You’d think, given the increasing scandal around Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings, that the BBC would avoid anything other than basic reporting about him. But no. Because on Saturday 25 April, it broadcast a staggering piece of pro-Cummings propaganda, dressed up as a warm and cosy story about his and his wife’s experience of coronavirus (Covid-19).
Cummings: in more very hot water
Cummings’ time as the PM’s adviser had been mired by controversy. From giving a job to someone who promoted eugenics, to some pretty unpleasant (but only alleged) comments about coronavirus deaths, Cummings is highly controversial. Now, he’s caught up in another storm.
The Guardian has reported that Cummings and Ben Warner, a key adviser from the EU Referendum Vote Leave campaign, sat in on meetings of the independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) committee. As it wrote:
Multiple attendees of SAGE told the Guardian that both Cummings and Warner had been taking part in meetings of the group as far back as February. The inclusion of Downing Street advisers on Sage will raise questions about the independence of its scientific advice.
The story has blown up on social media. It was perhaps actor Stephen McGann who summed the situation up best:
Some quick points:
1. SAGE is supposed to be wholly independent of politics.
2. This person has built a career railing against the 'unelected' exercising undue power over our democracy.
3. Nobody has ever elected this person.
4. This person is not in any way a scientist. https://t.co/TcqOsQJQrK
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— Stephen McGann (@StephenMcGann) April 24, 2020
Labour MP Zarah Sultana said that the government must “explain why political advisers have been allowed to shape scientific advice”. Meanwhile, Downing Street has confirmed that Cummings and Warner attended SAGE meetings. But it said they “occasionally” asked questions or, as the BBC put it, “offered help”.
So, given Cummings is at the centre of another political (and this time public health, too) storm, you’d think our public service broadcaster may steer clear of doing anything to try and sway public opinion on the man. Nope, not happening.
Leaping to protect Cummings?
As Matthew Ingleby pointed out on Twitter:
Fuck sake we're not stupid! Wonder why #r4today has chosen today to have Mary Wakefield read a sentimental account of her husband 'Dom' (Cummings) ailing with #Covid19UK & herself praying for Boris on her knees, even as we read @guardian scoop about the Cummingsification of SAGE?
— Matthew Ingleby (@matthewingleby) April 25, 2020
Yes, BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme really did just do that. Mary Wakefield, commissioning editor of the far-right libertarian outlet the Spectator, and Cummings’ wife, was telling her story about her and her husband’s experience of getting coronavirus.
The BBC: doing the Tories’ bidding for them?
Wakefield’s contribution was in the context of giving platforms to people who have recovered from coronavirus. If you want to hear the full, somewhat sickly, aural love letter, you can listen to it here.
Wakefield said that coronavirus meant:
Dom couldn’t get out of bed.
He’s an extremely kind man, whatever people assume to the contrary.
The older people in this country, about whom Cummings’ allegedly implied it was ‘too bad’ if they died of coronavirus, may disagree.
As a supposedly impartial broadcaster, the BBC should have given a counter-argument to Wakefield’s opinion that Cummings is “an extremely kind man”. He is, after all, Johnson’s key adviser. But instead, it broadcast this puff piece without questioning if it was appropriate. It was, by all accounts, heavy yet cutely-framed political propaganda. And therein lies the problem.
Given the BBC is publicly funded, you’d think it would avoid giving an uncritical platform to people working for the Spectator. Not least because the outlet has a history of publishing racist columns and promoting eugenics. You’d also think that during a national crisis, the BBC would avoid broadcasting anything that could be viewed as coercive propaganda. Its role should be to scrutinise what the government of the day is doing.
But instead, the BBC happily gives a platform to the editor of an outlet that publishes racist and eugenicist articles. And it also happily peddles content which aims to promote Cummings as not being a stain on UK democracy. The dereliction of duty from our public service broadcaster has been apparent for years. But during the biggest national crisis since WWII, it still cannot help but do the bidding of those in power. And as always, this snivelling subservience and inability to serve the best interests of the people of this country is dangerous for all of us.
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