In January 2017, the BBC Trust found that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg had breached the corporation’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines. The breach was in relation to reporting on Jeremy Corbyn. And now, in the run-up to the general election, Kuenssberg has once more been accused of a failure in accuracy. This time, in relation to a tweet comparing Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May’s election campaigns.
Both main party leaders so far have done invite only events + a bit of public access
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) May 2, 2017
The tweet followed on from two others. All three together reading:
While we contemplate journey home…catching up on spat about access to PM on one of campaign visits today. Not ideal, but not unusual at all for parties to limit some parts of visits, PM did about 10 mins of public walkabout today + did interviews. Both main party leaders so far have done invite only events + a bit of public access.
Firstly, the tweets are not connected in a thread. So any context given to the third tweet by the first two would have been lost on anyone who only read the final part. And the engagement on the tweets suggests that many more people saw the third than the first. Especially as a screengrab is also being shared on Facebook.
Although it’s common that people make mistakes in conveying information, these mistakes should ideally be kept to a minimum by people whose job it is to convey information.
The second issue is clarity. What the tweet is supposed to say is that both leaders have done some events which were invite only and some which were public access. Most people have read it as if it says both leaders have only done private access events while also meeting the public outside events:
This is demonstrably untrue. We have a catalogue of evidence to show Jeremy Corbyn hold open invitation events & go walkabout with public. https://t.co/sEenOMtk8C
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) May 3, 2017
The issue is again one of conveying information precisely. Twitter is notorious for losing nuance due to the short message length. But at the same time, no one is forcing journalists to pass information on by tweet. And if confusion is caused, there is always the option to clarify later. Something which Kuenssberg has not yet done.
A fair comparison?
The other problem is that, even with the correct understanding, the two campaigns really don’t compare. It’s accurate to say that both leaders have done invite-only events. But it doesn’t convey how those events have panned out.
For a start, the ‘spat’ that Kuenssberg referred to revolved around journalists in Cornwall being banned from filming. They were also shut in a room while May gave her speech. And even the conservative Spectator has noted:
Journalists from local papers are being kept in rooms to prevent them from – gasp – filming an interview with the Prime Minister for their websites. Other events take place away from the media entirely, with Theresa May cocooned safely among Tory activists: the political equivalent of a tree falling in an empty forest.
To be fair to Laura Kuenssberg, her tweets were accurate – albeit poorly worded. The problem is that, without nuance, they do not convey what’s really happening. Because simply saying that Corbyn and May have both done private/public events is like saying Sir Ian McKellen and Danny Dyer are both actors. A statement which is technically true, yet fails to convey that only one of the two is making a good job of it.
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