The government manipulating BBC pandemic coverage really shouldn’t be a surprise
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:
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:
- Published a government press release as “news”.
- Failed to mention it was platforming neo-Nazis during its Ukraine coverage.
- Toed the line over the government’s anti-refugee propaganda.
- Repeatedly published anti-strike content.
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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