‘Insufficiently accurate’: some thoughts on the BBC and the health of our democracy

JVL Introduction

“Even allowing for the element of compression often seen in tweets, the paraphrase of Ms Walker gave an insufficiently accurate impression of her actual words, so I am upholding that aspect of your complaint.”
Thus the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) of a tweet by Nick Robinson. But has there been a correction or an apology? There has not!

This article was originally published by Medium on Sat 6 Jul 2019. Read the original here.

‘Insufficiently accurate’: some thoughts on the BBC and the health of our democracy

‘Insufficiently accurate.’

These two blandly bureaucratic words from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) reveal a great deal about the current state of our politics, our media, and the health of our democracy. Those may seem like big claims to make based on just two words from an obscure BBC department, but I think I can justify them.

‘Insufficiently accurate’ was the BBC’s surprise finding about a tweet sent by one of its star current affairs presenters, Nick Robinson, concerning Jewish left activist Jackie Walker. In the tweet, Robinson said Walker had said ‘Jews controlled the slave trade,’ an antisemitic trope. Robinson included Labour MP Chris Williamson in the tweet, implying that Williamson wasn’t taking this into account when he said he’d ‘never seen antisemitism in the Labour party’.

The only problem is, Jackie Walker didn’t say it. She made some comments about her heritage (she’s of Caribbean Jewish ancestry), and how ‘many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean…’ This isn’t an antisemitic trope, it’s a historical fact. Robinson clumsily fashioned Walker’s nuanced, careful, historical comments (from a private conversation) into a crude, antisemitic slur.

Why does it matter? A BBC presenter tweeted something that was ‘insufficiently accurate’. So what?

The battle around Labour’s antisemitism ‘crisis’ has been raging for three years now. Accusations of all kinds have been made, by all sorts of people, and there’s a daily drip of new stories, often arising out of the old ones. Labour have mounted little in the way of defence of any of them, seemingly paralysed by the fear that challenging these allegations will make them appear to be ‘soft on antisemitism’. The slightest suggestion that some, at least, of these accusations may be false, is itself made into an antisemitic offence: ‘not taking it seriously’.

The noise of battle has been relentless and numbing, but it’s had one perhaps unusual quality — it’s had very little material to work with. We’ve seen the same few accusations — #muralgate, #ironygate — recycled countless times, as if the repetition of them made them more numerous or more ‘serious’. In Jackie Walker’s case, the accusations have centred around her ‘slave trade’ comments. Thin gruel, but gussied up into a glittering palace of condemnations, as other Labour voices, notably Chris Williamson MP, have been condemned for supporting Walker. No doubt we will now see condemnations of anyone who supports Chris Williamson, and so a third echelon, a third tier, will be added to the glittering palace. So it goes on.

But the palace is built on a flimsy raft of distortions, exaggerations and falsehoods. It has no secure foundations. And the BBC’s ‘insufficiently accurate’ finding could topple the whole thing.

Consider. A Jewish left activist speaks about her heritage, about Jewishness, the slave trade and the Holocaust. She is perfectly qualified to do so, given her background. She says nothing antisemitic, but is pilloried nonetheless. Suspended, investigated, and routinely called an antisemite by hostile voices within the party.

But then it breaks out, into the wider world. Nick Robinson, who, as a BBC employee, is bound by the BBC Charter in his public statements, decides to weigh in. He repeats the falsehood that Walker said something antisemitic. He gives the accusation the imprimatur of the BBC, a global news brand with a huge audience, a trusted source for millions. It’s now not an internal party matter anymore, it’s a public one: Nick Robinson, speaking for the BBC, broadcasts it to the world, on twitter.

He’s immediately made aware that it’s a falsehood, but he leaves it up anyway. BBC finally (after four months of delay and obstruction) agree that it’s a falsehood. He leaves it up anyway.

A false accusation of antisemitism against a Jewish left activist and, by association, a prominent left MP, made by the BBC.

An antisemitism smear, made by the BBC.

Two things immediately follow from this. The first is that antisemitism smearing is a reality. BBC confirm it in their finding. It is no longer possible for anyone to deny that some antisemitism allegations at least have been false. We have evidence of one such now. That debate is over.

The second thing is the role of the BBC in our politics. Their Charter requires them to be, not just accurate, but impartial. A high bar to pass, to be sure, but then they have a huge responsibility, given their reach and influence on our lives.

That responsibility has been abused by Nick Robinson, who has failed, not just to be ‘accurate’, which is the complaint, but also to be ‘impartial’, in singling out leftists to smear with false antisemitism allegations.

The ECU’s finding was released to me on Monday 1st July. At the time of writing, it’s Saturday 6th July. The tweet is still there, there’s been no correction and no apology. Nothing has changed. More than four months after the original BBC smear, it remains live. BBC is still using its enormous power and prestige to lie about leftists, including a serving MP.

I think this should concern us all, not just people on the left. Our democracy depends on the electorate getting good quality, impartial information, and the BBC has a key role to play in that.

