Monday 19 February 2018

Watertight oversight - 'Cob' and the BBC

Please bear with me on this one (as I weave my way through my thoughts on this), and please also try to remember that not all tl;dr posts are really 'tl', and that (maybe) they should be 'r' after all...

Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail has excoriated the BBC for "ignoring" the allegations about Jeremy Corbyn being "a Czech ‘asset’" - and agent codenamed 'Cob', approved by the Soviet Union in the dying years of the Cold War: 
Far more worrying is the way the all-powerful BBC has hitherto avoided Sarkocy’s allegations, which have been met with vehement denials by the Labour Party. If you relied on our public service broadcaster for your news, as about half the nation does, you wouldn’t know anything about ‘Cob’. 
I watch and listen to the news on BBC television and radio almost obsessively, and I have picked up only two fleeting references [on a Today newspaper review and The Andrew Marr show yesterday - the bit where Andrew called the story 'rather thin] to the extremely grave charges against Mr Corbyn. All I can find on Auntie’s voluminous website is a tiny mention of a newspaper report....
There may have been other passing references, but it can be fairly stated that the BBC has done its utmost not to give this story wider circulation even though it contains the mind-boggling suggestion, of course unproven, that as a young MP Jeremy Corbyn betrayed his country.
Oh Stephen! Much as I like and admire you and much as you may have a point here, the canny BBC's tradition of 'watertight oversight' means that it was never going to be that easy for a critic of the BBC like you here (though please bear with me!)...

...and, sure enough, Dino Sofos, Senior Social Media Producer at BBC News, found a 'gotcha' answer for you (and, specifically, for Guido Fawkes) :

And so did Rob Burley, the Ed-Sheeran-averse editor of The Andrew Marr Show:

So (apparently) John Pienaar's Radio Sunday show covered it "at length", and so did today's Daily Politics. 

QED for the BBC? (Not really. See below).

And, similarly, when Guido Fawkes asks, "Any chance the BBC will cover it properly now the PM has commented?", the BBC will point to a report on BBC News website this evening headlined Corbyn should be 'open' on spy's claims - May and say 'Yes, we did report it'.

Ah but....

...(long sigh).... the venerable tradition of BBC 'watertight oversight', just check out where on the BBC website the BBC published this headline story (and where it's stayed ever since). [You'll have to click the image to enlarge it, and then you'll see that the BBC hasn't made it a prominent story.] Yes, it appeared near the exit door of the BBC's Home page, so to speak. But, yes, they have reported it on their Home page, so....'watertight oversight' kicks in and the BBC is off the hook.

Or is it?

Read that BBC report, however, and it's mostly 'the case for the defence' as far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned.  The caption to the opening image puts Jeremy's case for him, rebuttals of the claims against Mr. Corbyn get the lion's share of the reported speech, and the BBC itself gives its own imprimatur to those rebuttals. Plus the whole report is full of 'health warnings' ("claims", "alleged", "reportedly", "possible") about the claims against Mr. Corbyn.

The BBC, rightly or wrongly, is essentially rubbishing the story here - 'belatedly reporting it and frantically trashing it', unkind folk might say!

As I'm wary of taking the BBC on trust these says (even those BBC people I like), I've also checked out Dino and Rob's claims. 

As for John Pienaar on Pienaar's Politics, yes, the story was discussed - for fully 5 minutes - but John Pienaar himself immediately rubbished those claims that Jeremy Corbyn might have been an agent for the Soviet Bloc by describing them as "pretty absurd" and ended the big discussion (twently minutes later) by saying, flippantly, "this story may be going absolutely nowhere but it doesn't stop us talking about anything!" - both of which statements clearly signalled to the Radio 5 Live listener that the BBC's Deputy Political Editor personally doesn't reckon much to the story. 

As for the discussion itself, two defenders of Jeremy Corbyn (Labour's Peter Dowd and pro-Labour journalist Jenni Russell) rubbished the story for nearly all of and then, just before the end, the Sun's David Wooding got a brief say and voiced some criticism of Mr. Corbyn's past. 

So, yes, Pienaar's Politics did devote a whole segment of the programme to the story yesterday, though John Pienaar began and ended his programme's coverage of it by strongly suggesting his own sense that the story doesn't amount to much and doesn't really merit reporting, and - separately - the 2:1 imbalance of the discussion (made worse by David from the Sun getting far less time than either of the two Labour-defending guests) didn't really cover this segment in impartial BBC glory either, did it? 

