Newsnight interviewed former electoral commissioner and Cambridge law professor David Howarth to discuss the ongoing flat-gate scandal, during which he claimed “this is not a trivial matter, or just a convention“, and that “it’s about transparency and openness“. Wise words indeed from the professor…
Ironically, it seems Newnight had little interest in “transparency and openness” because at no point did the interviewer, Lewis Goodall, disclose that David Howarth is a former LibDem MP, having sat in Parliament for five years (2005-10) and previously served as both the Leader of Cambridge City Council, and as a member of the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee. Hardly trivial background details, given the topic he was invited to discuss was party political and BBC guidelines state that viewers should be informed of party affiliations…
Last October, the BBC’s new Director-General Tim Davie issued new guidance to BBC employees over impartiality on social media, with Davie himself claiming those who break the rules would be taken “off Twitter” and the guidance stating “nothing should appear on […] personal social media accounts that undermine[s] the perception of the BBC’s integrity or impartiality”. The Beeb went further last month, announcing it would even begin new ‘impartiality training’ in the wake of the flag-shagger scandal…
Yet despite all this talk, new Freedom of Information requests reveal that just two staffers have faced any disciplinary action for their social media use in the past year:
“Between 1st April 2020 and the 31st March 2021 there has [sic] been two formal case [sic] where social media has been noted as the reason for the BBC disciplinary process. One individual received a written warning and one individual resigned prior to the disciplinary process concluding.”
Given how some of its top stars have behaved recently, Guido reckons these rules are not being firmly and evenly enforced. One written warning and one pre-emptive resignation in twelve months, yet Naga Munchetty, Chris Packham, Gary Lineker (etc. etc.) continue to act as though the rules don’t apply to them. It’s starting to look like they’re right…
On March 24th we reported that BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme’s had that morning introduced as a “Syrian refugee”, Hassan Akkad, who slammed the government and the Home Secretary Priti Patel for their new policy of taking more refugees directly from affected countries, and clamping down on illegal migration. We pointed out that the BBC did not mention that the guest was not just a former refugee, Hassan Akkad was now an active Labour Party member, documentary maker and campaigner on refugee related issues.
Guido pointed out that listeners were left with the impression of an ordinary person up against the Home Secretary – not a political activist and Labour Party member who is ideologically against the Home Secretary attacking his opponent. Which, as we said at the time, is all of coursel fine – it was the BBC at fault for not informing their audience of their guest’s background.
The BBC have guidelines on the issue:
We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.
Later in the day on the BBC’s News at One, Hassan Akkad was correctly introduced as having “identified himself to be a Labour Supporter”. Somebody at the BBC has got the memo.
A Guido co-conspirator complained to the BBC about the Today Programme’s lack of candour about Akkad, this morning the BBC officially apologised:
Sent: Fri, 2 Apr 2021 at 11:36Subject: BBC Complaints – Case number CAS-6618360-Y7C7T3
Thanks for contacting us with your feedback about the interview with Hassan Akkad on Today, 24 March.
Mr Akkad’s contribution to the discussion on the government’s proposals to change the asylum seeker system was valuable but that said, we acknowledge he was not introduced as a Labour Party supporter and this was an oversight, for which we apologise.
On financial news channels (like CNBC, Bloomberg and Reuters) when fund managers are interviewed about their views on the stock market the presenter will often ask them “do you own the stock?” Sometimes there will be a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen saying the fund manager has a position in the company being discussed. This came about after a number of scandals where interviewees had talked up stocks they were long or disparaged stocks they short. The principle is clear, if you have skin in the game, you are not a neutral expert. There should be a similar protocol for talking heads who are political campaigners.
National treasure Simon McCoy’s is leaving the BBC to join GB News, it was announced today – meaning this afternoon was his final appearance on the Beeb. It did not disappoint – with a best of compilation and anecdotes to boot, his colleagues popped champagne. Guido’s not quite sure what that’s meant to say…
Guido hears from a reliable industry source that the BBC are to begin an ‘impartiality training’ course this week. The new training – first announced last year but finally starting this week – will cover behaviour on air and on social media – specifically referencing Twitter conduct. The new training has been instituted the week after BBC Breakfast’s flag gate. Guido hears several big name presenters are expected to be hauled in for training. If they want help with training Guido is available at his usual rates. Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty and countryside broadcaster Chris Packham should be benefiting from the training imminently.. .