THERE is quite a storm raging around the hallowed sanctuary of the British Broadcasting Corporation today.
As a hard news journalist of some 30 years standing I am angry at the events which have unfolded, but not at all surprised.
It is a few weeks since I blogged on The Bankruptcy of the Fourth Estate and The Loaded Language of the British Press and it feels that today a few of those journalist chickens have come home to roost.
So let’s bring you up to speed.
Soon after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party last September, the BBC was accused of an ‘anti Corbyn bias’ and challenged with a 61,000 strong petition demanding that they stop using the prefix ‘left-wing’ when reporting on events related to his leadership.
But even before he won a stunning 59.5% of the vote, ensuring the largest democratic mandate of any Labour leader in modern history, Mr Corbyn was subject to daily bias from the UK Media. And heading this assault of loaded reporting was the publicly funded BBC.
Former BBC political editor, Nick Robinson, even wrote to his colleagues over concerns about the Corporation’s bias against Mr Corbyn, and Channel 4’s Michael Crick issued a hard-hitting rebuke to broadcasters referring to non-left MPs as ‘moderates’.
Despite these protestations, the BBC’s agenda has not changed. Yesterday, Mr Corbyn’s so-called ‘revenge reshuffle’ led to the revelation, that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil and so-called ‘moderate’ Labour MP Stephen Doughty planned his live resignation on their programme hours before it began.
Any right-minded person must surely ask: how it is the job of the BBC’s political editor to be of service to a malcontent shadow cabinet member intent on weakening the Labour leadership?
The truth was soon to come to light… Last night, the producer of the programme bizarrely admitted in a BBC blog – now deleted, but appended here – that Neil, Kuenssberg and himself manipulated the news to create an impact during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
In the blog, the producer – Andrew Alexander – admitted that the BBC team were not just reporting the day’s news but trying to influence it: “This was a story where we could make an impact… We knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact,” he wrote.
“We took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.”
As a fellow journalist I find this admission shocking, but also symptomatic of degraded and biased practise.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, I believe we are now witnessing a bankruptcy of freedom within our Fourth Estate.
For the uninitiated, the Fourth Estate commonly refers to the news media or “the press”.
Edmund Burke, first used the term in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting in the House of Commons. Burke described the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.
But my belief is that position has now been hi-jacked by big business ownership of our media.
These are the same big businesses which support a Conservative government and in turn influence draconian monetarist and capitalist policy at every turn.
Almost 78 per cent of our press is owned by a handful of mostly foreign-based billionaires.
The nature of a media organisation is set by its owner.
Newspapers and broadcasters exercise power and influence in many ways. And one of their most powerful forms of influence is the ability to effectively set the political agenda for the other media and more widely, in parliament, the workplace, the home and the pub.
So-called editorial independence is a sham. Proprietors choose editors who they know share their views.
I witnessed this at first hand when Margaret Thatcher’s close friends the Barclay Brothers bought Scotland’s flagship daily newspaper The Scotsman in 1996.
Within a few months, the new owners had Andrew Neil installed as Editor-in-Chief of The Scotsman and its sister title Scotland on Sunday.
Neil already had a track record.
The former Conservative Party researcher was Editor of The Sunday Times from 1983 until 1994. The Sunday Times during this period campaigned for an already discredited claim that AIDS was not an infectious disease and was not caused by HIV.
So when he took up the reins at The Scotsman we all had a fear of what might be coming next.
So it was here that my job as an award-winning Chief Investigative Reporter and Neil’s as my ultimate line manager crossed.
Although the memory of him striding orange bronzed through the oak-panelled corridors of the paper’s headquarters at Edinburgh’s North Bridge, with his red braces straining at his chest, still brings a shiver; it is his loaded editorial as an editor which will remain longest.
At the time of his appointment, Edinburgh was suffering from a huge homelessness problem, with many poor souls rough sleeping in shop doorways at night and begging on the pavements by day. This is turn had fuelled a growing problem of young male prostitution – teenage guys selling their bodies just to earn enough to eat and maybe rent a flat.
I witnessed the problems every day as I strolled around the city centre and each evening as I walked to Waverley Street Station to catch my train home.
So, I suggested that a colleague and I should sleep rough in the city for a couple of nights to report first hand on the problems, and in doing so shame the authorities into taking some action to ameliorate them.
Neil was quick to put the idea down as “dangerous” and “foolhardy”.
But he wasted no time in using his next two weekly columns in The Scotsman to call for the city council to “hose” the homeless rough sleepers from the shop doorways amid a spurious claim that they were driving tourists away from Edinburgh’s famed Princes Street.
This one incident, for me, sums up Andrew Neil.
More than 60 members of staff voted with their feet and left The Scotsman during Neil’s first year in charge. In that time, a once proud newspaper was transformed into a pale pro Union broadsheet imitation of the Daily Mail.
Although Laura Kuenssberg was a young trainee journalist at the time I worked in the Scottish press our paths never crossed.
But her reputation as a privileged career driven reporter was being born.
