Saturday 12 February 2022

“Why is the BBC saying Boris’s Savile claims are false?”

Why is the BBC saying Boris’s Savile claims are false?” asked The Spectator this week:
Is Boris Johnson’s claim that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile ‘false’? The BBC certainly thinks so. During the Radio 6 bulletins last night, a BBC newsreader stated: “The Commons Speaker has rebuked Boris Johnson over his false claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile after the Labour leader was targetted by protesters.”
The Spectator argues that though the BBC is correct to sat there's ‘no evidence that Sir Keir was involved at any point in the decision not to charge Savile’ that's not the point - the point concerns where responsibility should lie. Can Sir Keir be held responsible as DPP for the failures of his subordinates? This, the magazine argues, is a moral question more than a factual one.

“The dispute isn't nearly as clear cut as the BBC is making out”, says The Spectator, before describing the BBC's decision to brand the claim as ‘false’ “a technique often used by American broadcasters when covering Donald Trump” - which is a fair point. 

The BBC is morphing into CNN in that respect.

The point though, The Spectator concludes, is how the BBC chooses to present that distinction between personal and organisational responsibility:
When the Corporation reports that the statement is ‘false’, it implicitly makes a value judgement on where responsibility lies. For all its talk of objectivity, the BBC has made that moral judgement for you.

What struck me on digging into this via TV Eyes, is just how relentlessly the BBC used the term false claim or false accusation in connection to Boris's statements about Sir Keir and Sir Jimmy. 

Some senior editor/editors at the BBC must have told their journalists to shove it in every item about the story every hour, across all BBC news platforms. 

Every news presenter/reporter who appeared used the term.

There's a notorious modernist piece of classical music by Stockhausen called Klavierstück IX, which begins with the same chord repeated 139 times. Even that isn't as unrelenting as the BBC in full cry. 

Such behaviour raises questions...some of which were raised, rather admirably, by this week's Newswatch:

Samira AhmedHello and welcome to Newswatch. I'm Samira Ahmed. Has BBC News reported accurately on what the Prime Minister said about Keir Starmer's time as Director of Public Prosecutions? The temperature in Westminster has been high for a while now, and so it remains. One argument in particular has gained further traction over the past few days. Ignited by an incident on Monday involving the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. 

Laura KuenssbergThis is not normal rough-and-tumble. But the abuse and untrue accusations being hurled at the leader of the Opposition. One false claim that he protected the paedophile Jimmy Savile. Keir Starmer bundled to a police car. Two arrests were made. It happened outside Parliament where seven days ago the Prime Minister made a false link between the two. 

But was that link made by the PM last week incorrect? Not according to Brian Gare, who told us on Tuesday: 

Brian Gare: This small group of protestors have been outside Westminster for about a year and have harangued politicians and journalists alike. Yesterday's protest was in thee main about Julian Assange and the vaccination programme. There was only one woman who shouted out about Savile. But to listen to the BBC broadcasts, it was all about Savile.

Then there's the issue of that claim made by the Prime Minister, later clarified but not retracted that Keir Starmer had spent his time as head of the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile. That's been unambiguously described as false, not just as we heard there in Laura Kuenssberg's report, but across BBC News. 

Huw EdwardsTonight at 10pm: Boris Johnson is called upon once again to withdraw a false accusation he made against Keir Starmer. 

Chris Mason: Keir Starmer used to be Director of Public Prosecutions, but there is no evidence of the Prime Minister's original allegation that Sir Keir had failed to prosecute Savile. 

Ben BrownDowning Street has no intention of apologising for the Prime Minister's false claim that Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sex offences. 

Francis Morton was pleased to hear such clarity on truth and falsehood writing:

Francis Morton: I have been highly critical of BBC News, but now I wish to applaud you: “The Prime Minister has refused to apologise for false claims made against Sir Keir Starmer.” Factual, accurate.

But Paul Binge had a concern about the  coverage, despite the repetition that the claim was false:

Paul Binge: By continually linking Keir Starmer and those the CPS failed to prosecute, BBC News is doing the PM's grubby work. The BBC has an obligation to ensure that our politicians are supported and not slurred. 

Others thought the status of Boris Johnson's claim was not as black and white as the BBC had portrayed it, arguing that as head of the Crown Prosecution Service at the time that it failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile, Kier Starmer had some responsibility for that failure. So was the Prime Minister's claim actually false then? David Jones thought not:

David Jones: We have been hearing repeatedly from BBC News about the 'false claims' made by the PM concerning Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile. Will BBC News please tell us which of the following statements are 'false': a) Keir Starmer was DPP and head of the CPS from 2008 to 2013; b) The CPS failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.

We wanted to discuss all of this with someone from BBC News, but no-one was available. Instead, we were given this statement:

BBC statement: The BBC has reported on all aspects of this story - including the reaction of Boris Johnson to the treatment of Sir Keir Starmer by protesters, and criticism from some Conservative MPs and others linking what happened to remarks made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

If 'I think we got it about right' is the Newswatch BBC interviewee's catchphrase, then surely 'But no-one was available. Instead, we were given this statement' is Samira's catchphrase. 

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