A formal complaint to the BBC

7th August 2018

For the attention:
Tony Hall, Director-General, BBC
Francesca Unsworth, Director, Director of News and Current Affairs.

I have serious concerns about the lack of due impartiality and  accuracy evident in the BBC’s reporting of Margaret Hodge MP’s verbal abuse of the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. My complaint is not limited to one broadcast item but to a number of items over a period of a week, which give rise to the same complaint.

I note that the Leader was verbally attacked behind the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons on the evening of Tuesday 17th July. The attack was unprovoked by anything that Mr Corbyn said immediately before the event and was unrelated to any procedure in the House. One witness to the incident reported that Dame Margaret was shouting ’you are a fucking racist and anti-semite’.

The BBC Code of Conduct states that the BBC has a responsibility ’to act in the public interest, serving all audiences by providing impartial, high quality and distinctive output and services’. Section 1.5 regarding Editorial Standards states that: ‘People expect that whatever we tell them is as true, accurate and unbiased as possible- based on credible evidence, from credible sources.’

The current controversy revolves around the Labour Party’s draft Code of Conduct on Anti-Semitism, agreed by its National Executive Committee on 17th July. It is this decision which Dame Hodge herself identified as the trigger for her charge that Jeremy Corbyn is a racist and an anti-Semite – a charge which she has neither withdrawn nor apologised for. It would plainly not be in keeping with the BBC’s editorial guidelines – or the Broadcasting Code – to simply report this charge without interrogating the substance behind it, and giving due attention to opposing views in the controversy. It is worth pointing out that neither the CoC or the IHRA documents are especially long and both are written in plain English.

I have built a dossier of evidence through examining reports and commentary produced by the BBC across its main news outlets, on both radio and TV. My research covered the main news programmes on BBC1 TV and BBC2 TV and Radio 4’s flagship news programme, Today, from the evening of Tuesday 17th July to Monday 23rd July. The evidence is attached to this letter. [BBC Reporting Analysis_4 web]

The core of my complaint is that Dame Margaret Hodge’s personal accusation was repeated numerous times, frequently without denial or opposing views at the top of a package or even at the top of a news bulletin. Furthermore, the reporting of Dame Margaret’s conduct and the subsequent questioning by presenters about disciplinary action has been highly partisan. The detail of the differences between the two documents (CoC and IHRA) has been reported inaccurately and/or elided.

My detailed concerns are as follows:

Impartiality

  • Dame Margaret’s accusation that the Labour Leader is racist and anti-semitic has been repeated numerous times, frequently without the denial offered both by the Leader and others, including the former Prime Minister, Tony The coverage also consistently avoided reporting allegations that Dame Margaret used the ‘F word’ which is central to the complaint made against her in response.
  • Dame Margaret’s assertion that she represents the entire ‘Jewish community’ has been allowed to pass
  • Dame Margaret’s account of her unprovoked, abusive attack has not been duly challenged by presenters or reporters, with no attempt to find other witnesses. Subsequent news reports have referred to it as an ‘encounter’, as though it were a rational discussion. Other news outlets reported Dame Margaret as shouting and swearing (see for example the Huffington Post’s contemporaneous account: ).
  • The accusation of racism and anti-semitism is grave and a serious assault on the reputation and standing of the Labour Party Leader. Yet interviewers have repeatedly asked representatives of the Labour Party why disciplinary proceedings are being pursued, with the inference that this is uncalled for. One news item even reported the view that disciplinary action was ‘appalling’ with no opposing view being
  • Interviewers have failed to question Dame Margaret on why she does not regard it as a disciplinary offence when she broke the Labour Party’s own rules governing behaviour, especially as regards behaviour that risks bringing the party into disrepute.

Inaccuracy

  • The CoC has been misrepresented by BBC reporters who initially even failed to report that the NEC has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-semitism. They mis-reported that the IHRA’s definition was ‘watered down’.
  • The reporting has also not highlighted the status of the IHRA definition. The title of this document is that it is a ‘working’ definition, i.e. not a complete and absolute one. It has been criticised by dozens of highly respected Jewish organisations around the world, by a House of Commons Select Committee, and by senior legal figures including Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sir Stephen Sedley (retired Court of Appeal Judge). These opinions state that application of the IHRA definition is likely to lead to breaches of the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Education Act 1986. They are in the public domain and clearly central to the controversy.
  • The argument is thus about the differences in the application and implications of the IHRA’s illustrative examples and that of the legally enforceable guidance offered in the CoC. Interviewers failed to explain the precise nature of the differences or to correct inaccurate statements made by interviewees (see for example the R4 interview with Margaret Hodge).

