Friday 7 June 2019

Boris, Boris, Boris. Bias, bias, bias

A tweet I read earlier tonight (after I got in from work) read, "I trust that BBC News,  Sky News and Channel 4 News, who all led with the vexatious case against Johnson will lead with the fact not just that he's not guilty, but that there was never a case against him to begin with?".

And then, tuning into another blog, I spotted StewGreen saying, "Since the summons against Boris was the main headline in each news from 10am to 11pm [back on 29 May], the news of the case getting thrown out will be reported in the same magnitude? Nah, of course not cos BBCnews/Guardian are really a public relations agency in favour of the metro-liberal agendas". 

So, wanting to catch up and check this out for myself, I switched on the BBC One News at Six headlines to see if the 'good news for Boris' was getting the same 'headline news' treatment that the 'bad news for Boris' on exactly the same story got. 

Well, you don't need to be Dr. Mike Galsworthy to guess the answer to that one!

The story didn't even feature among the opening headlines.

At all. 


Checking back (via TV Eyes) BBC One's New at Six on 29 May led with the Boris summons story. The programme began as follows:
Boris Johnson is ordered to appear in court over claims he lied during the EU referendum campaign. He stands accused of lying about the UK giving the EU £350 million a week. 
(Two uses of variants of the verb 'to lie' in two sentences there!) 

At 18:07, the programme moved on to other news. 

Contrast that with tonight's bulletin - which continued precisely the same story.

Boris's legal victory wasn't in the headlines (as we already know). But where in the running order did it appear? Second? Third?

No, it came fourth.

And rather that the first seven minutes or so, it got just over two minutes.

Hmm. This looks like clear bias. But let's pause and think what the BBC's defence might me for such a blatant difference in prioritisation. The only one I can think of is that today's top three stories - the Sally Challen story, the hospital listeria outbreak story and the Peterborough by-election story - might have trumped it for news importance and that the original story got top spot because it was 'a slow news day' - and, checking back, there weren't other obviously major stories that day.

But still, just over 2 minutes halfway through the 30-minute bulletin tonight for the 'great-for-Boris' part of the story after the initial 'damning-for-Boris' part of the story received the first 7 minutes of the bulletin just over a week ago, doesn't look or feel right, does it?

It seems lacking in due balance.


But that's not the half of it. The report on tonight's BBC One News at Six ran as follows:

Helena Wilkinson, BBC: The leadership contest is well under way but today Boris Johnson had a different battle. In court, his lawyers were trying to stop him from facing a criminal trial. This is the man who accused Boris Johnson of misconduct in public office. Last week a court decided there was a case for Mr Johnson to answer and he was due to be summoned. But today, that decision was overturned.
Marcus Ball: We've just given the green light for every politician to lie to us about our money for ever. That's a terrifying idea which I cannot accept, and I'm not going to give up.
Helena Wilkinson, BBC: This was one of the main messages of the Vote Leave campaign. Boris Johnson had claimed £350 million was being sent from the UK to the EU every week. It was a contested claim, with many people saying it was a lie. But did it amount to a criminal offence? In court, Boris Johnson's barrister argued that the offence of misconduct in public office, which is what Mr Johnson was facing, had never been used in the context of a statement in a political campaign. Adrian Darbishire QC said the offence was about the secret abuse of power and that there was nothing secret about what Mr Johnson was claiming. His supporters say the case should never have gone to court.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: To try and fight political debate through the criminal courts is what happens in dictatorships. It's not what happens in democracies. 
Helena Wilkinson, BBC: For Mr Johnson, an unwelcome distraction, now gone away, allowing him to focus on his next campaign, to become the new Prime Minister. Helen Wilkinson, BBC News.

Now, that's obviously, superficially balanced. You've got Marcus Ball, the man who brought the summons against Boris Johnson, and Jacob Rees-Mogg defending Boris. One of each side of the argument.

But why place Mr Ball first?

And look at the way the BBC's Helena Wilkinson lays out the story. The bold emphases in the transcript there are her emphases. And her choice of words steers viewers towards the belief that Boris Johnson had lied about that £350 million claim. 


And while we're on this story, I looked at the main three broadcasters' websites earlier tonight and screengrabbed their headlines for this story. 

