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Craig Byers: The BBC should be ashamed of its coverage of the Cologne assaults

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When the BBC finally got round last Tuesday to reporting the wave of sex attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities by large gangs of “Arab and North African men” which took place on New Year’s Eve, they even gave it prominent coverage on their news website. (It was in the top two of their ‘most read’ articles for much of the rest of the day).

The most-watched news programme in the UK, the BBC’s flagship News at Ten, however, made a clear editorial decision that night to downplay the story, pushing it well down its running order and then giving it a mere 19 seconds.

The editorial team behind BBC News at Ten also decided to downplay the sexual element of the attack, playing the words ‘robbed’ and ‘threatened’ before ‘sexually assaulted’ in their description of the event and excising all mention of the fact that at least one of the women was raped.

They also chose to completely censor the clearly highly relevant fact that the gangs behind this extraordinary assaults on the women of Germany consisted hundreds of “Arab and North African men”.

This is how BBC News at Ten reported the story that night, word for word:

In Germany tonight protesters gathered outside the cathedral in Cologne after around 80 women reported being robbed, threatened or sexually assaulted by groups of men on New Year’s Eve. People suspect that as many as a thousand young males, many of them drunk, carried out the attacks. Chancellor Merkel has called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished.

How can anyone think that that’s adequate reporting?

The editorial decision-making behind that decision is deeply disturbing and BBC News at Ten should be ashamed of themselves.

The thinking that underlies such decision-making, however, seems to extend far and wide across the BBC, as Sarah Montague’s interview with Conservative London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith on Tuesday’s Today showed.

ConservativeHome‘s and BBC Dateline London‘s Alex Deane has already summed it up via the infernal medium of Twitter when he called the interview “an outrageous example of blatant bias”, saying it was “bristling with self-righteous hostility”. Alex also very neatly summarised its closing stages:

BBC: you’re islamophobic

Zac: no, that’s –

BBC: YOU’RE ISLAMOPHOBIC

Zac: but – 

BBC: well that’s all we’ve got time for

The interview was certainly a good deal more hostile than Sarah Montague’s equivalent interview the previous day with Labour’s Sadiq Khan. There was no laughter with Zac Goldsmith, far more questions, far tougher questions and a lot more interruptions. (Zac Goldsmith was interrupted 20 times. Sadiq Khan was as interrupted 8 times.)

The whole interview with Zac Goldsmith was quite extraordinary, not least the way Sarah Montague first called Mr Khan “a Muslim candidate”, then “the Muslim candidate”, as if she seemed to believe that he’s standing for mayor ‘as a Muslim’ –  which probably isn’t what he’d have ideally preferred her to insinuate (even though he’d not be the first in exploiting it if it suited the circumstance.)

Sarah Montague’s whole line of argument here seemed to boil down to: So because he is a Muslim he can’t be labelled ‘radical’, even if it’s meant in the non-religious context (as it clearly was here).

Is that where we’re getting to now, with the BBC’s help?

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Craig Byers
Craig Byers is a blogger about the BBC, focusing on the issue of BBC bias while living in Britain's finest traditional seaside resort: Morecambe (the one with the Eric Morecambe statue).

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