Conclusion

It is of course entirely appropriate for the BBC to report on the horror of anti-semitism but it ought not to be presented as an issue specific to the Labour Party unless the BBC has evidence to the contrary. Indeed, YouGov data show that antisemitic attitudes are higher in the Conservative Party than Labour, and have actually been reduced under Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. The BBC has not included these vital facts in its reporting which makes it neither proportionate nor accurate.

I regret that the BBC has failed to comply with its own codes with regard to impartiality and accuracy. Given the gravity of allegations of anti-semitism, the role performed by the BBC is all the more critical if it is to live up to Reithian principles of informing the public. I demand that future reportage focuses on the issues associated with anti-semitism and the Labour Party in a neutral manner and with accuracy and rigour. The Labour Party and its Leader should be offered an apology and a correction.

Signed

Pamela Blakelock
Committee member, Jewish Voice for Labour


The BBC reponded almost immediately dismissing the complaint.

Yuo cnn download the reply here.


 

Comments (7)

  • John says:

    I know – from previous experience of BBC Watch work with PSC – that the BBC never retracts anything they say, especially anything o the side of zionism.
    Zionists like Hodge invariably get a free ride from the BBC.
    Regev and his hasbara brigades have put the fear of yahweh into the BBC.
    In the past, BBC coverage of Isral and Palestine was more even-handed but not any more.
    Likudnicks have threatened their commercial interests across the Middle East so the BBC now only listens to them.
    No one else.
    Sorry to have to say this – but it is true.

  • Jaye says:

    And I’m sure that you have all the irrefutable evidence John to back up your “it is true” conspiracy claims. And incidentally Jews don’t refer to God as yahweh.

  • Barry Kendler says:

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Having looked up the You Gov poll you quote on anti-semitic views in Labour and that it has gone down under Jeremy Corbyn’ leadership is not a convincing argument and I would not use it campaigning in a constituency where there are a high number of Jewish voters.
    The You Gov poll shows that attitudes have improved amongst Labour voters. Now clearly our voter base changed in 2017 and a lot of that is due to the type of voters attracted by Jeremy and the manifesto. However, Jewish voters, and more importantly, floating Jewish voters will not be convinced. Why? Because the data is six months old. The NEC decision not to accept the FULL IHRA definition/examples has caused enormous damage and, the problem is a problem within the Party not amongst our voters. A danger here of spreading fake news I am afraid.

  • Is it acceptable that one of those directly involved in the cause of the complaint, be the one to kick it into the long grass? It could be argued that Fran Unsworth in so readily dismissing the complaint without independent enquiry/investigation acts complicitly.

  • Rick Hayward says:

    The BBC’s failure is but part of the wider media refusal to tackle the issue in a reasonably balanced way.

    For instance :

    … (as mentioned) the clear lie that the NEC has not adopted the IHRA ‘definition’ is widely promulgated.

    … the imperfections of that definition, and its examples is rarely touched upon.

    … the coverage by ‘The Guardian’ is fairly typical, where a dispassionate discourse analysis reveals entirely unbalanced reportage and opinion pieces.

    … you would never know of this site/group from the MSM that studiously ignores the existence of any Jewish interests and voices outside the pro-Israel lobby.

    … there is never any forensic examination of the cases of purported ‘antisemitism’ where LP members have been expelled or suspended, and where the basic facts are actually known.

    … there is rarely any reference to the extensive contrary evidence contained in Al Jazeera’s series of documentaries ‘The Lobby’. (The excerpts focusing on Jackie Walker and Jean Fitzpatrick give a very different picture than do the MSM tropes).

    This whole issue goes much further than the Jewish Community and the Labour Party. What is, effectively, bias to the point of overt censorship calls into question the nature of UK society.

    ,

  • frank says:

    Are you going to take this to Ofcom?

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    It will take a huge amount of effort to take this further with the BBC, but I think it is worth trying. The BBC certainly starts with a brush-off, in the hope that you will go away. I would appeal to the next stage. If you want any help on the legal/textual issues, happy to give it.

Comments are now closed.