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22nd December 2010
UPDATE: John Rentoul has now blogged on this here
Press Release exposes extent of BBC bias on Iraq Inquiry coverage
I have just received a Press Release from the Ban Blair Baiting Campaign that has gone to every major newspaper in the country. It concerns a matter that is fundamental to our democracy – the impartiality of our main broadcasting channel.
It remains to be seen how many in our freedom loving media will take the story up, but on past form I’m not holding my breath.
The most likely outcome is that this website and perhaps the “happy few” supporting a fair deal for Tony Blair at the Iraq inquiry will be the only communication outlets carrying the story, which in itself will be a massive indictment of how the system works when there is a “we all know” consensus on an issue like the Iraq war.
My reason for going overboard with this Press Release is that, as it says, if the BBC can get away with biased reporting on an issue of this magnitude, they can get away with it on any other issue that takes their fancy, whether the bias comes from the right or the left.
Now is the time for all those who care about impartial broadcasting in this country to stand up and be counted – whatever their views about Tony Blair and the Iraq war.
Below is the full Press Release with a link to the BBC Trust’s findings that have just been published at their site. (At the BBC site scroll down the list of contents to “Iraq Inquiry Coverage, BBC News at Ten, BBC One, 27 November 2009 and 21 January 2010”. The 3 page summary is on pages 3-5, the 14 page full finding is on pages 15-28.)
BBC Trust ruling makes nonsense of the BBC’s impartiality guidelines
The BBC is free to flout its own rules where news coverage of the Iraq inquiry is concerned.
This is the implication of a landmark finding published at the BBC Trust’s website today (pdf file)
The findings, from pages 17-30 inclusive in this file, rejected a complaint that ‘News at Ten’ had breached the BBC’s impartiality guidelines on two occasions by not balancing the reporting of anti-government testimony with coverage of testimony supportive of the government’s case.
The two items concerned evidence given by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former Ambassador to the United Nations on 27 November and by Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, on 21 January 2010.
The complainant’s case
In his appeal to the Trust, the complainant had argued that if the testimony was not reported in an even-handed way, the viewers were being given a false picture of what was emerging from the inquiry in circumstances where they were still making up their minds on the rights and wrongs of the war. One-sided coverage dwelling on evidence opposed to the government’s case “might prejudice the outcome of the inquiry at the bar of public opinion if not at the inquiry itself”.
The BBC Trust’s case
In their response to the appeal, the BBC Trust justified their “not upheld” decision on the grounds that it was right for the news team “to focus on what they believed to be the most newsworthy aspect of the specific day’s evidence” and that “it was not necessary, in principle, to attempt to achieve balance by including a selection of testimony supportive of the government’s case if the key story being explored was doubt about the government’s case”.
What was ignored
It should also be noted that that the BBC Trust’s findings completely ignored one of the complainant’s key arguments that this sort of one-sided reporting misrepresented what was emerging from the inquiry in a way that could prejudice public acceptance of any outcome of the inquiry that was less than highly critical of the war. No doubt this was because of the clear conflict with the BBC guideline stating that “we should not….knowingly do anything to mislead our audiences”.
The consequences of these findings could be momentous. The BBC have been given the green light to continue with their biased reporting of the Iraq inquiry in contravention of its own rules. As such, one of the last bastions of impartial news reporting on this highly controversial issue has fallen to those opposed to the war. Moreover “newsworthiness” can now be used to justify the one-sided reporting of any political topic, whether the perspective is from the right or the left. Our democracy cannot function properly unless there is at least one broadcasting channel that is truly neutral in the way it reports political matters.
This ruling therefore needs to be given wide publicity and those who care about the impartiality of the BBC must make sure that they and their tame watchdog are not allowed to get away with it.
THE BBC TRUST – WITH ALL “DUE” RESPECT
The BBC Trust is comprised of ten trustee members, all highly experienced, worthy individuals, I have no doubt.
Their outgoing chairman is Sir Michael Lyons. His successor will be decided in the final call, by the present prime minister, David Cameron.
One phrase caught my eye in this Trust findings, on Jack Straw’s appearance, page 6 of 56:
“that, due impartiality … allowed for the exercise of news judgment.”
