IS the BBC siding with the Home Office in an attempt to destroy Priti Patel?
There are more questions than answers at the moment when it comes to the ongoing drama of Patel versus Sir Philip Rutman. But the most worrying ones now are about the role of the BBC.
As Iain Dale predicted, opinion quickly divided into two camps – the usual suspects on the Left demonising the Home Secretary as the latest witch of Westminster, while Tory wagons circled in her defence, casting Sir Philip as all that’s wrong with a ‘not fit for purpose’ Home Office.
Well, that was until Michael Gove succumbed to the attack and, damning her with faint praise, announced an inquiry into the bullying allegations against her.
Yesterday the BBC came out with the dramatic report that a former aide to Ms Patel had received ‘a £25,000 payout from the Government after claiming she was bullied by the then employment minister’. Specifically it refers to legal correspondence ‘seen by the BBC’ of which the focus is a staff member’s grievance letter, following her dismissal from her role in 2105.
But this BBC story of Patel-and-the-disgruntled-former-employee who allegedly took an overdose of prescription medicine at her desk after being told by an official she’d been sacked, reported on here by the Daily Mail, raises a number of questions as to the BBC’s journalistic integrity and standards.
First up is the question of why this ex-employee is being automatically believed by the BBC. How for example do we, or the BBC for that matter, know she didn’t have underlying mental problems (as those who attempt suicide usually do) which had nothing to do with Priti Patel?
Secondly, how did the BBC get these sensitive legal documents anyway? Did the woman in question, who may still be mentally ill, give them to the BBC, or were they leaked by someone else? If so, to what purpose? Did she sign a non-disclosure agreement? And has she now broken the terms of this legal agreement? The BBC report leaves us none the wiser.
Which bring us to the question Craig Byers had already raised in his blogspot about the BBC’s prior interest in the case and the part it played in the emerging story, which you can read in full here https://isthebbcbiased.blogspot.com/2020/03/questions-and-answers.html.
First, he points out, Sir Philip’s resignation was choreographed in tandem with the BBC: ‘On resigning, he contacted the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. BBC cameras and the BBC’s Political Editor were then present to film his resignation speech. A BBC staffer even held an umbrella over Sir Philip’s head to protect him from the rain.’
Then he notes the BBC’s Home Affairs Correspondent Danny Shaw entering the fray, breaking the news about a formal complaint previously made about Ms Patel’s conduct, which the BBC went on to turn into its dramatic lead news headline.
One has to wonder which ministers have not at one time or another had such complaints made about them. But this ‘breaking news’ could only be – as Craig says – unhelpful for Ms Patel, piling ever more pressure on her.
Craig’s surmise is that the BBC is being used – by Sir Philip and by that person who ‘told’ it about the DWP complaint. He reasonably asks whether it can possibly count as a neutral journalistic scoop:
‘Is being fed stories like this, even if the feeding is very obviously being done by people on a mission to bring down Priti Patel, actually part and parcel of proper, decent journalism? Or is it not neutral journalism at all? Might not the BBC itself be on a similar mission?’
Well, the giveaway is the unanswered questions above – which we have a right to know about – about the story and its source. Was it properly examined for its validity, credibility or relevance before being rushed to press given its very damaging nature? As such it is hard not conclude the BBC is party to the hounding of the Home Secretary.
Craig’s check of who has been invited on the BBC to discuss the story since it broke does not inspire much confidence either. Using TV Eyes to track Radio 4’s politics programmes and the BBC News Channel, he drew up the following analysis:
Broadcasting House: Lord Kerslake (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti)
The World This Weekend: Jonathan Powell (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Lord Butler (neither one nor the other).
PM: Dave Penman, Yvette Cooper (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Crispin Blunt (pro-Priti / anti-Sir Philip)
BBC News Channel: Lord Kerslake (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Owen Jones (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Cindy Yu (neither one nor the other); Sir Anthony Seldon (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Yvette Cooper (pro-Sir Philip / anti-Priti); Sebastian Payne (neither one nor the other).
He might well have concluded his post by saying: ‘I rest my case’.
The BBC appears to have successfully done its bit and the heat is building. Sky reports Labour demanding Ms Patel stand down during the inquiry. At the time of writing, the Independent was reporting that Ms Patel is ‘under pressure to quit since the inquiry was announced’.
Answers I think from Sir Philip Rutnam too! Please!