A lot of people active on social media think that BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg is biased, specifically against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. I don't know if she is or isn't because I haven't seen much of her work (and therefore my general view can't and shouldn't be applied to her): interviews between politicians and reporters, and political reporting, are now so sterile that I can't face watching any more of them. The politicians are so well-trained that they can effortlessly flannel through any really pressing question, while the savvy ones simply avoid appearing at press conferences or tough interviews: Cameron would only appear on sofas, while the Today show is reduced to sarcastically pronunciation of the words 'no minister was available'.*
One particular report she filed on Corbyn's attitude to British shoot-to-kill policies was reported to the BBC trust and investigated for misrepresenting the Labour leader's views by misrepresenting the question put to him (unseen on the particular show complained about), which altered how his response was framed. The findings were mixed: she was found to have been inaccurate:
…the report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr Corbyn’s interviewand that
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.”
Finding: Upheld as breaches of accuracy and therefore as a breach of impartialitybut not biased:
Trustees agreed that there was no evidence of bias or any intent by the BBC or any individual to misrepresent Mr Corbyn’s positionPeople may agree or disagree with this finding: that's their right. But what caught my eye was the subsequent behaviour of BBC executives. The Head of News, James Harding, was quoted saying this:
While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding…BBC News reported on the leader of the opposition in the same way it would any other politician…It is striking that the Trust itself said there was ‘no evidence of bias’. Indeed, it also said the news report was ‘compiled in good faith'.The Trust is being abolished shortly, so no doubt Mr Harding felt that he could ignore it with impunity, but I worry that this attitude mimics the behaviour of governments and politicians. In the space of two sentences, Harding rejects the substantial findings of the report while cherry-picking it for the positives – like a film poster which bearing the quotation 'STUNNING' when the original review read 'the cash spent on this film is a stunning waste of time'. You can't say 'this was all rubbish except the bits I like': that way lies
Harding's a public servant, not a PR operative or political hack: either he rejects the whole thing and explains why, or he accepts it, but to pick and choose like this is spin and we should expect better of the BBC. As a journalist or an executive responsible for journalists at one of the world's most respected broadcasters, he has an ethical duty not to editorialise or himself misrepresent despite the understandable pressure to defend one of his own. Doing so adds to the perception that all uncomfortable or inconvenient decisions and judgements should be dismembered and rebuilt in a different way for the convenience of one side.
*I also groan whenever a political story is reported 'live from' Downing Street/the White House/wherever even if it's 3 a.m. and the story relates to Syria because they think the viewer is so stupid s/he needs to see some synecdochic or metonymic architecture.