Monday, 18 January 2016

Get Corbyn

In her excellent column in yesterday’s Sunday Herald, Angela Haggerty highlighted the one eyed tweets of one G A Ponsonby whilst not being aware of his past.  If my own memory serves, he did/does do stuff for Newsnet Scotland but the online persona is a constant battle to aggressively plug his book on how biased the BBC was during the referendum.
"Is that a dagger I see before me..."

For a lot of the serious pro-Indy supporters, the coverage of the referendum from the BBC is still a serious touchstone issue.  For me though, I’d always thought that any bias, including the bias outlined in the UWS papers on the media’s output, could be attributed to an institutional bias rather than a deliberate premeditated bias.  Certainly, you couldn’t class the BBC’s coverage at the same level of bias as, say, an edition of The S*n from about 1983. Indeed the flashpoint of this – Nick Robinson’s performance at Alex Salmond’s final pre-vote press conference  - was described as by other people as deeply biased.  At the time though, I thought that it was “Unprofessional, yes.  Biased, no”.  As a result of this view, I always take Ponsonby’s views with a huge pinch of salt.  Someone who, rather like the website he provided pieces for, has promoted a staggeringly one eyed view of independence and those people opposing it and his worldview.

The thing is though is that it’s not the issue of independence that has shaken my own view of the impartiality of Auntie, but their treatment of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.  You would expect the London based dead tree press (as Guido used to call them, before he became a Murdoch Shill) to have gone hard against a figure so diametrically the opposite to anything they believe in.  The joker in the pack though has been the performance of the BBC, and in particular their new Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg and their flagship politics programmes – mostly hosted by fellow Glenburn boy Andrew Neil.

The moment where both Neil, Kuenssberg and the whole Daily Politics programme jumped, not so much the shark, but a row of them whilst farting the theme tune to Happy Days would be during Corbyns first attempt at a cabinet reshuffle. The on air resignation of Stephen Doughty proved to be a controversial moment for the BBC, given that according to the output editor of the Daily & Sunday Politics, Doughty was only ‘considering’ resigning three hours before the show.  Even more damning is Alexander’s description that Kuenssberg “sealed the deal” for Doughty to resign on their show.  Which makes you wonder what precisely was in their conversation?

Of course Doughty has backed the BBC, Kuenssberg & co.  His resignation had the desired effect in handing Cameron ammunition to attack Doughty’s leader.  Assuming that’s how the new politics works, no?  The issue isn’t though whether the BBC should be behaving like other news organisations but whether they have compromised their own impartiality with how they handled the story.  As I said at the time, should the BBC really be the people to hand shadow ministers the knife to use to stab their leader in the front?  In broadcasting this story, the BBC have undermined their credibility, as can be seen in two examples from yesterday, when both Corbyn and his shadow chancellor O’Donnell were doing the rounds.

O’Donnell had drawn the long straw by going on to John Piennar’s Radio 5 Live show.  Except that O’Donnell unexpectedly found he was rationed to describing Labour policy in 5 words before being interrupted.  The new shadow Defence secretary Emily Thornberry fared little better against Neil himself when trying to explain Labour’s review of defence policy.  Neil even brought up the supposed scandal involving Thornberry taking donations from a law firm involved in legal action against HM Army. When Thornberry explained that the law firm in question were only donating manpower, it did make me wonder why this was suddenly a scandal among the right wing press (and the BBC) and the accountancy firm PWC ‘donating’ employees to other Labour MP’s, namely Rachel Reeves, Tristram Hunt, Chukka Umuna and Iain Murray, was not a scandal. Standards are definitely slipping at Auntie Beeb.

Sky News has always had a slight but detectable right wing bias, even down to their choice of participants on the Sky Papers section (watching Kaye Adams on this, it’s clear that she has – in the words of Rob Gretton – ‘gone south’), with the Daily Mirror’s Political Editor Kevin McGuire the only ‘tolken’ leftie allowed on the slot.  On the other hand the BBC has always fought for it’s impartiality.  In the eighties they even had to contend with the Thatcher government sending the police to raid their offices (including the old Queen Margaret Drive HQ of BBC Scotland) over a documentary series, which I think was on spy satellites.

Since Iraq, the death of David Kelly & the fall out from Hutton, the BBC have not been the impartial force that they were and defiantly lost something.  The resignation of Greg Dyke with hindsight seems to have cowed the BBC as their news outlets seem to have allowed their presenters to wear their views a bit more subtly.  A harbinger of this change being the current JP Morgan strategist, Stephanie Flanders, when she was the BBC’s economics editor.  Whether Kuenssberg’s obsession over Corbyn’s 7 day reshuffle will be seen as the turning point, or whether the politics unit continues in it’s treatment of Labour remains to be seen. 

It will not be helpful to the corporation if it is caught in the crossfire of an increasingly bitter and acrimonious fallout.  Even more so since the BBC is showing no intention of learning the lessons of it’s poor coverage of the Independence referendum.  You would think that we were not on the eve of another referendum sometime soon.  Regardless of your political viewpoint, Corbyn deserves fair coverage of his attempts to lead the Labour party.  Whether he succeeds or fails to become PM in four years time should not be dependent on coverage which is, to date, unacceptably below the standards the BBC used to reach.

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