Saturday 28 November 2015

"The leading questions in that report were quite outrageous"

Just as Sue is taken aback by the inexhaustible torrents of pro-Corbyn posts that she's seeing on Facebook, so I'm taken aback by the unending flow of accusations of anti-Corbyn BBC bias on Twitter.

Some may have a point but most just sound ridiculous - like the guy who tweets The World at One pretty much every day to accuse them of being 'Tories'. (Even Mark Mardell got called "the voice of Tory #bbcbias" this week, though it's usually Martha Kearney who's on the receiving end of his "Tory" accusations).

A flavour of the latter - the Twitter world of completely bogus claims of BBC bias - came on this morning's Today and, as newspapers (like the Guardian) are reporting it, it's worth commenting on here. 

Today had lined up two Labour MPs - anti-Corbyn Barrow-in-Furness MP John Woodcock and pro-Corbyn former BBC reporter Clive Lewis. The latter began his contribution by protesting against the previous report from Sima Kotecha, who had featured some vox pops from Slough - the constituency of one of the two Labour MPs calling for Jeremy Corbyn to resign: 
Clive Lewis: First thing, Nick. Let's just put a marker down here. I think the report that you put on first, I assume that was a polemic because it was so one-sided it was an absolute outrage. I'm going to say that just for the record.
Nick Robinson: Hold on a second!
Clive Lewis: So I'll consider the issue...
Nick Robinson: Hold on a second! Sima Kotecha's a very professional reporter. She'd been to Slough and she's reported what she said. It was neither...
Clive Lewis: The leading questions in that report were quite outrageous. I've been a journalist myself Nick for twelve years. I know a leading question when I hear one, OK...
Nick Robinson: You've made your point. Let's move on.
Was Sima Kotecha's report from Slough a one-sided, anti-Corbyn polemic? 

Well, it featured four vox pops. All were Labour supporters. Two approved of Jeremy Corbyn, two disapproved of Jeremy Corbyn. 

Let's quote everything the BBC reporter said though and check out those 'leading questions'.

To the first (anti-Corbyn) member of the public she asked:
You've got the MP for Slough saying he should stand down?
Was that a leading question? Or just a question (based on that fact that the local MP had called for Mr Corbyn to resign)?  

She then introduced the second and third (pro-Corbyn) members of the public:
Across from a construction site on a main road, mother and daughter Dora and Gloria are standing by the traffic lights. Both are Labour supporters and both want more unity in the party.
"Both want more unity in the party" can be read as critical of either side, or as both sides, so I wouldn't call it either 'polemical' or 'one-sided'.

And Sima Kotecha's next words (introducing the third vox pop) don't strike me as providing any support for Clive Lewis's charge of anti-Corbyn bias either - quite the reverse...
Her mother Dora isn't worried though and believes Jeremy Corbyn will be the next prime minister. She says that we mustn't forget that he won a quarter of a million votes in the leadership election and has a huge mandate.
...though she did then ask about her "worry" again:
You're not worried? that section of her report also balances out, I reckon.

As, I think, did her interview with the final vox pop here. The first two questions to him could, again, be read as critical of either side, or both sides. The third question, again, asks if the respondent agrees with his own MP. And the fourth question puts a pro-Corbyn point:
- Darren Clews is about to whiz off on his motorbike. He's a traditional Labour supporter but says he's frustrated at the way the members are behaving.
- And at the moment you don't feel that it is [united]?
- Do you think that Jeremy Corbyn should resign?
- Why do you say that, because a lot of people voted for him? 
Far be it from me to stick up for the BBC (though I don't see why I shouldn't), but Clive Lewis MP was the one showing outrageous, one-side, polemical bias here. (It's a good thing he's no longer a BBC reporter then!)

The kind of Twitterati described at the start of this post are going crazy about this though. They think Mr Lewis has a point, even though he hasn't actually got a leg to stand on (in my view)...

...which is yet more evidence for the point that if the BBC is getting complaints from both sides it doesn't necessarily mean that the BBC is getting it about right. 

It might simply mean that the BBC is getting largely valid complaints from one side and largely invalid complaints from the other side, so the BBC is in fact getting it about wrong.

