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Wednesday, 17 June 2020

BBC Bosses Skewered by MPs Over Bias and Inaccuracy

Two BBC bosses have been hauled over the coals by MPs over allegations of bias and inaccuracy in its news coverage.

Clare Sumner, the BBC's Director of Policy, and James Purnell, the BBC's Director of Radio and Education, appeared before the House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday morning.

The pair were grilled by MPs for two hours as part of the committee's ongoing inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting.

After gently breaking Sumner and Purnell in with some questions about how the BBC planned on recouping the £125 million of losses it claims to have incurred as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, matters turned quickly to the thorny issues of impartiality and accuracy of reporting.

In particular the committee wanted to know Purnell's thoughts about the manner in which Emily Maitlis recently opened a Newsnight programme, with a vitriolic diatribe against Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson.

Purnell, as ex-Labour Cabinet minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, managed to fend off questions on the Maitlis topic by MPs Damian Hinds and Steve Brine, but as the clocked ticked ever onwards it was inevitable that MP Philip Davies - who is well renowned for his plain-speaking criticism of the BBC - got his chance to probe the BBC man for information.

Davies began by asking Purnell why, when the BBC considers itself some sort of beacon of impartiality, it had chosen former Director of News Richard Sambrook to head up a review of the Corporation's use of social media.

The MP for Shipley read out a string of Sambrook's recent tweets, including "I'm strongly remain 2 years after the referendum", "Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are post-truth politicians", "More Boris lies. Now a man of zero integrity", "Britain is being led to an epic act of national harm over Brexit" and "Brexit is not the will of the British people".

Purnell replied that Sambrook was not advising the BBC on impartiality, implying that there was no conflict of interests between his previous tweets and new role reviewing the use of social media.

"You want people to come into the organisation who are engaged and have views", Purnell said.

"When you come into the organisation and work here you leave those views at the door.

"We have a very strong culture and very strong working practices to make sure that we leave those views at the door and when we are working for the BBC we do so very much within the editorial guidelines."

Davies scoffed: "That’s just the problem, isn’t it?

"The problem is that the BBC doesn't have people with a range of views. They all seem to have a typically north London, metropolitan, pro-remain view of the world.

"That's largely the cultural problem within the BBC and it therefore is a million miles away from people's views in Yorkshire and Norfolk and Lincolnshire and whatever.

"That is actually the problem, isn't it?"

Purnell replied that he couldn't control the public's perception of the BBC, but rejected the MP's assertion by listing a number of of ways the corporation had tried to reach out to its audience across the nations and regions.

"If a Martian was looking at the BBC they would see that this is an organisation for the whole UK. It's probably the most UK-wide organisation of any that we have in this country", he boasted.

That led nicely onto Davies' next question about the BBC's recent reporting of protests in relation to the recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

"Can you explain why the weekend just gone was described by the BBC as 'violent London protests' which led to 6 police officers being injured, yet the previous week's activities were described as 'largely peaceful protests' which led to 62 police officers being injured?"

Purnell replied that the largely peaceful description had originated with the police and explained that the headline had to capture both sides of the story - the violent disorder side and the peaceful protest side.

"Obviously when you go and listen to the programme – you watch the brilliant Panorama that Clive Myrie did last night – you get more detail and context and you get to explore the tension between those two aspects of the story", Purnell added.

Davies then turned his attention to Maitlis, whose comments are shown in the video above.

"What worries me about Emily Maitlis' oration was that it wasn't just on the wrong side of impartiality. It was absolutely blatant," the MP postulated.

"It was an absolutely blatant statement of what she believed and the BBC believed. It didn't have even the remotest amount of impartiality in it.

"What worries me is how does that culture develop at the BBC that actually allows people to think it's perfectly acceptable to do that in the first place?

"Surely if the BBC was such a beacon of impartiality no-one would even have thought about doing something like that in the first place?

"Doesn't it go to show that there is a problem at the heart of the culture of the BBC that allows that to happen in the first place?"

Purnell snapped back: "No, not at all.

"It's because we thought that those things [comments by Maitlis] should have been done as questions, which is the typical way that they would be done in the set-up to a programme.

"We corrected it very quickly. We make thousands and thousands of hours of news. We have brilliant journalists like Emily Maitlis and Laura Kuenssberg making judgements like that the whole time."

At several stages during the exchange Purnell cited research showing that the public overwhelmingly trusted BBC News, despite the research findings we reported yesterday.

"Fifty percent of people trust the BBC for their news on covid. The next highest is 16 percent, which is people like the WHO and the NHS.

"When you ask people if they trust BBC News, it's normally between 60 and 70 percent (that do)."

Davies pushed a little harder to find out how seriously Purnell viewed Maitlis' breach of impartiality rules.

"Do you think Emily Maitlis' soliloquy on Newsnight was just on the wrong side of impartiality, or a long way away from being impartial?

"What's your view? Was it absolutely blatant as I seem to think it is, or did it just fall on the wrong side?"

Purnell reiterated that had Maitlis' comments been delivered as questions instead of statements, as intended, they would have been interpreted differently.

"The way to judge that programme is as a whole looking at the journalism.

"As I say, Emily and the team at Newsnight have done some brilliant journalism over the course of this crisis."

Davies said it would be helpful for other BBC journalists if Purnell could give them "a steer" on the margin by which Maitlis overstepped the mark, but the BBC man refused to do so.

The Shipley MP's final line of questioning concerned remarks made by former BBC News executive Steve Anderson.

"On the Blue Collar Conversations podcast he said that the media hadn't been well-equipped to deal with coronavirus - that the public resent the media covering the story like it's another political story and they don't want to see an announcement being attacked just because it's a Government announcement.

"What would you say to those criticisms that Steve Anderson's made?"

Purnell replied that Anderson's criticisms were unfounded.

"I don't think it's true that we attack every single announcement. That’s not our job. Our job is to question and to challenge.

"We've been playing a very important role in terms of providing wider information."

You can view Davies' and Purnell's full interaction in this video:

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Ordinaryperson1 said...

I find it amazing that 50% trust the BBC, I stopped watching the journalists questions after the Downing Street info each night as I found them to be accusatory, patronising and frankly biased and cringe worthy.
Why do journalists feel they have to challenge? Journalists should report the information not judge or assume they know what the public should think.

Unknown said...

The BBC dont accept any criticism this will be their downfall which is very sad we need an impartial news channel which they obviously are not. I have complained many times but they dont want to know.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that as I get older (now in my 50's) that my view of the BBC reporting is a london-based, anti-white, anti-British corporation with minority, BAME and remain as their key objectives. utterly disgraceful and unless they acknowledge their clear and obvious left bias, I for one will be not paying for the licence fee (aka tax). Utterly rubbish journalism. Report the news and not your agendas BBC or you will be doomed. Additionally, stop paying such farcical wages to news reporters, ex-sportsman and so called political correspondents (LK for one).

Anonymous said...

The BBC does bias and bias by omission. It pesrsues a political agenda to such an extent that its programs are saturted with it . Whenever you turn on radio 4 it is the same old merry go round of politically correct subjects. No longer buy a TV license to fund this depressing rubbish.