On 7 August, several campaign groups led a protest against what they see as the BBC‘s role in perpetuating the Labour antisemitism row.
Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) organised the protest. Protestors tried to deliver a letter to the BBC raising “serious concerns” about its coverage of Margaret Hodge’s “verbal abuse” to Jeremy Corbyn.
On 6 August, Labour announced it had dropped a disciplinary investigation against Hodge. But this letter provides compelling evidence about issues of bias in the way the BBC reported this issue.
FAO: Tony Hall, director-general, BBC
The Canary has seen a copy of the letter sent by Pamela Blakelock – a JVL committee member – to Tony Hall, the BBC‘s director-general and Francesca Unsworth, the director of news and current affairs. BBC complaints can only be signed by one licence fee payer but this letter was backed by many JVL members.
The letter raises “serious concerns”:
about the lack of due impartiality and accuracy evident in the BBC’s reporting of Margaret Hodge MP’s verbal abuse of… Jeremy Corbyn.
The complaint also takes issue with several broadcasts since Corbyn was “verbally attacked” by Hodge on 17 July. It states that a witness:
reported that Dame Margaret was shouting [at Corbyn] ’you are a fucking racist and anti-semite’.
Key points from the BBC‘s Code of Conduct [pdf] make the broadcaster’s responsibilities clear:
- “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences by providing impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services”.
- “People expect that whatever we tell them is as true, accurate and unbiased as possible – based on credible evidence, from credible sources”.
JVL believes the BBC failed to act in accordance with its own rules.
The letter documents a body of evidence gathered between 17 and 23 July across the BBC‘s “main news outlets, on both radio and TV”, and says that reporting was “partisan”.
Central to the complaint is that the BBC coverage:
- “repeated numerous times” Hodge’s claim that Corbyn “is racist and anti-semitic”, without airing “the denial offered both by the Leader and others”.
- “avoided reporting allegations that [Hodge] used the ‘F-word'”.
- allowed Hodge’s “assertion that she represents the entire ‘Jewish community’… to pass unchallenged”.
- didn’t challenge Hodge’s “account of her unprovoked, abusive attack”.
- “repeatedly asked [Labour] representatives… why disciplinary proceedings are being pursued, with the inference that this is uncalled for. One news item even reported the view that disciplinary action was ‘appalling’ with no opposing view being offered”.
- failed to question Hodge “especially as regards behaviour that risks bringing the party into disrepute”.
A spokesperson for JVL also told The Canary that musician Brian Eno joined Blakelock in trying to deliver the letter. But the BBC “instructed security not to let them in”. The spokesperson said:
It seems they were so concerned about the complaint they could not even admit us to the building.
In a statement on 3 August, Corbyn made clear that people with antisemitic views “have no place in the Labour party”. He also stood by the decision to challenge an example used in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, because that example relates to “free speech in relation to Israel”.
The JVL letter also flags serious concerns over the accuracy of BBC reports about the IHRA definition. The BBC, JVL claims, failed to report that the definition is a “working” document “not a complete and absolute one”. The letter also explains that the definition has been:
criticised by dozens of highly respected Jewish organisations around the world, by a House of Commons Select Committee, and by senior legal figures… These opinions state that application of the IHRA definition is likely to lead to breaches of the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Education Act 1986.
The letter also stated that the BBC must “report on the horror of anti-semitism”. But in this instance, its reporting was “neither proportionate nor accurate”. It called for “an apology and a correction” to Corbyn and Labour.
As The Canary previously reported, there’s growing support for Corbyn from Jewish groups around the world. This latest protest adds to that voice, and it makes a vital contribution to challenge the ongoing media bias that Corbyn faces on a daily basis.
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