In the late evening on 3 July, the BBC broke this story:
Vote Leave broke electoral law, Electoral Commission expected to say
LBC host James O’Brien criticised the way the story was covered:
Vote Leave bang to rights for breaking electoral law. The BBC's top line is, incredibly, the bleating complaints of Vote Leave's chief executive. This is an epic dereliction of journalistic duty. 'Balancing' an independent regulator's findings with the obfuscations of the guilty.
— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) July 4, 2018
And he wasn’t the only journalist to raise issue with the BBC‘s coverage.
The draft report hasn’t been published by the Electoral Commission. But details of its contents were leaked to the press by Vote Leave. The Electoral Commission described the decision as “unusual”:
The Commission has released the following statement relating to today’s news and its investigation into Vote Leave. pic.twitter.com/qrM3ZJZ6An
— Electoral Commission (@ElectoralCommUK) July 4, 2018
According to Vote Leave, the Electoral Commission is accusing it of four breaches of the law:
- Breaking the £7m spending limit.
- Inaccurately reporting its return on election expenditure.
- Missing invoices and receipts.
- Failing to comply with a statutory notice.
But Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of Vote Leave, strongly denies the allegations. He has submitted a 500-page report to the Electoral Commission challenging the accusations.
Enter the BBC
But it’s the BBC‘s coverage of the leak that’s drawn criticism from journalists.
Channel 4‘s Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked:
I don’t blame anyone for running a Vote Leave interview. But why haven’t the whistleblowers whose allegations of law-breaking have been upheld (according to Vote Leave) also been interviewed? And were they asking the right questions?
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) July 4, 2018
Other journalists were also unimpressed:
The BBC could not be handling the Vote Leave story any more irresponsibly than we've seen so far today. By slavishly playing Vote Leaves game the national broadcaster actively contributes to further erosion of standards in public life. Expect siege mentality defensiveness
— Mike Hind (@MikeH_PR) July 4, 2018
Gove signs off w/a another ‘great story for the BBC’. Genuinely why would he say this? Vote Leave has clearly leaked the report to BBC. Why? (And correct me if I’m wrong). Why is BBC allowing Vote Leave to spin an independent regulator’s report? https://t.co/w5gYbUNYQZ
— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) July 4, 2018
Not just journalists
It wasn’t just journalists who had a problem with the BBC‘s coverage, though. Whistleblower Shahmir Sanni tweeted:
Funny how the BBC shut down my allegations because they said they needed to wait for the EC report, but somehow give Vote Leave a platform to talk about those exact allegations without the actual report being released. Shameful. #ScrapTheLicense
— Shahmir Sanni 🏳️🌈 (@shahmiruk) July 4, 2018
Another whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, also raised issues, suggesting the BBC had been manipulated:
Brexit is now a crime scene. Vote Leave cheated and they are trying to use BBC on the night of the football match to bury the fact that they had to commit crimes in order to 'win' the referendum. They hope no one notices that Brexit was won with fraud. https://t.co/0zkcldGd3U
— Christopher Wylie 🏳️🌈 (@chrisinsilico) July 4, 2018
Meanwhile, barrister Jo Maugham wrote:
You have to wonder why the BBC is giving Vote Leave a platform to explain its cheating. And you have to wonder why the BBC chose the morning after an England World Cup fixture. https://t.co/901UvQXEu3
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) July 4, 2018
‘Don’t believe the spin’
Award-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who has doggedly pursued the story, argued that it’s important not to believe the spin:
Well done, @MichaelLCrick. This is @matthew_elliott, CEO of Vote Leave, who refused to respond to the Guardian's questions yesterday. Instead he went & leaked both the report & the response to the BBC last night. Don't fall for the spin https://t.co/XrVDbXKPrL
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) July 4, 2018
Although Guru-Murthy suggested the BBC had a scoop that it was inevitably going to publish:
Well I’m sure the BBC would argue it’s got a scoop. You can debate whether a denial is really a scoop or just being used in a PR strategy but if you have something others don’t have it’s generally good to get it out
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) July 4, 2018
The BBC‘s live political programmes editor responded to the accusations:
Yet another stain-glassed window in the cathedral of conspiracy. https://t.co/4wqrORkZzT
— Rob Burley (@RobBurl) July 4, 2018
And head of BBC Westminster insisted that the BBC is impartial:
Wrong @mrjamesob . Top line was 'BBC News has been told that the official group which campaigned for Brexit in the EU referendum two years ago is expected to be found guilty of four charges of breaking electoral law.' @carolecadwalla @JolyonMaugham @BBCPolitics
— Katy Searle (@KatySearle) July 4, 2018
But with so many leading journalists calling out the BBC‘s coverage, the broadcaster still has serious questions to answer.
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Featured image via Flickr/Tim Loudon