The use of the word “due” seems to me to leave a lot of room for interpretation, even manipulation as to what is “due” and what is “undue.”
The BBC Trust does find in favour of some complainants, as in this case. So they already realise that their “due impartiality” may not always be impartial enough.
But, in my opinion it is not coincidental that upheld complaints on lack of impartiality usually conform with the liberal-left agenda.
From ‘New Statesman’:
“A BBC Inside Out programme on the effect of anti-terror raids on communities in the West Midlands breached accuracy guidelines and wasn’t sufficiently impartial, the BBC Trust has ruled.
A viewer wrote to the BBC’s editorial complaints unit protesting that the programme broadcast on 7 December in the West Midlands was biased against the police.
The regional current affairs show featured a report on raids made by hundreds of police officers across homes, businesses, an internet café and two Islamic bookshops in Birmingham in 2007 as part of Operation Gamble.
For the full article, please visit the Press Gazette website.”
CHANGING BBC EDITORIAL GUIDELINES
In October 2010 as Richard Dawkins reported – “New BBC Guidelines extend ‘impartiality to religion”. Excerpt:
‘The BBC has changed its editorial guidelines to ensure that subjects such as religion and science are treated with due impartiality.
The change has come about as a result of a review of the BBC’s editorial guidelines by governing body, the BBC Trust.
The 2005 guidelines stated that “controversial subjects” which must be treated with due impartiality were solely matters of public policy or political/industrial controversy.
The new guidelines extend the definition of “controversial subjects” to include religion, science, culture and ethics.
The trust said: “In practice, this means that when BBC content deals with controversy within these subjects, it must be treated with a level of impartiality adequate and appropriate to the content, taking account of the nature of the content and the likely audience expectation.”
Hmmm… so, “impartiality adequate and appropriate … taking account of … audience expectation” – quite what does this mean? Does it mean that for instance if many, even most people in the country have a certain mindset, fed on news reports which are not out of step with other outlets’ reports, then they are all in lockstep and therefore stepping in the right direction?
Excerpt, BBC Trust Findings on the Straw/Greenstock complaints:
“The Committee noted that, while other broadcasters are not bound by the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, the editorial line taken by BBC News was not out of step with that taken by other broadcasters”
“The Committee decided that, as with the earlier item, the news value was related to what the observer might expect or predict. In this case a former Foreign Secretary would be expected to be in agreement with the UK Government’s policy on something as critical as going to war. So, the Committee concluded, if there was evidence given in a hearing that there had been considerable disagreement, this was indeed newsworthy.”
I contend that the BBC is underplaying its own importance as THE media outlet most watched and respected worldwide. Where the BBC leads, others follow. As the public broadcaster supported by licence-payers it has a higher responsibility than any other outlet to report in a balanced way, without pandering to the prejudices, agendas or expectations of other media outlets, or opinion, press or public.
NO ‘BLACKWASH’ AT THE IRAQ INQUIRY
Some talk about a “whitewash” at the Iraq Inquiry. It is also of the utmost importance that there is NO blackwash by media outlets such as the BBC. There is also a danger that the Inquiry itself, smarting from “whitewash” accusations will, in an attempt to appease (some) public opinion, lean too heavily in the direction the media expects, often demands.
We will be watching how the BBC reports on Tony Blair’s next appearance at the Iraq inquiry (SkyNews) in a few weeks time.
For full Trust findings go here – 56 pages. Scroll down to pages 17-30 for this complainant’s case.
To help avoid a “blackwash” at the Iraq Inquiry, visit the Ban Blair Baiting petition
The “Ban Blair Baiting Campaign” website is here – www.banblairbaiting.com
Earlier posts here –
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“All countries need a leader who isn’t afraid to fight terrorism. I believe Mr. Blair did a necessary job in helping his allies. Are we all just supposed to lie down and wait for them to come for us, I don’t think so.”
And – “Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the privilege of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – “I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is an honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”
Tags: ban blair baiting petition, BBC, BBC news complaints, BBC Trust, Criticism of the BBC, Iraq, Iraq inquiry, iraq war, jack straw, John Chilcot, no blackwash, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Sir Michael Lyons, Tony Blair