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On November 27, 2015 the BBC’s News at Six interviewed Jeremy Corbyn, days after the Paris terror attacks in which around 130 people died. That report, among others, sparked fierce criticism of the BBC in general and Laura Kuenssberg (BBC Political Editor and Press Gazette 2016 Journalist of the Year) in particular. There have since been numerous allegations that the BBC is biased against Corbyn.
Responding to a viewer’s complaint, the BBC Trust examined the report and recently issued their ruling which seems less than glowing. To quote the ruling exactly, her report:
Had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr. Corbyn’s interview.
Trustees considered that the effect of the inaccuracy was compounded when the report went on to state that, consequent from Mr. Corbyn’s answer;
The (Prime Minister’s) message and the Labour leader’s couldn’t be more different.
It might seem that way to Kuenssberg but not, it seems, to the BBC Trust or the individual complaining of alleged BBC bias against Corbyn. It’s only fair to acknowledge that Corbyn himself didn’t file the complaint, nor did anyone acting on his behalf. That said, despite BBC News defending Kuenssberg, the complaint itself has been upheld and now widely reported.
The ‘Prime Minister’s message’ Kuenssberg referenced was a list of proposed Government measures, a list not mentioning any ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. Strange then that Kuenssberg should ask him about shoot-to-kill despite it not being on the list. She didn’t ask his position on any of the other ideas on the list, either.
Her conclusion, based entirely on the shoot-to-kill question, didn’t go down too well with many viewers. It doesn’t seem to have gone well with the BBC Trust either, the Trust stating:
Trustees considered it was not duly accurate to present, as fact, Mr. Corbyn’s position on a specific question he had not been asked and then to rely on a response he had given to a different question.
Yet, according to Kuenssberg’s conclusion:
The (Prime Minister’s) message and the Labour leader’s couldn’t be any more different.
Regarding the interview itself, the Trust ruled;
The Committee found no evidence that there was a deliberate attempt to mislead audiences: indeed the clip used in the News at Six came from an interview the BBC had conducted with Mr. Corbyn earlier in the day which had already been published in its entirety on the BBC website so the context of the questioning was clear to anyone who chose to watch it online.
It probably doesn’t occur to many people to cross-check interview clips against full footage for bias, misrepresentation or other media malpractice. This doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Trust. Those with some residual faith in mainstream media or media generally might expect professional, award-winning journalists to avoid those pitfalls or the appearance thereof.
This also seems not to have occurred to the Trust. Nor, it seems, has a glaring contradiction in their own ruling. At one point it states, quite clearly:
Trustees agreed that there was no evidence of bias or any intent by the BBC or any individual to misrepresent Mr. Corbyn’s position.
Then states later, referencing the BBC’s own Editorial Guidelines:
The breach of due accuracy on such a highly-contentious political issue meant that the output had not achieved this standard. As a consequence the Committee therefore decided, on balance, that the item was not duly impartial.
This is an embarrassment to both the BBC and Kuenssberg personally. An embarrassment compounded by the draft ruling having leaked to the Sunday Herald nearly two weeks ago and further compounded by the Beeb itself showing a flair for poor timing.
Only days ago the BBC announced the forming of its new ‘Permanent Reality Check’ team. The PRC has been founded, according to the Beeb, for the purpose of debunking what the Beeb considers fake news. The irony of BBC News riding the fake news bandwagon while rapping its Political Editor over the knuckles for poor reporting is obvious.
To bowdlerise a phrase;
“The BBC’s message and the opinion of increasingly more viewers and listeners couldn’t be any more different.”