How the BBC and ITV turned into full-on Tory propaganda mouthpieces

Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston
Fréa Lockley

As Boris Johnson’s government plunges the UK further into political chaos, a ‘No 10 source’ has been very busy. Some of the UK’s most influential political journalists seem to be repeating whatever this unnamed and unverified source says. But this isn’t journalism, it’s propaganda. And both the BBC and ITV‘s political editors have turned up the megaphone as full-on government mouthpieces.

“Everything else is propaganda”

In a scathing analysis of Boris Johnson’s “fake news machine”, journalist Peter Oborne wrote:

It’s chilling. From the Mail, The Times to the BBC and ITN, everyone is peddling Downing Street’s lies and smears. They’re turning their readers into dupes.

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He also notes:

Dodgy stories and commentary linked to Downing Street or government sources started to appear in the press and media after Johnson installed his own media team, which was largely drawn from the Vote Leave campaign

And now nameless government ‘sources’, helped by political editors, are spreading “lies, misrepresentations, smears and falsehoods” across the establishment media.

The BBC‘s Laura Kuenssberg is one of the key players in this game. ‘No 10’ confirms and says a lot to her these days. But as Carole Cadwalladr noted, if government sources won’t go on the record, it’s just propaganda:

And ITV‘s Robert Peston is just as bad:

And what’s equally dangerous is that countless other media outlets pick up these carefully fed snippets and run with them, and that sets the news agenda. Oborne pointed out that Kuenssberg’s tweets:

meant there were two government positions. One for the courts: that the government would obey the law. One passed on uncritically by the BBC political editor: that it would find a way to get round it. Kuenssberg’s tweets carried with them the implication that Johnson was deliberately deceiving a British court.

And Peston’s done similar things too.

The UN’s Mark Seddon suggests that pushing whatever these sources say out to audiences without research or analysis “isn’t journalism, it is stenography”:

On the box

Kuenssberg and Peston hold highly influential positions. Ofcom’s 2019 News Consumption in the UK report found:

BBC One is the most-used news source among all adults (58%), followed by ITV (40%)

What’s also important, is that while TV news audiences are falling, more people are turning to social media as a news source. Kuenssberg has 1.11 million Twitter followers, Peston 1.03 million. They share their No 10 sources on social media, and it doesn’t take long for this to infiltrate the news cycle.

Oborne noted that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser, is thought to be behind this. In March, Cummings refused to appear before the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee. It was investigating fake news stories during the Brexit campaign. He was found in contempt of parliament.

On 22 October, the Spectator reported that Dominic Slack-Oxley is “the biggest source of fake news in Britain”. Backed by Cummings, he’s thought to be the ‘No 10 source’. According to Nick Cohen, Slack-Oxley also has two other ‘identities’. He’s part Robert Oxley, “Johnson’s press secretary, and a former spin-doctor for Vote Leave”. He’s also James Slack, who branded judges “Enemies of the People” in the Mail. in 2016. Cohen also explained:

The trouble with the Johnson administration is that it has taken existing conventions and pushed them to the point where political correspondents are complicit in disinformation campaigns.

Luckily, many people are waking up to this:

Including a former Conservative MP:

It’s clearer than ever that Kuenssberg and Peston are right there at the heart of this Tory propaganda game. And with the country in crisis, that’s incredibly dangerous.

Featured image via Twitter – BBCPolitics / Wikimedia – Rwendland

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  • Show Comments
    1. Dominic Cummings famously was the strategist behind the Leave campaign. And in his lecture at the Nudge Festival he is clear that the campaign was deliberately based on lies, distortion, mind tricks and covert propaganda.
      Still the same question for Dominic Cummings now as then:
      Q If your position is so strong and true, why don’t you tell the truth instead of lies?

    2. Peter Oborne was interviewed on Channel 4 News tonight about these issues. Credit to him for helping to expose the con artists.

      My big fear is that these tricks work very well unfortunately. Johnson’s crew are calling for an election and the lies and misinformation appear to be working on a sizeable chunk of the public just as they did prior to the Leave/Remain referendum vote. That was not overturned and I do not believe an election result after a crooked campaign would be either.

      Thank You for your article, Fréa.

    3. Rudyard Kipling advised Beaverbrook: “The whole secret of government is to prevent that damned House (of Commons) doing anything at all.”

      Plus ca change. This is what Cummings is up to. He is making liberal use of the prerogative of the harlot, that’s why irresponsible, sloppy journalists throw in their lot with him. They can have the power but be answerable to no one.

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