The BBC has been forced to admit that it carried misleading reports in the run-up to the vote on going to war in Syria in 2015. For nearly a year, the misleading reports have been read and shared by BBC licence fee payers, yet the broadcaster’s correction was buried so deep as to make it almost impossible to find.
What’s the issue?
In 2015, the BBC carried a report that Labour MP Stella Creasy was ‘bullied’ by violent anti-war protesters outside her home in the wake of the Syria vote. Creasy herself spoke out, stating that this was nothing more than a peaceful vigil which took place outside her constituency office, not her home. But despite this, the media characterised the event as an act of thuggish bullying.
The BBC was far from alone in spinning this peaceful protest into something far darker. Here is just a sample of the headlines from the time:
The Independent – Stella Creasy MP targeted by protesters over vote on Syria air strikes
The non-apology apology
In scenes which are becoming all-too-familiar to consumers of mainstream media, the ‘mistake’ was shouted in full voice for days, while the correction was murmured and buried.
As Evolve Politics writes:
This “correction” was not carried on any news bulletins nor was it widely publicised. Instead it was placed on the BBC’s website, in the feedback section. Buried amidst corrections of typos. It didn’t matter. The story was out there. The goal achieved. We had war.
The correction carries on in an increasingly jargon-focussed way, the essence of their excuse is that it was better to report a story that may not be true because it was topical. Plus, all the other papers were doing it!
A consumer of BBC news would have to be truly committed to have sought out and found this correction, while the original stories were writ large.
It didn’t stop with Syria
The whole episode is particularly instructive given the allegations of thuggery and bigotry being levelled at supporters of Jeremy Corbyn a year on.
Angela Eagle’s short-lived Labour leadership campaign was blighted by false accusations against Labour supporters who didn’t want to vote for Owen Smith (or her) as leader.
First, she claimed Corbyn supporters had thrown a brick through the window of her constituency office. It was later revealed that a) it wasn’t her office that had been vandalised, and b) there was no evidence whatsoever about the perpetrator or their motive.
Eagle also failed to correct claims by Tessa Jowell that she’d received homophobic abuse from Corbyn supporters at a meeting of her Constituency Labour Party. It was later revealed that Eagle hadn’t even attended the meeting, and two of the members she’d made allegations against were well-known, active LGBT advocates – indeed, one was attending the wedding of her own LGBT daughter the following morning.
Eagle also claimed to have had to cancel an event on the advice of the police, due to receiving threats of violence which she once again attributed to Corbyn supporters. But a spokesperson for the hotel hosting the event later revealed that they had cancelled the event over a technicality, and that it had received no threats.
Despite this, the media continues to circulate these known false allegations as truth. The Guardian even gave Eagle a column to recycle them once again in the run-up to the leadership election, entitled: “Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle bigotry has tarnished Labour“.
Owen Smith has also continued to base his anti-Corbyn campaign around these false allegations, going so far as to claim Jeremy Corbyn is causing antisemites to ‘flood‘ the Labour Party. Smith’s supporters in the Labour Party and across the media have joined in the spreading of these known smears.
The Labour Party itself is currently engaged in purging its membership over claims of abuse on social media. Those purged will not be able to appeal under after the leadership election, by which time the allegations will have served their purpose.
No doubt in a year’s time we can expect all these false allegations to be set straight in corrections buried in the hinterland of the internet, with none of those journalists, politicians, editors or proprietors being held to account for their misdeeds. Indeed, the only way readers, listeners and watchers of news can hold those responsible to account is by ceasing to turn to them for news. There is a vibrant, skilled and values-driven new media establishing its presence right now. Support them, and make nonsense like this a thing of the past.
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