The government manipulating BBC pandemic coverage really shouldn’t be a surprise

Boris Johnson looking at the BBC Logo - in reference to the pandemic revelations in the Guardian
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Boris Johnson‘s government directly interfered in BBC coverage of government policy. This is according to the Guardian. It was over the Tories’ response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. However, the revelations don’t come as a surprise – because the BBC‘s news coverage has always been little more than state-sanctioned propaganda.

Government: directing BBC coverage

As the Guardian reported, the government was influencing the BBC at the start of the pandemic. Downing Street reportedly told the broadcaster’s bosses that it did not want journalists referring to the lockdown, which started on 23 March 2020, as a “lockdown”. BBC editors then rolled this out to journalists – who kicked-back, to no avail. The Guardian claims it saw an email from editors to staff which said:

Hi all – D st [Downing Street] are asking if we can avoid the word ‘lockdown’. I’m told the message will be that they want to keep pushing people to stay at home but they are not talking about enforcement at the moment

The BBC complied with the government request. The Guardian wrote that:

Reporters argued unsuccessfully against the advice and thus the website and broadcasts on that day spoke about “curbs” and “restrictions” on daily life, while other outlets, such as rival broadcaster Sky, were referring to “lockdown”.

The Daily Mail splashed “Lockdown Britain” across its front page the next morning, while the Metro headline was “Britain on Lockdown”.

It also reported that the government (i.e., the Tories) asked BBC editors to be more critical of Labour. Again, this was in the context of the pandemic. The Guardian claimed one email from October 2021 stated:

Read on...

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D St complaining that we’re not reflecting Labour’s mess of plan b online. ie Ashworth said it earlier this week, then reversed. Can we turn up the scepticism a bit on this?

Of course, none of us should be surprised by this news.

Toeing the Tory government line

As the Canary reported in May 2020, the signs were already there that BBC news and current affairs was toeing the government line over the pandemic. For example, regarding the broadcaster’s coverage of government coronavirus policy, a “senior” BBC journalist told the Economist at the time:

The BBC does have a responsibility to provide what the nation needs… It needs to know what’s being done about testing [for coronavirus]. It doesn’t need a great bust-up about what’s gone wrong in the recent past… the bosses are keen that we come out of this with the sense that we looked after the interest of the nation, not just our journalistic values.

That is, the BBC was not questioning what the Tories were doing – it was merely parroting whatever they told it. However, the pandemic is not an isolated example of BBC government bias, either. In recent years, the broadcaster:

BBC: a history of bias

Moreover, it’s in the very fabric of the BBC‘s DNA to act like a state broadcaster. During WWII, bosses sacked workers who were conscientious objectors. This was because these workers’ views were “inconsistent with the national effort”. Then, in 1953, it effectively performed espionage against Iran on behalf of the UK government. The BBC‘s Persian Service broadcast the code word that would begin the coup against the democratically elected Iranian government. As Stephen Kinzer wrote in the book All The Shah’s Men, the then-British prime minister:

[Winston] Churchill had arranged that the BBC would end its broadcast day by saying not “It is now midnight,” as usual, but “It is now exactly midnight.”

Coming full circle, the recent scandal over Lineker encapsulates the problem. As one BBC “insider” summed up to the Guardian:

Particularly on the website, our headlines have been determined by calls from Downing Street on a very regular basis

An uncertain future

So, the revelations that the Tories pulled strings at BBC news and current affairs during the pandemic are par for the course. It confirms that impartiality doesn’t exist, and that the broadcaster is often little more than a government mouthpiece. Ironically, thanks to the government, the future of the BBC is still uncertain – particularly that of the licence fee. Previous government plans were to axe it. Meanwhile, the BBC is also caught up in controversy over its cutting of local radio services. Workers are currently on strike over it. All this is despite the controversies over the Tories effectively putting their mates in charge of it.

Based on the evidence, it’s clear that the BBC‘s news output has always been an arm of government. Now, despite the broadcaster dutifully fulfilling this toxic role, it might not be enough to save the BBC in its current form anyway.

Featured image via LBC – YouTube and Wikimedia/BBC 

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  • Show Comments
    1. To be fair though, Labour’s mess of a Plan B did deserve critique – they continually flipflopped between satisfying the right and reality. You could really see the difference in tone between the UK edition of the Guardian, banging the drum for reopeining the schools ASAP at all costs, and the American edition, where there was much more discussion of the inevitable consequences of reopening the schools, because Trump wanted to reopen the schools and the Democrats took the opposite view.

      Had Corbyn and McDonnell remained in charge I’m relatively confident we’d have seen a much more consistent line, probably recommending keeping schools closed longer, reopening them cautiously and with greater protection. Had they been in Government there would have been fewer deaths and a shorter pandemic than under Johnson or Starmer. But by October 2021, we were in full Starmerite pander-to-the-right mode, which left Labour with no coherent strategies or arguments other than “Whatever the Mail says!”

      Shielding the government from criticism is no less than I’d expect of the BBC, but they were also remarkably kind to the opposition’s failure to oppose.

    2. Many of us were labelled anti-vaxxers by the BBC for showing concern over the number of related injuries and deaths, listed on government websites around the world. It turned out that there were some extremely dangerous batches – there is a ‘find my batch service online. (don’t expect Google to be your friend on that as they share some board members with Pfizer) The related Safety data was intended by Pfizer to be ‘buried’ for 75 years. But my point is that we expected the BBC, with a duty of public service , to at least provide a note of caution. Emails to BBC News 24 on the subject were returned as ‘undeliverable, which is clearly tosh. (not surprising I suppose, considering what they did to Jeremy Corbyn)

      Just a reminder: The highly profitable mRNA jabs are still only released under emergency use authorisation. Here’s a link to the US database on mRNA vaccine side effects. Although the data entry process is voluntary it is quite complex and unlikely to be ‘faked.’ Quite shocking as vaccine rollouts are usually halted after 50 related deaths.

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