Friday 17 October 2014

Not making friends with Nigel

Continuing to catch up, this week's Panorama on Nigel Farage seems to have caused the biggest hoohah among BBC watchers. 

From Twitter to Biased BBC (where you'd expect the reviews to be hostile) to Digital Spy (where you'd expect the reviews to be much less hostile), the overwhelming body of opinion is that Darragh MacIntyre's report was "anti-UKIP" and showed "left-wing bias" on the BBC's part. 

[The Digital Spy responses are especially interesting, given that a good proportion of those claiming "anti-UKIP" bias on the programme's part claim to be non-UKIP people themselves.]

I won't rehash a lot of points you've probably already read about it but, having now watched the programme [and then had a shower to wash it off], I think it's fair to say that the programme was unambiguously intended as a hatchet-job on Nigel Farage and his party.

The line from Darragh MacIntyre that stood out for me came during a darkly-lit ambush of Nigel Farage [of the kind you usually see in reports of this kind], namely that Panorama has merely...
...been carrying out a normal investigative journalistic process, as you would expect. Well, you'd expect to be subject to the same degree of scrutiny as other political parties?
Nigel Farage didn't reply - but probably should have said: "Yes, but does Panorama subject other political parties to the same scrutiny as us? Have you investigated Ed Miliband's Labour Party, Darragh? The Green Party and their record in running Brighton? Respect? Have you investigated them the same way you've investigated us?" 

Many of us may remember the way dodgy UKIP candidates were spotlighted by the BBC and much of the British press during the European elections, while 'breaking news' of equally dodgy candidates from the 'Big Three' parties were cast as mere footnotes (if mentioned at all). 

Such a bias is understandable in pay-for-your-own-bias newspapers, like the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph. They can slam errant UKIP candidates' and ignore errant Tory candidates to their hearts' content, as they are under no legal obligation to be fair - unlike the BBC, which ought to be scrupulously fair. The BBC, therefore, shouldn't have allowed itself to be seen behaving like the Torygraph.

The question for Panorama specifically is, 'Was this hatchet-job on UKIP just one among many such pieces that have targetted other parties?' If Panorama has done similarly 'bashing' exercises against the other parties then, yes, Darragh M's question is a valid one and the BBC can ease itself off the hook of bias. If not, then the charge of anti-UKIP bias stands.

So has Panorama devoted any of its editions to similar investigations of the other political parties? To find that out would entail a trawl through the Panorama archive.

Such a trawl reveals that most of Darragh MacIntyre's Panorama reports have been about 'tax dodging', though there's also one in his portfolio called Hungry Britain? (about "the dramatic rise in the number of food banks in Britain") and an exposé of the BNP entitled BNP: The Fraud Exposed.

Looking at comparable Panorama reports into the UK political parties since the MPs' expenses scandal, there has been an exposé of Tower Hamlets First (Lutfur Rahman) in 2014, the Conservative Party (Lord Ashcroft) in 2012, the BNP in 2011, the Conservative Party (Lord Ashcroft again) in 2010, and the DUP (Iris Robinson) in 2010. There have also been a few 'cash for questions'/expenses editions targetting a number of political parties (one in 2013, two in 2009). Before the archive runs out, there was also one about the Conservatives (David Cameron) in 2008 ("Has Conservative Party leader David Cameron got what it takes to be prime minister?" and one about Labour (Gordon Brown) in 2007 ("Reporter John Ware investigates Gordon Brown's involvement in past New Labour spin").

So, though rather rough-and-ready, the number of exposés/hatchet jobs for each of the UK political parties since 2007 stands as follows:

Conservatives - 3
Labour - 1
UKIP - 1
DUP - 1
BNP - 1
Tower Hamlets First - 1

The Liberal Democrats, Greens, various nationalists and Respect have emerged unscathed. Labour hasn't been 'exposéd' since 2007. The Conservatives have fared worst (due to the programme's interest in Lord Ashcroft).

Though the terminology of Left and Right gets controversial with some of the parties involved (particularly the BNP), conventional BBC wisdom (and, sometimes, the parties' own self-estimations) would suggest that the list above shows that 6 programmes have 'exposed' parties of the Right and 2 have 'exposed' parties of the Left.

Make of that what you will.

So the UKIP hatchet-job isn't a complete one-off.

Anyhow, it probably backfired. (Well, if the internet response is anything to go by it certainly did!)

People can spot a smear a mile off and they don't seem to be on the same page (or even reading the same book) as Darragh and the BBC when it comes to thinking that politicians saying very un-BBC-like things about immigration must automatically make them beyond the pale for the British public as a whole. If enough people watched it, then maybe UKIP will have gained an extra percentage point or two!

Talking of Panorama and failed hatchet-jobs, and moving on to a genuinely sinister party...I thought John Ware's attempted take-down of Luftur Rahman's party earlier this year might have finished the Tower Hamlets' caliph off, being broadcast just before the mayoral election there and being (as I thought) so damning about him, but, no, LR is still there, after Labour failed to wrest power from him (for whatever reasons) and in spite of all Panorama's hard work. 


  1. "Labour failed to wrest power from him (for whatever reasons) and in spite of all Panorama's hard work">>>

    Might this have been a factor in the strategic jockeying?:

    The Independent seems to have seen another backfire, but some may feel the young researcher played her part (certainly commenters).

    I don't recall hearing much more about the consequences of her conscience and the public interest. Interesting no such UKIP-friendly researchers troubled in the latest team.

    1. No, indeed. Thanks, that had slipped my mind.

      I didn't hear anything more about the young researcher and what resulted from her actions either, but she can only have helped LR to dismiss 'Panorama' as biased.

      And, yes, it is funny that there appear to be absolutely no pro-UKIP leakers at 'Panorama'.

    2. That is hilarious. It's racist, of course, to wonder why she did it.

      Regarding Digital Spy, if they're seeing bias and hackery, it has to be seriously bad.


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