Sky's was: 

ITV's was: 

The BBC's was: 

You'll see that both Sky News and ITV News say that Johnson/Boris Johnson "wins" - a word conspicuously absent from BBC News's headline. 

And just look at the words used in the BBC headline/sub-headline, and the word association they conjure: "misconduct", "thrown out", "denied" "improperly". Even though he won his legal challenge, the BBC still makes him sound guilty.

That surely is clearly biased journalism? Can anyone think of a defence for it?

And that's even before we compare the choice of photos! Sky has a smiling Boris, ITV an exuberant Boris and the BBC a tormented (guilty-looking) Boris.


  1. Unbelievable - no, all too believable - bias...

    The judges' decision shows the case had no merit at all.

    Marcus Ball has been accused of deleting tweets showing his case was motivated by a specific political purpose (keeping the UK in the EU) and also of using large amounts of the crowd-funded money for his own benefit. None of that has been aired by the BBC. Don't know about the others.

    Meanwhile Dead Ringers seems to have gone the way of all BBC comedy. When I heard it announced I looked forward to it, perhaps thinking of years ago.

    But this was vicious, nakedly political stuff. Boris Johnson was subjected to character assassination - they just straightforwardly accused him of being an inveterate liar and a malevolent person...not even an attempt at a joke. No doubt the BBC would say "we had a go at Jeremy Corbyn" as well... But they did not. They simply presented him as indecisive over Brexit. We all know he is a Brexiter and he lies about his support for Brexit. Painting him as indecisive and avuncular helps Corbyn. This is cosy caricature not character assassination.

    1. Yes, and what footage did they show to round off their report? Why, a drive-past by the 'offending' bus!

      Incidentally, it was pointed out last week (Guido) that Boris's figure was, indeed, wrong: it should have been £365 million!

  2. I guess that there will have been an award of BJ's costs against Marcus Ball as well. Will we ever know how the 'crowd funders' feel about such a waste of time and money?

    1. The BBc report says Ball claims he has spent more tan the £300K he crowdfunded so is out of pocket.
      To get costs Boris would have to apply
      ..and the guy would argue he has no money.
      Legal sites seem to say , that had it gone to court and Boris had won he still would not have got costs from the court.

  3. BBC Midlands re-launched its campaign against the elderly: over-privileged Boomers who had it easy. Whinges from young people about Brexit, climate change, the environment etc.

    I probably shan't be able to sleep tonight - the guilt, the guilt!

  4. The way the report was worded struck me too: '...lawyers were trying to stop him from facing a criminal trial'. Gosh, it sounds like someone trying to get out of something...almost as if they are culpable. You'd never guess that they were challenging the propriety of issuing a summons on a trumped-up charge of misconduct, arguing that it was a politically motivated campaign for Remain masquerading as something else and in any case the offence of misconduct in public office didn't come into it.

    Then, 'Adrian Darbishire QC said the offence was about the secret abuse of power and that there was nothing secret about what Mr Johnson was claiming.'

    From my quick read of a report of the case earlier today, there were other more important arguments put, including that the charge of misconduct is one against misuse of state power and he wasn't the state or in office acting as the state. The way she puts it leaves out the most important and leaves an impression that he might have been misconducting himself in public office but it wasn't done secretly.

    And 'His supporters say the case should never have gone to court.' Oh, dear it isn't just his supporters - I mean you'd have to be biased in his favour to say or think that, is the implication - two blooming senior judges threw out the whole thing in short order, meaning they accepted the submission that the lower court judge (used to be known as a magistrate) had erred in law and there was nothing in the trumped-up case.

    It seems to me to be a poor quality piece of reporting. I don't know whether that's because the reporter failed to grasp the salient facts and just picked a few here and there to keep it short - but picked the wrong or least important ones - or whether it was intended to portray the thing in the worst possible light. Incompetence or bias. Take your pick.

  5. But mud will stick. Such as, 'He at one time faced criminal charges..."

  6. "But why place Mr Ball first?"... interesting question. I would be interested to know more about the statistics of this on, and the psychology behind it. I think you could equally argue that putting Boris's critics later would be letting them have the last word and allowing them to undermine or have a dig at previous interviewees, so perhaps there's no simple interpretation of this decision. It is certainly worth monitoring though to see how other court cases are covered!


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