So, Pienaar's Politics is classic BBC watertight oversight in action. 'See, we discussed it after all!' , says the BBC. Yes BBC, you did. But HOW did you discuss it on this rare occasion when you seemingly reluctantly consented to finally discuss the story? That is the question.

As for The Daily Politics, well, yes, they too did discuss it today, as Rob said. ('What took them so long?' I imagine many people crying). Did they, as Rob contends, discuss it "at length"? Well, I think Rob is definitely stretching it there! So how long did they discuss it for? For 3 minutes and 2 seconds.

And Jo Coburn began the segment by stating, "Our man in Prague has spoken to the head of the Czech secret service archive who has reiterated that there's absolutely nothing in the archive to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn was an informer but he was a 'person', according to her, 'of interest' to the secret service."

Again, this is classic BBC watertight oversight in action. The story that many people claim the BBC is "ignoring" is then (after those complaints have been pouring in for days) finally discussed on the flagship Daily Politics...albeit for just three minutes and with the BBC presenter sounding a very strong 'health warning' about it from the word go.

So there we are. The BBC - like the Guardian but unlike several right-wing papers - isn't buying these claims about Jeremy Corbyn.

And it's not encouraging you to buy them either.

And what does that say about 'BBC impartiality'?

For a firmly non-BBC take on all of this you might want to read the latest article from Douglas Murray. It's quite a 'think' piece.


  1. We know the BBC play games but it is clear as day there has been no proper coverage of this important news story.

    Where has the story featured in news bulletins or in the flagship Today and Newsnight as separate items before now? Nowhere.

    This is reminiscent of the BBC's attempt not to report the Cologne mass assaults on women at the New Year's Eve celebrations a couple of years back. They only began reporting after 5 days of complete black-out. Even then the coverage was sketchy and misleading.

    There was the briefest of mentions of the Corbyn spy story as Emily Maitlis read out some claims from the front page of a national newspapers on Newsnight tonight - just a run through the headlines in a few seconds at the end of the programme...she noted (Marr-style) that "it goes without saying he has denied the allegations" Why "it goes without saying"? Why does she need to editorialise what was meant to be a brief survey of newspaper headlines? It doesn't "go without saying" as far as I am concerned as we know Corbyn was sympathetic to the "Popular Democracies" of Eastern Europe - even touring the GDR on his motorbike with Diane Abbott. As far as I know he never subsequently criticised the GDR. He was closely involved in the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Moreover, he has been careful in his denials. He hasn't really denied the substance of the claims - that he was providing useful information to the Communist dictatorships. Also, remember this was a Czech diplomat. Czechoslovakia's rebellion in 1968 had been put down with military brutality. Corbyn would have known that.

  2. I listened to the report from the head of the Czech secret service archive. It is entirely believable that Corbyn was not a genuine spy or some kind of informer in the strict sense of the word. In fact I doubt if Corbyn at the time was important enough to have been privy to anything that was useful to them anyway. But none of that is the point. Why did the file exist in at all? What is clear is that during the Cold War Corby's sympathies were with a totalitarian state that regarded this country as an enemy. This isn’t just a callow student sticking a Che Guevara poster on the wall.

    The BBC’s position on this is quite extraordinary. The list of Corbyn’s associations with groups dedicated to damaging this country grows, yet the BBC refuses to ask any of the difficult questions - even referring to him as “the prime minister in waiting”. Either the BBC supports Corbyn in all his resentment driven extremism or their hatred of the Conservative government is so blinkered and pathological that they would go to any lengths to bring it down and damn the consequences. I think both positions exist within the BBC.

    Of course if the BBC fulfilled their remit as an unbiased news provider, rather than a platform for activists none of this would apply and all the right questions would have been asked. But they do not.

    1. The reporting of this Agent Cob story by the BBC reminds me of a second rate Grisham-style thriller, where the BBC have been called to account for their actions, and are in the dock with only the shakiest of defence. But, the likes of Marr, Pienaar, Maitliss et al can't conceal their smug delight, knowing that they are untouchable.

  3. Watertight oversight valves in the world of BBC plumbing seem rather one way.

    Anything dodgy claimed about Don, from left to right, gets fired through with a power pump.

    Anything the BBC deems 'barely worthy' of acknowledging, much less as news, get popped through the macerator and slams into the bulkhead to stay there a very long time.

  4. Wow, the Czechs went through their entire archives at commendable speed, didn't they?

    Given that the DDR's Stasi files will take decades to examine, the Czechs are clearly working at warp speed.

    1. Nonsense. Anyone can go look up their Stasi file. It's all there. It won't take "decades" for Coryn to get access to his file if he wants to.


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