If you regularly rely on BBC News, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the extradition hearing of publisher Julian Assange wasn’t happening. Because the public service broadcaster has been doing a distinctly unpublic service by barely covering it.
But a revelation by another journalist has exposed a damning fact about the BBC‘s lack of stories on Assange. And moreover, it’s home affairs correspondent has also admitted why he thinks his employer is ignoring the case.
Assange: the trial of the century?
The extradition case centres around the publishing of classified US cables a decade ago, including evidence of war crimes. If extradited, he faces up to 175 years in prison.
Coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown stopped the hearing earlier in the year. But it resumed on 7 September. And this restart appears to be one of only a handful of times in September that BBC News reported on, or referenced, Assange’s case – according to a search of its online coverage.
People have been talking about the BBC‘s lack of coverage. And news monitoring group Media Lens has been all over the issue.
It directly asked a BBC journalist where the coverage was:
— Media Lens (@medialens) September 29, 2020
BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford hinted at why there was a lack of coverage. Apparently, the case is “repetitive”:
The case is being covered by our World Affairs unit. I have been in a few hearings, and it is slightly repetitive at the moment. It will return as a news story.
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) September 29, 2020
If by “repetitive” Sandford means:
- World leaders demanding Assange’s freedom.
- Witness evidence that undermines the entire case.
- Press freedom like his being at risk.
Then yes, the Assange trial is “repetitive”. Boring, hey?
But a comment on social media by another journalist makes for even more damning reading.
“Filing copy”, apparently
Byline Times‘ James Doleman tweeted that:
Just a note as someone in court, there is a BBC reporter there every day filing copy.
— James Doleman (@jamesdoleman) September 29, 2020
As Media Lens quickly wondered:
A BBC reporter is 'filing copy' (saying what?) daily at the #JulianAssange hearing.
What's coming out the other end, via @BBCNews? Very little, if anything.
— Media Lens (@medialens) September 29, 2020
The Canary asked the BBC for comment as to where it’s coverage of the Assange hearing was. We specifically wanted to know why it was sending a reporter there every day, yet not putting content out. We also asked why Sandford considers the trial “repetitive”. We asked this in the context that the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment called Assange’s trial the following on Twitter:
Please make no mistake about this:
Deprive the public of the right to know & you will have deprived them of their ability to control the Government. pic.twitter.com/jo9sZ67X2C
— Nils Melzer (@NilsMelzer) September 28, 2020
The BBC had not responded at the time of publication. Maybe it was busy preparing its latest article on Assange – to be marked ‘S’ for shredded. Or possibly it was preoccupied with more important things than, as Melzer said, ‘press freedom’, the ‘rule of law’ and the ‘future of democracy’.
But either way, the fact the BBC is sending a reporter into the hearing every day but not publishing their work is damning. Moreover, it entrenches the notion tha,t once again, our public service broadcaster is far from working in the public interest.
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