small to judge!!history will judge mr Blair!as long as it is an ongoing war no one can blame mr Blair,after all he started something for a big reason..the press its often wrong because it fights for audience!!!”
Tags: anti-Blair, background demo, BBC, BBC journalist guilty, Beeb, bias, bias at the beeb, Crawford, deal written in blood, ECU, ecu news, Editorial Complaints Unit, editorial vigilance, former UK Ambassador to USA, Iraq inquiry, John Rentoul, Laura Kuenssberg, misrepresentation, misrepresenting, partly upheld, placards, President George Bush, reporter, ruling, Sir Christopher Meyer, sufficient context, Tony Blair, Twitter on BBC screen