Thursday, 19 January 2017

Picking Cherries With James Harding

I'll keep this one brief. 

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 interview
and 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 impartiality 
but 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 position
People 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 @realdonaldtrump. 

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. 

1 comment:

  1. I think people forget that the BBC is 'ours' (and by 'ours' I mean it is 'owned' by the particular party the good citizens have elected into 'power'). Appointments are not directly political but you can bet that John Pilger would not be selected as a news-reporter by the Director General under a Tory Government. Also people confuse 'THE BBC' with the news departments and forget some of the excellent stuff they produce (or at least hard-fighting producers produce)like 'Hospital' which is at least as political as Newsnight and is hardly right-wing bias... I personally find Kuenssberg predictable and egotistical; it's fairly easy to see when she is a deliberate 'plant' (as at The Donalds/Theresa May interview in the good old USA) The BBC doesn't disturb me as much as do the millions of whingers who labour under the illusion that placing an X alongside someone's name every five years is 'democracy' ... THAT scares the shit out of me.


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