It looks like the BBC and Theresa May could essentially be working together to try and set up Jeremy Corbyn. There is an upcoming TV debate between the two leaders over May’s Brexit deal, but it’s up in the air as to which channel will host it.
Before becoming May’s director of communications in late 2017, Robbie Gibb was head of the BBC‘s Westminster programmes. Now, Gibb is reportedly insisting that the BBC hosts the debate “at all costs”.
Meanwhile, BBC news bulletins (and reporting from elsewhere in the corporate media, such as the Independent) are presenting May’s BBC debate as a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn. But in reality, the Labour leader said he would “relish” a TV debate with May late on 25 November, immediately after she suggested one.
Rig against Corbyn
The difference is that Labour prefers what ITV has tabled: a straight head-to-head debate between the two leaders. And it’s pretty obvious why. Because the BBC‘s format seems to allow for BBC editors to rig the discussion against Corbyn. They will have significant power over the questions and participants involved in the debate:
• When: Sunday 9th December, 8pm
• Where: Birmingham
• Who: Theresa May accepts invite, Labour tbc
• Featuring live panel and questions via social media
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— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 29, 2018
Presumably, the BBC would select the “panel of people… who will be able to ask questions of Mr Corbyn and Mrs May” that BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith speaks of. As well as that, Smith reports there will be “questions from the public through social media… which the moderator will be able to put to Mr Corbyn and Mrs May”.
The reason to be very wary
Given the BBC‘s abysmal record of balance towards Corbyn, such significant BBC control over the debate is hardly a positive outcome for Labour. Take the sheer number of pro-establishment right-wingers on BBC Sunday Politics. In 19 episodes, the BBC brought on pundits well to the right of the political spectrum on every show. By contrast, the public service broadcaster has included people on the left only three times. That leaves 16 episodes without a meaningful leftist viewpoint from any of the three guests.
Or take analysis of media coverage of the EU referendum itself. Findings from the New Statesman showed that, while an array of UK broadcasters (including the BBC) balanced Remain and Brexit voices, 71.2% of political sources were from the Conservative Party, compared to just 18.4% from Labour.
Then there’s the academic analysis showing that the BBC amplified the Labour right’s attempt to force Corbyn to resign in summer 2016. According to the Media Reform Coalition, the BBC gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics that they gave to his allies during the “crucial 10-day period” at the beginning of the coup. And that’s before even touching on other academic studies showing systematic bias at the BBC in favour of the Conservative Party.
“Political and intellectual corruption”
It gets murkier when you consider the history of May’s top spin doctor. In the late 1990s, journalist and political adviser Gibb was chief of staff to then Conservative shadow chancellor Francis Maude, among other Conservative Party roles. After that, Gibb worked at the BBC for two decades, before becoming director of communications under May.
On social media, an array of commentators smelt a rat:
Get back to Robbie Gibb on WhatsApp and tell him to stop pissing about. Shameful that a public service broadcaster would work with a party of government like this. https://t.co/APTpmyUoNl
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) November 29, 2018
There is a whiff of political and intellectual corruption about the Number 10 @RobbieGibb @BBCNews relationship. Think there would have been a few select cttee inquiries had this been a Labour govt and me still in Number 10 https://t.co/yDQqJJfaKc
— Alastair PEOPLE’S VOTE Campbell (@campbellclaret) November 29, 2018
Labour had already publicly agreed to do a debate with ITV and asked Downing Street to confirm. They now feel BBC/Number 10 is trying to bounce them into doing the BBC option, aided by framing the story as a challenge to Corbyn on BBC bulletins. https://t.co/RfTghIViap
— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) November 29, 2018
My memory must be getting worse with age. I don’t seem to have any recollection of the BBC trying to bounce Theresa May into a head to head debate during the general election campaign 🤔 https://t.co/pwviDzr8J0
— Matt Zarb-Cousin (@mattzarb) November 29, 2018
Corbyn and Labour are right to favour a no-nonsense debate on ITV. Because the BBC could well set up the Labour leader. They should hold firm.
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