That said, none of this is to say that all of the complaints that the BBC is biased against Jeremy Corbyn are necessarily wrong - just this one, and plenty of others pouring in daily on Twitter.


  1. Corbyn may have won a quarter million votes in the leadership election, but who seriously thinks he has more supporters than that number plus whatever is left in the Greens? There is no way a Corbyn-led Labour is going to win enough seats to remove the Tories.

    Having said that, I agree entirely with your analysis of the 'complaints from both sides'. Analyzing the complaints would be worth an entire well-staffed blog on its own, really.

  2. It's always context though, isn't it? Why are the BBC focussing on the leadership rather than the failure of Labour MPs in Parliament to reflect the beliefs and wishes of the membership?

    My view is that the BBC is a highly political organisation and that it is basically left of centre social democratic in its politics. Corbyn lies outside that - being more communist. I think the BBC essentially oppose Corbyn. They feel he is jeopardising the "project".

    1. I would agree with you about that.

      The BBC's focus is precisely where you say it is, on programme after programme. It hadn't struck me as clearly as that until you just pointed it out though.

      Interestingly, Andrew Marr has written a piece for 'The Sunday Times' that does begin to tackle the question of what the membership believes and wants and how Labour MPs could respond:

      "The view of the pro-Corbyn Momentum movement is clear: the Labour party is a democratic organisation, the property not of its MPs but of its wider membership. That membership made its view abundantly clear in the summer and seems to have been moving pro-Corbyn since. MPs who don’t like it should make their peace with the new reality or stand aside.

      For the dissident Labour MPs, this misses out two crucial things. First, they haven’t changed, and if they pretend to knuckle under, nobody will take them seriously ever again. Second, in a representative democracy they represent the electors who chose them, not the members who selected them.

      Their text must be Edmund Burke’s November 1774 speech to the electors of his Bristol constituency: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

      So the question is really: who are MPs? Are they independent actors, chosen by a wide variety of people, the polling majority, perhaps, in favour of action in Syria, answerable first to their own judgment; or are they the chosen voices of a distinctive and democratic movement?

      For those who think this is an easy moral or political question, it should be remembered that our “representative democracy” is relatively unrepresentative of the wide spread of modern opinion. Anyone outside a narrow pro-market liberal consensus tends to be mocked or jeered into fuming irrelevancy. Whether it is climate change sceptics, traditional Christians, nuclear unilateralists, deep Greens, Islamists or traditional socialists, there’s a worryingly large number of people whose views have been classified as unacceptable or merely laughable."

      That last paragraph could easily be adapted to apply to the BBC.

    2. I've been seeing and saying something along those lines for some time as well. Although I believe it's only the establishment, upper echelon and high profile Beeboids who think Corbyn is a problem, while the hard Left radio talent, comedians, and rank-and-file journalists are on his side and resent the way some editors and presenters appear to be going after him and being 'unfair'.

      Marr is clearly part of the former group, Young Communist though he may have been. His handling of Corbyn this morning bears that out, I think. Petty, simplistic sniping, mostly. "You are a pacifist, aren't you?"....."In no circumstances would you support bombing"...."You're really with Stop the War Coalition"...etc. Just perfunctory, a checklist, the same things everyone else ask and say, as if regurgitating what everyone is saying in the papers is his job as a world-class interviewer. Actually, it sounded like Marr had no conviction behind anything he was saying. But that doesn't make him on side with Corbyn by any means.

      I say that because the one phrase Corbyn kept repeating over and over again in every response on the subject of ISIS and Syria was "the political process". He insisted over and over that "the political process" was the key, the only way to peace. Yet Marr never once bothered to ask what that was. All Corbyn was given a chance to do was to read out a laundry list of reasons not to bomb, but the solution he offered was ignored entirely. If Marr was on Corbyn's side, he'd have asked him to elaborate on what he meant by "the political process" aside from making a reference to Vienna and mentioning that bringing Iran in was a good thing.

      The discussion about leadership wasn't any better.

  3. Clive Lewis recently accused the BBC of failing to promote him up the reporting ladder "Cos I is black"

    Now knowing how far left his views are one must suspect he would have difficulty concealing those from his colleagues and bosses.

    Perhaps his views were too far left even for the BBC. Now that is saying something.


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