If the BBC can lie about this with impunity, what else are they lying about? How can our democracy function as it should if a mainstay of our media can’t be trusted?

‘Insufficiently accurate’ is polite: the reality is dark, sinister and profoundly disturbing.

BBC have some serious questions to answer. Who is going to ask them?

Comments (10)

  • Chris O’Connor says:

    It’s about time Robinson was brought to book.
    There are to many lies and false accusations being bandied about, well over due a blast of truth.

  • Anne Tanner says:

    It’s time someone DID ask them!!!

    We KNOW that this false antisemitism slur comes from the Israeli Embassy (search for “The Lobby” on You tube!!!).

    It’s time for Labour to stop apologising for what is a tissue of lies without a scintilla of truth to them!!

    Zionists are doing no favours to those British Jews who are loyal Labour supporters.

    They aren’t doing any favours to the non Jewish Labour supporters either!!

    So many British working class people, Jewish, non Jewish, black and white are suffering under this neo-liberal government –
    Struggling on low wages
    Forced to go to food banks
    Sleeping on the streets!!

    Then there are the elderly, whose pensions are not keeping up with the cost of living. (the threat of having to pay for our TV licences doesn’t help!). The WASPI women with no pensions at all!
    Then there the homeless who have nowhere to sleep but the streets!

    Time to grasp the nettle and go on the offensive against this vile Tory government and against the right wing in our own party (who are the main source of the disgusting Antisemitic slurs).

    Labour was founded to be the party of the working class! It’s time stand up and fight for them!

    They need us!!

  • Liberty says:

    BBC – Bloody Biased Corporation. JVL has become one of the last bastions of the truth and defenders of justice in Britain. Democracy is dying and the media have been fiddling everything with their corrupt mp friends and billionaire/ corporate/ foreign lobbies to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming the rightful Prime Minister of our poverty stricken and divided country.

  • Liberty says:

    Sick of the lies, smears and slurs being spread by the mainstream media who are violating broadcasting rules on a daily basis. Reporting smears and lies as fact is a form of brainwashing, deliberately trying to influence the electorate with a negative picture of the Labour Party and completely shocking unthethical. The establishment and the super wealthy elites disgusting campaign against Jeremy Corbyn is replusive. His brilliant ‘For the Many not the Few’ promise sends a shiver down their spineless spines. Also JVL please stop the JVLwatch trolls using your logo to mislead people and direct them onto their vile site. I have clicked by accident on their shameful site a few times and many must be doing so to. They must have paid a lot of money to make searches list them first. Make them stop please, they are morally bankrupt and so dangerous. Thank you.

  • Bernard Grant says:

    The way the BBC has behaved since Corbyn was elected Leader of the Labour Party has been disgraceful.
    They have become cavalier in their attitude to complaints, they feel untouchable. It is time that the BBC had a complete overhaul at the Top.

  • David says:

    It amazes me how a President of the Oxford University Conservative Association and Chairman of the National Young Conservatives (two amongst many other prominent Conservative Party roles Nick Robinson has held) can become the Political Editor of the BBC. So I suppose it’s little surprise he won’t apologise or withdraw his tweet.

  • John says:

    Little by little, bit by bit, the smearers are being exposed.
    Is it in time to stop a rightwards slide into fascism?
    Or is it too late for the many people of this country to understand that their true interests lie in supporting a Corbyn-led Labour Government?
    I am not optimistic.
    The real danger in all of this is that Jews in Britain could be tarred with the zionist brush and left-activists could end up blaming all Jews for it.
    The zionists will not care. It is a bonus for them if the political and social climate in Britain changes, and many Jews decide to undertake aliyah.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    We non Jews must raise our voices higher and call out the mainstream media constantly for misrepresenting undisputable facts and telling downright lies about the true socialist Labour Party. I’m fed up with shouting at the TV!

  • Richard Hayward says:

    The inaccuracy of the original tweet was blatant – and the BBC is culpable in allowing it to pass with so little sanction.

    Anyone who has done very basic research knows that Jackie Walker was making a very simple and uncontroversial point : that victims can also be perpetrators.

    It is, of course, a distortion that alters the truth – but is but one example amongst a myriad of journalistic failures. Frankly, (to paraphrase Aneurin Bevan on Eden) – any BBC journalist who wittingly makes such a mistake is too venal to be in Robinson’s position; any BBC journalist who thinks he/she’s reporting this as a fact is too stupid to work for the Corporation.

    The wider picture, however, is the total failure of the NEC to engage in rebuttal instead of apology.

  • David McNiven says:

    A masterclass in understatement to select one lie out of a hundred thousand if you don’t mind my saying so.
    Repeated complaints can be expected to have similarly ineffectual results.
    What might give the BBC and the rest of the MSM editors and journalists some pause is a statement of intent to examine the political bias inherent in their output and hold individuals to account for subversion of society’s most important institution – our democracy – the moment Labour is next in government.
    Such gross insults to the fabric of society must be deterred – administrative and editorial supervision, financial penalties and imprisonment must be available to the courts when the MSM flouts its duty to regulate itself.

Comments are now closed.