The daughter of wealthy Scottish businessman Nick Kuenssberg and his wife Sally, her maternal grandfather was Lord Robertson who was a High Court of Justiciary judge. Her great-uncle was Sir James Robertson, the last colonial Governor-General of Nigeria.
Following this family tradition Laura’s sister Joanna was recently appointed the British High Commissioner in Mozambique
Kuenssberg grew up in Glasgow and attended Laurel Bank School, a fee paying independent girls’ school. She studied history at the University of Edinburgh, followed by a journalism course at Georgetown University in Washington DC, where she worked for NBC News.
After returning to UK, her career progressed quickly through the BBC and at rivals ITV. During this time she was praised for her reporting and blogging by the Conservative Home website.
In July 2015 she was appointed the BBC’s Political Editor, the first woman to hold the position – as successor to Nick Robinson.
Her tenure has been dogged by many criticisms of bias against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Today, a Change.Org petition was launched demanding that the Producer of Daily Politics along with Andrew Neil/Laura Kuenssberg be Sacked. The petition, which had more than 5,000 signatures at the time of writing states: On the Daily Politics it appears the producer Andrew Alexander and Laura Kuenssberg conspired to arrange the resignation live on air of Stephen Doughty MP. This appears to have been done for max damage to the Labour leader and to create news, rather than report it. If these individuals did indeed conspire in this manner then they along with Andrew Neil should resign or be sacked. In signing this petition you are asking the BBC to consider their positions.
You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/bbc-we-demand-producer-of-daily-politics-along-with-andrew-neil-laura-kuenssberg-be-sacked
BBC News forms a major department of the Corporation, but for years has received complaints of bias in favour of the conservative Establishment.
The commentator Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman pointed out the right-wing backgrounds of many BBC presenters and journalists.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones is also of the opinion that the BBC is biased towards the right, owing to numerous key posts being filled by Conservatives.
A study by Cardiff University academics, funded by the BBC Trust, and published in August 2013, examined the BBC’s coverage of a broad range of issues.
One of the findings was the dominance of party political sources.
In coverage of immigration, the EU and religion, these accounted for 49.4% of all source appearances in 2007 and 54.8% in 2012.
The data also showed that the Conservative Party received significantly more airtime than the Labour Party.
In 2012 Conservative leader David Cameron outnumbered Labour leader Ed Miliband in appearances by a factor of nearly four to one (53 to 15), while Conservative cabinet members and ministers outnumbered their Labour counterparts by more than four to one (67 to 15).
Former Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, has criticised the BBC as part of a “Westminster conspiracy” to maintain the British political system.
The deleted blog by BBC producer Andrew Alexander:
Resignation! Making the news on the Daily Politics
Thursday 07 January 2016, 15:17
Andrew Alexander is an output editor for the Daily and Sunday Politics series
Wednesday is always an important day for the Daily Politics because we carry Prime Minister’s Questions live, which brings with it our biggest audience of the week and, we hope, a decent story.
As I arrived at Millbank at 7am it was clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet reshuffle, which had ended before 1am, was going to dominate at Westminster.
When the programme editor phoned in we agreed that in addition to covering other major stories, including the junior doctors’ strike, fallout from the reshuffle was likely to continue throughout the morning and this was a story where we could make an impact.
When the producers arrived at 8am they began putting out texts and calls to Labour MPs we thought were likely to react strongly to the sacking of several shadow ministers for “disloyalty”.
Just before 9am we learned from Laura Kuenssberg, who comes on the programme every Wednesday ahead of PMQs, that she was speaking to one junior shadow minister who was considering resigning. I wonder, mused our presenter Andrew Neil, if they would consider doing it live on the show?
The question was put to Laura, who thought it was a great idea. Considering it a long shot we carried on the usual work of building the show, and continued speaking to Labour MPs who were confirming reports of a string of shadow ministers considering their positions.
Within the hour we heard that Laura had sealed the deal: the shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty would resign live in the studio.
Although he himself would probably acknowledge he isn’t a household name, we knew his resignation just before PMQs would be a dramatic moment with big political impact. We took the presenters aside to brief them on the interview while our colleagues on the news desk arranged for a camera crew to film him and Laura arriving in the studio for the TV news packages.
There’s always a bit of nervous energy in the studio and the gallery just before we go on air at 11.30am, but I’d say it was a notch higher than usual this week. By this point we weren’t worried about someone else getting the story as we had Stephen Doughty safely in our green room. Our only fear was that he might pull his punches when the moment came.
When it did, with about five minutes to go before PMQs, he was precise, measured and quietly devastating – telling Andrew that “I’ve just written to Jeremy Corbyn to resign from the front bench” and accusing Mr Corbyn’s team of “unpleasant operations” and telling “lies”.
As Andrew Neil handed from the studio to the Commons chamber we took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.
During our regular debrief after coming off air at 1pm we agreed our job is always most enjoyable when a big story is breaking – but even more so when it’s breaking on the programme.
* Credit to Evolve Politics – www.evolvepolitics.com