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David Keighley BBC Watch: BBC’s news boss Harding jumps ship – more Fake News?


So. Farewell then, BBC Director of News, James Harding.

He is quitting his £340,000-a-year post to set up an ’exciting new venture’ with a ‘distinct approach to news’. Sources say he’s been frustrated by the constraints of his current role.

Corporation Director General Tony Hall declared that he had done an ‘incredible job’ since his appointment (by Lord Hall) in 2013. Well, of course.

His achievements? Specially underlined were the appointment of (female) Laura Kuenssberg as the BBC’s political editor and the establishment of the BBC’s Reality Check unit to ‘counter fake news’.

Lord Hall declared: ‘He has led the BBC’s coverage through two referendums, two general elections, an astonishing US presidential election, not to mention a series of extraordinary events at home and abroad.’

So with Lord Hall’s endorsement ringing in his ears, what is in store from Mr Harding’s dynamic, venture-capital-backed new outfit? TCW has been allowed an exclusive sneak preview of some of the first dummy news bulletins of his Not the Fake News service. Here is one of them:

Donald Trump, the madman elected President of the United States by imbecilic rednecks and rust-belt no-hopers, has thankfully been banned from visiting the United Kingdom. Hurrah! Lady Nugee, the wonderful shadow foreign secretary, has called for a national day of anti-Trump emoting.

Workers at BAE Systems – who were foolishly thinking of protesting about losing their jobs because of a shortage of orders for the Typhoon jet – have seen the error of their ways. They have sided with Jeremy Corbyn – hurrah again! – in realising that all arms-making should end and their company should fold.

On the Brexit front, Not the Fake News has been continuing its relentless search to find and give airtime to all those who think that leaving the EU is the worst mistake in British history. Our latest interviewee – a long-lost cousin of former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who also adores Nicola Sturgeon – has exclusively told us that leaving the EU will lead to the wiping out of the Yorkshire rhubarb industry because of a shortage of immigrant rhubarb pickers. Immediate protests by Momentum are planned.

Still with the EU, our correspondent has conducted yet another interview with Lord Heseltine about his views about the EU referendum. He still believes it was a stupid exercise, that those voting for exit were gullible idiots, and that they were overwhelmingly uneducated yobs and saboteurs.

Finally, on climate change, our special investigations unit has found that an alarmist denier has been covertly smuggled into the BBC and has been generating ‘Fake News’ stories which suggest there is no need for alarm. We have handed over our dossier to the BBC authorities and the police. They have promised immediate action to root out the offender under ‘hate crimes’ legislation.

Cynics, of course, would say that nothing much distinguishes this from actual BBC bulletins. Spot the join.

What has Harding achieved? A key moment under his regime was when the Corporation disgracefully made a public spectacle of a police raid on the home of Cliff Richard, thereby causing the singer immense distress. The BBC’s conduct was described by leading human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson as ‘a conspiracy to injure’ Sir Cliff.

At the same time, Harding has resisted all attempts to make the BBC more transparent. Or accountable, especially with regard to impartiality. This was most evident when he appeared before the Commons European Scrutiny Committee in October 2015, talking about how the Corporation would ensure impartiality in its referendum coverage.

As TCW noted, he obdurately rejected any form of systematic monitoring of Corporation output because ‘it threatened editorial freedom’. As a result, the BBC’s long-term bias in the reporting of EU affairs continued during the referendum campaign, as was conclusively shown by News-watch here.

And since last year, Harding has authorised an approach to the reporting of Brexit which is even more partisan. Essentially, his battalions of journalists have been on a permanent quest to explore – and give maximum exposure to – obstacles to leaving the EU, while under-reporting the potential benefits. Most strikingly, there has not yet been a single programme from his (or any) BBC department which looks at Brexit in a positive light.

According to Guido, the early runners and riders to succeed Harding are all senior news figures within the Corporation. If that turns out to be true, the chances of any significant changes to Harding’s approach are remote indeed – they inhabit the same WIA 1AA ‘bubble’.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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